Geo-Economics and Politics

Global South leaders: 'It’s time for the Global North to walk the talk and collaborate'

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#SpecialMeeting24: Key highlights from voices representing the 'Global South perspective'.

#SpecialMeeting24: Key highlights from voices representing the 'Global South perspective'. Image: World Economic Forum

Pooja Chhabria
Digital Editor, World Economic Forum
  • The World Economic Forum's Special Meeting on Global Collaboration, Growth and Energy for Development, is being held in Saudi Arabia from 28-29 April 2024.
  • The meeting is organized around three themes: revitalizing global collaboration; a compact for inclusive growth; and catalyzing action on energy for development.
  • Here are the key highlights from voices representing the 'Global South'.

The World Economic Forum's Special Meeting on Global Collaboration, Growth and Energy for Development in Saudi Arabia united over 1,000 leaders from developed and developing markets to find solutions to immediate crises while laying the groundwork for creating a more sustainable, resilient world.

The Meeting saw a distinctive focus on the 'Global South' across the three major themes: revitalizing global collaboration; a compact for inclusive growth; and catalyzing action on energy for development.

From Saudi Arabia's Minister of Economy and Planning emphasizing the urgency of collaboration to Rwanda's President advocating to bridge North-South divides, the discussions underscored the complex dynamics shaping development.

Here's a recap encapsulating key voices and perspectives from the Meeting:

HE Faisal Alibrahim, Minister of Economy and Planning, Saudi Arabia

International collaboration featured high on the agenda at the Meeting, and HE Faisal Alibrahim, Minister of Economy and Planning in Saudi Arabia, said it has ‘never been more important than it is today.’

"We are working to ensure that progress for one part of the world does not come at the expense of another. Eight years into Vision 2030, we have demonstrated our willingness to lead the way towards a model of transformative growth that is innovative, inclusive and sustainable," he says.

For the first time ever in 2023, our non-oil activities represented 50% of our total GDP.

Speaking at the opening press conference, the Minister also discussed the importance of ensuring a ‘stable Middle East for a stable and prosperous world and for us to revive global economic growth.’

Rania Al-Mashat, Minister of International Cooperation, Egypt

To stay on course for net zero, an extra $2.5 trillion is required for the developing world’s energy transition. That will only happen if the private and public sectors work together, says Egyptian minister Rania Al-Mashat.

The government alone cannot achieve these objectives. Private sector has to come in... the reskilling that is required around the green transition also requires a public-private partnership.

She highlights the financing gap relating to the green transition and says the Global South will ultimately require a ‘culture change’.

"Energy is key for everyday life and livelihood. And sometimes, change in culture is what is most important", she says.

"Everybody's used to their regular cars, not to electric cars. Everybody is used to that electricity is being generated either through coal or through fossil fuels, through gas rather than renewables... But that requires an investment on people's side. It also requires incentives that the government can give people who would move towards clean sources of electricity or energy. So it's a cultural change."

Hala H. ElSaid Younes, Minister of Planning and Economic Development, Egypt

International trade and globalization are the main drivers of inclusive economic growth, said Hala H. ElSaid Younes, the Minister of Planning and Economic Development in Egypt.

She participated in a session titled ‘What Homeland Economics Means for Trade’ and highlighted the rising inequality in the ‘distribution of technology’ between developing and developed nations.

“What the developing and middle-income countries need is more transfer of technology, more FDI (foreign direct investment), more capacity building for their people to become resilient and agile to external shocks,” she says.

The minister also focused on the spillover effects of the war in Gaza and tensions in the Red Sea, which have led to soaring food and energy prices locally.

Egypt is a country that has been faced with multiple unprecedented shocks… 50% of shipments that used to pass by the Red Sea have been transferred to the Cape of Good Hope and has led to a decrease in our revenues.

The raising interest rates has also made access to capital costly, she says, leaving middle-income countries with limited fiscal space to support the vulnerable. These factors have led to Egypt adopting the ‘structural reform agenda’ to ensure macroeconomic stability alongside investment in the labour force, infrastructure, and green manufacturing.

M.U.M. Ali Sabry, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sri Lanka

M.U.M. Ali Sabry, the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Sri Lanka, represented the ‘Global South perspective’ at the session titled ‘North to South, East to West: Rebuilding Trust’.

Countries in the Global South need the support of the Global North on access to low-cost funding, debt relief, transition to the latest technology, and the digital divide. So, I think it’s time for the Global North to walk the talk and collaborate.

He went on to add: “Peace and stability is very important, as a result of which, the economies or the GDPs have grown eight times despite the challenges.

"So we, as members of the Global South, would like and request the Global North and the players who have so much of power… don't close the channels of diplomacy. Open channels of communication.”

Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda

Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda, echoed similar sentiments at the Meeting’s Opening Plenary session and said, ‘The North-South divide is a very real issue that needs to be addressed with urgency’.

The rest of the world has to recognize the importance of investing in and with Africa. Second, Africa must avoid a victim mentality and start raising ourselves to the level we should be.

He emphasized the vast resources, geographical location, and its people as factors of advantage. But to narrow the divide, he says, requires 'being reasonable, honest, upfront and fighting for what's right'.

Amani Abou-Zeid, Commissioner for Infrastructure, Energy and Digitalization, African Union Commission

The African continent is rich in renewable energy sources. It’s often referred to as the “Sun continent” because it receives more hours of bright sunlight than any other continent and has 60% of the world’s solar resources.

This is in addition to sizeable, additional potential for hydropower and wind energy. In terms of geothermal power generation, it’s set to overtake Europe by 2030.

But its overall capacity still remains heavily underutilized and leads to an energy access gap, impacting socio-economic and human development continent-wide. Amani Abou-Zeid, the Commissioner for Infrastructure, Energy and Digitalization at the African Union Commission focused on the stark reality we see today:

More than half of our population [in the African continent] does not have access to electricity. Over 90% of our population, almost a billion people, do not have access to clean cooking. We cannot afford to discard any solution at this point.

During a session on the ‘Rise of Green Molecules,’ she spoke about advancing investments and developing local value chains to become a catalyst for development. “We need to intensify the work in developing the technologies to make them more affordable and adapted to local needs,” she says.

Muhammad Aurangzeb, Minister for Finance and Revenue, Pakistan

Speaking in a session on fintech, Muhammad Aurangzeb, the Minister for Finance and Revenue in Pakistan, talked about the importance of accelerating the digital journey by placing people and processes at the centre. “If you have a broken process and you go ahead and automate it, that doesn’t work,” he says. Here’s how he’s thinking about it within the context of his country, which still heavily relies on cash:

We need to reimagine our economy the way other countries have done… get on to digital solutions.

He went on to add, "We have two important pillars: the national identification being supported by NADRA and a real-time payment system called RAAST. These are two important pillars through which we can actually start moving towards documenting the economy through digital solutions… it’s a huge priority for us as we go forward."

Paula Ingabire, Minister of Information Communication Technology and Innovation, Rwanda

Paula Ingabire, Rwanda's Minister of Information Communication Technology and Innovation, remains optimistic about the adoption of artificial intelligence (AI).

In a session titled ‘AI, Productivity, Work: Can We Have it All?’, she spoke about the two main benefits it can have for the African continent, but particularly for her country of Rwanda.

"One of the benefits that we have is that we don't have legacy infrastructure and systems. So if we're able to be laser-focused on how we deploy AI solutions for the societal problems we're trying to solve, then we gain the benefits, but also, we're able to leapfrog when it comes to technological development," she says.

"The second thing that excites me about AI is its up-levelling effect on the workforce, particularly for least-skilled professionals… they stand to benefit the most from generative AI. What is challenging, though, is to think about the wage gap that will persist."

She highlighted, through an example, over 100,000 community health workers who provide door-to-door primary healthcare services in Rwanda and benefit from a large language model that connects them to wide-ranging information as they respond.

Least-skilled professionals… they stand to benefit the most from generative AI. What is challenging, though, is to think about the wage gap that will persist.

Overall, an economic impact assessment, she says, shows ‘AI can contribute about 6% to our GDP growth’, with particular use cases in agriculture since 70% of the population is involved in the sector. But addressing risks around digital divide and inclusivity must take priority, she added.

Tengku Zafrul Bin Tengku Abdul Aziz, Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry, Malaysia

In a discussion on reigniting growth globally, Tengku Zafrul Bin Tengku Abdul Aziz, the Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry in Malaysia, offered a regional perspective on ensuring sustained growth.

The Association of South East Asian Nations (or Asean) has been a ‘net beneficiary’ in the last few years, he says.

The region is also witnessing the benefits of a recent trend around ‘friend-shoring’, which refers to the rerouting of supply chains to countries perceived as politically and economically safe or low-risk, to avoid disruption to the flow of business. “ASEAN being neutral in many of its positions has been attractive for many institutions and companies to relook at strengthening their supply chain… growth has been around 4 to 5%, and it’s expected to continue that trend.”

However, he reinforced the need for inclusive growth and deepening integration within the economies of ASEAN.

We, as a member of Asean, recognize the importance of growth to be inclusive. So growth of one Asean nation should not be at the expense of another.

Mohamad Al-Ississ, Minister of Finance, Jordan

Uncertainty is here to stay, according to Mohamad Al-Ississ, Jordan’s Minister of Finance. He was speaking at a discussion on the broader outlook for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, which faces a range of complexities, from conflict to shipping disruptions.

Jordan has been resilient ‘against all odds’, he says, but one crucial aspect remains:

Ultimately, 70% of our population is below 30. They deserve to see their hopes of a better life realized, and the unfolding events in the region have delivered the biggest deficit: the deficit of hope… we must safeguard that.

Noor Ali Alkhulaif, Minister of Sustainable Development, Bahrain

Bahrain’s Minister of Sustainable Development, Noor Ali Alkhulaif, appeared at a session on overcoming challenges and advancing economic gender parity. While current progress on the issue remains fragmented, she says her country remains on the ‘right trajectory’.

There’s been great progress [on gender parity in Bahrain]. COVID may have slowed things down… but there were also initiatives introduced to make sure women are not economic victims.

About 75% of the task force that dealt with COVID-19 comprised of women, she added, while highlighting legislations and public-private partnerships that are furthering change.

Bola Ahmed Tinubu, President of Nigeria

Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the Nigerian President, reflected on the tough measures taken to recalibrate his economy, particularly the removal of the decades-long subsidy on petroleum products. “There is no doubt it was a necessary action for my country not to go bankrupt,” he said.

“There is a parallel arrangement to really cushion the effect of the subsidy removal on the country's vulnerable population... Luckily, we have a very vibrant, youthful population that is committed to growth,” he added.

As part of his remarks on the ‘Opening Plenary: A New Vision for Global Development’, he emphasized:

Nigeria is consistent in its belief that economic collaboration is important. And inclusiveness is necessary to engender stability in the rest of the world.

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