It is quite the paradox to say that governments in the MENA region are adaptive and reactionary towards industry trends, yet at the same time bureaucratic and skeptic towards change.
One message that Ferid Belhaj, VP of World Bank MENA, keeps hearing from entrepreneurs is to “Let the government get off our backs...we need the government to bring about a new governance system to this industry.” It is an outcry shared by many of the MENA’s entrepreneurs, who see their governments as antiquated and (more or less) a nuisance to their journey of starting up.
This paradox lies particularly true in this region, where governments work towards achieving the perfect balance between offering global tech economies enough incentive to come and set up shop in their countries, and providing the legal and technical infrastructure needed to empower local entrepreneurs. In today’s digital economy, decisions are still being driven by the market, but taking shape by data that have grown to become the most precious asset that needs to be managed and owned. So when a government passes a law, a corporate opens a regional office, or a startup develops a new product, it is because the data shows there is a need for filling that particular gap in the market. In short, the same data could offer different information depending on who is looking at it.
Dubai’s government, for example, took a bold and strategic decision to build ‘Internet City’ and attract global tech companies and investors to the desert. It was a carefully taken risk, especially with no vision for a regional startup ecosystem at the time. Looking back at the growth of the Emirati tech ecosystem, one can realize the constant changes and updates to the regulatory frameworks that not only enabled entrepreneurs, but also VCs, talented expats, and global tech companies. In Bahrain’s case, Dr. Simon Galpin (Managing Director of the Bahrain Economic Development Board) comments that having a small market share can usually be seen as a weakness, though the kingdom has taken that to its advantage. Being a small country gives Bahrain’s government body the agility needed to always stay in touch with the various stakeholders in its ecosystem. As a matter of fact, the Bahraini government has proven to be constantly involved with numerous initiatives and learning along the way about the specific needs of the Bahraini ecosystem.
In short, MENA’s governments must be directly involved in shaping the tech ecosystem, yet not try to frame and constrain it.
To iterate, governments around the world are maximizing their efforts to empower tech entrepreneurs by creating an ecosystem that is based on a proper infrastructure (5G connections, fiber optics, wireless communications, etc), legal frameworks that protect and encourages novelty innovations, and talented workforce.
Therefore, hyperconnectivity can be considered the main driver of today’s digital economies around the world. It’s a simple formula: the more you are connected to the internet, the more you are able to communicate and exchange data across distances, and therefore more able to create new things.
Knowing that the digital economy is the result of billions of daily online transactions among people, businesses, and devices, what more can governments do to further drive digital economies forward?