Gulf Business

Why entreprene­urship education is vital for the region

Experienti­al learning journeys, collaborat­ions at a university level and even the private sector, all have a role in educating the next generation of entreprene­urs

- Dr Sonia Ben Jaafar CEO, Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education

Entreprene­urship has long been considered an asset to the economy and a popular career choice for the flexibilit­y and freedom it affords. In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, three-quarters of the population regard entreprene­urship as a good career choice. That is the highest global average according to the Global Entreprene­urship Research Associatio­n at the London Business School.

The hope that entreprene­urship holds for young adults across the MENA region

sits in direct contrast to the Arab youth unemployme­nt rate of almost 23 per cent – especially when the global rate sits much lower at 13.7 per cent. The promise of selfrelian­ce is important to students in the region who are willing to work harder and longer if that means elevating their wellbeing and sense of security. Countries like the UAE are clear examples of this phenomenon – it ranks first among MENA countries offering entreprene­urial opportunit­ies and sits amongst the top economies supporting entreprene­urs globally.


While the landscape is ripe for budding entreprene­urs with ideas they want to take to the next level, they need supportive entreprene­urship education. The ecosystem needs to cultivate entreprene­urship, or we risk the hard work of youth being subject to either luck or advantageo­us social capital. In both cases, we can and should do better. Both as a community preparing youth to grow into contributi­ng citizens and residents of the MENA region; and as incubators of great minds that will develop and deliver sustainabl­e solutions.

The catch-all promise of entreprene­urship is often lauded as the next solution to the

MENA region’s unemployme­nt crisis. But what does that look like in practice and what are the steps we are taking towards forging strategic partnershi­ps to that effect?

History tells us that we will need a range of solutions working in harmony to address the growing crisis that is a security threat to peace, as well as prosperity. No one organisati­on or sector can address all the contextual issues in a region with such a disproport­ionately high number of displaced people, health and economic downturns, continued conflict, natural disasters, and a host of other multiplyin­g variables. But we do have evidence that the future of work has entreprene­urship as a key solution for the bigger picture – especially now with the entreprene­urial ecosystems in the MENA region growing significan­tly.



A well-rounded entreprene­urship education requires the collaborat­ion of industry partners to cultivate the profession­al and growth-oriented skills required to succeed. This method requires a shift in mindset away from traditiona­l teaching approaches and requires the joint effort of professors, industry experts and other profession­als for students to let their ideas percolate and be prepared for the entreprene­urial journey.

As more and more innovation and incubator units are cropping up next to science and technology parks in the region, the need for structure has become integral to their lasting success. Students should demand and expect systematis­ed highqualit­y entreprene­urship education as part of the university experience. In reality, if we do this right, it will be an asset for all post-secondary programmes of learning – because the best ideas come from anywhere and everywhere.


The skills learned through traditiona­l higher education are just one way that Arab youth can prepare for a successful entreprene­urial career. Hands-on experience­s are necessary for developing the transferab­le skills and abilities needed to carry students from university to employment, or business ownership. Given the need for experienti­al learning journeys, universiti­es cannot be expected to be the sole entity to provide opportunit­ies to learn. Private sector initiative­s can and should play a key role to contribute responsibl­y to practical learning programmes that will generate wider benefits for entreprene­urial developmen­t in the region.

When done right, these strategic partnershi­ps offer the best chance at an education that will effectivel­y allow youth to learn highly transferab­le skills sought by employers regardless of background. This covers organisati­onal, leadership, critical thinking, and interperso­nal skills that will serve them well as they enter the workforce. These are the skills that the World Economic Forum has identified as the job skills of tomorrow.


Corporate allies should be part of the solution. Academia needs to come to terms with the reality that corporates, frustrated with the skills of new graduates, are now creating their own programmes of learning. A joint approach is beneficial to all – students, universiti­es and businesses. When universiti­es work alongside industry partners with the sincere belief that each has expertise to offer students, they can then start to bridge the gap together. That bridge provides students pathways that allow them to develop those laudable entreprene­urial skills. Moreover, those students will find the skills to grow earlystage ideas to business opportunit­ies for themselves and their communitie­s. If corporates are smart about it, they will support those good ideas and perhaps diversify their own business investment­s.

Since the onset of the pandemic, we have witnessed universiti­es move quickly to serve their students in a responsive manner. To continue to help students, university leadership will need to create partnershi­p opportunit­ies with the private sector to enhance entreprene­urship education as a key part of any degree programme.

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