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Homepreneurship — a new business and political model

Oct 21,2017 - Last updated at Oct 21,2017

The decision by the Greater Amman Municipality (GAM) to expand the list of home-based businesses sanctioned under its licensing instructions, including journalistic writing and editing, is groundbreaking, responds to economic demand and, in my opinion, hits the mark on several critical strategic levels.

On the level of expanding and injecting new energy to stimulate Jordan’s economy, this decision will go a long way towards kick-starting another level of economic activity that will draw youth and women into the formal market and, in turn, address the high levels of unemployment among men and low levels of economic participation among women.

On the level of allowing journalism to be practised from home, this critical step removes an age-old monopoly that left journalists in Jordan under imposed controls that not only had the media sector in Jordan hostage to a system of exchanging financial benefits for political support, but also denied investment in this sector by any other than the media sharks of old.

Writing about these two issues in one column is not easy. They both are very controversial issues in their own right and rally quite passionate condemnation from their critics.

Without claiming that I am being comprehensive in my arguments, I would like to attempt to put this decision within the positive framework it deserves.

Let me tackle the easier one first. “Homepreneurs” is a made up word spun to describe entrepreneurs working from home.

Recently, there was concerted effort in the NGO sector and among economists to push the government and municipalities in Jordan to allow and support the expansion of the home-based businesses sector. 

I am citing below mostly from the arguments and data posited by these activists in their advocacy for this long-overdue change.

Globally, this sector is seen as a critical ingredient of economic growth and development. It enables unemployed and/or individuals unable — because of limited resources or restrictions on mobility — to establish small businesses from their homes under reduced operating expenses, saving them time and money by not having to commute back and forth to work — effectively also taking cars off the road at peak hours.

It also allows them to maintain a flexible working schedule to fit in with their household and family needs — a benefit that is particularly useful to women and care givers who may not be able to balance home and work commitments. 

It also gives homepreneurs the space to work in a safe environment — think of women again — where they could test and incubate their products and services, thereby reducing the risk in investment and allowing the homepreneurs to test their product, service and market before investing in a larger business, so think of the quality.

I think, critically, it also facilitates more informal-sector entrepreneurs to move into the formal and therefore into an organised economic market, which is important in enabling the government to organise small investors who, in growing numbers, are circumventing government-prescribed quality-control mechanisms and taxes and lodging themselves into an unorganised informal sector.

Critics of this move by GAM will cite concerns over what they see as the emphasis on food production in home-based businesses impacting hygiene of shared buildings or increasing unwelcome and uncouth traffic to these otherwise quiet residential areas.

But the numbers tell a different story. Homepreneurs in Jordan have been found to work mostly in professional services (70 per cent), while food processing (28 per cent) is a distant — albeit significant — second.

Also, most home-based business owners are males (62 per cent) with a university degree (83 per cent), so consider what this particular data says about providing opportunity for graduates.

Currently, a typical Jordanian home-based business earns between JD100 and JD300 per month, almost all of which goes into the family’s earnings in order to meet their livelihood needs. 

According to analysis by NGOs working on this issue, home-based businesses could collectively and very easily contribute more than JD10 million directly to the national economy and JD40 million indirectly.

Ultimately, this step will contribute to stimulating private sector activity, and propelling growth and development.

 

Journalists as homepreneurs

 

Now the more difficult issue of journalists and editors working from home and JPA’s immediate rejection of this facility claiming, reportedly in the words of its president, Rakan Saaydah, that it is a “nail in the body of the JPA as it allows ‘anyone’ to practice journalism”. 

My question has always been: Why is the JPA threatened by journalists who are not boxed and contained within the mainstream media?

The facility provided by GAM allows journalists to work flexibly from home as freelance writers and editors and be registered as such. Where is the nail in the body of the JPA and why does not the JPA embrace these “registered and organised” freelance journalists? 

In my opinion, and I believe in the opinion of many others, the JPA is under requirement to elevate its operation to modern-day journalism standards and therefore embrace the new trends in this profession that encourage journalists to operate as lone and self-employed professionals.

The days of the JPA being used as the control centre in charge of containing freedom of speech must come to an end. From the perspective of freedom of speech and professional standards, the JPA would do well to provide an intellectual and professional home for these freelancers and self-employed journalists, instead of continuously ignoring and/or undermining their presence.

There is also an economic argument in support of this opening provided by GAM.

Historically, the JPA was controlled by media sharks that operated two to three big media businesses in the country. They entered into agreement with the governments of the time to a formula of exchanging favours by which the media organisations would control journalists politically and therefore would be granted business monopoly rights.

These organisations — save perhaps one — are now struggling under huge financial pressures and competition from national, regional and international media and online forums and outlets. They are themselves finding it difficult to survive under the current archaic business models and would be unable to employ a growing number of journalists and editors entering this sector.

Considering also the expanded scope and outreach of media/communications today, these organisations would probably appreciate a freelance arrangement with editors and writers working out of their homes without requiring employer-provided office space or labour benefits as full-time employees.

The GAM decision provides them with an organised framework from which to partner with these individuals operating as small businesses.

The JPA would do well to recognise the opportunity to become the home and hub for professionals at this time of change, instead of appearing to be seeking to cut at the source their ability to earn.

In this time of difficulties, when one struggles to point to a step in the right direction, this GAM decision provides hope both on the political and economic levels. My only hope, in parallel, is that this step is not scuttled by those still unwilling to let go.

 

 

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