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Bodour Al Qasimi Unveils The "Arab Supply Chain Impact Initiative" To Support The Creation Of Sustainable Economies In The Region

Calls for stronger support to SMEs that constitute 90% businesses in the Arab region


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.

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