Economic development in Jordan is governed by several factors, such as the country’s geopolitical location, regional developments, and turmoil, and these all impacted negatively Jordan’s economic recovery.
The unemployment rate increased considerably in the past decade reaching about 48 percent, while the GDP decreased by 3.8 percent during the second quarter of 2020; COVID-19 exacerbated the problems even more. In for a bid to come up with effective solutions to attain economic growth that can improve the livelihoods of the most vulnerable groups, the Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development (ARDD) launched a series of roundtables as part of the “Design and Determine” project.
The first meeting of the series was held on December 22, 2021, and tackled synergies toward economic growth. Speaking at the meeting were Director of the Economic Enterprise Growth Acceleration Program at the Jordan Enterprise Development Corporation (JEDCO) Eng. Mamoun Abu Shawar, Executive Director for Business and Professional Women Association Thanaa Khasawneh, ARDD’s Executive Director Samar Muhareb, Director of the Youth, Technology and Jobs Project in Jordan, Ministry of Digital Economy and Entrepreneurship Raed Madanat, and Senior Assistant at the Livelihoods Division of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Najwan Al Durgham.
Abu Shawar spoke about JEDCO’s objective of enhancing the competitive capabilities of small- and medium-size enterprises, stressing that JEDCO supported more than 10,000 companies, and due to this support, the activities of these companies were able to reach more than 112 countries.
Al-Durgham praised the crucial role the Jordanian government plays in helping refugees join the workforce by providing access to paid work, adding, however, that challenges to this endeavor are posed by the limited number of sectors they are permitted to work in, despite the ability of qualified members to provide real added value to fill the shortage in some sectors such as information technology
Al-Khasawneh said that “increasing the export of companies owned or operated by women is one of the goals that the Business and Professional Women Association is working on”, adding: “Women do not invade this field and consider it the preserve of men. Therefore, the association tries to create a desire among women to export, develop their skills, and connect them with foreign markets by helping them sign agreements with the pertinent authorities.”
At the beginning the Ministry of Digital Economy and Entrepreneurship’s work was limited to initiatives, but, according to Madanat, “the accumulation of experience helped the ministry, at the beginning of this year, develop a policy and action plan for entrepreneurship until 2025, which was recently approved by the Council of Ministers, and work is underway to implement it with donors. The ministry also acquired 40 knowledge stations and converted them into business incubators, which are available to young people free of charge if they want to present programs and projects through them”.
Speaking about the lack of information needed to set the priorities of the economic growth agenda, Muhareb said the lack of studies in Arabic is to blame as “most of the information available about the modern entrepreneurship sector is written in English, although this sector is in the interest of the poor, rather than the rich, and the uneducated, rather than the educated.”
Regarding the greatest problem faced by entrepreneurial projects in Jordan, Muhareb said: “It is that these projects are often individual, for, only about 20 institutions provide support to startups.”
She recommended that these institutions be included as part of the working group and policy-making discussions towards economic growth and she added “These institutions should be tapped for their experience in the way of supporting startups because they are not concerned only with profit, but also with social impact, economic, cultural, humanitarian and human rights aspects as well.”
Muhareb said that the civil society work involvement in problems faced by refugees and host communities helped it get closely familiarized with the issues of poverty, unemployment, the situation of women and the extent of the impact of the corona pandemic on their economic situation. She emphasized the need for dialogue and a stronger relationship with the government and the private sector to find practical and real solutions to reduce unemployment rates.
“The space that we allocate today for exchanging views aims primarily to prove that civil society is a partner to the government and the private sector,: she said.
Muhareb drew attention to another issue, that of a large number of laws and regulations in the Labor Law and other pieces of legislation, which are often amended, leading to confusion and time to understand them. In this regard, she referred to the recent amendments to the Social Security Law, which legal experts needed time to understand and more time to explain to people.
She concluded by saying that “the aspirations of young people require us to research more, innovate, and cooperate to simplify procedures related to approvals of entrepreneurial projects and business incubators”.
Economist Yusuf Mansur spoke about “the injustice inflicted on small enterprises” when joint studies are conducted on them and medium enterprises. Small enterprises have different challenges, and cannot obtain financing like medium companies, which makes them less organized and lacking some form of social protection for their employees.
He added that Jordan’s history proved that medium-size companies may become large, but small enterprises remain small or fall back, and urged solutions to ensure that small companies obtain loans.
Mansur also stressed that it is not important to have many business incubators, their importance lies in the value they add, which is the services provided by these incubators. He said that these incubators need to be interconnected and integrated into the economy.
The Design and Determine roundtable series seeks to provide a platform that enables responsible authorities, the private sector, donor institutions, INGOs, civil society organizations, and the youth to exchange views, experiences, and solutions needed to advance the economic development agenda.
Design and Determine project is funded by the European Regional Development and Protection Programme (RDPP II) for Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, which is supported by the Czech Republic, Denmark, the European Union, Ireland and Switzerland.