In the face of regional socioeconomic pressures, Jordan has realized the acute need to counter the current situation by placing innovation – particularly youth-led innovation – at the core of its endeavors to help shape the country’s future.In Jordan, innovation is budding and vibrant. Because of its limited natural resources, the nation has traditionally leaned on its people’s innovation and creative ideation to keep the economic wheels spinning. This innovation ethos is deeply rooted in the Jordanian culture, dating back to earlier civilizations that pioneered the sickle blades and eyed bone needles using inventive designs that have endured till today. Thousands of years later, the Nabataeans would also excel at developing water-harvesting techniques that served agricultural purposes. Nowadays, Jordan continues to build on this heritage of innovation, positioning itself as a champion of modernization as well as a gateway to the region with a commitment to serving as an innovation hub in which out-of-the-box ideas can thrive.In the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Competitiveness Index, Jordan was ranked first among Arab oil-importing economies, reaffirming the country’s resilience and ability to make its mark around the world. Standing as a safe haven for creativity and disruptive thinking, Jordan’s security and rule of law ensure that it will continue to offer a welcoming environment for everyone including innovators and change-makers.
Jordan’s innovation-enabling ecosystem stands on four major pillars:
A Young, Tech-Savvy Population
With 55 percent of Jordanians currently 24 years of age or younger, the majority of the nation’s population has grown up in the midst of an unprecedented burst of technological advancement. While older generations might be reluctant to experiment with new technologies, Jordanian youth embrace them, eager to learn the ins and outs of every new app, device and means to interact with the world around them. They are more connected, informed and globally conscious than any generation of Jordanians before them, equipped to usher in a new era of digitalization. In 2030 – just 13 short years away – Jordan is projected to enter what is known as a ‘demographic window’, in which its working age population will be at its peak, while its dependent populations, consisting of children and the elderly, will be relatively small. Jordan is investing in its burgeoning youth population to ensure that these digital natives will be able to lead the nation during what is expected to be a 20-year opportunity for boosted productivity, increased savings and a rising gross domestic product (GDP).
The people of Jordan are the nation’s greatest asset, and its educational system has been essential in building the foundation upon which local pioneers and thought-leaders stand. When it comes to the basics, Jordan is ahead of the pack, boasting one the highest literacy rate in the Arab World at 90.9 percent, as well as a 95 percent enrollment rate for Jordanian children between the ages of 6 and 15. Within its institutions of higher learning, Jordan is a competitive education destination across the region, with foreign students accounting for almost 21 percent of enrollments at the undergraduate level. As the importance of constant evolution becomes ever clearer, Jordan has turned its attention toward developing young people’s entrepreneurial spirit, as well as stressing the importance of learning the skills that are most needed in the workplace. Under the National Strategy for Human Resources Development, Jordan is taking steps to boost teacher training, update curricula and improve classroom environments, contributing to the development of youth who are ready and able to carry the nation forward. As His Majesty King Abdullah II stated in his Seventh Discussion Paper, “We want Jordan to lead the way in modernizing education in the Arab world, encouraging others to follow in its footsteps towards a knowledge-based society.”
In the modern world, connectivity is a crucial piece of the innovation puzzle. Jordan got an early start by liberalizing its telecommunications sector in 1999, as well as by launching its first ICT strategy in 2000. Today, the country’s major telecommunications operators have not only extended 3G and 4G services to every corner of the country, but have also begun integrating the Internet of Things into the sector, providing monitoring and security solutions to homes and businesses, among other valuable services. Alongside these strides in ICT readiness, entrepreneurs also benefit from the country’s small size and resultant close-knit networks. Under REACH 2025, Jordan’s 10-year ICT action plan, public-private partnerships continue to grow in number, accelerating progress in the field of e-payments as well as the digitalization of governmental processes. This hyper-connectivity, through both technology and the ‘Internet of Humanity’, has set the stage for entrepreneurs of all backgrounds to launch and grow their businesses from Jordan.
Innovation is the lifeblood of the Jordanian economy, as evidenced by the small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that account for 95 percent of the country’s economic activity. With approximately 300 startups and counting in Jordan, several entities have stepped up their support of entrepreneurial enterprises, ensuring that the resultant culture of innovation not only takes root, but blossoms on Jordanian soil. Working to help young men and women become job creators instead of employees, accelerators, incubators and other initiatives led by NGOs and the private sector have emerged to foster young, innovative entrepreneurs in Jordan. This revolution began in earnest in 2010 with the launch of Oasis500, the country’s first startup accelerator, but has since grown into a community of entities committed to bolstering the greatest business ideas in Jordan. Meanwhile, social innovation labs, fabrication labs (FabLabs) and 3D printing houses have made strong debuts, revolutionizing the production process and providing young innovators with new tools, software and opportunities to transform their ideas into tangible realities and competitive products.