Innovation and enabling a generational transformation in MENA

Innovation and enabling a generational transformation in MENA

The World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) met at the Dead Sea in Jordan in May, and emerged with key outcomes to commit to innovation, startups, education, skills and using technology for good for the region.

More than 1,200 business and political leaders and representatives from civil society, international organizations, youth and the media from over 60 countries participated under the theme, Enabling a Generational Transformation. Key topics at the meeting included:

  • Economic and political reforms to enable regional entrepreneurs to thrive.
  • A commitment to innovation and change to use technology to fight terrorism.
  • Preparing the region for the impending disruption to jobs from technological change.
  • A new vision for Arab Employment providing employability skills training to 1 million by 2018.
  • The launch of the Jordan Internet for All project, focused on encouraging more robust internet use in Jordan through e-government services, Arabic language content, and an emphasis on bringing women and girls online.

The forum, the 16th meeting in the region and the ninth in Jordan, had the full support and presence of their majesties King Abdullah II and Queen Rania Al Abdullah.  The top 10 outcomes of the 2017 World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa included the following themes.

Enabling regional startups/entrepreneurs to thrive
The World Economic Forum and the International Finance Corporation brought 100 Arab start-ups together at the Dead Sea to pave the way for economic and political reforms necessary to enable regional entrepreneurs to thrive. Most of the 100 are building their business models, products and services on new technologies such as artificial intelligence, blockchain and satellite technology – pioneering a generational transformation in the Middle East and North Africa – while closing region-specific gaps in products and services.

Commitment to innovation and technologies as a tool to fight terrorism
Representing the next generation, H.R.H. Crown Prince Al Hussein bin Abdullah II of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan opened the meeting with a declaration of his generation’s commitment to innovation and change. Underlining the meeting’s theme, Enabling a Generational Transformation, the prince said the next generation is embracing new technologies that are leading to new ways to connect, learn and work, and can be a powerful tool in the fight against terrorism.

Jobs and skills for the technological age
A new report, Future of Jobs and Skills in MENA: Preparing the Region for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, finds that few MENA economies are fully prepared for the impending disruption to jobs and skills brought about by technological change. The report aims to serve as a practical guide for business, government, civil society and education leaders. It also calls on the region’s leaders to urgently address the reforms needed to ensure the youth of MENA can harness the new opportunities coming their way.

Financing infrastructure projects
The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan became the 36th member of the Sustainable Development Investment Partnership (SDIP), a multi-stakeholder platform promoting blended finance to unlock financing for sustainable infrastructure projects in developing countries. The first meeting of the SDIP MENA Hub brought together a core group of regional institutions to promote greater financing of projects throughout the region.

The role of innovation
An Open Forum was held in the region for the first time, with the session in Amman giving students, entrepreneurs and the general public an opportunity to discuss the role of innovation in shaping a better future. The Open Forum was held in partnership with the King Abdullah II Fund for Development and supports Jordan’s efforts to anticipate and mitigate its many challenges with the help of its youthful population.

Employability skills training
The Forum’s New Vision for Arab Employment (NVAE) achieved commitments to provide employability skills training to a total of 250,000 people in the region. A new target of 1 million by 2018 has been agreed by the community. The NVAE community also agreed to test education, training and labour ecosystem reform in one pilot country before scaling in the region.

Economic gender parity
Women, who often have higher levels of education than men, are not being adequately integrated in the regional labour market. To advance economic gender parity in the region, several countries have begun dialogue to apply the Forum’s Gender Parity Task Force model of coordinated public-private action.

Palestinian education trust
The meeting saw the launch of the Palestinian Education Trust, a $100 million fund to transform the Palestinian education system, with $10 million already committed.

Internet for all (including refugees and women)
The World Economic Forum and the Government of Jordan jointly launched the Jordan Internet for All project. The project will focus on encouraging more robust internet use in Jordan through e-government services, Arabic language content, and an emphasis on bringing women and girls online. There will also be a special focus on ensuring that refugees are able to use the internet to facilitate their integration into society. Internet for All is supported by major Jordanian telecommunications operators, global technology companies, international organizations such as the UNHCR and non-profit organizations such as Digital Opportunity Trust.

MENA talent competitiveness index
The Centre for Economic Growth, INSEAD and Google released the MENA Talent Competitiveness Index; diversifying the economy, reducing public intervention in the markets, providing opportunities to young people and improving the innovation ecosystem are the key challenges that the region will face in the coming years. They will be the subject of further research that will be conducted jointly with the World Bank Group in the preparation of the Arab World Competitiveness Report 2017.

[Photo: Dubai Silicon Park concept]

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