Marrakech, Morocco – The World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa concluded today with participants underscoring the urgent need for action to secure the future prosperity of the region. Over 1,000 leaders from business, government, civil society and media from 62 countries participated in the meeting, held under the theme “Purpose, Resilience and Prosperity”.
The Middle-East and North Africa region has enormous potential, participants agreed. In the final plenary “Vision for the Future”, the co-chairs of the meeting expressed their views. “The region is poised to reclaim the great leadership it showed 1,000 years ago when it was at the cutting edge of civilization,” said David M. Rubenstein, Co-Founder and Managing Director, Carlyle Group, USA. If the region works together cooperatively, it can become a real emerging market leader in the 21st century.
“With 360 million people, there is a great opportunity for regional integration,” noted Shyam Sunder Bhartia, Chairman and Managing Director, Jubilant Bhartia Group, India. The MENA region is ideally situated to position itself as a bridge between dynamic Asian markets and large economies in Africa and Europe. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) provides a useful model which should be extended.
“The Arab world has made much progress,” said Lubna S. Olayan, Deputy Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer, Olayan Financing Company, Saudi Arabia; Chair, Arab Business Council, “but further action is required to close the gender gap and reduce youth unemployment.” This is essential to building a thriving middle class – the core of any prosperous, resilient society. Failure to provide the growing ranks of low- and middle-income citizens with a sense of mobility and aspiration could lead to social instability.
Most importantly, improving the quality of education is critical to acquiring the skill sets necessary for the 21st century. Specific initiatives include the launch of public-private partnerships in four countries to connect centres of excellence in the region. Another idea is to create a network of high schools around the Mediterranean.
Anass Alami, Director-General, Caisse de Dépôt et de Gestion (CDG), Morocco, emphasized the critical role of government “to make long-term investments and policy reforms to encourage the private sector to come in.” For example, to attract private investment to green sources of growth, Morocco is pursuing a bold energy mix target of 40% renewable sources such as solar and wind power. Governments in the region should take the lead on shared challenges of water and food security.
Panellists agreed that the region is blessed with two unique endowments: its people and its resources. However, if these two endowments are not invested wisely over the coming years they may turn into liabilities.
Next year’s World Economic Forum on the Middle East will be held at the Dead Sea, Jordan from 20 to 22 May 2011.