Mirek Dusek, Head of Regional Strategies, Middle East and North Africa, and a Member of the Executive Committee at the World Economic Forum, pointed to the “amazing potential of young people and young companies” across the region who have had such a strong presence during the meeting. “We have seen pockets of excellence, but we feel a new economic model is emerging of entrepreneurship.”
Dusek noted that many of these young start-ups have succeeded despite their environment. “How can we help them to be more sustainable and put them at the core of what this region is about?” he asked.
The Forum has been working for many years facilitating dialogue on the crises facing the region to ensure the right stakeholders are sitting down to address fragility and humanitarian catastrophes and deal with the political picture, Dusek added. Leaders from different faiths also discussed the future of Iraq after the liberation of Mosul from Daesh, as well as the role of clerics in society.
Ghassan Hasbani, Deputy Prime Minister of Lebanon, said he took away ideas about how to continue creating hope for the young people in the region. “We need to show them examples of success and that we are taking the right action to create the right environment for them to stay in the region … and succeed,” he said. “The region is in turmoil and facing political, economic and social challenges,” he added, but young people are a bright light shining. “We want to give them hope by taking proactive action on the legislative and regulatory side, but also on the encouragement and support side, he said. Hasbani praised the Forum’s Global Shapers community, a network of Hubs developed and led by young people with exceptional potential who want to make a contribution to their communities, and the more than 100 Arab start-ups represented at the meeting.
“We need to keep focusing on entrepreneurship at all levels,” he added. “We need to move forward with supporting entrepreneurship and encourage bigger enterprises to be more socially responsible.”
Start-ups face many challenges in the region, but Ambareen Musa, Chief Executive Officer of Souqalmal, United Arab Emirates, said they struggle with two main areas: talent and regulations. “It is extremely hard to find local talent. We need a real investment in education. It is about educating from a young age about entrepreneurship,” she said. “There are new careers coming on board. Education is key to creating sustainable environment now and for the next generation of start-ups.”
The next challenge is regulations. Investors want to know how big the regional market is, Musa added. “There have been a lot of changes, but I would like to see them faster. The dream is one currency, one region and no borders from a talent and regulatory perspective. That will make the expansion of the region for us much, much easier. It will also attract foreign direct investment.” She pointed out that the region has been built on entrepreneurship. Musa noted that the meeting’s common theme was “reform” and a mindset that it is time to move forward and create a sustainable environment.
Sana Hawasly, Chief Executive of Daraty, Syria, works with children in the education sector. “We want education to empower young people to create a lifelong learning opportunity with no restrictions around their educational experience,” she said. “The best way to create this content is make kids feel free to express themselves and do the work they like to do.” Daraty started with electronics to prepare them to build technology. In 2020 and beyond, people will require technical skills. “We are giving them the tools for the next marketplace that will replace what we are facing now,” Hawasly added. “We were amazed at how kids were enthusiastic to do this.”
Hawasly’s main takeaway from the meeting is the enthusiasm venture capitalists and investors expressed and their interest in the Syrian people. “We should bridge the gap between how much technology is going into Syria and the excitement of investors. We have a powerful workforce in Syria and are strong in technology. We have a great lack of opportunity. I will go back with a great hope that the world is waiting for talent from Syria. We have to track the opportunities and do the hard work to get there.”
Khadija Idrissi Janati, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of KMK Groupe, Morocco, and a Co-Chair of the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa, told participants that digital transformation is here and we need to adapt. But with increasing use of digital, society needs checks and balances. Children need to be exposed to digital technologies and the internet, but there must be trust and the engagement of parents.
“Trust is one of the challenges of the use of society media,” she said. Responsibility is critical. It is also critical to verify the veracity of the information on social media. Idrissi Janati pointed out that Facebook just hired 3,000 people to verify information. “We are aware of the benefits [of digital media], but we also must be aware of the risks,” she said.
Seyed Salih Al-Hakim, Director of the Hikmeh Center for Dialogue and Cooperation in Iraq, pointed to the need to keep religion out of politics and the role of clerics in fostering values. “Today, people have recognized that religion cannot be pushed into politics. It has its own place and cannot be part of the political bazaar,” he said. Although religion is an integral part of people’s lives, “People want to have a civil state. We do not want a religious government; we want a civilian government that respects religion … we have tried political Islam and it was not helpful. In history, when the sacred came into politics, it ruined our politics.”
In post-conflict Iraq, there will be a need to create “a country of citizenship” as there is a need for true reconciliation. A dialogue among a group of clerics called for a review of religious and education institutions, as well as of religious curricula. It is time to pay more attention to youth and the role of women in the region. Al-Hakim called on entrepreneurs starting out to pay attention to values in addition to setting objectives and goals.