In the context of endless rounds of violence on university campuses throughout the Kingdom in recent weeks, the Minister of Higher Education has reportedly proposed a plan to “stomp out” violence in university campus. The plan consists of the following steps in the SHORT TERM:
1) “…making changes to the admission system and criterion that universities in Jordan currently use, saying that the high percentage of students enrolling in higher education courses in their governorates may have led to the increase of violence.”
i.e. universities have been accepting terrible people, thus increasing admission standards weeds them out and universities will be safe once again from the mongols
2) “…the Ministry of Higher Education will seek to encourage students to attend universities outside of their governorates as a preventative measure…the ministry was working on finding a mechanism to financially support students who cannot afford to study away from their local governorates.”
tribal youth are responsible for violence, thus shipping them out of their local communities will decrease probability of violence
3) “…under the new admissions system, more students will be directed towards studying technical subjects rather than humanities. Currently, 70 per cent of university students are enrolled in humanities faculties.”
i.e. students who study “smart” subjects like science, don’t do violence. Only students studying silly things like language and social sciences have the free time required to be violent
4) “..other recommendations put forward included assessing university regulations governing students’ conduct and drafting a code of conduct to be applied in higher education institutions. If implemented, all students will sign and be committed to the proposed code of conduct when they enrol at university.”
i.e. similar to the code of conduct ministers are made to sign when appointed to office. because signing a piece of paper deters you from corruption or violence
5) “…university employees across Jordan will be given training on how to prevent the escalation of violence if it occurs on campus.”
i.e. professors will be trained in mixed martial arts?
6) “The Ministry of Higher Education’s new strategy also calls for forming a monitoring committee that will be responsible for any violation on campus, upgrading the skills of campus security personnel and ensuring that they have the suitable equipment so as to be able to work effectively, including intensifying security and monitoring equipment such as CCTV. Mahmoud cited the case of the University of Jordan (UJ) as evidence for an increased CCTV presence preventing violence — UJ installed a superior CCTV system, at a cost that did not exceed JD400,000. According to the minister, the move significantly reduced the outburst of violent clashes at the university.”
i.e. more security + more monitoring = less violence
Now here’s the LONG TERM STRATEGY:
“In addition to these immediate recommendations, the ministry’s plan also includes long-term goals. These include restructuring academic curricula and the entire system so as to encourage more independent learning, rather than what Mahmoud called “spoon feeding”. The long-term recommendations also call for intensifying cultural activities in universities, and the encouragement of voluntary work and community service.”
i.e. things we’ll eventually, some day, maybe, probably, kind of, depends on the money….get around to
I am not an expert in education nor security – but I am a taxpaying citizen so here’s another way to go about this in my very humble opinion:
How about changing admissions to complement a better quality educational system (that includes both sciences and humanities) rather than changing it just so it’s tougher for the violently-prone students to commit their acts on campus? How about we invest the cost of CCTVs (400k X the total amount of public universities?) and put towards genuine educational reform? How about instead of investing money and time in training university staff to “deal with” campus violence, you put that investment towards training school teachers not to beat kids – something which is a norm in public schools and probably has some effect on yielding violent students headed to universities. How about, instead of spending local governorate money on paying for students to study outside their local communities, thus taking money OUT of the local system – you spend that money on improving the universities IN their local communities?
In other words, how about if the long-term strategy was the short-term strategy?
Normally, the excuse for the lack of educational reform is money. But according to this proposed plan, there seems to be plenty of money to spend on changing admission standards, setting up monitoring systems, paying for students to study outside their local universities, installing CCTV systems, beefing up security (likely metal detectors and campus police), and training campus staff to deal with violence. In short, creating a better security system doesn’t really tackle the larger problems. Imagine venturing in to the poorest ghetto in a random innercity somewhere in the US and seeing the windows borded up with wire, metal detectors, and private security – are the kids there likely getting a good or bad education? Is violence there higher or lower than in some white, middle income, suburban public school? The same logic I feel can be applied here.
It sounds like this plan is equivalent to putting a bandaid on a bullet wound.
For those interested in a bigger discussion, 7iber is organizing a Hashtag Debate on solving problems in higher education, Monday 20th, at the Shoman Foundation between 1st and 2nd circle, at 6:30pm. Details here.
In the past 48 hours, the lengthy article published in The Atlantic, based on various interviews conducted with HM King Abdullah, has been making the media rounds. (For those who haven’t read it, please take a look here, as my goal is not to summarize it). Suffice to say, it’s made waves locally despite the fact that probably 99% of the people have not read it and local media has stayed away from offering a complete translation (which has caused even more confusion).
Why has it made waves? Possibly because this is the most candid and in-depth interview we’ve ever seen involving the King, which makes it obviously relevant in the Arab Spring era. Roughly 24 hours after its publication the local Internet pretty much exploded, and rejection of it followed from the state, with a report quoting unnamed sources at the Royal Hashemite Court (RHC) claiming that it “contained many inaccuracies” and that the King’s words “were taken out of context.”
The author of the piece, Jeffrey Goldberg, has confirmed via Twitter that both he and the RHC have recordings of the interview, so it may be safe to assume that the piece is in no position to be dismissed. Nevertheless, many of the King’s supporters have rushed to his defense, with reactions ranging from “he never said any of that” and “it was probably all off the record”, to accusations of the author being a Zionist propagandist who has an Israeli agenda bent on creating chaos in Jordan (despite his 14 year relationship with the King and full access). On the other side of the spectrum, you have people who feel somewhat insulted by some of the King’s remarks, specifically those referring to Jordanian tribal leaders as “dinosaurs”, or his demonization of the Muslim Brotherhood as a “masonic cult”. Others have merely shrugged their shoulders, believing that the piece offers no new insight.
While public perceptions vary, the piece puts the King in a fairly positive light, and he comes off as blunt and transparent – openly speaking his mind on the realities he’s dealing with. However, that bluntness came in the form of comments that some have deemed to be controversial in nature and international media has been quick to highlight these comments.
The following are my thoughts on the piece and specifically on what the King himself said as opposed to the author’s perspectives.
First off, yes, the piece was obviously intended for a western audience, and therein lies the central problem. The picture of the King that emerges is one of a leader who, at heart, is a reformist and a modernizer but has been unable to carry out his agenda for 14 years because the General Intelligence Department and tribal conservatives (the “dinosaurs”) have been too powerful a force, working against him or rejecting his changes. In other words, the portrait of a leader the West can sympathize with emerges. It’s an image that sells well in the Western hemisphere but if you simply live in Jordan, you probably recognize the holes in that picture.
For starters, it is difficult for me to fathom that an absolute Monarch is unable to “control” forces within his own security apparatus – and if this is the case then we’re left with the assumption that this security apparatus operates beyond the King’s reach, which is a very troubling piece of information and ends up merely tarnishing the King’s power. This is something that has been repeated a few times publically over the past two years, but I fail to see the virtue or value in having a media strategy that makes a leader appear helpless. At the end of the day, most Jordanians (including myself) are unaware of the true relationship between the King and the GID, nor the extent to which this body operates within the larger framework of the country. It is simply a body that receives simultaneous respect and fear from the overwhelming majority. The quotes in this article are probably the first of their kind to shed light on that relationship.
And as for conservative forces – this is just as troublesome for me. For while the GID remains a mystery, subject to rumors and assumptions, political appointments are not. And the overwhelming majority of the people the King appoints and the names he puts his Royal stamp of approval on, are simply put, old guard conservatives. It is difficult to paint that picture of a leader who recognizes the Arab Spring as this grand “opportunity” he’s been waiting for to reform, but then whose first move in the midst of that spring is to appoint a Prime Minister straight out of the security apparatus who was last brought in to power after the 2005 Amman bombings. It is difficult to maintain that image when you form a national dialog committee, or a Royal commission to amend the constitution, an then appoint old guard politicians to lead it. It is difficult to maintain that image when many of the key reformist initiatives of the past two years, including the election law and the constitutional amendments, were done predominantly behind closed doors with little national consultation beyond the mere sycophantic musings of a parliament that was supposedly legitimate but then subsequently dissolved in order to pave the way for yet another election. That’s to say nothing of a press law that continues to offer nothing short of a stranglehold on freedom of speech, and a population of university students who are too afraid to practice political freedom on their own campuses (and rightly so). And so on, and so forth – that list of contradictions is pretty long.
In short, while this image works for western audiences, I really find it difficult to conjure up similar sympathies given that the policies, laws, and political maneuverings we’ve seen come out of the state for the past 14 years are not indicative of the characteristics this image is supposed to present. However, my point here is not to simply say ‘the King says one thing but does another’, but rather to say that this media strategy is no longer sustainable. In fact, it’s a terrible one.
One of the biggest lessons to be taken away from The Atlantic article is regarding the communication policy of the Royal Hashemite Court, which seems to still be using a 1992 playbook. In the digital age, the whole “speak to western audiences in one language and to a local audience in another” approach is no longer functional or feasible. The World Wide Web will find it in a matter of seconds, retweet it and share it within a matter of minutes, translate it and publish it for local consumption within the hour. In the digital age, shit hitting the fan is unhindered by physical limitations – everything is or can be made accessible. Subsequently, the communication strategy not only needs to change – an entire radical paradigm shift needs to occur. And watching the government scramble to “contain” this is a further testament to why that shift is needed.
A shift towards what? How about honesty? If we’re going to really be honest and if we’re going to be transparent and blunt about things, then lets. If the King came out and, for instance, said to his people: ‘let’s shelve reform for now – we live in an increasingly unstable region and are faced with new destabilizing forces such as Syria, and we need to buckle down for the time being’ – then I would have no problem with that kind of honesty. I might not agree with the decision, but I’d recognize where he’s coming from and respect the fact that no one is trying to peddle me something I’m not buying. But holding on to this media strategy that paints this kind of contradictory picture insults the intelligence of many. To quote the King from the article:
“…if we’re going to sit here and bullshit each other, then we might as well have a cup of tea and then say goodbye. If you want to have a serious conversation…here’s where we start.’ ”
We start by being honest with each other; by being honest with what’s really happening in Jordan. Until that happens, I find progress and reform to be unattainable. This seems to be our biggest obstacle to change right now.
Second, I actually find it difficult to find anything in the article that the King directly said, which I would categorize as a fallacy. Personally, I largely agree with much of what he said, and disagree with other things, but find nothing so objectionable that we would rush to categorize it as “scandalous”. Are there conservative forces that have no interest in reform and wish to maintain the status quo? Yes. Are most of the country’s political parties (be it the brotherhood or Majali’s party) underdeveloped and have no logical political platforms? Yes. Does the Muslim Brotherhood have regional connections and questionable political agendas? Probably.
But while I am no fan of the Muslim Brotherhood, I don’t think demonizing them is the smartest move when you’re the leader of a country where they play a significant political force (like it or not). Such attempts only help to further polarize matters, allowing Islamists to further consolidate their base, and anti-Islamists to become even more aggressively so. It doesn’t really change anyone’s mind or help bring a somewhat socially divided nation together; a role the article claims that the King envisions his son might inherit.
But when it comes to the “realities” the King highlights, there should be some recognition that many of these realities are largely of his own government’s doing. For instance, the East Banker tribal relationship, which this article (and many others) paints as one based on quid-pro-quo is one that was established by the monarchy from the onset, and is a relationship that has grown over the years. The patronage system, land allocations, gifts, university seats for the privileged few, vast public sector employment – all of this has expanded in the past 14 years, not decreased. This over-reliance on government to solve all problems is based on that relationship having thrived over the past few years.
The GID is beyond criticism in the country and anyone who would do so in, say, mainstream media, would likely end up sleeping in a jail cell or tried in front of a military court. Any institution that is beyond criticism is subsequently beyond accountability – and that creates a situation where it is allowed to grow in power, unchecked. The fact that one of its recent chiefs (circa 2007) committed massive electoral fraud and is behind bars for stealing millions is testament to that. Again, this too is a reality created by the state.
The King also notes that in a meeting with young Jordanians he told them that they “…have no concept of left, right, and center,” when it comes to an American style democracy that he seems to want to see happen in Jordan. This is somewhat true – most Jordanians are not necessarily politically aligned in to three neat ideological boxes. But aside from the question of why they should be organizing themselves in to said boxes at all, the natural question that arises for me is how are young Jordanians supposed to have developed these advanced political sensibilities when most of their political mobilization or activities over the past few decades have been met with contempt? In Jordan, parents who send their kids off on the first day of university tend to have one key warning for them: don’t get involved in politics. Their warnings are only logical given the subverted political environment in the academic realm to say nothing of beyond the university gates. To say nothing of the lacking role in our educational system that has failed to promote critical thinking, a comprehensive national history (now substituted with nationalism), let alone the kind of pragmatic political thought the King yearns for. Instead, they get speeches on why they should vote in elections that favor tribalism.
At the end of the day, all I can say is that, just like the King, I’m pretty fatigued with the system. Our inability to be honest about who we are and how we got to this point is really holding this country back. We barely acknowledge the problem, but when we do, we just blame it on “the realities of the country” despite the fact that many of these realities are of the state’s own creation.
People react to the environment that has been created for them. If it’s an environment of privilege and entitlement to a select few – then you’re not going to get a forward thinking meritocratic population, and you’re not going to get a sense of social justice. If you appoint conservatives to high-level posts, you’re not going to get people suddenly demanding liberal reformists. And if many of those appointed end up being charged with corruption (years and years after the fact) – then you’re not going to get a population that has much trust in government. Similarly, if you have a one-man one-vote system in a heavily tribal country, you’re going to have voters voting only for their relatives and you’re not going to get much political party development. Similarly, if you approve restrictive media laws, you end up with a subverted media landscape, and subsequently high self-censorship, less transparency, and less accountability. Similarly, if you surround yourself with what one can only describe as out of touch elitists, then the picture they paint for you isn’t going to be an accurate one, and they’ll spend most of their time shielding you from certain realities in the name of preserving the status quo. None of this is good for the country. None of it has been good for the country.
Suffice to say, the King’s got a lot on his plate. But what this article demonstrated for me (aside from the fact that there is an outdated media strategy that invests a great deal of time in setting and putting out fires) – is that there is a reciprocal relationship between a leader and his followers. While the King does indeed enjoy a great deal of support from the population for a wide variety of reasons, the article and his own words suggests that he doesn’t have the kind of support he’s looking for, or the kind he wants. And given the environment that was created and continues to be largely sustained, that comes as no surprise.
Changing that environment starts with all us being honest with each other about our realities, how they came about, why they continue to exist, and collectively figuring out how to change them.
In the past few weeks and months it has grown increasingly difficult to understand where Jordan is going. For anyone relying on western media they would be inclined to think that Jordan is next on the Arab Spring target list. For anyone actually living in Jordan, they would be inclined to think that the reality is quite different and it is far from experiencing any of the kinds of drastic changes we’ve seen in other Arab nations. I am reminded of a post I wrote on January 23rd, 2011 on why Jordan Is Not Tunisia – while much has changed, especially on a societal level, the fact remains that Jordan is definitely not Tunisia, or Egypt for that matter. People who think otherwise need a second reading of the Kingdom’s political landscape.
But while we are not Tunisia, we are indeed, stuck. Stuck in the mud; stuck in neutral. And this is largely why it is so difficult to understand where the country is going. It is a ball of yarn that seems to keep growing and becoming more complicated; loose strings are being pulled in different directions making everything all the more tangled up. What we are is knotted.
An economic situation that is dire, to say the very least. This did no happen overnight; a slew of bad policies and bad practices over the past decade have largely gotten us to this point. A cash-strapped Kingdom who has employed nearly half the employable population in the public sector. A public sector and patronage system dependent largely on foreign donors, the biggest of whom live in this region and are more inclined to play politics with every cheque they write. A private sector that is over taxed, and struggling to survive. A looming energy crisis, and to top it all off, even more regional instability.
A political situation that is defunct. A state that wants to take things so slowly that political reform in Jordan might be measured on a timeline of human evolution. A state that has pushed for an election law that does little to fix the essential problems inherent within the electoral system, including proportionate representation, creating the right environment for political party development, and getting people to stop voting for their relatives. An election law that will likely yield a very similar lower house of parliament, which will be used to assign blame for any legislative or political missteps, despite the fact that this specific body of government has very little influence on policymaking to begin with. An election that has been framed as the centerpiece of political reform in the Kingdom – and an electorate that is more polarized than ever before.
A political opposition that is lost in space, that has depended more on populism than on setting forth a different vision and a palpable political platform. The state says these parties must do their own reform before any “real” political reform can take place, and how that is expected to happen in a political climate dictated largely by restrictive legislation is beyond comprehension. So, we wait. In the meantime – deadlock; each side seeing each other as the enemy, and pushing their adherents to pursue the same narrative – pushing a divisiveness that has spun us far from the orbit of national consensus building and in to the domain of ideologues, labeling, and kindergarten finger-pointing.
A society that continues to be divided through fear. Fear mostly of “the other” – and the other simply being anyone who doesn’t adhere to their stance. A regional environment that has probably persuaded more Jordanians to not “rock the boat” or risk anything in the name of change, in the fear that it would destabilize the country. The path to democracy in Tunisia and Egypt growing suspicious enough that many Jordanians have grown disenchanted with political change, and more specifically with the thought of Islamists leading that change. A Syria ripped apart, setting a difficult backdrop for anyone calling for genuine change in Jordan’s political system. And so we wait.
Suffice to say, it is difficult to make sense of, or simplify, a very complex political scene. So where do we go from here?
Recently, HM King Abdullah published the first of what are expected to be a series of “discussion papers” circulated through the media. The goal of these papers – as has been stated – is for the King to share “his vision” of a future Jordan with everyone, in an effort to encourage public debate. A noble pursuit no doubt, and this post is an attempt to take up that challenge for discussion. With this in mind, while these papers are, in my opinion, a decent effort to communicate with the population, reading through the document was a stark reminder of just what is wrong with Jordan and the direction it doesn’t seem to be going in. Reading through it one manages to glean a very positive vibe, and there is little in it that one can disagree with in an absolute fashion. In the paper, the King champions democracy, mutual respect amongst citizens, good citizenship, accountability, and compromise. These universal values may go without saying in the 21st century, but Jordanians do need to hear them said (or written) out loud and publicly by the country’s central leadership. But here’s the crux of issue…
Such values have already been preached over the span of a decade. A look at the various documents the King issues in his name, be they letters of designation to the endless number of Prime Ministers in the past 12 years, to the National Agenda, to throne anniversary speeches and Independence day speeches – much of this has been said before. Some of the words are new, some of the language has changed, but more or less, it’s the same. What one can conclude from this is one of three possible things: either the King is not serious about political reform, or, he has never had a real mandate for genuine political reform, or, Jordan has a problem translating vision to implementation. In my opinion, the first point may just as well be moot given a regional context that has forced political reform on the table, which leaves us with points two and three. On several occasions these past two years, the King has consistently said that the Arab Spring presented him with an “opportunity” – a chance to tell the naysayers around him (why those people exist is beyond me) “look, we have to reform”. How that reform is brought about is the main point of contention.
Which takes us to the third point, from vision to implementation. There is no doubt that this has always been at the heart of problems in Jordan. That entire process is defunct. There are only a few cases where it has worked and brought about some genuine changes, but many of those changes have been unsustainable – and this only points to a critical problem in the public policy process – from having a vision, to setting goals, to creating benchmarks, to achieving those goals, to reviewing the process and creating mechanisms of feedback, etc. And moreover, to have this entire process public and accounted for by the public.
So where do we start fixing this? Let’s start with the vision.
In his document, and in others, the King uses the term “my vision”, some times the “Royal vision” and every now and then there’s an “our vision” that seems to mean “the state’s” vision. The document even begins with “I dedicate this paper to share my vision for the principles and values needed to help us progress in our democratisation journey, under our constitutional monarchy.”
There are organizations that have visions, manage to employ a great many people and dictate that vision to them, and for the sake of a pay cheque, many gladly go along with that vision. Then, there are those organizations that create visions through consensus building, in an effort to recognize that greatness cannot be achieved unless people feel they are part of that organization and have some sense of ownership over that vision. In this analogy, Jordan is, for the most part, the former type of organization. One of the key reasons it keeps running in to difficulties is that there is no “national vision” or unified vision – the sense of a shared set of goals and ideals by the diverse public. Something that is generally agreed upon by people who come together to construct it themselves, with their own two hands. Instead, it is decreed – royally. Whether one has a problem with the “Royal Vision” or not is besides the point – it’s about the process, it’s about whether people feel they have something invested in those words because they were involved in their creation; because they learned to compromise, and to engage in the kind of democratic practice the King mentions in his paper. That kind of participation tends to bring about a willingness by most to follow through on that vision, and support the implementation process.
While this document is geared towards encouraging participation in the election process and shunning those that have decided to boycott (the latter is deemed to be an “ineffective” political expression, on par with “political intransigence, and violence” – an assessment I personally disagree with and feel is dangerously divisive) – the ideals outlined are broader in their reach. Their inability to translate to effective public policy with a sound policy process is largely due to a lack of public engagement – or, to be specific, the right kind of public engagement.
Beyond the vision is implementation, and this requires setting achievable goals and benchmarks that allow us to publicly assess where we are, where we are going, and perhaps even enthuse us with a bit of optimism for the future. As would any solid organization function. This has largely been missing as well. While a “Royal Vision” is present we have little idea of the roadmap, and for the most part, we are flying blind. The state is reacting rather than acting. More importantly, even if we had those benchmarks, we have few-to-no mechanisms for public accountability. For instance, it is the easiest thing in the world to publicly declare that the people should “combat corruption” – but to do so requires the right avenues, mechanisms and environment that facilitates that. Those things are nonexistent, and so we are stuck with a situation where only the state holds itself accountable, sending off its own appointed members to the courts, arbitrarily, to be tried for corruption or “mismanagement of funds”.
From having a shared vision to creating a suitable environment – public participation is largely dependent on the existence of these two elements. It is not measured by the number of people who show up to vote on election day – that’s not a measuring stick for whether we’re heading in the right direction or not, and it’s been touted often enough by the state in the past decade that we know it to be unreliable (e.g. 2007, 2010).
Creating laws that do more to set boundaries and restrictions than to induce and encourage social and political development, being reactive instead of proactive is not the way to go either, and avoiding genuine public input – the kind that really influences the public policy process – isn’t the way to go. We’ve learned this lesson over and over again these past ten or so years. We’ve learned it through the failure of many policies and the successes of others. We’ve learned it through the National Agenda. And we continue to learn it now in this Arab Awakening. A vision needs to be shared, and a genuine participatory environment needs to emerge for a domino effect to take place – for accountability to emerge, for party development to occur, for national consens to happen. If from all of this we end up with something that says “here’s what we’re doing; here are the tangible steps that will be taken; here are the benchmarks so you know we’re on the right path; here is the timeframe; and here are the mechanisms to hold us accountable” then that would be a step forward. This is where a drastic shift in the process needs to happen.
The King’s papers may be a good way to poetically communicate his and the state’s thoughts – but at the end of day the public remains only an apathetic audience listening to a one-way channel. Those who are convinced blindly, genuinely or not at all, remain so, as the process has remained unchanged.
Here’s to a better Jordan in 2013.
It’s been awhile since I’ve written anything on the black iris and that’s largely due to being a bit jaded with the political scene of the country. So, instead, the following is an incoherent rant on a completely different subject that has long annoyed me.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about entrepreneurship, social entrepreneurship and/or the various initiatives that have popped up in Jordan over the past several years – and this is based purely on my observations, my interactions with the field, and my various coverage of it – it’s that many don’t seem to last too long. I find myself remembering odd names and wondering to myself whatever happened to them. I can’t even begin to count the number of startups or initiatives or whatever, that launch with a big bang, a glossy logo, and an endless barrage of social media buzz – talking endlessly about what they do, how great they are, and how they got a picture with someone important, or an award of some sort. “Oh, and here’s a picture of something nice I did that no one else is doing; shower me with your compliments and Facebook likes.” Unfortunately, they don’t last too long in the game. They’re unable to surpass that 5 year mark, and their logo returns to the dustbin of history.
In the past few years, entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship are terms that have been thrown around like they’re the best thing since pita bread. But beyond the buzz words, I see organizations with little vision, and even less stamina. Behind all the PR and the marketing, behind the applause and pats on the back, there is something seriously amiss as to why those young ideas led by young minds run out of gas.
What interests me are ideas, the people behind them, and their ability to shape those ideas over a long enough timeline to build a solid community around them. How much money an investor has poured in to you after 12 months of operation is useless to me; how many people like your Facebook page is ridiculous. You are not the hashtag you created. The legacy your idea creates over time is dependent largely on the community around it. A community that is not only able to get on board with the idea but feel they are a part of its evolving story and are prepared to forge an emotional and/or intellectual relationship with it – take it, spin it, whirl it around, interact and engage with it, build on it, even create something new out of it. This is what matters, and all those things take time, patience, and experience. Having a good idea is great, but building a community around it is better. And in this domain, it always feels like most “entrepreneurs” and “social entrepreneurs” come up short.
We have a generation that rushes straight out of college (or even barely) to start the next Google and then spend a few years discovering that having a good idea isn’t enough. These are people who are eager to be employers but have never been employees. They haven’t gone through a practical learning process. Granted, there is a long list of global entrepreneurs or social entrepreneurs who manage to start things even while they’re in college, but it should also be noted that their ideas are usually innovative enough to rally a community. Even the Mark Zuckerburgs or the Steve Jobs of the world base their success not only on their innovation but the community that rallies around it.
For the sake of being constructive, the following are a few pointers for anyone starting out in the fields of entrepreneurship or social entrepreneurship here in Jordan, and I emphasize Jordan because these are the things that stand out for me in this specific environment. They are not based on 40 years of experience or some grand success story, but rather reflections by someone who is still writing their story and doesn’t mind sharing excerpts. People are free to agree, disagree, argue, debate, or rip it to shreds – and this list is also a work in progress. Most of these apply to both “entrepreneurs” and “social entrepreneurs”. So, in no particular order, and with the bare minimum use of jargon:
First: get a job. Seriously. Learn everything you can about it. Even if it’s a job you hate. You’ll eventually learn something. If you have a great boss you’ll learn about leadership, and if you have a terrible one, you’ll quickly learn what not to do. Learn from the victories and the failures, and in the meantime, you’ll be risking nothing. It’s a free and valuable life lesson.
Second: avoid the buzz. if you can help it, avoid being lured by the whole buzz surrounding entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurship – created and fueled largely by people who have a lot of money and are looking to make money off the backs of others. They will lure you, make promises, and more often than not, break them. They are mostly cut-and-run. They read the latest Malcolm Gladwell book, or some best-seller, and go around quoting it endlessly like it’s gospel. They are, at this point in your life, a distraction.
Third: have an idea. Be creative and innovative. Experiment with it. This is a process that cannot be compensated with a cool logo or a marketing gimmick. Those are merely the shiny objects that attract people, but once you do that, it’s your idea that keeps them there – that’s the only thing that let’s people say to themselves “hey, I want to be a part of this”. Allow the idea to be in constant beta mode. Allow it be shaped and reshaped over time, and not just by you, but by others. Friends, family, mentors, your community, your team.
Fourth: collaborate. No idea is an island. Keeping it in a vault means it’ll never grow beyond its container. Talk to others, work with others, collaborate and expand. If you’re worried about ownership you’ve already stumbled. If you’re worried about logo placement – you’re a lost cause. Even with social entrepreneurs and activists – the number of people doing similar things and not talking to each other is ridiculous, especially given how small the country is.
Fifth: stop thinking about the money. The number of young Jordanians who are concerned with creating something and selling it to the highest bidder so that they can retire a millionaire by the time they’re 30 is just plain ridiculous. Unfortunately, the degree to which this applies to people who call themselves “social entrepreneurs” is staggering. Make enough to sustain yourself, but invest and re-invest in the idea and the community around it. Making a quick dinar isn’t the way to go. If that’s the end goal, then you need to re-evaluate your life. Money should be used to grow your idea, not your bank account.
Sixth: build a team, and grow with it. Growing good ideas is something that requires the effort of many. Those ideas are more easily shaped when there’s input of others. Work as a group; not as a hierarchy. People are more likely to feel invested in the idea if they feel they’re part of a team that can sit comfortably with each other over a cup of coffee. Think horizontally; not vertically.
Seventh: start small; be lean. Crawl – don’t run. If you’re a startup with a big idea, whittle it down to its core and experiment with it. Try it out on people. Slowly grow the community around it and get their input. Most are eager to give you free advice. Some of it’s good, some of it isn’t – but it’s all there for you to choose from. Jordan is a great country to actually be comfortably small – its size helps facilitate experimentation be it with a business idea, or a socially-minded project. Do not – I repeat – DO NOT, use the term “scale up”. Those who tell you your ideas are not “scalable” are jackasses and it doesn’t matter how much money they’ve made. You’re not scaling, you’re building something – and that’s a process that requires doing so brick by brick.
Eighth: your community matters. Your idea will live and die by the community it manages to bring together. I cannot emphasize this enough. This community isn’t measured in hits a website receives, or the number of people who show up to your event at a five star hotel. It’s engagement, and the quality of that engagement. Whether you’re starting the next Amazon.com or saving trees in Ajloun, look to your community and how they’re engaging with you and your idea. Engage back. Don’t think of a community as something you “build” but rather something that you rally.
Lastly, and this is just for the heck of it – keep your ego in check. If you’re 24 years old and your business card says “CEO” or “Entrepreneur”- rip it up immediately. If you’re card says “activist” or “social entrepreneur” – consider throwing yourself off a bridge (metaphorically, of course). You are not the title on a small piece of cardboard. And stop holding these huge events and seeking out royal patronage for them. For the love of God – I am begging you – stop it.
“For those who want additional reforms or want to develop the Elections Law, they can work from under the Dome of Parliament and through the ballot boxes, which are the true representative of the will of the people.”- HM King Abdullah in a speech on Tuesday 23rd, 2012.
The King’s speech was quite interesting, and I recommend people read the full transcript (video). There was a great deal of focus on the elections. While these kind of speeches tend to say the right thing, words have never been the state’s biggest problem when it comes to reforming.
In any case, the above part of the King’s speech is what threw me off a bit as it seems to be a recognition that something is essentially wrong with the Elections Law. If this is the case, then it makes me wonder if this is just another way of saying: we know there’s something wrong with the law, but let’s have an election anyway and you can “develop” it when you get elected.
If the flaws of the election law, as most political critics have framed it, is destined to yield “more of the same”, then we are essentially engaging in an exercise that will give us a very similar parliament, and it is this parliament that is expected to change the electoral law that brought them in to power. This is of course no different than the 2010 parliament being used to change the 2010 electoral law. And now the 2013 parliament is expected to amend the 2012 election law that got them elected in the first place.
Working from under the Dome is ideal, but that depends on who the workers are, and more importantly, the law that hands them a seat in that chamber.
By now, most of the world has become well aware of an alleged terror plot driven by 11 Jordanians, which sought to target key places throughout the Capital. At a time when Jordanians, and indeed much of the immediate region, is on high alert when it comes to security – given the bloodshed in Syria, the recent bombing in Beirut, and the continued instability of the region – it goes without saying that this piece of news has rattled many Jordanians. With the regional context and its ongoing impact on Jordan in mind, it is interesting to note not only the evolving rhetoric regarding this plot in the mainstream papers, but also the impact of a more security-minded nation on the overall reform process.
Jordan’s main selling point has always been its relative security and stability – the keyword here being “relative” – and both its intelligence sector and its foreign policy are geared towards limiting the frequent overspill of regional conflicts, while managing domestic affairs as well. The past ten years alone have seen the Kingdom endure the second intifada, the US-led invasion of Iraq and the subsequent influx of refugees, the bombing of Lebanon in 2006, and the Arab Spring. This is to say nothing of experiencing its own act of terror during the 2005 Amman bombings. Every time, Jordan has managed to endure.
But, while security remains paramount, there’s also a need to understand that specific policy’s underlying impact on the reform process, which is critical now more than ever. The emerging rhetoric honestly frightens me, and this is probably because security is framed in the context of being such a strict red line that one cannot even have a real debate or civil discussion about it and its impact; a debate that is much needed. The emerging rhetoric is one that runs the risk of disconnecting the subject of reform from security, when they need to go hand in hand. The country cannot sacrifice one for the other, and neither can it survive without the other – this much is certain.
And here, I am reminded of the Amman bombings of 2005 and what transpired soon after. We immediately had a new government and Prime Minister, and out of the blue, it was a government that was quick to push a pro-freedom rhetoric (along with national unity and security) in the weeks that followed the bombing. I don’t recall Jordanians going out to protest prior to the bombings and calling for reforms or greater freedoms, but here was a new government subtly making the most obvious of connections: more freedoms, better political representation, more accountability, tends to decrease opportunities for extremism to thrive. Such arguments have also been made by HM King Abdullah over the years, and specifically throughout the Arab Spring, which he has more than once described as an “opportunity”. Yet, in the same way that the Amman bombings offered such a brief moment of opportunity, it was quickly squandered by the same Prime Minister and his government, which yielded one of the most security minded governments to date, with the corruption of the 2007 election being on its watch. Even announced plans to develop a “freedom square” in Amman to allow for citizens to speak their minds freely were erased from memory within a matter of months. How did people react to all this? Apathy. Because security was/is paramount.
That context is important, and even more so now when we consider the environment this Arab Spring has created, where there are both calls for reform, as well as a recognition by the state that it is now necessary in order to survive and grow.
While it is easy for the country to fall in to the trap of fear – a trap that involves external factors like Syria, worrisome political outcomes like Egypt and its Islamists, as well as domestic factors that include our own Islamists, terror plots, etc – it’s a path that will derail this process and land the country back in the exact same position several years from now. I might safely argue that most Jordanians, like most human beings, are prepared to sacrifice rights for security, and I might even argue the state is both aware of that and has a history of capitalizing on it, however, it would be wise to reaffirm the fact that while the country can never be completely safe and secure (and no country is), without reform, without increased freedoms, without social justice, without equal opportunities, without accountability of the governing powers – that security’s value becomes increasingly eroded. And this security rhetoric being spewed out by editorials and shoddy pundits in the mainstream media, is an absolute enormous disservice to the country, pushing it further in to that dark corner it is struggling to break free from, allowing the status quo to continue unhindered and unaccounted for, with no pressure, motivation or incentive to change within the framework of an articulated vision and an established accountable timeline. And so, not only do our realities remain unchanged due to fear and a need to put “security first” and nothing else, but the very issues that fuel extremism, and cause instability (including poverty) are simply exacerbated.
Security may be paramount in a country like Jordan, but it’s genuine reform that will allow it to thrive and subsequently decrease the risks that currently leave it open to attack; especially domestic attacks. Politicizing this terror plot in an attempt to push out a “let’s not rock the boat” mindset is to encourage fear and discourage social demands. The problem is that we end up with a population that prefers to remain quiet out of fear and prefers to continue to endure, and a state that is more able to escape accountability and get away with more political theater. In other words, we get more of the same plaguing issues, no real motivation to cure them, and a population that pushes its discontent further and further down. To some, especially the conspiracy driven, the beneficiaries, the elite, and what have you – this may sound like a perfect outcome for Jordan amidst the Arab Spring, but in reality, we are only postponing an inevitable confrontation with even greater potentially dangerous outcomes.
These moments are opportunities for genuine change, not sabre rattling, fear mongering or the thickening of red lines.
Beware the rhetoric.
I cannot say I am surprised at the news of the royal seal approving amendments to the press and publications law. There was, deep down, a part of me who thought this wouldn’t happen and felt that this was perhaps another state policy that would get knocked down by the King after public pressure. But it seems that times have indeed changed and even the voice of reason has departed the political theater.
So, what’s next? The obvious question begs itself. Will this grease the wheels for an expected telecommunications law blocking certain “immoral” sites? Yes, this now seems more likely than ever given the approval of the press law – but I’ll continue to hope I’m wrong. Will this usher in a situation of widespread blanket censorship of the Internet? I personally do not think so, as most media laws in this country are designed to do two things: first, create an environment of fear that encourages self-censorship, and second, make use of the law when deemed necessary. In a country where self-censorship amongst journalists is typically over 90%, such a law will not only solidify this environment of fear, but allow it to now expand online. And as for the application of the law, it is the primary weapon used to keep people in check – anyone who is jailed, fined, or arrested will have essentially broken a law, the morality of which few will question, to say nothing of its constitutionality.
So, what’s the solution? The legal avenues seem to have closed, and what political will was available has now gone. What does remain is merely the ability for Jordanians who are online to continue to write, produce, publish, comment, discuss, analyze, report, and debate – vigorously.
Is this me asking Jordanians to break the law? Aside from the fact that that would be illegal, I would rather put it this way:
Once upon a time the public gatherings law was the biggest impediment to anyone looking to organize or partake in a demonstration, rally, protest or sit-in. For the longest time it was the legal weapon used by the state to control the political mobilization and gathering of citizens. And then the Arab Spring came around and a wave of unyielding protests hit Jordan in January 2011, causing the eventual resignation of a prime minister and fresh promises for reform. This happened because people no longer adhered to a particular law. It happened because, in my opinion, it was an immoral law whose value was eroded the moment people chose to ignore it.
So, no, I’m not asking anyone to break the law.Order cheap generic Propecia (Finasteride 1/5mg). | crown 7 e cigarette review | BUY VIAGRA ONLINE
Photo Courtesy of: Jordan Open Source Association
Once upon a time, the Jordanian government thought that censoring the Internet was actually a bad thing. In fact, the government felt that the best regulators of what content users should consume were the users themselves, in the form of the community – parents, schools, etc.
Government recognises the legitimate concerns of citizens relating to the potential for access, through use of Internet services, to material that is either illegal or inappropriate for the user of the service. Experience elsewhere has shown that it is impractical and undesirable that censorship of material be applied at a Governmental level. Government, however, requires that parents, schools, libraries and all others in intermediary or supervisory positions, and are thus best placed to understand the sensitivities and vulnerabilities of those whom they serve, be enabled to take all reasonable steps to ensure necessary protection. It is the intention of Government to provide guidance as to the techniques and measures that may be practically employed by those with responsibility for users, and, their appropriateness in relation to particular circumstances, and, to particular classifications of user.
- Statement of Government Policy on the Information & Communications Technology Sectors & Postal Sector. Ministry of Information & Communication Technology. Section 2.3. September 2003.
But, like all things, context is important. After all, the early 2000′s was quite a different time. The general direction of the state, under the encouragement of HM King Abdullah, was a focus on IT and telecommunications. From graduating high schools students being encouraged to major in the IT field with the promise of jobs, to the development of e-government services, to initial steps of opening up the media field. It was a time when the Jordanian state sought to “widen the scope of our participation in the knowledge economy from being mere isolated islands on the periphery of progress, to becoming an oasis of technology that can offer the prospect of economies of scale for those who venture to invest in our young, available talent.”
It’s a time that seems far off in to the horizon, making it even more easier to forget the political turmoil surrounding the Kingdom: be it the rise of the second intifada, the Jenin Massacre, the US-led invasion of Iraq, the subsequent Iraqi refugee crisis in Jordan, and the economic shock that came with it. And yet, despite all that, there seemed to be a vision of sorts when it came to the IT industry, when it came to freedoms of speech and expression, and when it came to media.
Where that general sense of direction has vanished I am no longer certain. What has happened since the early 2000′s that would encourage the Jordanian state to tread along this new path is unclear. And while we have heard arguments from the government that suggest the need to censor certain sites in order to protect the “social and moral fabric” of the nation, or complaining about the existence of irresponsible media outlets in this vast electronic space of expression – one needs to consider why, over the past 16 odd years of Internet existence in this country, have none of these concerns been of concern before? In short, the reasons are baffling, and in my personal opinion unconvincing, however – different people will feel differently about them. But that’s beside the point.
What has, however, become inherently clear over the past few weeks and months is that the recent moves to impose legal restrictions on the online world – be they amending the Press and Publications law or a possible banning of “inappropriate” material through a new Telecommunications law – is that such moves stand in stark contrast to what we’ve grown accustomed to, and the ballpark vision that has been semi-articulated by officials that include minister, prime ministers and the King himself.
But what is perhaps more frightening is that wherever you stand on this subject, one key fact is now apparent – there has been a drastic policy shift from the way the state sees the Internet. No longer is it a tool for innovation, entrepreneurship, media, free speech, discussion, or creativity – but rather an unregulated public arena with the ability to produce content and discussions the state believes to be threatening, or at least enough of a problem that it should inspire the government to act as the regulator of morality and speech.
Once upon a time we seemed to have a clue, but now I think the plot has been lost.
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