GES: Engaging with entrepreneurs in the Middle East

The summit is in line with one of the Obama administration’s goals – to use entrepreneurship as part of US foreign policy

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On Wednesday, hundreds of entrepreneurs, thinkers and business hopefuls from countless backgrounds, nationalities, ethnicities and countries will descend on Silicon Valley.

They’re coming to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, headlined by US President Barack Obama and sponsored by the State Department, to share ideas, meet, network and collaborate – and perhaps create the next idea that will change the world.

The summit, which began in 2010, early on in Obama’s presidency, is in line with one of his administration’s goals – to use entrepreneurship as part of US foreign policy. Last year, Obama travelled to his ancestral homeland of Kenya to attend the summit, held in the capital Nairobi.

The summit has had a significant presence in the Middle East. Of its previous seven iterations, three were held in the region – Istanbul, Turkey, in 2011, Dubai, UAE in 2012, and Marrakech, Morocco in 2014.

Experts frequently cite the Middle East as a key hub for entrepreneurship – with its young population, pressing needs, and often patchy, dysfunctional governments creating ample opportunities for new services.

In line with that need, plenty of entrepreneurs with Arab and Middle Eastern roots are on this year’s guestlist.

There's Trabelsi Rebaï Hamida, a Tunisian software developer whose local startup, AlloTabib, allows patients to easily find a doctor and book an appointment online.

Then there's Sima Najjar, a Jordanian who founded, an Arabic online social platform featuring 'How to' videos in Arabic that are targeted to women.

There’s also Amr Hussein, the Egyptian founder of Koshk Comics, website for comic artists to connect and self-publish digital comics.

Ziad Haider, the US State Department’s special representative for commercial and business affairs, who is tasked with promoting the summit worldwide, wrote for Al Arabiya on Saturday that GES was held for three reasons.

“Promoting entrepreneurship creates jobs and incomes,” Haider said. “By creating such prosperity, enhanced stability follows, diminishing extremism and associated security threats. So does a level playing field and inclusiveness where entrepreneurs can be self-reliant and contribute to their economies and societies.”

The summit provides a “platform to connect” young entrepreneurs “eager to create value and solutions in response to social needs,” the representative added.

Outside of the GES conference halls, the US government operates what it calls Global Entrepreneurship programs, funded by its foreign aid arm USAID.

Its first was in Egypt, where a year earlier, Obama – still fresh in the oval office - delivered a landmark speech in Cairo where he discussed the power of entrepreneurship to transform lives and societies.

Obama is far from the first prominent leader to use the summit to inspire the region’s entrepreneurs.

In 2012, Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the UAE’s vice-president, prime minister and ruler of Dubai, told the previous summit that the event had opened “a path that will be followed by others.”

“I say to the youth that you deserve to be the first and better, and the future can be made only by leaders, and history can be changed by courageous people only.”

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