Entrepreneurial governments

Al-Zain S. Al-Sabah was wearing a white coat with large lapels. From behind the podium at the IE Alumni Forum, while she carefully adjusted the microphone, she informed her audience that she was there not as a television producer or a journalist but in her new role as a public servant: undersecretary of Kuwait’s newly-created Ministry of State for Youth Affairs.

“When I left the company I had founded, one of the largest media firms in the Middle East, to work for the Administration, many people thought I was crazy,” she said, walking around the stage with her fingers intertwined. She was going to leave creative, innovative surroundings for others that are synonymous with “corruption, bureaucracy and low salaries?” Yes, she must be crazy. What made her take the leap? Answer: she lives in an atmosphere that is hostile to entrepreneurship and she wants to change it for the better.

Civil servants from the Stone Age, absurd and obsolete regulations, bribes, arbitrariness… “For example when I needed a stamp to renew a permit: after 12 days and visits to seven ministries, I discovered that this specific stamp was in a room in a basement on the desk of a clerk who showed up once a week… if he felt like it.” These were challenges she had to face in creating her company, challenges she is now trying to break down from within the system, like a secret agent behind enemy lines.

One of her first steps was to let young people know that they now had a ministry. Using the social networks –the town crier of the new millennium– a contest was announced: Kuwaitis were asked to design the logotype of this future administration. While more than a thousand proposals were received, many of them were unpleasant. “If the Government is organizing this, it’s certain to be rigged.” “You can be sure that in the end it’s going to be ugly.” “Everything the Government does is bad.” But it all came out right, and a young man with great and previously unrecognized talent won the prize.

As she got involved in all this, Al-Sabah began to see a pattern. In England, India, Canada, France, the USA, Singapore, Portugal… executives and entrepreneurs, frustrated by their different bureaucracies, join governments to “better the world.” She calls this new experience entregovernments, a term composed of “entrepreneur” and “government”. She defines it as governments that recruit talent in the form of entrepreneurs to make their bureaucracies more efficient and creative.

After singing the many virtues of entrepreneurs and startups –“nobody knows how to make more out of less”, “we’re the people who change the world”– Al-Sabah admitted that the situation was far from ideal. “The system seemed unreal, incomprehensible,” but instead if fighting it she ignored it, and got to work creating the Ministry of State for Youth Affairs. Using the social networks, she earned the confidence of young people and “hired the more ambitious ones”: “We are not the Government, we are you.”

While still in the beginning stages, they have created an office where it is possible to officially register a company in about 20 minutes. They want to “radically” simplify existing laws and promote public work policies. They know they are a pilot project, but that the system won’t change itself. That they must infiltrate enemy lines like a mole and fight for entregovernment.


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