Economic Progress

The Middle East and North Africa: a region on the brink of historic change

1,000 global leaders will meet in Jordan this week. Here's what they'll discuss Image: Shahzin Shajid

Malik Faraoun
Lead, Middle East and North Africa, World Economic Forum
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Economic Progress

In a couple of days, Jordan will host the 2017 World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa at the Dead Sea. It will bring together over 1,000 global leaders – from government, business and civil society. The aim: to unlock a set of opportunities for a profound transformation of the region and to pave the way for a new narrative of shared peace and prosperity. Its theme of “generational transformation” heralds the emergence of a framework that supports social cohesion and responds to everyone’s aspirations for today and tomorrow.

The region is split by two narratives: on one side, a positive view, which paints a picture of a blossoming digital and technology scene, accompanied by a renewed drive for reforms (aptly exemplified by the Saudi Arabia Vision 2030). On the other side, the region remains plagued by the largest humanitarian crisis of our times, in particular the war in Syria.

There are also three concurrent trends shaping the region, and which will form the focus of the meeting. These are:

1. To seize the innovation and entrepreneurship opportunities that are powered by the digital revolution. More technological change is expected over the next decade than in the past 50 years, according to Klaus Schwab, Founder of the World Economic Forum. It means the region could leapfrog 20th-century technologies and move straight to the advanced technologies of the 21st century. This year, for the first time, the World Economic Forum and the International Finance Corporation have joined forces to highlight the foremost 100 Arab-world start-ups. At the meeting in Jordan, these companies will be applying their innovative worldviews to artificial intelligence, advanced robotics, augmented reality and the internet of things.

2. To work with government and business leaders to create actionable solutions to accelerate economic reforms and build inclusive economies. In the coming decade, 75 million jobs need to be created in the Middle East and North Africa. As IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde has stated, growth is too slow and benefiting too few of the global economy. This is even more relevant for the Middle East and North Africa. Thus policy-makers need to design economic frameworks that at the same time create value and are accessible to all. Once economies are transforming in an inclusive manner, we shall create jobs for the millions Arab youth entering the labour market every year. A profound economic transformation calls for a massive leap in human-capital development, new strategies for entrepreneurship and industry diversification, and creative ways for to bridge the infrastructure gap.

Responding to the imperative of building inclusive economies, the meeting will advance the New Vision for Arab Employment initiative, which aims at investing in the continuous learning, re-skilling, up-skilling and job readiness of one million of the region’s youth. It will also accelerate delivery of economic policy reforms and host the launch the region’s hub of the Sustainable Development Investment Partnership for infrastructure to address market failures in infrastructure.

3. Last (and just as crucial) is to support humanitarian efforts and diplomatic dialogue towards de-escalating conflicts and achieving a vision for shared stability. The prosperity of the Middle East and North Africa is inarguably related to success in limiting the conflict spill-over, rebuilding post-conflict and fragile states, and enhancing humanitarian action. Building on its impartiality and convening power, the World Economic Forum will continue to provide a platform for diplomatic dialogue to further breakthroughs for the future of the region. In this regard, the programme of the meeting will include high-level dialogues on the future of Syria and Iraq with key international and regional stakeholders. On the humanitarian front, the meeting will call for innovative models to enhance the delivery of emergency aid bringing together more synergies between the private sector, host governments, the refugee population and humanitarian players.

For these reasons, the 2017 World Economic From on Middle East and North Africa is expected to be a key milestone for the future of the region and an opportunity to "enable a generational transformation". It aims to be forward-looking, ambitious and truly inclusive.

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