OBG talks to Usama Fayyad, Executive Chairman, OASIS 500

Published by Oxford Business Group on July 19, 2012

Interview: Usama Fayyad

How has information and communications technology (ICT) helped reduce unemployment in Jordan?

USAMA FAYYAD: The kingdom’s ICT sector, which accounts for 1.25% of total employment and 14.1% of GDP, is one of the country’s main economic pillars and employment source for middle-class professionals. Compensation for a high-value job in the ICT sector is generally more than five times higher than compensation for positions of similar importance in other industries.

In addition to creating 15,000 direct ICT jobs, the sector generates 84,000 total employment opportunities. Recent analysis shows that this number will increase as ICT is integrated into vertical sectors such as health, manufacturing and commerce. If these numbers continue to rise, Jordan will find itself in the position to become the ICT centre of the Middle East.

OASIS 500 has had a strong and successful start. The average company from the programme’s Boot Camp is hiring between five and 15 new employees, increasing its valuation by three- to 10-fold and tripling its revenues in just four months. In 2007 Jordan created the National ICT Strategy, which aims to not only improve the ICT labour market, but also to capitalise on regional demand, invest in research and development, and cultivate foreign investment. The National ICT Strategy has two objectives: to identify the ICT subsectors best suited for growth in Jordan; and to define actions the government must take to facilitate this growth. By implementing this strategy, annual ICT sector revenue has risen by an average of 25% annually over the past 10 years, despite a slow down in the last two years because of the economic downturn.

What segments of the ICT industry have the strongest growth potential in Jordan and the region?

FAYYAD: Arabic content and e-commerce are going to be important focus areas for ICT companies in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. This is due to the fact that Arabic content accounts for less than 1% of all online content. Having good content will allow MENA companies to build more integrated platforms and solutions for business expansion. Meanwhile, e-commerce has been booming in the region, with the number of e-businesses and online transactions steadily increasing. We are witnessing this in OASIS 500, where the majority of the applications we receive fall under one of those two categories, indicating strong market demand. The e-commerce market is still small compared to many other regions in the world, meaning that, like the content market, there is a lot of room for growth.

I also expect to see a shift towards ICT mobility products. As handheld devices become more integral to our daily lives and we grow dependent on them, companies will in turn pay greater attention to smartphone applications for business and leisure.

Jordanian talent and expertise have always been the key ingredients to making this country one of the top destinations for outsourcing in the region. Saudi Arabia, Iraq, the UAE, the US, Oman, Palestine, Egypt, the Netherlands, Qatar and Sudan are the top 10 export markets for Jordan’s ICT products and services.

In your opinion, what accounts for the recent rise in funding of local tech start-ups?

FAYYAD: A common strength among Jordanian tech start-ups is their vision for a product that can compete both regionally and internationally. Jordanian ICT innovations are designed to become international products from the moment of their creation.

Another element is the sharp skills and technical know-how of Jordanian graduates, as well as the ability to deliver quality products at a lower cost than the US or Europe. Amman was recently named the 10th best city in the world to establish a technology start-up, and Jordan was ranked as the MENA region’s top country in terms of the number of ICT start-up investments it attracts and second in terms of investment it has raised. These factors demonstrate the important role of ICT growth in Jordan and the promise that development of this sector holds for the economy as a whole.

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