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.

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