Although women represent over half of university graduates in Jordan, they constitute a paltry 16 percent of the workforce. More than 26 percent of Jordanian women with bachelor’s degrees remain unemployed, compared to just 9.1 percent of male graduates. However, women are finding ways to overcome barriers to their economic participation by starting their own businesses. The Jordan Times reported in February that 38% of all Jordanian entrepreneurs are women, exceeding the international average of women’s participation in the field.
Lina Hundaileh epitomizes this entrepreneurial spirit. After the German company where she worked closed down their Jordan office, Lina decided to create her own job by opening a chocolate factory. She was not deterred by her lack of experience in running a business or making chocolate. It did not faze her when others laughed at her plan. She was determined to succeed and did not view failure as an option. And she loved chocolate.
One size does not fit all in economic development, and while the focus in developing countries is often on integrating into the global economy and attracting large-scale foreign investment, it is easy to overlook the potential resources to expand economic opportunity that exist right at home. I’m speaking of creating opportunities for entrepreneurship and the growth of small business. In Jordan, hard hit by the global financial crisis, CIPE’s partner the Young Entrepreneurs Association is leading a drive to lower barriers to entry for would-be entrepreneurs in an effort to expand economic opportunity to a broader cross-section of Jordan’s citizens — particularly its youth, who are increasingly realizing that they will not be able to rely on the state for a job as in generations past.
On November 23, Jordan’s King Abdullah surprised the nation by dissolving parliament half way through its mandate and calling for elections under a new elections law. Jordanians are not new to these sudden changes but as my organization, the International Republican Institute’s (IRI), most recent national public opinion poll showed, only seven percent of respondents were satisfied with parliament’s performance. In addition to low approval ratings, observers speculate a key reason for parliament’s dismissal is belief that some conservative parliamentarians were an impediment to the passage of important free market reforms needed to attract investment during a global economic downturn.
On December 9, the King surprised Jordanians further by dismissing his government and appointing Samir Rifai as the new Prime Minister. In his letter of designation, the King charged the new Rifai government with developing a new election law and organizing parliamentary elections no later than the end of 2010. He also ordered the new government to implement Jordan’s decentralization plan which lays out a new administrative system and elections for governorate (“local”) councils, mayors and municipal councils throughout the Kingdom.
Earlier this week, Jordan’s Queen Rania spoke at the second Arab Substantiality Leadership Group meeting in Amman. She moderated a panel discussion on “Sustainable Development and Youth Employment in the Arab World.” This topic is of crucial importance: the rate of youth unemployment in the Middle East is the highest in the world and the number of unemployed people under 30 could increase from the current 15 million to 100 million by 2020 – a situation described by the Queen as a “ticking time bomb” that has to be defused before it causes social unrest.
Queen Rania urged making school curricula more relevant to the needs of the labor market, encouraging innovative private-public employment partnerships, and offering internship opportunities in order to bridge the “gap between school and work.” The Jordan Times reports,
The Queen said the problem in the Arab world is deficit in critical thinking and entrepreneurial skills and overreliance on the public sector for jobs, adding that it is important to create channels of communication between businesses and the educational system to know what they need and thus tailor the curricula to realise that goal. Her Majesty also emphasised the private sector role, which she said can lead and influence policy in the public sector in the Arab world.
The CIPE Development Blog provides coverage of the Center for International Private Enterprise and its partner network at work -- highlighting successes, drawing out lessons from failure, and exploring the broader issues of political and economic development. For more information visit CIPE.org.