Is Jordan the next women’s Silicon Valley?
By Cesilia Faustina
Photography by Cesilia Faustina
“So there is no real understanding in how you enhance the economy participation through women – though the Jordanian population is women; we do have 87% of inactivity in terms of employment on the women’s side,”
This women entrepreneurship agency is looking to be a catalyst to create more women entrepreneurs within Jordan.
One serial entrepreneur has created an economic development agency through women empowerment. With the hopes of increasing women participation in businesses, Rami Al-Karmi is hoping Jordan will become another form of Silicon Valley.
“We are an economic participation development agency, that is one of our main missions, but we have a new way to go about that,” Rami said.
“We don’t want to be an investment firm per say, we are an investment firm that is focused on activating and growing the ecosystem.”
Rami is set on communicating his theory about the entrepreneurship ecosystem – focusing on activating the startup community. He is hoping to accomplish this through the creation of F03.
“We decided with F03 our focus would be activating the ecosystem at large and our theory is that they are not entrepreneurs, they are founders; they are not investors, they are funders,” he said.
“And they are not scattered between corporates and government, and supporters and NGOs doing programs; they’re all facilitators in the ecosystem – and those are the F03.
“We have boot camps that are basically inventions of designs that are built to grow the ecosystem and build communities around the components.
“Our main approach is centred around community activation.”
Rami said he is focused on trying to lessen the gap in entrepreneur specialization, especially within Jordan.
“I basically started this journey of trying to understand the ecosystem back in 2010 when I attended the first Global Entrepreneurship summit,” he said.
“There, I was basically surrounded by dozens of Silicon Valleys and I decided that I had to understand this space; so I quit my job back then and put myself back to school one-two years in Berkeley under the program of venture capital.
“And part of the program there is to understand the ecosystem; the three main components that they offer were entrepreneurs, value chain of venture capitals, and corporates.”
“At a point, I remember I was investing in a company, and the start-up and we had the same lawyers,” Rami added.
“There were no other lawyers who understand putting together term sheets – that was 5 years ago.
“So we have a gap in that sector.”
With a better understanding about the lack of knowledge in the entrepreneurship ecosystem, Rami looked to introduce a new movement.
“One of the main things we try to bring to the region is the Lean startup movement,” he said.
“The Lean startup movement focuses on customer development and focusing on the real pain out there, then designing the solution towards this pain.
“While most people only talk about challenges, you look at those challenges as opportunities.
“So I’ve done a few interventions with gender-related programs in the country and I found out that most of the stuff that they are doing, what has been done, or what is currently being done focuses on women integration and gender equity.
“With all due respect to all the programs, they tend to shy out from the economy.”
Rami felt that even though women equality is an important topic in Jordan, people still lack knowledge about women’s contribution to the economy.
“So there is no real understanding of how you enhance the economy participation of the value of women being partners in different programs – though the Jordanian population is women; we do have 87% of inactivity in terms of employment on the women’s side,” he said.
“And we were recently marked by one of the WEF reports in late 2014 [in terms of women employment] as the 140th country within an index of 142, so we are one of the lowest.
“We are 140 against 142, the two after us were Syria, which has a war – justifiable, and Afghanistan. So I think we have no excuses to have a proper agenda towards women.”
Through a mindset of wanting to develop Jordan’s economy, Rami saw F03 as a great platform in providing training towards the entrepreneurship sector.
“I have been involved with different entities that are – hopefully – towards the end of the year will build a full strategy towards gender equity and a better understanding of women’s rights towards the economy,” he said.
“And the first boot camp that I designed – the one that focuses on angel investors; it focuses on teaching women how to become angel investors, called the new funders boot camp.
“This boot camp basically drives towards the conference that will launch this strategy and I am hoping to highlight actual results for a change through the conference.
“So we will come up at the conference and show that 42 women were able to learn how to become angel investors.
“They actually did it, they walked the talk, they invested and they landed on an investment opportunity that they liked and that we will announce during the conference.
The women of Amman
“I don’t think the issue is women related, I think we have an issue with entrepreneurship at large,”
Rami saw great potential for the women in Amman, which is why he chose to focus on developing the women entrepreneurship sector.
A 2015 study by the Jordanian Co-Operative Corporation revealed that Jordan hosted approximately 2,000 cooperatives members – 61 per cent of whom were women. Jordan also hosted 104 women cooperatives where they were governed and operated by Jordanian women.
“Now the good side of the story, we’ve seen more and more resilience in how women go through challenges,” Rami said.
“Why we decided to go into this space is because I have seen women go through challenges and basically stuff work out – yet this knowledge has never been captured.
“So you see this cycle going on and on with everyone you see.”
Fellow F03 program manager Ilona Mohammed also saw great potential for the women in the MENA region, especially within Amman.
“The Jordanian market has the biggest possibility for women entrepreneurship growth within the MENA region,” she said.
“We have a lot of creative ideas, we have the will to grow our businesses.
“What we lack is the financial things. I think, especially for women in Jordan, they have great power to grow their businesses.”
Rami hoped with the F03 programs, they would be able to create a strong platform that would push for a better skill set in entrepreneurship.
“I don’t think the issue is women related, I think we have an issue with entrepreneurship at large,” he said.
“There are lots and lots of initiatives that were either run by somebody who has never had a company, so they preach stuff out of the books.
“And these stuff basically work elsewhere in the world – that has not been customized by an approach within the region.
“It assumes assumptions that don’t exist in our ecosystem.
“When you put that aside – which are general problems that entrepreneurs will face within the region when wanting to start a company – there is some specialty towards challenges that women will go through.”
“I am with Rami about what he said,” Ilona said.
“The great thing about the two programs that we launched – one for the angel investors and one for the female founders – one of the greatest concepts is that of women empowering women; sisterhood.
“The problem in any community – not only in the Arab world – is that not only men handles women from going further, actually women handles women.
“[Our program] helps breaks the ice between women; that’s one of the greatest things about this program – being beside each other at the same time.”
Rami said he would like to take advantage of women’s resilience and strengths by creating a supportive community.
“So what I am hoping for this program, we can clearly identify what are those top challenges, who is out there to support, and how can you overcome them, and if one of the founders managed to overcome them – what did she do; let the rest of the group get it and it goes the same for the rest,” he said.
“So we make sure if there was a woman who managed to overcome challenge number one, yet if another woman managed to overcome challenge number two together we will overcome most of the challenge.
“But again, I’m always super astonished by the level of resilience I see with women and the value that a woman brings to the system and community when she starts a company.
“So in most of the cases when you see a women-led company, you see more – I wouldn’t say CSR, but there is an impact in the community, there is something they want to do with ethics and they want to apply some ethical value system.
“They hire more people, they hire more women. They care about them, so they design working hours and working environment that suits the particular piece.
“In most of the cases, there is an issue that requires lobbying, we guys don’t tend to do that. Women-led startups and founders quickly take action towards that.”
Jordan: the next Silicon Valley?
“I really wanted to disrupt the space, I hate that the country might be boxed into going about prosperity and economic development in a way that was taught in books 30 years ago elsewhere,”
Believing he can make a change for Jordan’s entrepreneur scene, Rami would like to create a system that will work for Amman.
“Everyone else is basically coming in and saying you need to build venture capital firms and do this and that; we’ve tried and we’ve seen the programs – I call them fluffs,” he said.
“There’s a textbook scenario that everybody goes through and then you watch the cycle; there’s hype – people who enjoy what is happening. The cycle span is for maybe two to three years.
“Then you see everyone just blaming the system and how they have ruined the cycle and how they were supposed to become the Bill Gates and Zuckerberg.
“They were promised that and did what they were told and brought a checklist, but it never worked out.”
The entrepreneur looked for a better method that will support Jordan in all its supporting factors.
“I really wanted to disrupt the space, I hate that the country might be boxed into going about prosperity and economic development in a way that was taught in books 30 years ago elsewhere,” he said.
“So I want to bring this disruptive approach – not sticking to the textbook, but actually building stuff that works; fluff-free stuff that works and based on what we have as resources.
“We can’t assume that we are the Silicon Valley or want to become the Silicon Valley.
“I don’t mind us wanting to become our own version of a Silicon Valley, but not aiming to be Silicon Valley – this will never happen.
“And this will never happen by borrowing a copy-paste approach of what was done in a Silicon Valley textbook.”
Rami, however, knew that it was not all fun and games; having to face a series of ups and downs in order to reach their ultimate goal.
“The hardest thing, we wake up to see hardships every day,” he said.
“The hardest thing is the conspiracy theories, it’s a mindset issue.
“Everything we do with the heart is a mind shift development and you would see people who would question the agenda; a misconception of us being a non-for-profit or a philanthropic entity vs us being an investment entity that is focusing on a social impact beyond the standard investment.
“Put aside the government infused challenges that we see every day, the UBER Careem challenge, and the red tape challenge that they enjoy presenting every day to the startup ecosystem; other than that it’s all an issue of mindset.
Despite the hardships that the F03 team constantly faces, they are determined that F03 will be able to make an impact.
“So what we’re trying to do with F03 will result – hopefully – with a resolved ecosystem level, resolve in the financial returns of our investors and shareholders basically.
“And will help flourish and scale the companies that we have a certain impact in – whether we train or are on the board of advisers.
“That’s the outcome we have in mind and hopefully at the end of the day, we will sit with the founder and they will just say thank you because I became the next Zuckerberg by just watching one of the sessions or took part in one of the boot camps; and deciding to go through the Lean Startup approach instead of going through the fluff route.”
“Our main objective, that is part of our mandate, is to push the positive thinking and agenda – I call it being positively radioactive,” Rami expressed.
“So not only are you positive but the minute you touch someone else, they also become positive and it goes on.”
Rami Al-Karmi is a serial entrepreneur from Amman, Jordan; he has accomplished various business programs – mostly in the field of entrepreneurship. Rami now is the owner/founder of F03 Venture Partners, a development agency that looks to improve the participation of women in Jordan’s economy. Rami is also a member and co-founder of a number of organisations – such as Girls in Tech. Together with Ilona Mohammed – who is the program manager of F03 – they are trying to make F03 a success for women entrepreneurs.
To show your support and for more information, check out their website and Facebook page.