Jordan's Queen Rania Al Abdullah emphasizes the need to teach Arab kids how to start their own businesses and create jobs. She's crisscrossed the region to drum up support for Injaz al-Arab, a fast-growing NGO that has helped 270,000 students learn business skills and set up their own mini-companies. Her Majesty answered Stefan Theil's written questions from the royal family's undisclosed vacation retreat. Excerpts:
Theil: In many Arab countries, there are countless obstacles to starting a business—from punitive bankruptcy laws to lack of financing to the time and money it takes to set up a company. Why focus on education?
Rania: Because it's not just about creating an environment in which entrepreneurs can succeed, it's also about creating the entrepreneurs themselves. It's about nurturing creativity, innovation and critical thinking in our classrooms. Our schools need to graduate more students who can recognize opportunity and pursue it, generate new ideas, take risks and bounce back from knocks along the way.
You've emphasized that this is as much about mentality as about skills.
Across the Arab world, we see countries moving toward private-sector growth, but traditionally the reliance has been on the public sector [for jobs]. Many people are preoccupied with job security, as offered by a public-sector job. People tend to be more cautious and hesitant to take financial risks, and there is a fear of failure. We are working hard to reverse this ... throughout society.
How do you change a culture to be more enterprising, go-getting and risk-taking?
By working with would-be entrepreneurs in schools, universities and training centers. By encouraging students to set up and run their own enterprising projects and to share their successes and products with the community; by bringing entrepreneurs into the classroom and letting them inspire young minds; by recognizing and rewarding entrepreneurship across society, and by creating an "if he or she can do it, so can I" mind-set. You aren't born with these skills and attitudes—you can learn and nurture them along the way.
In Jordan and some other countries in the region, many of the most promising entrepreneurs are women. Is there a connection between entrepreneurship and women's rights, or, more broadly, between entrepreneurship and sociopolitical change?
I'd like to think there is. I see it when I visit women entrepreneurs across Jordan—transformed women, whose quiet, determined efforts in micro-enterprise are making a macro difference for their families and communities. And ultimately for themselves, as they earn a stronger voice, greater authority and increased respect in their community.