Geopolitically, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is at the crossroads between Asia, Europe, and Africa. This has been one of the main reasons why MENA continues to be of interest for foreign governments, particularly as it relates to defence, security, intelligence, investment and trade sectors. MENA is also a primary area where the competitive U.S.-China, U.S.-Russia relations are playing out. While the U.S. is gradually transitioning out of security commitments in the region; Russia and China are attempting to fill the void, in addition to influencing domestic politics, counter-terrorism, transnational trade, infrastructure, and economic development moving forward. This has direct and indirect, short and long term implications for international corporate operations, government missions, and NGOs in the region.
Despite being a volatile region, MENA remains an investment destination connecting vital infrastructure from Asia to Europe and Africa. What has made investors interested in MENA? The region offers a sizable consumer base, educated populations and is resource rich. Moreover, it also includes various sector-specific opportunities in healthcare, information technology, education, infrastructure, energy, manufacturing, and ample space for economic development. Hence, anticipating and navigating political risk in a MENA host country is a primary corporate capability for successful market entry and sustainable operations.
However, identifying the crucial political, security, regulatory and socio-economic risks of a MENA country require contextual intelligence, connections, and cultural knowledge to translate signs and data into actionable insights. Actionable insights inform risk management strategies and enable corporations to seize profitable opportunities. This requires a key player of the industry who is proficient in MENA context intelligence, and is prepared with proactive risk management strategies that beat the traditional approaches. Established in 2013, iStrategic is a political risk analysis and consulting firm providing specialized guidance on the Middle East and North Africa affairs to the private sector. HQ in New Jersey in the United States, the company shares in-country connections throughout the Middle East and North African region, and a dedicated team devoted to delivering insightful and timely analysis to its clients.
“We contend that having a proactive strategy is indispensable for today’s U.S. and international corporations, business ventures, government agencies, and investment missions in the MENA region,” quotes Ghaidaa Hetou, the Founder of iStrategic.
A Passion for MENA
Dr. Hetou guides the development and overall operational efficiency of iStrategic. She has always been passionate about the MENA region and its rich culture and history, complexities, and potential. This zeal motivated her to work and build a career helping companies and government agencies navigate the political landscape in this region. In doing so she pursued her education and now holds a Ph.D. and two master degrees in Economics and Political Science. She is a remarkable analyst, scholar, and author, specializing in political risk, threat assessment, geopolitics, security, and foreign policy in the Middle East and North Africa region. Her experience in the industry made her equipped to establish her company and venture into entrepreneurship.
“Due to family constraints however in 2012, I was not able to relocate to Washington DC in the U.S. where such work is mostly concentrated. The next best thing was to establish a consulting business, and contribute tailored political risk management services to clients interested in expanding their business operation in the MENA region,” explains Dr. Hetou.
Apart from overseeing the operations of iStrategic, Dr. Hetou is a consultant, advisor and published author on MENA affairs. She is multilingual and fluent in Arabic, English, and German. Moreover, French, Farsi, Turkish, Kurdish, and Hebrew are spoken at iStrategic as well.
Corporate Risk Intelligence Backed by Data and Local Knowledge
The social, political, and security signs have preceded all political and security events and crises which transpired in MENA since 2003. An indication that MENA region’s political and security landscape is shifting and is no longer manageable by leveraging traditional approaches. “Relying on outdated ways of understanding the region can result in less than optimum outcomes,” explained Dr. Hetou.
iStrategic understood the need to introduce a modern approach, and thus offers a variety of services to corporations, government agencies, and NGOs interested in expanding their operations in MENA. The services bouquet includes corporate consultation, risk assessment reports, risk mitigation strategies, red team, sector-specific risk assessments, monthly monitoring reports, and executive outlook presentations. Furthermore, these services are backed by a team of experts in context intelligence, data analysis and are proficient in MENA languages, culture and dialects. Context intelligence, powered by HUMINT and OSINT, with cultural understanding is at the heart of what iStrategic does.
As aforementioned, consulting companies are coming around the idea of corporate political risk space in MENA, and how it can be addressed and integrated in the corporate capability space. iStrategic starts with corporate risk assessments and then supports corporate decision-making by providing Context Intelligence supported by data, indigenous knowledge, personnel, and access. This crucial corporate advantage lays the ground work for a successful market entry and sustainable operations. This has placed iStrategic ahead of its competitors. As to what exciting technology advancement are on the horizon, ”OSINT is continuously adapting to new technologies, risk modelling is in continuous adaptation mode, and access to high-resolution imagery is always improving, which is exciting and does enrich the actionable intelligence available,” explains Dr. Hetou.
Flexible to Adapt to Client requirements
iStrategic caters its services to both private and government sectors. The private sector is more inclined towards a fast pace approach that saves time while achieving results. On the contrary, government agencies generously “spend time” while going through bureaucratic procedures. “Each relation has its upside for sure,” highlights Dr. Hetou.
Being a small consultancy company, iStrategic is flexible to adapt to the client’s specific needs. The team is always responsive and values the clients’ time. Dr. Hetou adds, “We do not subject clients to bureaucratic hurdles, generic intelligence, or unnecessary delays that are an unfortunate side effect of larger consulting organizations.” At iStrategic once initial consultations are concluded, the client has a dedicated project manager that maintains communication before, during, and after the specified services are delivered to insure the client’s satisfaction.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused a minimal impact on iStrategic’s services as the team utilized virtual communication since 2014. iStrategic’s top priority has always been to provide the requested deliverables with precision, exceeding client’s expectations, while maintaining client relations during market entry and the operational stage. The company does not commercialize its work, since all reports and consultations are exclusive and owned by the client.
“We hope that the vaccination campaign catches up in MENA and all developing countries. This pandemic highlighted the shortcomings in the healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors in MENA. Corporate interest in MENA is high, and we are starting to see a gradual return to business relations .”