What is the common thread between a young man that launched an online hotel booking portal for tourists to the West Bank; a young woman who founded a Muscat-based Belgian-style chocolate company selling sweets made with local Omani sourced ingredients; and a young man who established a Lebanese "culture pass" that provides discounts to destinations at countless popular venues around the country?
The answer: They are incredibly impressive and successful new additions to the burgeoning ranks of the Middle East region's young entrepreneurs. In addition, they are three members of an equally accomplished delegation of 17 young entrepreneurs from the Middle East and North Africa -- including the countries of Iraq, Lebanon, Palestinian Territories, Yemen, Libya, Oman, and Jordan -- who participated in the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) in Dubai, UAE on December 11-12. The participants attended the Summit through special funding provided by the office of the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs with support from the Public Affairs Section at the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi.
This impressive group had no trouble making their presence felt through their attendance at entrepreneurship trainings, engagement with officials and fellow entrepreneurs, sharing of best practices, discussion of common challenges, and building important relationships for the future. A highlight of their program was a roundtable with Deputy Secretary of State Tom Nides that focused on the challenges facing young entrepreneurs in the Middle East and North Africa: access to capital, expanding your business, dealing with governments, finding good mentors, and the culture of entrepreneurship more generally.
Over an action-packed discussion-infused dinner at the Dubai Mall food court, one delegate shared his vision regarding the role that entrepreneurship can play as a means to empower young leaders economically and create the dignity and jobs that have been key underlying factors in the recent unrest in the region. Another young woman noted the important role that entrepreneurship can play as a valuable empowering tool for young women and girls that have much to offer their communities or economies and far too few economic opportunities to participate.
This participation of the 17 young delegates is just one more example of an expansive and ongoing commitment of the U.S. government to support entrepreneurship and economic empowerment of young leaders. In addition to the 17 regional young delegate attendance at this year's Summit, State Department Special Advisor for Global Youth Issues, Zeenat Rahman, launched the "Startup Youth Initiative," a multi-stakeholder partnership that strengthens the U.S. State Department's approach to youth and economic opportunity. And the State Department's Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs held their Global Innovation through Science and Technology (GIST) Tech-I pitch competition for young entrepreneurs from around the globe.
While the 3rd Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Dubai was considered to be a great success as a whole, the participation of a strong roster of young entrepreneurs added to the energy, innovation, and excitement at the event.