3 ways the MENAP region must adapt to prosper in the 21st Century

The image shows downtown Dubai illustrating how the MENAP region must adapt to thrive

The MENAP region must adapt to flourish Image: Photo by David Rodrigo on Unsplash

Alain Bejjani
Chief Executive Officer, Majid Al Futtaim Holding
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  • The countries that make up the MENAP region must collaborate to prosper.
  • Partnerships must cross borders and sectors.
  • It's time to seek out new ways to collaborate, to step forward united by a common cause to create a federation of prosperity that unlocks the MENAP region’s potential.

On 12 July 2022, the collective efforts of our planet’s most brilliant scientists, physicists and engineers forever changed our understanding of the heavens. It took just five ethereal images to unlock a renewed sense of awe in the vastness of space and humanity’s place amongst the stars and to remind us of the remarkable, almost unbelievable feats that can be accomplished when a community aligns with a common goal.

The images captured by the James Webb Telescope represent the combined efforts of thousands of engineers and scientists from NASA, ESA and the Canadian Space Agency, 300 universities, organizations and companies from across 14 countries and 29 US states. While we may be some time away from in-person deep space exploration, the underlying principles of collective success (be that in space or otherwise) remain unchanged. That is to say, a belief in mutual co-operation grounded in an appreciation for the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

Collaboration is key to the MENAP region's future success

When considering the Middle East, North Africa, Afghanistan and Pakistan's (MENAP’s) rich tapestry of culture, history and aspirations, there are lessons to be learnt from the Webb team’s strength of unity and the impressive impact of its diverse and wide-ranging partnerships. These insights should be drawn upon when seeking to enhance the region’s prosperity, security and overall quality of life.

There is no doubt of the enormous, untapped potential of the region – a potential that MENAP’s governments hope to realise through bold and aspirational growth strategies and plans. If any region is to truly unite, excite and energise its people to support the delivery of those visions, it is surely ours. Blessed with a young and talented workforce, progressive government policies and a passion for ensuring a better sustainable future for the generations to come, the public sector’s efforts are set to propel the region forward. If we are to achieve sustained growth, however, we can not overlook a critical trigger for that growth – full-throttle support from the private sector.

Partnering across borders and sectors

The notion of shared accountability and responsibility is not without precedent - great strides have been made by aligning on vision, fostering cross-sector partnerships and setting out trade agreements. The recent industrial partnership between the UAE, Egypt and Jordan is a fantastic example. The agreement sees a $10 billion investment fund allocated to accelerate sustainable growth across five priority sectors, including petrochemicals and agriculture, food and fertilisers. At the same time, we witnessed a regional first when the UAE and Israel signed the first free-trade agreement of its kind.

The launch of tentative probes into a potential future is a welcome and rightly celebrated step forward. The global COVID-19 pandemic has served as an unwelcome, but timely reminder that regardless of our provenance, industry or size, we are not immune from the swirling eddies of external forces. The continued drive to seek out collaboration and opportunities for cooperation, to serve a common purpose that makes us stronger and more impactful, is the engine of a sustainable future.


What is the World Economic Forum doing about shaping the future of the Arab region?

Yet, to truly strengthen our collective, to ensure continued resilience against the impact of global conflicts and to further fast-track our growth and prosperity, we must venture further into the unknown.

But we do not voyage into a wholly alien future. The opportunities to contribute to meaningful change exist in addressing twenty-first-century issues, such as energy security, social development and economic growth. While it has taken a global pandemic to expose the unequivocal fragility of our ecosystems, it is clear that the drivers for greater cooperation are also the ways the region will benefit. These include:

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A faster and more thoughtful transition to green energy

Facing the end of ‘easy oil’ production and the growing demand for alternative energy sources, hydrocarbon-based economies must innovate and invest to ensure they are able to meet internal demand and continue to support global economies. Technological development, a greater understanding of fossil fuel production and a subsequent increase in demand for less harmful options is bringing about a steady decrease in the cost of green energy. Analysts widely expect it to become as affordable as non-renewable sources within a decade.

The current high-energy price environment unlocks investment capacity to support economic diversification, including fostering tech start-up ecosystems that focus on sustainable living solutions and better use of energy sources.


A vibrant start-up ecosystem driving economic and social development

Focusing on retaining talent in the region and upskilling workers is crucial to driving the war on talent and economic growth. Armed with great collective consciousness and an unrelenting drive to invoke positive change, SMEs are emerging as a driving force in the region’s economic and social development. $2.6 billion was invested in MENA start-ups in 2021, while the first half of 2022 saw companies in the UAE raise $699 million, ranking the Emirates as the leading country for venture capital financing in the MENA area.

Currently, the Middle East boasts five local unicorns – start-ups valued at U$1 billion or more – with four headquartered in the UAE and one in Egypt. But, while it is clear the region possesses the talent, passion and vision to build a better tomorrow, it cannot hope to thrive without the support of sector stalwarts. In many ways, the UAE has set the bar, making economic, legal and social reforms to attract skilled workers and incentivise innovation and economic contributions. Across the region, we must continue to challenge ourselves to foster the opportunities and environments that will close MENAPs $2.5 trillion GDP gap.

A focus on protecting our people

Facing the triple threat of global supply chain disruptions, commodity price volatility and mounting inflationary pressures have brought agricultural security into sharp focus. As a region, MENAP imports between 80 and 90% of the food it consumes. To safeguard our future, organisations such as the UAE, Egypt and Jordan Industrial Partnership for Sustainable Economic Growth will be critical to our collective success, helping to unlock new industrial opportunities and enhance sustainable economic growth across the region.

Potentially doubling the annual production of corn and wheat, this public/private sector agreement is expected to enhance integration, protect supply chains, empower import substitution and promote sustainable economic development. When considering that Egypt is one of the world’s largest importers of wheat, while Russia and Ukraine, the 'world's breadbasket,' are responsible for about 30% of global wheat and barley, the need for long-term solutions that redress this reliance is clear.

Triggered by a global health crisis, our communities have been provided an opportunity to rebound with greater resilience, to come together and collectively drive positive change that will ensure a better future for generations to come.

The fragmentation of our economies, the variances in scale, breadth, depth, institutional development and regulatory environments are blocking our region’s path to success. Given the need to create 80 to 100 million jobs across the region over the coming decade, relying on the public sector to fulfil those employment demands is not a sustainable solution. Instead, the private sector must step forward and identify ways to meaningfully contribute to MENAP's GDP and economic growth, while creating the right environment to allow talent to flourish.

Realising our remarkable capacity for growth demands governments, businesses and communities put aside partisan and fractured perspectives. Instead, we must challenge each other through debate, dialogue and role-modelling to redefine tomorrow. Now is the time to seek out new ways to collaborate, to boldly step forward united by a common cause and sense of purpose to co-create a federation of prosperity that unlocks MENAP’s staggering potential.

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