Author Archives: Caroline Scullin

Global Entrepreneurship Week – Lebanon Style

DPNA E2E Alumni Network Steering Committee Training

There’s a spice blend used throughout the Middle East – za’atar– which is bold, assertive, and unique in flavor. As we witnessed over the last week in Lebanon, those same adjectives might be a way to describe Lebanese entrepreneurs and the flair with which Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) is being celebrated here.

At the launch of GEW at the American University of Beirut earlier this week, event emcee and program director Dr. Tony Feghali, co-director of the Darwazah Center for Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship, stood before a raucous crowd of several hundred students, entrepreneurs, venture capital partners, and non-governmental organizations gathered to discuss why “Lebanon is an Excellent Place to Start a Business.”

The evening began with a quick study on the characteristics of Lebanese entrepreneurs today. Fifteen entrepreneurs were asked to come forward to the stage.  Dr. Feghali explained that even if 10 of the 15 might fail in their initial foray into business, most of those 10 would persevere and continue to try to ideas, showing a determination typical of the entrepreneurial class. He reminded the audience that for each one entrepreneur, five jobs are usually created. A potential 75 new jobs – crucial for rebuilding Lebanon – were represented on the stage.

A later panel of five entrepreneurs brought forth very pointed advice and opinions and further evidence of the strength of entrepreneurs.

-          One panelist noted that in 2006, a Google search of “technology Lebanon” yielded no search results. Entrepreneurs left the country because they were not supported. Five years on, though, the tide has changed.  He said while it is “practically damn impossible to be an entrepreneur, you can never, never, never give up.” This relentlessly positive attitude typifies many entrepreneurs.

-          Another panelist noted: “Failure is what’s going to make you succeed.” Failure is often a necessary and positive part of entrepreneurship, allowing serial entrepreneurs to refine their approach and ideas.

-          When asked by a member of the audience if there’s an appropriate age or time to begin a business, panelists resoundingly agreed that it is never too early. “You will not regret failing now.” Failure is not a result to be feared; instead it is an opportunity for growth.

Increasingly the brain drain has reversed and more young Lebanese are returning home to open a business in their homeland. Mentorship and education institutions now exist and are ready to assist aspiring entrepreneurs. And, perhaps most importantly, capital is more readily accessible, especially from venture firms. That said, while there are many positive trends in the Lebanese entrepreneurial ecosystem, one looming constraint is the unresponsive regulatory environment – from long, unexplainable delays in registering a business, an arcane banking system, the prevalence of having to pay bribes and, in a high tech-focused market, a lack of technological infrastructure. CIPE’s partners in the country continue to work to build the institutions necessary to support a thriving entrepreneurial sector.

CIPE’s local Lebanese partner the Development for People and Nature Association (DPNA) participated in the next event of the evening – a 60-second pitch competition for more than 20 local organizations to present succinctly their purpose and describe how they are contributing to the new entrepreneurial spirit and market in Lebanon.  Rami Shamma, project manager at DPNA, spoke of the business plan competition his organization has recently launched for high school students across Lebanon. One of the most effective tools to foster a spirit of entrepreneurship in a country is to enlist the nascent skill and unbounded enthusiasm of young people. Shamma’s enthusiasm and the spirit of the entire evening were indicative of the shift in generational attitudes from negative to positive about doing business in Lebanon by working diligently, creatively, and with entrepreneurial zest for a new business environment.

CIPE Communications Director Caroline Scullin contributed to this report.

Representing women in the boardroom & throughout the private sector

Each day I peruse the web sites of between eight and 12 news organizations – ranging from my hometown newspaper to ABC News to the Financial Times.  Today, a link on the Financial Times’ “Women at the Top” page caught my eye – a five-minute video entitled “French lessons on women in the boardroom” which discusses the abysmal track record of European companies in increasing the percentage of women on corporate boards.

CIPE’s work on engaging women ranges from entrepreneurship education in Afghanistan with equal participation for girls to training programs for women’s business associations in Pakistan.  If it’s so difficult to integrate women into business in developed economies, imagine how difficult it is for women in societies where cultural and societal barriers inhibit engagement for these vital members of the business community.

CIPE will focus these issues and more at the upcoming global conference Democracy that Delivers for Women on June 20-21 here in Washington, DC. Please visit democracythatdelivers.com to register and participate in this important dialogue.

Recognizing the value of education…and educators

Afghan high school students undertaking the Tashabos course. (Photo: CIPE)

For the last four days I have been a delegate to the second World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) hosted by the Qatar Foundation.  The 1200 delegates, presenters, and laureates of the WISE Awards for Education Innovation represent a phenomenal range of talent and devotion to education around the globe – from Jeffrey Sachs, speaking about the Millennium Development Goals for Education, to CIPE partner Martin Burt of Fundacion Paraguaya to an educator from Guatemala working with indigenous peoples to maintain their education traditions.

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Abraham Lincoln’s Words Still Resonate… Even Beyond the White House

The headlines of today’s papers and online news services note the celebration today of the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. Without doubt, each of the tributes – from the reopening of Ford’s Theater in time for a one man show to profile the man to the classroom lessons in schools throughout the country – are well deserved.

Several years ago, former New York Governor Mario Cuomo wrote Why Lincoln Matters, guided by the notion that Lincoln (and his writings) are still quite relevant to contemporary American politics. President Obama frequently cites Lincoln in his speeches and clearly stated his admiration for Lincoln in a 2005 essay for Time magazine. He cited Lincoln’s “humble beginnings,” as well as his “rise from poverty, his ultimate mastery of language and law, his capacity to overcome personal loss and remain determined in the face of repeated defeat.”

For that reason – and many others – Lincoln’s words still are relevant and perhaps today MOST relevant beyond U.S. shores he governed as the 16th President of the United States. Lincoln is widely known for his role in leading America through the dark time of the Civil War and the underlying issue of slavery. The Democracy Program, which recommended the creation of the National Endowment for Democracy (and one of the core institutes the Center for International Private Enterprise) reminded us of this when the report authors quoted Lincoln in the bipartisan report submitted to President Ronald Reagan in 1983:

“As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy.” Abraham Lincoln (1858)

And so, in our work here at CIPE, Lincoln resonates still – as we partner with groups throughout the world for basic freedoms – personal, political and economic. And what we see again in these freedoms is that they are inextricably connected.

Georgia – Russia Scorecard

In the last five days of the conflict between Georgia and Russia, there have been innumerable opinions about which is right/wrong, which is the aggressor/victim.  Confusion will reign on those questions for some time.  One thing is clear, there is a true point of success for Georgia in communications. 

At every turn, Georgia’s President Saakashvili has been live, at the top of the news hour in all forms of media, all around the globe.  Journalists are being generously offered one on one interviews with Saakashvili, who appears with a slide show, updated for each appearance.  He mobilized Presidents of neighboring nations to travel to Tblisi, and the rally of citizens was (succesfully) planned to maximize press coverage.

In contrast, Russia has relied primarily on unnamed spokepeople from the Kremlin and various Ministries. Russian President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin have also made use of surrogates, such as France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Russia have may be the victor in the short term military conflict, but Georgia is the clear winner in the communciations battle, which may pay significant long term dividends.