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Wilson Center Launches Riyada Network with Support from U.S. Embassy

Amman, Jordan - Today, the Wilson Center’s Middle East Program, in partnership with the U.S. Embassy in Amman, launched the Riyada Entrepreneurship Network at the “Entrepreneurship in MENA: The Path Forward” workshop, hosted at Flat6Labs.

In November 2021, the Wilson Center’s Middle East Program launched Riyada, a podcast about entrepreneurship and innovation in the Middle East and North Africa region with funding from the U.S. Embassy in Amman, Jordan.  

Today’s workshop celebrates the commitment of emerging as well as established entrepreneurs, especially those who have been part of the podcast, to building a vibrant startup ecosystem, which will provide local disruptors and key stakeholders with a platform to exchange ideas for how we can, together, support inclusive and diverse economic growth. 

Featuring 50 interviews of new and seasoned entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, educators, and several stakeholders  from across the region’s entrepreneurship ecosystem, the Riyada podcast sought to highlight stories from the field to better understand the challenges and opportunities in MENA’s entrepreneurship landscape, which according to tech investor WAMDA, has “attracted a record-breaking $3.94 billion in funding in 2022, with the heaviest deal concentration in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt.” Riyada hosted guests from various countries in MENA including Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Tunisia and Lebanon, as well as diaspora communities in Germany and the United States. 

“The United States and the American people are proud of our soft power contributions, to include assistance, cultural exchanges, trade and particularly the encouragement of entrepreneurs, the motor of all development, as we are of our contributions to mutual security here in Jordan and throughout the region,” noted Ambassador Jim Jeffrey, Chair of the Wilson Center’s Middle East Program. “We are grateful to the U.S. Embassy in Amman for supporting this Wilson Center initiative,” he added.  

The Riyada podcast garnered thousands of listeners from the region, North America, and Europe and included two Jordanian co-hosts along with MEP Director Merissa Khurma, Rajaei Sahouri of the Straight Up Start Up, and Imad Shawa of Howdy Arabia

“The conversations I had with our guests on Riyada were illuminating, inspiring but also sometimes equally frustrating given the barriers that still exist in many MENA countries; especially amongst women and marginalized communities,” noted Khurma.  She added, “The data we collected from these conversations not only in identifying the barriers to entry and to scale but also regarding possible solutions to address these problems, has deepened our knowledge of the nuances of MENA’s entrepreneurship journey.” 

“Co-hosting Riyada with Merissa has been a learning experience and a chance to meet incredible leaders and dive deep into their worlds and sectors. An entrepreneur’s dream! The entire team at the Wilson Center made the process seamless and encouraged the guests to be candid, which made for some deeply insightful conversations,” noted Shawa. 

Stefanie Altman-Winans, U.S. Embassy Acting Deputy Chief of Mission, shared her appreciation of the Wilson Center’s efforts, and those of the entrepreneurs joining the event: “Today’s event is the culmination of the wonderful efforts of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the Embassy’s Public Affairs Section, and of course the many contributors and stakeholders from the entrepreneurship ecosystem.  Thank you for your continued commitment to inspire the next generation of innovators, disrupters, and game changers.  It is because of your collective courage, creativity, resilience, and commitment to build, that the road less traveled is now a road often taken.”  

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