Doing business in the Middle East: USB MBA students shares their experience
In the shadows of the Pyramids of Giza lies the sprawling metropolis of Cairo. A city shrouded by mysticism and legend, with an opulent history that mirrors that of the gold mask of Tutankhamen. The historical land of Egypt stretches for more than a million square kilometres, yet a 1/5 of its 100 million inhabitants call this bustling city home.
Cairo has many faces: powerhouse of the ancient world, strategic kingmaker in the Middle East, and the epicentre of modern-day revolution. Looking at Egypt from a geographic and demographic point of view, one would be forgiven to think that it might suffer from an identity crisis. Geographically Egypt forms part of Africa, but is also considered part of the Middle East. Demographically Egypt identifies with the Arab world, with the majority of its residents sharing the Arabic language and Muslim faith. According to the World Bank, in 2016, Egypt’s GDP was $ 336 billion, $ 40 billion more than that of South Africa during the same period. Combine this large economy with rapid population growth and the fact that more than 50 % of the population is younger than 25 years old, and it is clear that Egypt shows tremendous growth potential as a developing market.
It is with this background that a group of USB MBA students participated in an academic programme titled Doing Business in the Middle East. This programme was hosted by the American University in Cairo (AUC). The relationship between USB and stretches back several years, yet this was the first time a USB MBA group visited the university.
The group had the opportunity to learn more about the Egyptian economy, with a major theme being entrepreneurship and innovation within the MENA region. They interacted with several prominent business people in Egypt and learned about the regional challenges and opportunities. These include a very large informal economy, high levels of unemployed youth, large-scale corruption as well as low levels of gender equality. Despite these complexities, the focus in Egypt is very much on future opportunities and the country is poised for success given the government’s comprehensive Vision 2030 Programme which includes major infrastructure spending. The crown jewel will be an expansion of the current city boundaries with a new administrative capital being built, dubbed New Cairo.
Some of AUC’s top lecturers provided the group with insights on the university’s approach to teaching and its stature within the business community. The programme director of the Goldman Sachs 10 000 Women programme, Dr Maha El Shinnawy, addressed USB students on its initiative to empower female entrepreneurs. This programme has already impacted more than 400 women entrepreneurs – an amazing feat for a society in which business is dominated by males. Another interesting topic was addressed by Prof Ashraf Sheta. This related to the prevalence of Family Businesses, the importance it plays within the MENA region, and key areas of focus that enable proper governance.
The group visited the Federation of Egyptian Industries and had a very fruitful discussion on some of the economic initiatives and realities within Egypt. There is a clear sense of optimism since the regime change following the Arab Spring in 2011. Sentiment is positive within the private sector.
No visit to Egypt would be complete without taking in some of the magnificent cultural sights. The group had the opportunity to tour the AUC’s grand campus, one of which dates back to 1919. Here the group also had the incredible privilege of visiting Tahrir Square, the scene of the 2011 revolution in which hundreds of thousands of Egyptians marched against the corrupt government which resulted in regime change. Despite this, the highlight of the group’s cultural experience was visiting the Great Pyramids and Sphinx of Giza. The group was in awe of his majestic splendour and size.
The USB ISM group departed Egypt with a much better understanding of the country/region, and urged both the AUC and the USB to ensure much closer co-operation not only on an academic level, but also as an initiative to ensure strategic partnerships between the leaders in the south and north of our great continent.
*This article was written by Eugene Ras and Marcia Davidson. Photos were taken by Jacques Else and the Sarah Salem from the AUC.