Bodour Al Qasimi unveils the “Arab Supply Chain Impact Initiative” to support the creation of sustainable economies in the region

12 November 2017

Sharjah - MENA Herald: As the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) continues to take over major business challenges and discussions across the world, the ‘Building Digital Economies in the Arab World’ summit in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, organised by the Regional Business Council (RBC) in the Middle East and North Africa, in association with the World Economic Forum (WEF) yesterday, takes a regional lead in addressing how joint leadership across MENA can build stronger economies, steer young people towards and entrepreneurship and shape the course of the 4IR.

Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi, Chairperson of the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq), and the Chairperson of RBC, took the lead by unveiling the newest initiative, the ‘Arab Supply Chain’, and shared her vision to more than 90 brilliant minds representing numerous businesses across the globe.

The initiative, which will require a voluntary business commitment to early-stage businesses by the RBC members, who will allocate 10% of procurement spend annually to entrepreneurs and SMEs by 2020, aims to function as a direct support to small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) in MENA, who make up at least 90% of the companies operating in in the overall region.

It also aims to facilitate the overall growth of these companies, which are key catalysts to creating jobs, diversifying economies, boosting innovation, and provide established companies with the flexibility and knowledge they need to expand their businesses.

Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi: Building Digital Economies in-line with the Rapid Growth of the 4IR

During her welcoming address at the summit, Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi said: “We are here today to discuss what I think, we would all agree, is one of our region’s greatest challenge, how to build future economies in the Arab world? More precisely, how can we build digital economies that are rapidly being shaped by the fourth industrial revolution technologies?”

Highlighting the fact that the Middle East is teeming with human capital and in love with the online world, she underscored that this needs to be leveraged by the region to move beyond online towards the digital economy and technologies in the realm of 4IR.

“Here in the emirate of Sharjah, we are doing just that. This has led to the creation of the Sharjah Research, Technology and Innovation Park was recently launched in conjunction with the American University of Sharjah. It provides a free zone ecosystem that serves to cultivate industry–academia partnerships to apply 4IR technology in critical areas for the region, including the pursuit of sustainable energy and water resources, combatting climate change and building integrated transport systems,” Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi outlined.

“The Park is a Launchpad for pioneering entrepreneurs in Sharjah, the UAE and the broader Middle East region, helping to transform them from job seekers into job creators, and supporting the goals of initiatives such as Sheraa, the Sharjah Entrepreneurship Center, which seeks to create the next wave of ground-breaking young innovators. Through these kind of facilities, we are supporting innovators and entrepreneurs – not only in Sharjah but across the UAE and the wider region,” she added.

The summit was attended by His Excellency Dr. Ahmad Belhoul, Minister of State for Higher Education & Advanced Skills in the UAE; Her Excellency Sarah Al Amiri, Minister of State for Advanced Sciences in the UAE; Her Excellency Mariam Al Muhairi, Minister of State for Food Security in the UAE; His Excellency Mohamed Jameel Al Ramahi, CEO of Masdar; His Excellency Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of WEF; Mirek Dusek Head of Regional Strategies – Middle East and North Africa, Member of the Executive Committee, WEF; Arif Naqvi, Founder and Group Chief Executive, Abraaj Group; Badr Jafar, CEO of Sharjah's Crescent Enterprises; Majid Hamid Jafar, CEO of Crescent. Petroleum, and numerous leading economic experts covering numerous fields of business across the region.

Among the leading economic experts were members of “The Forum’s” Regional Business Council (RBC), made up of business leaders from about 40 leading companies from the MENASA region the Global Future Councils, and some of the world’s most influential business leaders, policy makers and entrepreneurs, who capitalised on the forum’s significant opportunity to identify and examine challenges posed in what is a new era of development.

Klaus Schwab: Practical Solutions to Flourishing Digital Economies of the Arab World

The evening’s proceedings began with a note by Professor Klaus Schwab, who said: “I am visiting Sharjah for the first time and I am fascinated. What I see around me today is a fantastic representation of our stakeholder group – politicians, business leaders, civil society and, most importantly, the young generation. We have to engage the young generation if we want to see any kind of progress in the world, digital or otherwise.”

He continued: “I am happy to announce that in our recent regional business council meeting at Dead Sea we jointly decided the establishment of a regional business incubator that will support between 50 to 100 businesses a year. We are here to find practical solutions to how the digital economy of the Arab world can flourish, and how innovation will lead the way.”

Digital Arab World’s Key Challenges and Opportunities

A key part of the summit was a panel discussion titled ‘Digital Arab World’s Key Challenges and Opportunities. Introduced by Derek O’ Halloran, Head of Digital Economy and Society System Initiative and Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum, and moderated by Mina Al-Oraibi, Editor-in-Chief, The National, UAE, the discussion featured Sarah A Amiri, Minister of State for Advanced Sciences, UAE; Alain Bejjani, CEO Majid Al Futtaim Holding, UAE; Joy Ajlouny, Co-Founder, Fetchr, UAE; Khaled H. Biyari, CEO, Saudi Telecom, Saudi Arabia and Imad Elhajj, Professor American University of Beirut and member of the Global Future Council on Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, Lebanon.

The effect of digitalisation on governments, industries, businesses, and society, especially in the past few years, the challenges and opportunities, and what the Arab world can do in the next 10 years to bring this transformation to everyone in the region in a beneficial way, became the focus of the panel.

“When it comes to a transformative economy and why the UAE in particular is looking at AI, robotics, sciences, and other skills of the future, it is not as a response to a scarcity but a need that surfaced on its own. No one pre-empted any of the industrial revolutions or worked towards bringing them about; they happened on their own. It’s inevitable that we look at how investments should be made in future economies that will not be geared towards consumerism but towards shaping the components of 4IR,” said Sarah Al Amiri.

Joy Ajlouny, Co-Founder, Fetchr, UAE, added to the discussion saying how governments across the region could introduce regulations to reduce the cost of setting up SMEs in the UAE, as it is quite expensive to do so now. Visa and labour costs, and healthcare were some of the specifics she mentioned.

Alain Bejjani, CEO Majid Al Futtaim Holding, UAE, mentioned how the nation has been exceptionally agile in their adoption and execution of new digital innovations that are delivered worldwide. Pointing out areas for improvement, he commented: “The UAE has one of the most business-friendly environments in the world. What we need to do is create a more supportive environment for start-ups, for individual entrepreneurs. The new digital economy that we are all gathered here to discuss today is not something that we will be creating from scratch, but build upon the foundation we have. How do we transform ourselves? How do we turn what we have into digital? Big corporations have a big role to play in this. We are asset-heavy and talent-light, and start-ups have the exact opposite constitution. We need to continue to find ways to be relevant in the future and that is why digital innovations and collaborations with entrepreneurial talent is of supreme importance. Finding the right talent, upscaling and rescaling the workforce with proper training and incentives.”

The role of the right education and training required for young generations to spearhead this digital revolution was highlighted. Khaled H. Biyari spoke about how digital disruption has been an enabler, especially in the telecom industry. “Digital innovations open up huge opportunities for businesses. I think it is time for large corporations to start redrafting strategies with digital at the core. This will reflect in both business management and service delivery by reducing cost and enhancing customer experiences. Government regulations are required to drive digital in a big way, especially in the Arab region, which is so digital and tech savvy.”

Adding to the aspect of the role of education, matching talent with opportunities, and how stability in a region is equally proportionate to development, Imad Elhajj, remarked: “There is a difference between a digital economy and a digitised economy, and the starting point for us should be to understand that differentiation. As long as we are consumers of technology, we will definitely be left behind, no matter how well educated we are. An example is the industrial revolutions the world has already seen. The rate of progress in this one is exponential, and if we do not get up to speed, we will really lag behind. While education is necessary, stability is a major determining factor for development.”  

Focusing on the intersection of the 4IR and entrepreneurship, the digital Arab World Initiative is the overarching theme of activities of the Regional Business Council (RBC).  

Mapping the Future

The Summit also hosted two separate discussions, each hosting a leading portfolio of industry-leading speakers from across the world, with expertise across numerous economic fields, discussing and proposing new strategies and solutions in a bid to outline the future of start-ups, SMEs and the Arab region’s innovative economy.

The panel sessions also explored ways where governments can work together with the private sector, through initiatives that further support the region in capitalizing on its potential to become one of the most conducive regions for starting a business.

Bringing together influential business leaders from across the Arab World, RBC enhances cooperation between the public and private sectors to address the region’s most significant challenges. In May this year Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi was elected chair in recognition of her pioneering efforts in addressing key regional socio-economic challenges around competitiveness, youth employment, entrepreneurship, enhancing governance and ensuring institutional quality for inclusive growth, education reform and peace-building.

Under her leadership, the RBC will serve as a collaborative platform for addressing the complex economic, social and humanitarian challenges that the region faces and work to develop a strategic framework for deepening partnerships between the public and private sectors around economic integration and diversification, spurring innovation, economic growth, workforce skills development, entrepreneurship and increased female labour force participation.