One of the most peaceful countries in the world is on a mission to keep its best and brightest at home.
Jordan is losing its most promising business leaders because they're being forced to chase success offshore.
This has left Jordan with significant economic problems and dependent on foreign aid. It's also home to more than 4 million refugees from neighbouring conflicts - a huge number considering its population is only 10 million.
Mustafa Ajlouni is a rarity in a country suffering a ‘brain drain’.
He chose to come back to Aqaba and champion Jordan’s culture through a tourism startup. His company Aqabawi, started operating in September.
"The locals don't promote our culture because they are seeking money in other ways," he said. "They don't understand that tourists are willing to pay to know more about our cultural heritage.”
Mr Ajlouni says it's not just the locals who do not understand, but also the decision makers.
Many believe the solution lies in the cultivation of small business. In Aqaba alone - a city of 200,000 - there are at least five non-governmental organisations (NGOs) championing entrepreneurs and micro-businesses.
iPark moved into Aqaba last year to capitalise on the growth taking place as the result of four massive resort developments. Tourism is picking up in Jordan generally, because of improved regional security and lower transportation costs. Aqabawi is taking advantage of the cheap RyanAir flights from Europe and a change in international perceptions of the Middle East.
Mr Ajlouni explains how he actually started out in 2009, working with “Souk by the Sea” - a project bringing local handicrafts to tourists. He decided to set-up Aqabawi six years later and has run four successful tours so far.
“They [the tourists] get to try the things that local people do. Like roasting the coffee, mixing the spices and making Jordanian food,” he said.
Aqabawi is also offering experiences - like learning the art of bottling sand, drawing henna, and making recycled jewellery.
“Westerners still have a stereotype in their minds of, 'oh, they’re Middle Eastern, I should not trust them'. But when they come to Jordan, this idea changes.”
Mr Ajlouni is brimming with optimism about his new project. So is Kareem Al-Sallal, who runs iPark. He explains how the new resorts will bring in many opportunities, and how successful the Queen Rania Foundation has been in Amman.
iPark has worked with successful entrepreneurs before - like Saeed Omar, who began Sitat Byoot. The name means “women of the home” and the business is an online platform that allows stay-at-home wives and mothers to sell their handcrafted goods. In that regard, Sitat Byoot is taking advantage of an incredibly under-utilised resource.
Women in Jordan are highly educated. Yet just 14 per cent are employed. Sitat Byoot helps bring women into the labour market. They now make and sell everything from clocks and baskets to hand-stitched traditional dresses and soft toys.
Mr Omar says it's easy for startups in Jordan - at the beginning.
“In two hours you can form a company – but maintaining it, and doing it, is something else. The government is not making it easy; the market is dwindling; the economy is not really helping as well," he said.
Diplomatically, the government and places like iPark are “very good at PR”. Yet the amount of money available for startups is five times less than what their counterparts in Western countries, or even in other Gulf states, would expect to raise. And any follow-up investment in a successful first year business is almost non-existent.
On top of this, entrepreneurs must guarantee their businesses themselves – an extreme disincentive.
“The government does not understand small entities or small business,” he said. “There are many programs for start-ups, but nothing for small and medium businesses.”
Despite the jaded outlook, he says the risk is worth it. Despite difficult circumstances, entrepreneurs are key to strengthening Jordan’s economy. Personally, he hopes for success. “The future of Aqabawi that I wish, is to exchange culturally with other countries and other people.”
Three years ago, King Abdullah II and then-Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour launched the Jordan 2025 plan. It paves the way for an economic upturn by targeting strong public-private partnerships.
It's a strategy now bringing hope to Jordan’s budding entrepreneurs.
*The author travelled to Jordan as part of The Foreign Correspondent Study Tour, a University of Technology Sydney (UTS) programme supported by the Council for Australian-Arab Relations (CAAR), which is part of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT)