Could eBay empower entrepreneurs by expanding to lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Iraq and other Middle Eastern countires?
If you think back to the early days of eBay, what made it the huge success it has become today? Total strangers could buy and sell from each other over this new thing called the internet. Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay, believed that people were basically good and could be trusted and –oh yes, in case they couldn’t, there was this self-policing mechanism called feedback. Most Silicon Valley venture capitalists though he was crazy. The smart ones didn’t. They invested and today they are multi-millionaires.
When you look at the Middle East today, one theme common in almost all Arab countries is the lack of ownership (most Middle Eastern countries don’t even have deeds for land) and the absence of entrepreneurship. Sure, you can open a stall at the local farmer’s market or rent a cubby hole and open a sandwich shop, but beyond that, the entrenched bureaucracies in most middle eastern countries make starting any kind of small business nearly impossible for the little guy. If you already have money you can bribe the right people to get the permits you need, but how does the Middle East version of the young college student or stay-at-home mom start a business? There are cultural, economic and bureaucratic barriers standing between that one person and their desire to do something we all take for granted: The ability to take risks –and if we are successful, to control our own destiny. Here in the US, and in 25 other countries, eBay has empowered hundreds of thousands of individuals to start a business out of their home with very little investment and almost no risk.
Today millions of Arabs, Iranians, Pakistanis and others own a computer and have access to the internet (after all Al Qaeda uses the internet to communicate with their cells around the world). Yet they have nothing like eBay.
It’s not a Moslem thing –eBay works in Malaysia, India and the Philippines –all countries with significant Moslem populations. Well, maybe it is a Moslem thing? Certainly Turkey, a Moslem country has a well developed entrepreneurial society –but they are the exception. Most other Moslem countries are ruled by dictators or religious fanatics. Neither of which is a prescription for small business development or entrepreneurship. But eBay could help bridge that gap.
Pierre Omidyar (the founder of eBay). That name sounds vaguely Middle Eastern. Pierre is obviously French. Omidyar? That sounds Lebanese or perhaps Persian. I honestly don’t know. Well Pierre, I know you don’t run eBay any more, but I bet you can still pick up the phone and get Meg on the line. Why does eBay exist in India and Malaysia –and not Israel, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia? Would eBay like to contribute to the nascent democracy of Iraq where people actually risk their lives going to the polls to vote –Why not start eBay Iraq? (I suspect it would be a better investment than Skype). Do you not think that people in these Middle Eastern countries are also basically good? Do you think that feedback would work in Jordan?
Who knows what people in Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia might list and trade on eBay? I am sure a few of the fanatics will sell Hezbollah training manuals to each other –but, that is not the point. The point is to empower people. Once you do that you give people a reason to make a choice. Hezbollah and Al Qaeda attract followers because so many people in these countries live lives without hope. Owning your own business and controlling your own destiny is the ultimate form or hope and empowerment.
eBay can do one thing that any government cannot do. It can empower the individual –the little guy –or a birka covered woman, sitting at home with a computer and an internet connection, to connect with total strangers in their country –or any country in the world, and exchange in commerce in an atmosphere of trust and profits.
Will this stop the fighting in Lebanon? Will this stop fanatic Mullahs from brainwashing teenage girls into strapping bombs onto themselves and blowing up innocent civilians? No –of course it won’t. But it will make a statement. With individual freedom comes hope. I can see the conversation now:
“Abdulla. Your time to martyr yourself has come. Meet us at the secret safe house on Hassan Algoma Street tonight to be fitted with your personal suicide bomb. Allah and the seventy-two virgins are waiting for you.”
“Sorry, Hassan, I can’t. I have three auctions ending tonight and I have to ship the products on time so I don’t get a negative feedback comment.”
What are you waiting for Meg?