The staff of the Center for Middle East Development (CMED) is now posted up in Doha, Qatar for our 9th annual Enriching the Middle East's Economic Future conference from May 12-14, 2014. With an entrepreneurial emphasis and international recognition, this meeting is held jointly with the Doha Forum and will address some of the most pressing economic challenges facing the Middle East today.
Boasting nearly 200 participants from more than 50 countries, conference sessions focus on a variety of topics pertaining to economic, cultural, and political development throughout the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Some past topics include the effect of Islamic governance on regional economics, the implications of the recent Middle Eastern pivot to Asia, and solutions to the climbing rates of youth unemployment.
This year, CMED, the Doha Forum, and the Middle East Investment Initiative (MEII) is hosting the Doha Prize for Economic Innovation for individuals or projects that (1) stimulate the business environment for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs); (2) improve education and training to increase skills and employability; and/or (3) promote public sector innovation in the MENA region. Twelve finalists have been chosen to pitch their ideas to a panel of judges, and they will also participate as speakers, sharing their experiences as entrepreneurs.
In an ArabNet article on the eight greatest challenges to entrepreneurship in the MENA region, a lack of sufficient funding and the absence of an environment supporting budding enterprises top the list. While there has been an increase in investment, “funds invested in startups are still small.” In particular, entrepreneurs struggle to obtain funds to sustain projects beyond the initial start-up period. As a result, many startups have had to readjust their goals. Furthermore, in the MENA region there is a missing link between innovators that prevents collaboration, creating an isolating effect for entrepreneurs in the region. Entrepreneurs lack the business training and mentorship necessary to transform their ideas into thriving businesses.
To bridge this gap, winners of the competition will receive a 6-month mentorship with regional and international experts, in addition to connection to future sources of additional funding. This aspect of the prize is intended to create a self-sustaining network of entrepreneurs. Uniting amateur and veteran innovators will boost economic development in the region and foster an environment that welcomes the exchange of ideas.
Of the more than forty individuals and/or organizations from around the region that applied for the prize, twelve finalists were selected—four from Egypt, three from Palestine, two from Jordan, and one each from Lebanon, Tunisia, and Morocco. Judges will be looking for project sponsors who have a proven track record of advancing economic and social innovation success in their respective communities and are seeking to further expand their efforts. All projects are required to demonstrate feasibility, substantial impact, and a solid business plan for acquiring other sources of revenue streams for long-term sustainability.
The project proposals include a range of startups and platforms to address key issues in the region. They include marketing platforms for traditionally female-dominated crafts, crowdfunding, microloans, co-working and community spaces, and scholarship funds for disadvantaged students, among others.
For winning projects, the prize can cover a host of expenses associated with launching a start-up, including basic operating costs, employing more staff members and technical teams, enhancing marketing strategies and technology, and lobbying with key ecosystem stakeholders in the region. Sponsors of the program hope that this competition will push other organizations to do more to support entrepreneurial efforts in the region, especially those that benefit women and young people. We are very excited to see what this first batch of prize candidates is capable of.
Winners will be announced on May 14th during the closing ceremony. Stay tuned for more on our prize winners!