Geo-Economics and Politics

5 things to know about the #SpecialMeeting24

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Anna Marks, Global Chair, Deloitte, United Kingdom; Børge Brende, President, World Economic Forum; David Cameron, Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs of the United Kingdom; Faisal Alibrahim, Minister of Economy and Planning of Saudi Arabia; Maroun Kairouz, Head of Middle East and North Africa, World Economic Forum; Mian Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif, Prime Minister of Pakistan; Stéphane Bancel, Chief Executive Officer, Moderna, USA; Speaking in the Closing Plenary: Rejuvenating Growth session at the Special Meeting on Global Collaboration, Growth and Energy for Development 2024.

What did leaders talk about at the #SpecialMeeting24? Image: World Economic Forum/Deepu Das

Gayle Markovitz
Acting Head, Written and Audio Content, World Economic Forum Geneva
  • Leaders came together for the World Economic Forum's Special Meeting on Global Collaboration, Growth and Energy for Development from 28-29 April in Saudi Arabia.
  • The programme addressed inclusive growth; global collaboration; and energy for development.
  • 5 common threads emerged across the sessions - here are the key takeaways.

Over the course of two days, 1,000 global leaders and experts from government, business and civil society came together to discuss how to tackle the biggest issues facing the world.

The World Economic Forum's Special Meeting on Global Collaboration, Growth and Energy for Development comprised 50 sessions around three core themes: inclusive growth; global collaboration; and energy for development.

Over the course of the two days, five common threads emerged across the sessions. Leaders talked about: the importance of prioritizing people; finding 'bridge solutions' to manage transformation; cautious optimism around some bright spots; balancing policy around trade in goods, services, ideas, technology, and talent; and divergence between regions, countries, North and South.

Here are the key takeways.

1. Prioritizing people

Leaders were united in the belief that human capital is central to the energy transition, digital transformation and driving growth.

“Inclusive growth is not just a lofty ideal, it is a categorical imperative,” said Faisal Alibrahim, Minister of Economy and Planning of Saudi Arabia, emphasizing the need to co-create a global economy that works for everyone. “This means investing in people, in their skills, in their education, and in their well-being.”


Tiit Riisalo, Estonia's Minister of Economic Affairs and Information Technology, said his main priority for AI is "to make it useful for the people of Estonia", while Kristalina Georgieva, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, emphasized the need to "better distribute the benefits of growth” that will come with technological transformation.

While appreciating the growing interest in Africa’s expanding population, diversity and resources, and the economic opportunity they represent, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, President of Nigeria, spoke of the potential for the rise of intelligent economies to engender "a society of shared abundance”.


"With the geopolitical and socio-technological churn underway today, companies are being asked to fill the void on social and other issues that policy has not dealt with", said Peter Orszag, Chief Executive Officer of Lazard. He called for better policy-making to deal with the social challenges and economic twists of the energy transition. “It is going to be expensive and it is going to be hard,” he added.

In a session on Bridging the Health Gap, Bill Gates and Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), shared their excitement at the potential to eradicate polio.

"We're very close. We are in the last lap. Of course, the last mile is the hardest, but that's when we need to really put all our energy to cross the finish," said Tedros.

Gates said: "We know that losing 4.9 million children each year is about a lot more than just a number. It's about millions of kids not reaching their full potential. Well, it's also the ripple effect that better health for more people kicks off. Less poverty, improved education and resilient economies."

Participants also discussed how to accelerate economic gender parity and the integration of youth. Noor Ali Alkhulaif, Minister of Sustainable Development of Bahrain, said: “What we're seeing is amazing in terms of recognition by the private sector of the importance of women. You cannot isolate half of society. It's almost easy maths: you add more inputs, you get more output.”

Meanwhile, Mae Al Mozaini, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, The Arab Institute for Women’s Empowerment said: “Young people are the future leaders already creating social innovation in our region and what's needed is partnerships with the public and private sector to make greater impact happen."


2. Bridge solutions

Global collaboration and working to build bridges and partnerships with others was a key theme of the meeting.

HRH Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, Prime Minister of Saudi Arabia, affirmed the Kingdom’s commitment to acting as a stabilizing force in the region, noting that cohesion and cooperation with regional and global partners held the key to achieving security and prosperity.

During a Special Dialogue session, he underlined the Kingdom’s steadfast efforts to expand global collaboration to help build a more resilient and integrated global economy.

Also on the theme of geopolitics, Antony Blinken, US Secretary of State, stressed that “revitalizing, reimagining, and reinvigorating alliances and partnerships around the world” would be the only way out of this period of polycrisis.

The energy transition was another core topic of conversation and included an emphasis on the need for realistic expectations and the inclusion of so-called 'bridge solutions'.

As Tarek Sultan, Vice-Chairman of the Board, Agility, writes in this article, natural gas and nuclear power are both environmentally problematic, but "we risk damaging the global economy and threatening our energy security if we cut them off prematurely without using them to aid our transition".

In a session on People, Policy, Finance: Realizing an Equitable Energy Transition, Darren Woods, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, ExxonMobil, stressed the importance of wise investment decisions and building up grid infrastructure.


Leaders also spoke of bridging the North-South divide. Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda, said: "The North-South divide is a very real issue that needs to be addressed with urgency."

He highlighted Africa's vast resources, geographical advantage, and people and said, "by being reasonable, honest, and upfront and fighting for what's right," we can narrow this divide.

Finding 'bridge solutions' is also true when it comes to navigating the potential and pitfalls of AI to both create and disrupt jobs - and aid development.

In the session on AI, Productivity and Work, Paula Ingabire, Rwanda's Minister of Information Communication Technology and Innovation said AI could be "an equalizer" for developing countries.


"We don't have legacy infrastructure and systems, so if we're able to be very laser-focused on how we deploy AI solutions for the societal problems we're trying to solve for, then one, we gain the benefits, but we're also able to leapfrog when it comes to technological development."

3. Bright spots

There was a cautious note of optimism sounded across the meeting, with the IMF's Georgieva telling the Opening Plenary that there are signs of hope for the global economy.

"The world has built overall stronger fundamentals for growth. The world economy has proven to be resilient to repetitive shocks... governments have taken to heart the need to have sound fiscal policies, the need to manage their public finances responsibly and to create conditions for private sector led growth. So fundamentals pay off."

BlackRock Chairman and CEO Larry Fink told a session on Investing amid Global Fracture that this fiscal stimulus and innovation was creating a "very large investment cycle".


"Entrepreneurship is alive and well" despite global complexities, said William Ford, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, General Atlantic Service Company - and that innovation would be driven by AI.

Jordan's Minister of Finance, Mohamad Al-Ississ, told the session on Economic Perspectives for the Middle East and North Africa that "the economic well-being of our people can be the driver for change".

"What the private sector, what our youth, what our women need is not for the government to cater to them, but rather to stop standing in their way. And that's the path forward for all of us".

The MENA region itself is on the cusp of "a new golden economic age" said Ahmed Galal Ismail, CEO of Majid Al Futtaim.

There are also bright spots for energy transition.

In the European Union, it was a record year for renewables, which shored up energy security and brought prices down, Kadri Simson, Commissioner for Energy, European Commission told the People, Policy, Finance session.

Saudi Arabia's Minister of Industry and Mineral Resources, Bandar Alkhorayef, told the Where Manufacturing and Tech Collide session that the country is seeing "more and more solutions that can reduce energy" and that technology adoption will help more people.


4. Balancing policy

Progress and growth are not possible without policy, and careful regulation.

The IMF's Director for Middle East and Central Asia Department, Jihad Azour, called on political leaders to "accelerate structural reforms".

"Structural reforms will enable you... if you want an industrial policy or sectoral strategy to have the enablers [for] investing in human capital, investing in access to finance, investing in access to technology".

In the Opening Plenary, Lazard's Orszag said businesses are being called on to "fill the void" on societal issues that policy has not dealt with.

Georgieva, meanwhile, urged governments to "continue to build the strength of your economies by being responsible in your public finances, being responsible in monetary policy. There is no substitute for it".

In times of uncertainty, it can be tempting for countries to take a ‘batten down the hatches’ approach, wrote the World Economic Forum's Managing Director, Saadia Zahidi.

"History has shown this is counter-productive. In the long term, win-win beats win-lose strategies. With respect to trade in goods, services, ideas, technology, and talent – the appropriate measures to support specific communities, entrepreneurs and innovators – will lead to better outcomes for advanced and developing economies alike".

5. Divergence

The growing divide between the global North and South, 'geopolitical recession' and 'global fracture' were all pressing topics throughout the meeting.

The IMF's Georgieva said "divergence within country blocks and across country blocks and within countries is deepening".

"Low-income countries are falling dramatically behind. I want to give you a number, $3.3 trillion. This is how much the world lost because of the pandemic. In this loss, disproportionately the low-income countries are most severely impacted."

The lack of trust between superpowers is the main reason for global fracture, said Lubna Olayan, Chair of the Executive Committee, Olayan Financing Company: "The key thing for investors is transparency, rule of law, and the rule applied to everyone equally".

Growth potential is high for those countries who provide education and opportunities for youth, she added, explaining that the middle class is the "backbone of any society".


Salman Rahman, Private Industry and Investment Adviser to the Prime Minister, Prime Minister's Office of Bangladesh said, "at the moment, the divide between the north and south is increasing and it is increasing quite rapidly and if we don't put a stop to this, or if we don't take steps to address this issue, then I fear that in the future you are going to have a very, very seriously divided world, especially with the advent of technology".

In Rising Powers for a Multipolar World, Karin von Hippel, Director-General, Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, said the terminology of how we talk about the world is changing.

"We need to be thinking far more creatively, and in more grey space, not in binary black and white like we used to".


Ahmed Shide Mohamed, Ethiopia's Minister of Finance, said global development is "a collective pursuit of humanity that needs global cooperation".


Jake Loosararian, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Gecko Robotics, sounded a positive note in the Where Manufacturing and Tech Collide session - that technology could advance emerging economies.

"I think what we're seeing in the region is a very exciting light on a hill. And I think this is also true with developing and emerging economies which are very aggressive at advancing solutions maybe before they've hit global scale. That's so important, because if we if we wait till the catastrophe happens, it's too late and the cost is too high, both economic and human".

Related topics:
Geo-Economics and PoliticsEnergy Transition
1. Prioritizing people2. Bridge solutions3. Bright spots4. Balancing policy5. Divergence

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