Economic Growth

Why investing in people is essential to revive growth: Key quotes from leaders at the #SpecialMeeting24

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Opening Plenary: A New Vision for Global Development session at the Special Meeting on Global Collaboration, Growth and Energy for Development 2024.

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Gayle Markovitz
Acting Head, Written and Audio Content, World Economic Forum Geneva
Kate Whiting
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
  • More than 1,000 leaders gathered in Saudi Arabia for the World Economic Forum's Special Meeting on Global Collaboration, Growth and Energy for Development.
  • One of the key themes that came out of the sessions was the need to invest in both people and technology to drive growth.
  • Here are some of the key quotes on the need to focus on human capital, just as much as on artificial intelligence.

Generative artificial intelligence (AI) is widely touted to bring productivity gains that could drive economic growth. But those gains will only happen if we equally invest in people.

This was the message from world leaders gathered in Riyadh for the World Economic Forum's Special Meeting on Global Collaboration, Growth and Energy for Development from 28-29 April.

Throughout the meeting, leaders brought home the point that investing in human capital needs to happen in tandem with investment in technology.

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"We are putting our attention too much on technology per se," said Han Jian, Professor of Management; Founding Academic Director, Chief Human Resource Management Officer Programme, China Europe International Business School, in the session Where Manufacturing and Tech Collide.

"We're not putting enough emphasis on the employee and the people side."

There is a lot of focus on the word "augmentation", she added.

"I think a better word would be hopefully 'create' ... we need to make the cake bigger. We need to provide not only jobs, but high-quality good jobs to people that improve their engagement. That is the real action – to put people at the centre."

Here are some more quotes from leaders at the Special Meeting.

Kristalina Georgieva

"It's absolutely essential to unleash the power of technology and pair this with human capital capable of moving across different employments and opportunities in a more agile manner," said the International Monetary Fund's Managing Director during the Opening Plenary.

She pointed out that, over the past 100 years – despite the Second World War and the Cold War – technology, capital accumulation and deployment of capital have enabled humanity to almost double life expectancy and increase income per capita eight times with the population almost tripling.

But despite this, "in a world of plenty, we still have almost 800 million people who are hungry. We failed to be more inclusive, to fully share the benefits of this growth", Georgieva added.

"I think in the next 100 years we can achieve the same degree of wealth, but with a much better distribution of the benefits of growth. And may we have the will to work together to achieve that."


Paul Kagame

The President of Rwanda said the country's progress came down to significant investments in its people, accountability and good governance.

"We put people at the centre of everything we are doing. That means investments in our human capital. How do we develop it and how does it find that space to be able to contribute to wellbeing and development?"

He said the country has invested in education, health and, above all, technology.


Mohammed Al-Jadaan

In economic planning there are "no egos" said Saudi Arabia's Minister of Finance, "it's OK to change and adjust" in order to deal with the multiple shocks the world is experiencing.

"You need to focus, first of all, on your own people and the human capital development. This is a long-term play that is critical. Human capital is very, very critical.

"But there are a lot of countries who will find it very difficult to provide quality education, quality healthcare to their people."


Technology and innovation are a key tool to drive growth, but he said it was important to get the basics right.

"You cannot expect people to focus on growth when they are really crushed with debt. And there are countries who are finding it very difficult actually to provide the basics to their people. Because of the debt."

We need to help ensure the G20's Common Framework for Debt Treatments "is moving in the right direction", he said.

"We need to make sure that it moves a lot faster."

Paula Ingabire

In the session on AI, Productivity, Work: Can We Have it All? Rwanda's Minister of Information Communication Technology and Innovation, Ingabire, said she was excited about the potential of AI for two reasons:

"One, the ability to be an equalizer, and especially for developing countries, the ability to leapfrog. One of the benefits we have is that 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 we gain the benefits, but we're also able to leapfrog when it comes to technological development.

"The second thing that excites me about AI is the levelling-up effect it has on the workforce, particularly for least-skilled professionals. They stand to benefit the most when it comes to generative AI. What is challenging, though, is then to think about what's the wage gap that will persist."


Abdullah Alswaha

Saudi Arabia's Minister of Communications and Information Technology, said we're at a turning point in humanity, where we're "shifting from the industrial revolutions to the intelligence revolution" – but one that needs to be inclusive.

"Productivity potentially could be accelerated, augmented or democratized and disrupted."

He added: "It's all about achieving, first of all, co-intelligence. How humans and machines can coexist within this artificial intelligence era or AGI era. We're pushing today an agenda that is inclusive, innovative and indisputably multi-stakeholder to make sure that we lead and leapfrog in this era."


How is the World Economic Forum fostering a sustainable and inclusive digital economy?

Tiit Riisalo

Estonia's Minister of Economic Affairs and Information Technology said the country has a plan to help people become "super-users" of AI, because it will bring multiple benefits, particularly in healthcare applications, such as cancer diagnostics.

But Riisalo said his main priority for AI was not how to make money from it, but how to make it useful for the people of Estonia.

"I'm not thinking so much about the trillions in the global GDP. We are thinking how to make it useful for our people."

Related topics:
Economic GrowthEducation and Skills
Kristalina GeorgievaPaul KagameMohammed Al-JadaanPaula Ingabire Abdullah AlswahaTiit Riisalo

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