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

9 April 2019



By Georg Schmitt, Head of Corporate Affairs, Public Engagement, Email:

· The Middle East and North Africa can “punch at its weight” if its private and public sectors collaborate, Co-Chairs of the World Economic Forum meeting said in the closing plenary session

· The Co-Chairs suggested tourism, climate change, social entrepreneurship and humanitarian efforts as priority areas for development and collaboration

· World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa in Jordan on 6-7 April brought together more than 1,000 leaders of government, business, civil society, faith and academia

· Find more information about the World Economic Forum and follow the meeting

Dead Sea, Jordan, 7 April 2019 – 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.”

In a region mired in religious conflict, Bob Roberts, Founding and Senior Pastor of the Northwood Church, USA, put forth another way to promote collaboration: befriending people from other religions. Coming from a Baptist church in Texas, he called doing so a “game-changer” for himself, despite the opposition he initially felt within his community. “We have to move our faith community from tribalism to becoming global citizens,” he said. “We need to move to collaboration.”

Using entrepreneurship to solve social issues should be a top priority for stakeholders from across the region, said Adel Boseli, Chief Executive Officer of Amal Glass DMCC. “We are in a part of the world where there are so many problems, he said. “We face them every single day. It makes us all social entrepreneurs, whether we like it or not. We’re going after the problems that we have, and they just happen to be social.”

Reflecting on the challenges and opportunities of the MENA region, the meeting produced numerous notable outcomes:

- The 100 most promising start-ups of the Arab world participated in the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa and engaged with industry and government leaders to discuss the future of their industries and how to add value to society. Their tailored programme included sessions on social impact, cybersecurity and an informal dialogue between Khalid al Rumaihi, Chief Executive of the Bahrain Economic Development Board, and Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum. The initiative aims to further integrate the Arab world's most promising start-up entrepreneurs into a national and regional dialogue on pressing challenges. The Forum and the Bahrain EDB selected the start-ups from among more the 400 applications.

- At the meeting, Bahrain announced the roll-out of a new programme of support for the 100 Arab start-ups shaping the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The structured programme will allow start-ups to rapidly scale up their businesses and access a broader spectrum of support in Bahrain. It includes: access to the Bahraini market for all companies that have been recognized under the 100 Arab Start-Ups banner – going back to those selected in 2017; fast-tracking of applications to establish a presence in Bahrain; creation of a special concierge service to help start-ups navigate and benefit from the local Bahrain ecosystem; and an opportunity to pitch and access funding from Bahrain’s Sovereign Wealth Fund, as well as the VC partners of Al Waha Fund of Funds and family offices in the Kingdom.

- The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has announced it is granting five-year visas for the top 100 start-ups shaping the Fourth Industrial Revolution that were selected at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa. The announcement of the five-year visas was made by Abdulla bin Touq, Secretary-General, Cabinet of the United Arab Emirates, and Khalfan Juma Belhoul, Chief Executive Officer of the Dubai Future Foundation.

- Recognizing the potential of technology to support the transition to the circular economy within the MENA region and globally, the United Arab Emirates, represented by the Ministry of Cabinet Affairs and the Future, in partnership with the Ministry of Climate and Environment and the Ministry of State for Artificial Intelligence, has committed $1 million to support SCALE 360. The initiative of the World Economic Forum aims to unlock the potential of the technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution for the circular economy.

- The World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers, a community of 20-30-year olds, launched two Hubs in Jerusalem. Global Shapers from East and West Jerusalem jointly expressed their determination to make the voice of their generation heard in building peaceful and equitable societies.

- More than 100 Global Shapers took part in the SHAPE MENA programme on 2-4 April 2019 with the support of the Amman Hub. The meeting spotlighted local champions of environmental restoration. The Shapers travelled to the city of Azraq and visited reserves and protected sights to get a better sense of indigenous-led initiatives tied to environmental restoration and met with members of the local community.

- The University of the People (UoPeople), a non-profit, tuition-free, US-accredited online university, announced the UoPeople in Arabic at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa. The university will be run primarily by refugees and for refugees from Syria, Yemen, Libya, and Iraq, as well as other qualified students. UoPeople’s approach to tackle to the higher education crisis in the MENA region will provide refugees, internally displaced persons and asylum-seekers with a quality university degree to help these vulnerable populations create a better future for themselves, their families, and their communities.

- A delegation of faith leaders from the Bahá'í faith, Christianity, Islam and Judaism discussed how to address the challenges of Globalization 4.0 and foster harmony and cooperation across communities, without hindering them. Furthermore, they explored different ways that religion can contribute to shaping new economic and environmental models, and create platforms that contribute to the growth of the region.

- First Lady of Turkey, Emine Erdoğan shared learning from her environmental initiative “Zero Waste” with participants at the meeting. The project aims at decreasing waste as well as encouraging more efficient recycling. The initiative has helped to reduce plastic-bag usage by 70% in Turkey since its implementation and has been adopted by 15,000 enterprises in Turkey in the last 15 months.

- The World Economic Forum launched The Middle East and North Africa Risks Landscape to inform the debate on business and societal risk and help leaders to prepare for and mitigate risks to their organizations. While unemployment, governance challenges and energy price shocks are seen as major risks by business leaders in the Middle East and North Africa, the fallout from climate change might be a blind spot.

The World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa took place at the Dead Sea in Jordan on 6-7 April in partnership with the King Abdullah II Fund for Development (KAFD). The meeting marks the 10th hosted by Jordan since it was first convened at the Dead Sea in 2003. It brought together more than 1,000 government, business and civil society leaders from over 50 countries.

The Co-Chairs of this year’s meeting are: Khalid Al Rumaihi, Chief Executive, Bahrain Economic Development Board, Bahrain; Thani Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment of the United Arab Emirates; Rania A. Al-Mashat, Minister of Tourism of Egypt; Alain Bejjani, Chief Executive Officer, Majid Al Futtaim Holding, United Arab Emirates; Wafa Ben-Hassine, MENA Policy Counsel, Access Now, USA; Sumantra Chakrabarti, President, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), London; Tony F. Chan, President, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), Saudi Arabia; and Sigrid Kaag, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation of the Netherlands.