What makes an entrepreneur in Jordan?

Definitions confused, but it remains that entrepreneurship is about impacting change

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AMMAN — For the past two decades, Jordan has seen significant shifts towards entrepreneurship. So much that today in 2021, the Kingdom stands as one of the first countries in the world to establish a ministry for entrepreneurship, the Ministry of Digital Economy and Entrepreneurship.اضافة اعلان

More so, Jordan’s ranking in the Global Entrepreneurship Index of 137 countries improved by 23 ranks between 2014 and 2018, from 72 to 49, According to the World Bank (WB).

The World Economic Forum (WEF) even included 27 Jordanian start-ups among the top 100 in the Arab World, in 2019, and 14 leading entrepreneurs from Jordan took part in the 2019 London Initiative.

Many confuse start-ups and entrepreneurs, and “by the general definition, Jordan is full of entrepreneurs,” economist and ex-banker Mufleh Akel argued.

Explaining entrepreneurship

Start-ups are just new businesses. They can be entrepreneurial or not. 

However, the general definition of entrepreneurs is that they “are risk takers who are often first movers in a specific sector, be it women, philanthropy, technology, and so on,” he explained.

But this is a highly individualized and narrow definition, the economist added.

“Entrepreneurship goes beyond the individual risk taker,” he told Jordan News.

In the 1930s, during the Great Depression in the United States, the practice of entrepreneurship in business began to surface, which would sustain the US economy until World War II.

It was mainly the phenomenon of individuals looking for opportunities of self-employment in the midst of a stagnant economy, as unemployment rates in the US reached 25 percent, and seizing these opportunities outside of the traditional employment spheres.

They were coined “survivalist entrepreneurs” by the University of California.

Nonetheless, it was not until the 1930s that the term was first established by Austrian free-thinking economists, such as Joseph Schumpeter, who defined entrepreneurship as “the successful implementation of new ideas”.

Based on that definition, and for entrepreneurship to have any meaning on the scale of a nation or a country, according to Akel, these ideas should reap “benefits on a large scale”.

To the economist, entrepreneurs are “those risk-takers who lead innovation and creativity in any sector, resulting change and great benefit to a society or a country.”

Though the term has been widely linked to information technology, “because it is the fastest growing sector worldwide, with the highest yields and returns on investment,” Akel explained, “it spans across so many sectors.”

More so, the risk is not necessarily strictly financial.

“Many entrepreneurs invest their time and effort into developing these new ideas and implementing them, which comes at huge costs,” he explained, adding that there are many types of entrepreneurship.

That said, Akel asks, how do we define such a fluid concept that is so intersectional and inclusive?

Defining entrepreneurship

To social entrepreneur Saddam Sayyaleh, executive director and cofounder of I Learn Jordan, Lead and Member of the Technical Committee on Social Enterprises at the Ministry of Digital Economy and Entrepreneurship, it is more about intuition and initiative than it is about risks. 

Entrepreneurship is having a sense and acting on opportunities, through creative thinking and determination bring about necessary changes in the world, he said.

Nine years ago, Sayyaleh cofounded I Learn Jordan. 

He has since received the Badir Award for Young Jordanian Social Entrepreneurs and is today a Global Laureate Fellow and a member of WEF, among many other institutions and organizations. 

Like Akel, Sayyaleh believes in the importance of impact, and both believe that social entrepreneurship affects all aspects of society, business and economy included.

“It also enables addressing particular social issues and problems, empowering transformational progress throughout the system,” Sayyaleh told Jordan News.

But there is another approach to defining entrepreneurship, in the eyes of other entrepreneurs.

Dina Saoudi, cofounder of Seven Circles and Empowering Through, defines entrepreneurship “as the ability to understand a problem and do whatever is possible to solve it.”

Whereas entrepreneurs, from Saoudi’s perspective, are “individuals who are risk takers and are willing to be creative and take initiative to solve the problem that they are able to identify.”

They are the catalysts of progress, both Saoudi and Sayyaleh underlined.

According to Saoudi, too, creativity is not only about thinking up new ideas for implementation.

“Thinking outside of the box of norms within a specific community, to implement an idea that may have already exist, but in a different sector of society, is also creative,” she argued.
Her view on entrepreneurs is that they are dreamers in pursuit of realising their dreams, and while Saoudi’s definition is highly individualised, her work in the social sector is less so.

Between business and society

At Empowering Through, “We empower ecosystems by identifying, connecting and supporting stakeholders to best enable individuals,” she told Jordan News.
“We don’t just give out cheques. We work on changing the culture of charity work so that they can sustain their projects on the long run, maximising the impact of our social work,” Saoudi underlined.

One way or another, pioneers of the economy and entrepreneurs alike, search for impactful means of change, across all sectors of entrepreneurship and the different perspectives to define it.

To sum it all up, Akel insists that there are three main defining characteristics.

“First, entrepreneurship entails the successful implementation of new ideas or that these ideas be successfully implemented for the first time in a new sector, within a certain society, where there is need for such ideas, whether the need is identified or not,” the economist said. 

“Second, these ideas should result in large-scale benefits, and not just individual rewards. Otherwise, it’s just a successful business; and third, those implementing said ideas should at least begin to do so at their own expense, bearing most of the start-up costs and risks themselves.”

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