Cairo's business-savvy protesters

The principles that were manifest in the Egyptian revolution are not dissimilar to those needed for the success of any entrepreneurial effort.

By STEF WERTHEIMER
February 22, 2011 16:53
Egyptian anti-government protesters in Cairo

Egyptian anti-government protesters in Cairo . (photo credit: AP)

 
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Over the past few weeks, I have experienced something quite new, a certain feeling of commonality with Egypt. I can identify with the methods that the Egyptian people employed to wage their revolution. They are guidelines that I myself have tried to maintain in my own initiatives.  Harvard Business School could write a case study on Tahrir Square, for the principles the protesters demonstrated there are the same ones needed for any successful entrepreneurial effort. Indeed, Israel too might learn a thing or too from the protests. As President Barack Obama said, the world was inspired by Egypt’s revolution. The following are just a few examples of Egypt’s skills in entrepreneurship:

Stating a clear goal
Like any good entrepreneur, the majority of protesters focused on one main objective, removing President Hosni Mubarak from power so that a new era could begin.

Believing in the product
The "product" in this case was a new way of life for the nation’s 80 million citizens; one with more opportunities for education and jobs. The value of this belief was voiced repeatedly with total clarity.

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Perseverance
Over an 18-day period, the protesters were steadfast and unwavering their demands.

Maintaining a cool head under pressure
Even when Mubarak said during his February 10 speech that he would not step down, they did not resort to violence but maintained a relatively calm demonstration. This was no mean feat for a group of protesters estimated at close to one million.

Keeping one’s word
The collective group vowed to stay put until they achieved their goal. And they did.

Employing the use of technology
The ultimate success of the revolt is largely hinged on the younger generation’s ability to rally their forces using networking sites and the latest communication devices.



Managing the team towards a common goal
At no time did the huge crowd of protesters break up into rival sectors. Religious and secular, young and old, urban and rural, men and women: all focused their efforts collectively on breaking down the old system to allow for a new one.

Looking to the future while retaining the important aspects of the past
The protesters showed a respect for the past and a willingness to balance their demands in a sensible way. They were ready to believe in themselves again, an insight that will give them the courage to make the difficult decisions that await them in the future.

Transferring pride into action
No good entrepreneur can rest on his laurels. Today’s achievement must be followed by new ideas and actions. Soon after it was clear that Mubarak would step down, the protesters didn’t simply abandon the square; many returned to clean the area that had served them as a temporary residence. This underscored the people’s pride in their accomplishment and their newly-defined status in society.

Making peace with one’s competition
I have always been of the opinion that trying to kill your competition ultimately erodes your own success. Creating a win-win situation usually works out best for both competitors. Mubarak, who had ruled for close to 30 years, was allowed free passage out of office.

Egypt’s “product” has now been presented to the whole world and has for the most part  received an enthusiastic reception. But now the hard work really begins, ushering with it the  need to formulate a revised constitution that will include free and fair elections.

Perhaps equally important is the need to create opportunities so that the vast population of Egypt can finally take their rightful places in society. In particular, I am referring to employment. In order to achieve financial and social stability, Egypt must be willing to undergo another revolution, this time an industrial one. But first, it must create a strong system of technical education that will provide millions of people with real skills. Doing so will enable people to earn themselves the pride and the know-how necessary in starting new companies and new endeavors. This will serve as the catalyst to increase the nation’s GDP and its standard of living. 

By following this prescription, Egypt can avoid the US’s mistake of diminishing its own production and manufacturing (which created a huge trade deficit and dramatically increased unemployment.) Egypt would do well to emulate the policies of countries like South Korea, Singapore, Japan, and China, in which industry helped enormously in making a better life for their citizens.

Israel can also glean tips from the principles embodied in its neighbor’s revolution. First and foremost, it can attempt to clarify its own vision for the future. It must also embark on bridging the economic, religious and ethnic gaps that increasingly rend the fabric of its society. It should stem the flow of emigration of its talented and educated younger generation and encourage people in the Diaspora to help build the country by returning. It must reinvigorate the system of technical education, thereby producing a new generation of skilled professions with the ability to create innovative, export-oriented industries. With hard work and a collective drive among their respective citizens, both Israel and Egypt can ultimately achieve their goals.  

The writer is the founder and honorary chairman of ISCAR, Ltd. For the past 50 years he has been involved in establishing technical education programs and is chairman of the Zur Lavon organization for technical education.

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