The young people of the Middle East are in focus at the World Economic Forum Special Meeting on Economic Growth and Job Creation in the Arab World, which was opened by King Abdullah II of Jordan on Saturday.
In his speech, which started with a moment of silence for the Saudi Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul Azizof, who died yesterday, the king spoke of the importance of an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement as well as the need for reform in the Middle East, saying that the region “stands at the gates of the future.”
“The Arab Spring has been an opportunity for our nation to move forward,” he said, and mentioned the joint efforts required by the private sector, government and people themselves when it comes to creating jobs.
At a press conference with the meetings co-chairs, Habib Haddad, CEO of Wamda who aims to inspire, connect and empower entrepreneurs in the MENASA region, talked about the need for new models, where the tradition of importing knowledge and experts is abandoned. Instead, the region should look at how it can adapt and be more agile.
Muhtar A. Kent, Chairman of the Board and CEO of the Coca-Cola Company described this as a unique time in history, and compared it to when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. He said that more investments are needed and called on policy makers to create a better environment for small enterprises to come into being and develop.
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“The region has a fantastic demographic; 30 years ago having a young population was not necessarily an advantage. Now, I think it is. What we need to do is leverage that advantage. That is a call for investments, creative solutions, for innovation,” Kent said.
“The youth of the region has shown tremendous innovation, passion and energy. What I see in the youth today are the same traits as I see in entrepreneurs,” added Habib Haddad.
Another co-chair of the meeting, Soraya Salti, emphasised the importance to move ahead quickly with the much needed reforms in order not to fail the Arab youth, as has been done in the past.
“They have achieved the impossible politically, now we must help them achieve the impossible economically. We cannot wait for education reform any longer,” she stated, stressing the need to create training programs that meet the specific demands of the employers.
The forum, which were expected to draw brings together royalty and heads of state with leaders in business and the non-profit sector from the Middle East and around the world.