Fooq Al Sada: The Economy of Shared Laughter

Reading through this week’s article from the Harvard Business Review, “Creating Shared Value”, I must say I was struck several times by the (seemingly) absurd claims that Kramer makes.

Business and social good?

Profit and positive externalities?

Big booming corporations and small private co-ops?

*GASP*

Why, blasphemy! Since when could those things be paired up and coexist?

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Huh? :O

I’m not a business type. In fact, the words “business”, “corporate”, “corporation”, “venture capitalist”, “Silicon Valley”, and the like all conjure up images of greed, consumption, hoarding, manipulation, and money giants. Even as an Urban Planning grad student, noticing the “Real Estate” specialization for the first time made me shudder (although to be fair, I’ve learned since then that there is (yes, there really is) a way to make real estate help the community. Hallelujah!).

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As I continued to read, dumbfounded at the possibility of business bringing bountiful benefits bestowed before brethrenkind (take a breath), I found myself laughing a few times.  And while contemplating the idea of “shared value”, not only as value to the producers and internal players  (whether they be the big shot money-maker or the small-town startup) but also to the consumers and  everyday folks like myself, I thought of a little business back home that has probably achieved this through their gags and ridiculousness.

Fooq Al Sada is a Jordanian YouTube channel that was launched in 2011 by Nasser Jaroun, your Average Fulan* who was tired of his 9 to 5 job and wanted to do something fun. I was lucky to hear the founder of this group speak at a training I attended at Oasis500, where I was being introduced to the makings of a creative industry in the business world and where the makings of this entertainment channel sprouted a few years earlier. While I don’t remember the details of his story, it went something like a decision to quit his job in 2011, take a major risk and spend some time without a regular income in an economically difficult country (for lack of a better description), and almost give his mother a heart attack. To his mother’s horror, he even convinced his brothers to quit their jobs in the oil-swimming Gulf and move back Jordan to work on the comedy show.  Thankfully, because there is passion and commitment behind the idea and a few hardworking young zalamehs*, what began as an idea for an online platform for venting became a hit TV show which airs regularly on the popular local channel Roya TV.  While I’m sure Nasser could give you the better story, from my one hour encounter with him, I can tell you they have achieved at least this:

  1. They are now joined by a bigger crew who regularly make fools of themselves to make us stereotypically grumpy Jordanians (including mothers like my own Mama) laugh our tooshes off.
  2. With little money or sleep, they have managed to nab funding from one of the most successful startup accelerators in the Middle East, Oasis500, one of the biggest telecom companies in Jordan, Zain Jordan, and probably more I don’t know about.
  3. When they applied for Oasis500 funding, the opportunity for “Creative industries” to partake in the challenge was not even around and they applied with the IT pitches. Dare I say they paved the way for creative enterprises at Oasis500?
  4. They recently hit it big when they did a  parody of “Uptown Funk” by Bruno Mars, making people laugh while highlighting the problem of youth unemployment in Jordan. It not only struck a chord with Jordanians but spread internationally.  (Video below!)
  5. They’re making money (WOOT! Less unemployment for Jordan!)  and keeping their funders very, very happy, but (seriously) MOST importantly they’re making some of the most critical social and economic problems that mainstream media doesn’t cover 1) funny 2) relevant and 3) debate-worthy.

If that’s not shared value, I don’t know what is.

(The video below includes BBC’s commentary and short interview with one of the show’s frontmen in English. If you want to watch the whole Uptown Funk parody uninterrupted, click here. Fair warning: it’s in Arabic and I don’t know if there’s a way to show English subtitles. And cautionary note! I’m not responsible for any lack of laughs that may result from cultural differences in what is perceived as funny. Enjoy, perhaps!)

*Fulan: “average Joe” in Arabic slang

*Zalameh: guy/young man in Arabic slang

 

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