Role Models

The MENA Role Models Project

Week 1 Role Models

The AMENA Center for Building Innovation Economies in the Middle East is a novel initiative to conduct research, publish educational materials, hold conferences, and offer policy recommendations on the promotion and sustenance of entrepreneurship in the context of open societies, economies, and polities in the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA).

We believe that supporting entrepreneurship and the entrepreneurial mindset through role modeling and exemplary leadership constitute some of the most effective ways of laying the foundations for the attainment and sustenance of economic and social development. Indeed, without actively promoting entrepreneurship champions and their achievements, we will miss the opportunity to further contribute to the job creation that occurs as a result of strong and vibrant entrepreneurial communities. Furthermore, without more visible and inspirational leaders, the Middle East region’s demographic profile (with its overwhelmingly youthful, underemployed and unemployed population) will continue to present an almost insurmountable obstacle to the maintenance of stability, economic prosperity, strong civil society and citizens’ political participation.

Even more so than in other regions, the flowering of genuine and socially responsible entrepreneurship in the Middle East and North Africa region is impeded by a number of familiar cultural, legal, bureaucratic, managerial, educational, and financial constraints. But perhaps the most formidable obstacle to the unleashing of the enormous entrepreneurial talents and energies of the region’s youth is the dearth of creative and inspiring role models, who, while building flourishing businesses, have also managed to solve pressing social problems and make a difference in the lives of others.

The MENA Role Models Project is predicated on the premise that insufficient knowledge and exposure to the existence and accomplishments of innovative business and social entrepreneurs, who are creating value not simply for themselves but making contributions to the societies in which they operate, is a major hurdle to the awakening of entrepreneurial energies and the promotion of economic development and diversity in the region.

To remedy this gap, we propose to interview the region’s most innovative entrepreneurs and change agents, both male and female, on how and why they embarked upon their careers, key strategies that have contributed to their success, challenges they have had to overcome, lessons they have derived, and the counsel they wish to impart to the next generation of aspiring and socially conscious leaders and risk takers. On a broader level, we also seek to discover what leading social and business entrepreneurs regard as the impediments, as well as the spurs, to entrepreneurship, economic growth, wealth generation and middle class development in their respective countries and the region as a whole.

Harry Kreisler, Executive Director of UC Berkeley’s Institute of International Studies and host of Conversations with History and I will conduct the interviews. Harry Kreisler will also serve as the lead interviewer and supervisor of the project. Conversations with History ( is a critically acclaimed archive containing roughly 700 one hour interviews with prominent statesmen, public intellectuals, scholars, entrepreneurs, noble laureates, journalists, and policy makers from around the world. Some of the individuals interviewed by Conversations with History include Vicente Fox, President of Mexico (2000-2006), Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations (1997-2006), Massimo D’Alema, Prime Minister of Italy (1998-2000), Kenneth D. Kaunda, President of Zambia (1964-1991), Jeff Hawkins, founder of Palm Computing and Handspring, Steven Squyers, principal investigator of the Mars Exploration Rover Mission, Lord Patten of Barnes, former European Union Commissioner for External Affairs and Chancellor of Oxford University, Leslie Gelb, President Emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, John Micklethwait, editor of the Economist magazine, the late John Kenneth Galbraith, and winners of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences Gary S. Becker, Amartya Sen, Michael Spence, and Daniel Kahneman.

In addition to being prominently featured on YouTube and UC Berkeley websites, the interviews will constitute the basis for a book series profiling the region’s most inspirational and sympathetic entrepreneurs, to be published in English, Arabic, Turkish and Persian and made available to the public for free (who would be able to download them from our website). The book series will also include a compendium, consisting of a distillation of the patterns and trends derived from interviewee responses and serving as a practical guide on such topics as leadership, creativity, overcoming obstacles, creating value, making a difference in the lives of others as well as impediments and spurs to entrepreneurship and development.

By profiling the region’s success stories, which Berkeley is uniquely positioned to disseminate and publicize, the videos and the book series will fulfill the objective of familiarizing a broad segment of the attentive public with the best and brightest entrepreneurs who also care deeply about social impact—and can thereby serve as sources of inspiration for the region’s energetic and ambitious youth. Providing the region’s youth with entrepreneurial sources of emulation, the Role Models Project can also help to empower them to take their destiny into their own hands, and contribute to the uplift of the societies in which they live, while fulfilling their ambitions and achieving personal success.

We believe this effort can help to change the youth’s attitude from frustration to possibility, and thereby help to boost entrepreneurial activity, job creation, sustainable growth, unemployment alleviation, attraction of investment, productivity enhancement—and social impact.