Arab Partnership: Responding to the Challenge of Change

Ala’a Al-Sallal was frustrated when he found he couldn’t buy Arabic books on Amazon. So rather than give up he decided to set up his own Arabic version of Amazon. This young man from Jabal Natheef worked with the active support of his family to set up a new company: Jamalon, an on-line bookshop that now has over 9 million Arabic and English books for sale on line.

To help develop his skills in running a company and in securing the necessary investment, Ala’a turned to Oasis 500, a company set up to encourage entrepreneurs in the IT sector. With their help, Ala’a has secured over $400,000 of investment so far. He now expects additional investments to help him expand to the Gulf.

The British Embassy has been an active supporter of Oasis 500, funding a series of boot camps for training new entrepreneurs in Amman and Irbid. We will be funding further training sessions next year. Some people are surprised that we fund such activities.

Why should the British government help train entrepreneurs in Jordan?

Our support for Oasis 500 is part of the UK’s Arab Partnership Programme which celebrated 2 years of activity last week. The motivation is simple: the people of the region want the dignity of being able to put bread on their families’ table. And they therefore want to have a say in the way that they are governed. Mohammed Bouazizi in Tunisia 2 years ago was driven by this urge.

So if the British Embassy can help people acquire the skills, knowledge and investment to create jobs, that will be good for the stability of the region.

It is all about opportunity. If people are given opportunities, they will create more opportunities for others. And those opportunities will have to be in the private sector where Jordan can play to its strengths, by establishing and growing small and medium enterprises using Jordanians’ knowledge of English and Arabic.

Many of the impressive new IT companies supported by Oasis 500 play to this strength such as ShopGo, an easy solution to creating your own e-commerce website; or I3zif, a site offering music lessons with on-line videos. These two companies, trained through UK-funded boot camps earlier this year have already secured investments worth $400,000.

We are glad to celebrate this success as the Arab Partnership Programme goes forward into its third year. £50 million has already committed to projects throughout the region with priority given to Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Jordan.

The aim is to help people reach their aspirations; to improve their lives and be heard. By working with local partners we can help create more open and accountable societies and thereby try to overcome the many challenges the region is facing. In Jordan we are working with a range of local partners in the fields of political inclusion, youth employability and economic investment.

Another project is designed to mobilize young Jordanians towards effective political participation by working with the National Centre for Culture and Arts to give students the skills to work for change in their communities and the confidence to call for democratic change.

In doing so, there is no model for success. A fundamental principle is that each country is unique and the solutions offered in each country must respect its unique culture, political traditions and economic strengths. But the overall aim remains the same: to give people like Ala’a an opportunity to participate, to thrive and to prosper in dignity.

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