When I founded my company five years ago, my mission was and still is, to bring global knowledge to some of the world's most exciting emerging markets. Today we organize the biggest global events in amazing countries like Serbia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Qatar, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, and, officially as of this year, Iran. Although working in some of these countries is not exactly a walk in the park, the reward at the end is worth the sleepless nights and the "mild" nervous breakdowns.
What still fascinates me, even to this day is people's reaction when I tell them about the countries that we work with. I am convinced that some of them, no matter what I say, still think that I am a spy for some secret organization, which would be really exciting but is far away from the truth.
So, please allow me to share with you my views on some of the most frequent misconceptions about doing business in Central Asia, North Africa and the Middle East:
1. You must have cameras installed in your hotel room and you must be constantly watched. My advice is to stop watching old James Bond movies and leave your prejudices at home. Unless you are in the country to organize a coup you will be fine.
2. How can you travel to these countries when they are so unsafe? Everyone is now talking about how unsafe countries like Iran, Jordan, Morocco or even Azerbaijan are. Azerbaijan, for example, is probably the safest country that I have been to. You can walk the streets of Baku in the middle of the night and no one will do or say anything to you. Amman in Jordan is another great example of how sometimes western media creates artificial safety issues. Yes, Jordan as a country might not be in the world's best neighborhood, but as you walk the streets of Amman you will never experience anything unpleasant. On the contrary, you will experience a lot of love, open-minded hearts and friendly faces.
3. They must be very corrupt and the government must be controlling everything. This is the most frequent remark that I hear about working in emerging markets. The truth is, as long as you are following the rules in the country you will be fine. No one will knock on your door and demand huge bribes and threaten your life and business. The key to success in most of these countries is to find a good local partner. Someone that has good understanding of the rules and laws of the country. Finding a good partner might not be very easy but once you find him, you are set for success.
4. Can you drink alcohol there? Aren't they like very strict Muslim countries? Yes in most of these countries, except Iran, you can drink alcohol and party, same like you do at home. Even though they are officially Muslim countries, as a foreigner you can do most of the things that you do at home. But, remember, you are not in New York. You know what they say -- in Rome, do as the Romans. Follow the rules, don't act like you know everything and don't go out with the feeling that you can do whatever you want. I always get irritated when I read the type of news where, for example, a Western couple gets arrested for having sex on the beach in Dubai and they talk about how undemocratic the society is. People, you would get arrested anywhere for having sex on the beach, let alone Dubai. Respect the freedom the society gives you but also respect the traditions.
5. Oh my, you are doing business in Iran. Isn't that like the strangest country in the world? Ok, let me tell you something. Never trust only Google as your source. Before I went to Iran for the first time I spent weeks researching the customs, the system and way of life and honestly I was scared. But once I set foot in the country, I fell in love with it. Some of the brightest, most talented and highly educated young people live in Iran. And they will treat you with respect. They will invite you to their homes will do their best for you to have the most amazing experience in the country. When I think about it, Iran is probably one of the world's most hospitable countries. They are open for doing business and they will go above their way to help you.
Lastly, the world is a great place. As humans, unfortunately, we tend to only look at the negative sides. You have to understand that every society and country in the world is different. You cannot expect the same western business system everywhere. Try to be open-minded and understand the history of the country. Try to understand why things are the way they are. If you go to a country with a negative state of mind, you will only see the negative sides, but if you are open minded and adventurous you will realize that some of the countries that are being branded as undemocratic and unsafe, are actually the countries with the nicest people and richest cultures. We are all here together on Earth, don't judge and open your mind to the different. Exciting times are on their way!