The Middle East and North Africa region spans a host of countries from Morocco to the United Arab Emirates and is home to more than 380 million people. A region of extremes. Home to the richest country in the world (Qatar, with $98,000 GDP per capita) and one of the poorest (Egypt, with $5,000 GDP per capita). War is raging in Syria. There are fresh insurgencies in Iraq and increasingly deadly protests across Egypt.
According to the International Organization for Migration, there are more than seven million Arab expats in the Middle East. Ironically, the expats born out of this conflict have proved key to the circulation of financial and human capital, and so significantly promoted regional development. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in the marketing and ad services sector. The Lebanese pioneers who started the marketing services industry in Beirut more than 25 years ago have, since the early 90s, set up their headquarters in Dubai.
However, the young entrepreneur of today doesn’t need to leave home. It has never been easier and cheaper to set up an internet business – the perfect fit for any market with lots of human capital and very little cash. Instead of moving to other parts of the world, we are seeing start-ups alter their local strategies to introduce new products in response to a changing security situation and customer demands.
We are seeing start-ups introduce new products in response to a changing security situation
Take Bey2ollak. As the security situation in Egypt deteriorated after Mohamed Morsi’s removal from office last year, it introduced a service that used a mobile app to co-ordinate convoys of up to 40 cars to travel to Egypt’s north coast. Most users are older drivers or mothers with children. The company hands out Bey2ollak stickers for participating cars to identify each other.
Pierride, which launched on 1 September in Egypt, offers riders a safer commute alternative amid ongoing checkpoints and roadblocks. What is profound is that these young people (about 40 per cent of the Middle East and North African population is under 35) are taking matters into their own hands, leveraging technology to navigate the lack of infrastructure and controls.
These are just two examples of new tech companies. I can name countless more – AppMahal, Web Teb, Mapture, Ymdi and Task Spotting are some of the best, in my opinion. What these companies need is funding to scale in the region and tap into the Arab diaspora.
I believe the opportunity is there for advertisers to get involved, empower these start-ups and help them achieve their goals. This will generate more opportunities and goodwill from consumers, and help build brands. This is why Starcom MediaVest Group will be sponsoring its first start-up competition in Dubai this year. It’s a win-win all round.
John Antoniades is the chief executive, Middle East and North Africa at Starcom MediaVest Group