The initiatives exploit gaps in the healthcare and educational systems, acting as intermediaries to provide babysitters, care workers, stylists and tutors, or by marketing new products online. Many start-ups display a sense of social responsibility and want to provide opportunities for people from marginalised groups, who are normally shut out of the labour market.
The prevailing circumstances faced by these start-ups, however, are difficult. Although Jordan is regarded as one of the few politically stable countries in a region torn by conflict, rents and living expenses have almost reached European levels. Amman is the most expensive capital city in the region, while the country’s poverty rate is on the increase. Overall unemployment stands at around 30 percent, while some 40 percent of the under 35s are out of work.
Few opportunities in a country in crisis
Population growth, a low level of industrialisation, the refugee crisis, not to mention the collapse of markets in neighbouring Syria and Iraq have plunged Jordan into a deep economic crisis. Nowadays, only those with the right connections can find work. This is a source of great frustration. Protests and demonstrations are a daily occurrence.
In this situation, a young, well-educated and digitally savvy generation is seeking to improve its own prospects. Ghassan Halawa has his office in the same building as Hanan Khader. In his mid-thirties, this live wire is a central figure in the young start-up scene. A whole wall in his small office is decorated with photos of his business partners. His agency, Parachute 16, advises new entrepreneurs. Halawa knows all their stories, their successes and their failures.
“Ninety percent of all start-ups fail,” he says. They don’t work out, because their product isn’t right, they lack expertise, or don’t manage to properly communicate with their customers. They are short on capital or can’t overcome the bureaucratic hurdles.
ʺGood ideas prevail in the endʺ
Halawa knows what it feels like to fail. “I’ve already founded eight companies, and six of them went bankrupt,” he relates with a wide grin. He is not one to give up easily. “Good ideas will prevail in the end.”
Parachute 16 proved to be his breakthrough. The agency now has a full-time staff of 14 and maintains a larger circle of 70 external consultants. It successfully offers services throughout the whole of the Middle East. Halawa explains that Parachute 16 does not take money from start-ups, but instead earns its revenue from cooperation with international NGOs, foreign embassies and large companies.