• | 3:00 pm

WEF 2024: How UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt can boost MENA’s economic integration

A panel at Davos discussed policies related to startups, reskilling the workforce, and empowering refugees.

WEF 2024: How UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt can boost MENA’s economic integration
[Source photo: Anvita Gupta/Fast Company Middle East]

Defying global economic challenges, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region continued to demonstrate strong performance. In fact, UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt are forging a path to economic prosperity with innovation and investment in the region. The two big Arab economies – Saudi Arabia and the UAE – have officially joined BRICS alongside Egypt this month. This development doubled the size of the economic bloc, which used to only comprise Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. 

In a session, Economic Integration in MENA: Progress Through Partnerships, hosted by Majid al Futtaim, at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, business and government leaders, including Ahmed Galal Ismail (CEO of Majid al Futtaim), Rania A. Al-Mashat (Egypt’s Minister of International Cooperation), Shirin Pakfar (Chief, Private Partnerships and Philanthropy at UNHCR), and Hatem Dowidar (Group CEO of e&) discussed essential measures for economic integration, covering policies related to startups and reskilling the workforce.

Ismail said the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, the big three economies in the region, are on the cusp of a potentially “new golden age”. “If you put the three countries together on a PPP basis, it is as big, if not larger, than France or the UK.”

Possessing scale and momentum, Ismail added the big three countries have had the fastest economic growth rate in the world.

Al-Mashat touched on the importance of having skilled labor and Egypt’s efforts, government and private sectors. “There are so many programs that have been tailored to create that skilled youth, which can then boost the startup ecosystem, the innovation ecosystem, which in our case is very vibrant and actually exports tremendously to the region, particularly UAE and Saudi Arabia.”

Dowidar said the region has the advantage of a large young population, which can be utilized in advancing technology and innovation, particularly booming sectors like AI.

He cites e&’s efforts in the UAE, where it has been hiring 100 new graduates each year to just work on AI, adding that such initiatives can be replicated by other countries in the region. 

“Putting the whole region together makes them much larger. And for businesses to succeed, whether big businesses like us or startups, you need the big market,” he said.

Emphasizing the critical integration of refugees in economic development, Pakfar said: “You think about how incredibly generous the countries in the Middle East have been in terms of hosting refugees. We have around 15.8 million refugees living in the MENA region. That’s not including the Palestinian population.”

She praised the region for its social inclusion policies but highlighted that there is still a way to go. “We’re still not there yet in terms of economic policy and inclusion on the economic side. While we work on the education side, so much more can be done for refugees to access both higher education and the job market. Some space needs to be explored there in terms of access and financial inclusion.”

Dowidar touched on the importance of startups in the region, citing examples from Careem, Anghami, and Swvl and how they play a big part in putting skilled workers to good use and presenting them with good opportunities. 

He also discussed the importance of sovereign funds and their prominence in the region, saying it is “home to many of the biggest sovereign funds in the world.”

Expressing confidence, he envisions a future where hundreds of unicorns will emerge from the region, attributing this to the growing number of companies and investors focusing on the ecosystem.

Majid al Futtaim also used the forum to announce the launch of its Picking up the Pace of Change: Opportunities to Accelerate Economic Integration Across MENA report. The report highlights progress in leveraging three critical drivers for enhancing MENA’s economic integration: promoting competition through targeted deregulation, facilitating smooth cross-border trade and mobility with the free flow of goods, services, capital, and data, and aligning market norms to reduce compliance costs for companies operating across multiple markets.

Now accepting applications for Fast Company Middle East’s Best Workplaces For Women 2023. Click here to register.

More Top Stories: