In Focus

An Emphasis on Ethics

Our very own Ioana Belu describes her participation at the World Economic Forum for Middle East and Africa: "My favorite part of this entire event was the focus on ethics all throughout. I was particularly pleased to hear Omar bin Sultan Al Olama, Minister of #AI in the #UAE put such a clear emphasis on it and getting the nod of approval from Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan while at it, durin the conference on The Fourth Industrial Revolution in the Arab World conference. I know there's a lot of skepticism out there, but I witnessed what truly seemed to be real commitment, going beyond political correctness, and that gave me hope."


Media Release

African Business magazine releases its ranking of Africa’s Most Admired Brands

The June issue of pan-African business magazine, African Business, features its annual listing of Africa’s most admired brands, the Brand Africa 100. The ranking is developed by pan-African branding and reputation advisory firm, Brand Leadership Group supported by GeoPoll, the leader in mobile-based market research throughout Africa, and strategic analysis and insights by Kantar, the world’s leading data, insights and consulting company. 

The ranking was officially launched this morning at the Johannesburg Stock Exchange at an event organised by Brand Leadership and Brand Africa, who first launched the Brand Africa 100 in 2011. Nike, MTN, Dangote, Ecobank and BBC were recognised as the most admired brands on the continent.

In a relatively stable Top 100 list, the US sports and fitness mega brand, Nike, retains the overall #1 brand in Africa spontaneously recalled by consumers.  South African telecoms brand MTN is the #1 African brand spontaneously recalled brand, while surging Ethiopian brand Anbessa Shoes, at #2, swopped positions with Nigerian conglomerate, Dangote, which is the #3 most admired brand of African of origin.  However, when consumers are prompted to recall the most admired African brand, Dangote retains the #1 position.


Energy as Catalyst

The new gas discoveries bring important investment opportunities to the region and the potential for nations to come together in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Consumption of liquefied natural gas (LNG) all over the world has been on an upward trend for several years and the surge in supply is expected to only increase in the future (by 45 percent between 2015 and 2021). New LNG projects are expected to add 175 billion cubic meters (bcm) to the market by 2020, coming mainly (90 percent of it) from Australia and the United States, an increase based on investment decisions taken before the gas price plunge. Increased supply can only bring the prices further down and the major exporters can only look towards smaller profits, as a significant cost would have to be added for liquefaction, transportation, and regasification.

A solution to maintaining higher margins and controlling variable costs is developing new gas fields in areas closer to the demand markets, which is why the new exploration contracts in the Eastern Mediterranean appeal to the world’s largest gas companies, such as BP, ExxonMobil, Statoil, ENI, Total, Qatar Petroleum, and Cairn.

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Main Stories
9 April 2019
Arab Education Should Focus on Early Childhood and Adoption of Technology, Say Regional Leaders

 Leading policy-makers and academics called for education reform in the Middle East and North Africa, as the region faces a triple challenge of 22 million children out of school or at risk of dropping out, high youth unemployment, and diverging access to and quality of public and private education. As solutions, they pointed to technology as an educational tool, life-long and vocational learning, and public-private cooperation.

“Today, governments are struggling between getting the basics done and dealing with emerging conflicts,” said Ghassan Hasbani, Deputy Prime Minister of Lebanon, on the opening day of the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa. But necessity and urgency can also help leaders to “think out of the box,” he added. In those circumstances, “basic technology can be used to help advance education, particularly at the literacy level.”

Pre-school is the best place to focus investments and introduce these basic technologies, said Maysa Jalbout, Chief Executive Officer of Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education, United Arab Emirates. Only 31% of children in the region are currently enrolled at this stage, with most of them enrolled in private education. The result is that “inequity in education starts at this very early stage,” she said, because pre-school is the most crucial time for learning outcomes later. These technologies and their capabilities should come from within the Arab region, not from import or “copy-pasting”.

“If you don’t develop your indigenous capability, you cannot sustain the results,” said Tony F. Chan, President of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia. He called for “multigenerational” investments, both at the research university level and at the kindergarten level. Inherently, it shouldn’t be a problem: “Algorithmic thinking is an Arab invention,” he said.

9 April 2019
For Working Women in the Arab World, Equality Is a Moral Demand

A group mostly made up of female leaders pleaded for a mix of government measures, a cultural shift, and more widely held meritocratic standards to unlock the full potential of Arab women in the workforce.


In a session at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa, senior executives and policy-makers on the panel put the onus on individual persistence and meritocracy, while a new generation underlined that equality is – first and foremost – a matter of morality. The market power of women’s increased participation in the workforce could add an estimated $2.7 trillion to the economy on the Middle East and North Africa by 2025, the panel said. This potential is made possible by the increased number of women being educated and going to university, and a shift in laws and culture. But to get ahead, women still need to clear a lot of hurdles.


“You need to be committed and hard-working, of course,” said Sahar Nasr, Minister of Investment and International Cooperation of Egypt. “But you also need a conducive environment. This is where affirmative action matters.” Nasr is one of a record eight female ministers in the Egyptian government and part of a broader societal shift. For Arab women, “economic empowerment is a means to political and social empowerment,” she said.

Some favour more government intervention, including in parental leave policies, to accelerate change. “The way business currently works, is not friendly for the family,” said H.R.H. Princess Dina Mired, President of the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC). “Usually the woman takes the cut.” As a solution, she suggested that “society should support the family more,” and mandate better parental leave, including for men.

A survey revealed during the panel showed that 66% of employees “believe that governments should intervene in private-sector companies and set targets for gender diversity.” Hani Ashkar, Senior Partner, Middle East, PwC, agreed. “We’ve forced a target of 50% of women at the entry level, and it has changed the company,” he said. But he acknowledged that shortcomings remain. “We’re still very light at the top. That’s an issue,” he said.

9 April 2019
Hope and Opportunities for Youth Seen as Keys to Combat Radicalization

People from all walks of life need to contribute in their own ways to help provide opportunity and hope for young people to keep them from being radicalized by extremist groups such as ISIS. “Terrorists prey on injustice and desperation,” said Anne Speckhard, Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE), USA. That was the consensus of a multistakeholder panel on radicalization, which took place at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa today. “They start working with children when they are four, five or six,” said Abdullah Abdullah, Chief Executive of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. “Often their parents are needy. By the time they are 14-15 they know nothing but violence.” Education was highlighted as a key factor to combat radicalization. Efforts need to be concentrated in places where young people are easily recruited: sporting organizations, places of worship, prisons and on social media. Inflammatory messages and videos need to be culled from social media, argued Ibn Ziaten.

9 April 2019
World Economic Forum on Middle East and North Africa Urges Leaders to Develop Full Potential of the Region through Collaboration

 The World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) closed today with a call for its stakeholders to increase collaboration on social, economic and climate issues. It should help the region “punch at its weight” instead of below it, Co-Chairs of the meeting said in the closing plenary.

“This is a region with two systems,” said Mirek Dusek, Head of Middle East and North Africa, World Economic Forum. “One is forward-looking, young and technology-native. The other is the legacy system with sclerotic institutions, conflict and fragility. Building new platforms of collaboration is about providing the space for people to think through the economic and social model, the environment and humanitarian emergencies in a multistakeholder way.”

“We should double down on bringing this region up,” said Alain Bejjani, Chief Executive Officer of Majid Al Futtaim Holding. “We need to engage in more cooperation.” If the private and public sectors put forth a shared economic vision, he suggested, the region could double or triple its GDP. That would allow it to “punch at its weight” rather than below it, he said.

One area to start such cooperation is by developing and encouraging travel in the region, said Rania A. Al-Mashat, Minister of Tourism of Egypt. “Tourism is one way to overcome the unfortunate rise of protectionism and nationalism.” It is also a way to increase economic growth and employment, she said. Tourism is responsible for one in every 10 jobs globally, and one in every five new jobs.

Environmental stewardship is another area where people from across the region should focus, suggested Nour Al Gharibeh, Design Strategy and Brand Development Officer of SYNTAX. “We keep hearing a lot about climate change,” she said. “But, is it an issue we should be thinking about, given our situation?” The answer is a “resounding yes,” according to Al Gharibeh. “We should take simple steps to learn about it and include it among the priorities.”