Unleashing the entrepreneur spirit for economic growth in Jordan: Let me count the ways

There’s nothing quite like having a bunch of entrepreneurs in the same room to generate off-the-charts energy and inspiration for economic development and social progress.

I was fortunate to host a social innovation workshop in Amman, Jordan, with a collection of business starters and supporters to generate ideas for strengthening the entrepreneur ecosystem in the country. The workshop was held on the occasion of the visit to Jordan of the UN Foundation’s Global Entrepreneurs Council (GEC), a group of eight luminaries from around the world who support those creative and bold enough to start new businesses. The Council, chaired by Ashish Thakkar, was in Jordan to better understand the issues facing local entrepreneurs, particularly those affected by conflict, including in host communities and refugees.

UNDP sees entrepreneurship as a central driver of economic and social stability, and supports initiatives that tap into local skills, expertise, and resources to foster entrepreneurial spirit and success. Entrepreneurs in Jordan currently face challenges of growth (how to migrate from micro to small, small to medium, etc.); and sustainability (how to keep their businesses going after initial support). The ecosystem has seen many business development service providers emerge over the past several years, presenting an opportunity to make these services as accessible as possible across the full range of entrepreneurs, from the most micro of entrepreneurs around the country to the most sophisticated in the capital.

Why was this workshop so inspiring and exciting? Let me count the ways.

One, it brought together actors from across the entire ecosystem, ranging from micro-entrepreneurs selling dairy products and ceramics, to business development service providers that incubate, accelerate and mentor startup ventures to private sector actors that facilitate access to finance at a global level. The diversity of participants was intentional; we wanted to ensure that the design of potential solutions was first and foremost originating from those on the receiving end of these services.

Two, the workshop focused on identifying concrete activities we as a system could undertake sooner rather than later, activities that would make it easier for entrepreneurs to start, sustain and grow new ventures. With co-facilitation by the GEC and UNDP, teams ran through a first round of idea generation, resulting in loads of ideas. In the second round, teams selected one idea apiece to flesh out — clearly defining the target audience, business need and potential partners. We wanted to end up with solutions, or at least elements of solutions, that we could move on quickly.

Three, the process of collaborative solution-seeking itself was the beginning of some great partnerships. In addition to the potential partners identified in the teams’ solutions, the inevitable networking amongst the attendees was an intentional byproduct as well.

Four, there was strong and enthusiastic support from participants to keep the ideas flowing and the action going, with all among the diverse group of participants committed to moving forward together. The ideas that emerged from the group work underscored the need for a more networked and better integrated ecosystem, or as GEC member James Mwangi described it, “entrepreneurs are like bees: they need a hive, a place to cluster and generate value to others.”

One idea was for an annual conference that brings together the entire ecosystem, as a way to bridge entrepreneurs of all sizes, especially micro-entrepreneurs, with those who can support them, including social impact investors. Another idea was an entrepreneur enrichment programme that offers a package of services during the summer months that includes training, internships and community events. Tying all of this together was an integrated platform, keeping entrepreneurs connected, ideas colliding and businesses growing.

What is remarkable about these ideas is that they reflect the experience of a broad spectrum of actors in the entrepreneur ecosystem in Jordan, not only the needs from the demand side or offerings from the supply side, and not only the needs of experienced entrepreneurs, but also those who may be more removed from resources they need, e.g., finance, technology, mentors, etc. Also notable was that we arrived at a set of ideas that are a good combination of visionary and actionable… enough aspiration to inspire while at the same time enough detail to make a reality.

By taking a user-centered approach, putting the user at the heart of the discussion, we ended up with realistic solutions that can hopefully make a positive contribution to the success of individual ventures as well as to the entrepreneur ecosystem as a whole in Jordan. Here’s to the start of some great innovative ideas for entrepreneurs in Jordan and the region.