The Middle East should collaborate to develop full potential

The Middle East and North Africa can “punch at its weight” if its private and public sectors collaborate.
The World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) closed recently with a call for its stakeholders to increase collaboration on social, economic and climate issues. It should help the region “punch at its weight” instead of below it, Co-Chairs of the meeting said in the closing plenary.
“This is a region with two systems,” said Mirek Dusek, Head of Middle East and North Africa, World Economic Forum.
“One is forward-looking, young and technology-native. The other is the legacy system with sclerotic institutions, conflict and fragility. Building new platforms of collaboration is about providing the space for people to think through the economic and social model, the environment and humanitarian emergencies in a multistakeholder way.”
“We should double down on bringing this region up,” said Alain Bejjani, Chief Executive Officer of Majid Al Futtaim Holding.
“We need to engage in more cooperation.” If the private and public sectors put forth a shared economic vision, he suggested, the region could double or triple its GDP. That would allow it to “punch at its weight” rather than below it,” he said.
Environmental stewardship is one area where people from across the region should focus, suggested Nour Al Gharibeh, Design Strategy and Brand Development Officer of SYNTAX.
“We keep hearing a lot about climate change,” she said. “But, is it an issue we should be thinking about, given our situation?” The answer is a “resounding yes,” according to Al Gharibeh.
“We should take simple steps to learn about it and include it among the priorities.”
Using entrepreneurship to solve social issues should be a top priority for stakeholders from across the region, said Adel Boseli, Chief Executive Officer of Amal Glass DMCC. “We are in a part of the world where there are so many problems, he said.
“We face them every single day. It makes us all social entrepreneurs, whether we like it or not. We’re going after the problems that we have, and they just happen to be social.”

Notable collaborations

Reflecting on the challenges and opportunities of the MENA region, the meeting produced numerous notable outcomes:
  • The 100 most promising start-ups of the Arab world participated in the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa and engaged with industry and government leaders to discuss the future of their industries and how to add value to society. Their tailored programme included sessions on social impact, cybersecurity and an informal dialogue between Khalid al Rumaihi, Chief Executive of the Bahrain Economic Development Board, and Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum. The initiative aims to further integrate the Arab world’s most promising start-up entrepreneurs into a national and regional dialogue on pressing challenges. The Forum and the Bahrain EDB selected the start-ups from among more the 400 applications.
  • At the meeting, Bahrain announced the roll-out of a new programme of support for the 100 Arab start-ups shaping the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The structured programme will allow start-ups to rapidly scale up their businesses and access a broader spectrum of support in Bahrain. It includes: access to the Bahraini market for all companies that have been recognized under the 100 Arab Start-Ups banner – going back to those selected in 2017; fast-tracking of applications to establish a presence in Bahrain; creation of a special concierge service to help start-ups navigate and benefit from the local Bahrain ecosystem; and an opportunity to pitch and access funding from Bahrain’s Sovereign Wealth Fund, as well as the VC partners of Al Waha Fund of Funds and family offices in the Kingdom.
  • The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has announced it is granting five-year visas for the top 100 start-ups shaping the Fourth Industrial Revolution that were selected at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa. The announcement of the five-year visas was made by Abdulla bin Touq, Secretary-General, Cabinet of the United Arab Emirates, and Khalfan Juma Belhoul, Chief Executive Officer of the Dubai Future Foundation.
  • Recognizing the potential of technology to support the transition to the circular economy within the MENA region and globally, the United Arab Emirates, represented by the Ministry of Cabinet Affairs and the Future, in partnership with the Ministry of Climate and Environment and the Ministry of State for Artificial Intelligence, has committed $1 million to support SCALE 360. The initiative of the World Economic Forum aims to unlock the potential of the technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution for the circular economy.
  • The World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers, a community of 20-30-year olds, launched two Hubs in Jerusalem. Global Shapers from East and West Jerusalem jointly expressed their determination to make the voice of their generation heard in building peaceful and equitable societies.
  • More than 100 Global Shapers took part in the SHAPE MENA programme on 2-4 April 2019 with the support of the Amman Hub. The meeting spotlighted local champions of environmental restoration. The Shapers travelled to the city of Azraq and visited reserves and protected sights to get a better sense of indigenous-led initiatives tied to environmental restoration and met with members of the local community.
  • First Lady of Turkey, Emine Erdoğan shared learning from her environmental initiative “Zero Waste” with participants at the meeting. The project aims at decreasing waste as well as encouraging more efficient recycling. The initiative has helped to reduce plastic-bag usage by 70% in Turkey since its implementation and has been adopted by 15,000 enterprises in Turkey in the last 15 months.
  • The World Economic Forum launched The Middle East and North Africa Risks Landscape to inform the debate on business and societal risk and help leaders to prepare for and mitigate risks to their organizations. While unemployment, governance challenges and energy price shocks are seen as major risks by business leaders in the Middle East and North Africa, the fallout from climate change might be a blind spot.
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