World Economic Forum addresses regional challenges
Founders of 100 start-ups from the Arab world attended.
Pointing to the future. Jordan’s King Abdullah (L) and his wife Queen Rania attending the opening session of the World Economic Forum in the Dead Sea resort of Shuneh, on May 20. (AFP)
2017/05/28 Issue: 108 Page: 19
London - The World Economic Forum’s regional gathering in Jordan looked at how to encourage entrepreneurship and technological innovation to create private sector jobs in the Middle East and North Africa, where there is 30% youth unemployment.
More than 1,100 politicians and business people discussed ways to transform the stagnant economies of the region. Among them were CEOs from the region and the founders of 100 start-ups from the Arab world.
“Entrepreneurs from several countries in the region, including Libya, Lebanon, [the Palestinian territories], Yemen and Jordan, engaged in dynamic discussions with country leaders and senior officials,” Philipp Rosler, a member of the World Economic Forum’s managing board, told the Jordan Times.
Some participants said the region’s governments and institutions must provide a nurturing environment for entrepreneurs, including access to financing.
Khaled Biyari, CEO of the Saudi Telecom Company, said the region’s young population could drive the transformation. Moving to a digital economy “can allow the region and the countries in this region to leapfrog,” the Associated Press (AP) quoted Biyari as saying. “They don’t have to go back and do what other developed nations have (done).”
For entrepreneurs from countries in conflict, the challenges of doing business are much more basic.
Hussein Ahmed, one of the start-up founders attending the conference, is exporting coffee from Yemen to the United States but his efforts are complicated by frequent power outages in his war-torn homeland.
“To process the coffee, you need machines and machines work with electricity,” the AP quoted him as saying. “Can you imagine running a business without electricity?”
Two days of sessions also looked at the wars in the Middle East and the fallout from a refugee crisis that has uprooted millions of people.
Iraqi President Fuad Masum called on investors to help with reconstruction efforts, particularly in the northern city of Mosul, which was overrun by Islamic State militants in 2014.
Since autumn, Iraqi forces backed by a US-led coalition have slowly advanced in the city, pushing back the militants. Masum said he hoped Mosul would be liberated “in the next few days,” adding that “our country is open to all investors.”
The Syria refugee crisis highlighted the link between aid and security. Hundreds of thousands of refugees have migrated to Europe after facing increasingly difficult conditions in regional host countries, where cash-strapped aid agencies have struggled to provide basic support.
At the forum, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini warned that threatened US cuts in funding to UN agencies “would create a major security issue worldwide, including in Europe.”
David Beasley, the new executive director of the World Food Programme (WFP), told the AP he would use his Washington connections to defend the cash-strapped UN agency. Beasley spoke in Amman after visiting the kingdom’s largest camp for Syrian refugees and a military airport from where WFP food shipments are flown to Syria.
US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley pledged additional support for Syrian refugees in Jordan. She said she would press countries to provide funds directly to Jordan rather than funnelling them through aid organisations.
The US State Department said it had donated $6.5 billion in aid since the Syrian conflict began. The UN refugee agency has registered more than 680,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan, and Amman says it is struggling to cope.
“Jordan has reached the limit of its capacity to cope with the burden of hosting Syrian refugees,” Planning Minister Imad al-Fakhoury said in a statement after meeting with Haley.