The pandemic, and the political, economic and social disruptions it has caused are fundamentally changing the traditional context for decision-making. The initiative ‘The Great Reset’ launched by the World Economic Forum in May 2020, offers insights to help inform all those determining the future state of global relations, the direction of national economies, the priorities of societies, the nature of business models and the management of a global commons. Drawing from the vision and vast expertise of the leaders engaged across the Forum’s communities, The Great Reset initiative has a set of dimensions to build a new social contract that honours every human being. “In The Great Reset, we are the architects and shapers of a greener and more circular economy, through continuous reforms designed to foster inclusive growth ” H.E. Dr. Rania Al-Mashat.
COVID-19 does not recognize borders. Contagion has been evident not only in the transmission of the virus across countries but in the global economic propagation of this health shock on production, consumption and the consequent slowdown in economic activity.
A fresh new wave of thinking is needed when it comes to making the MENA region resilient, and this is something that needs leaders in government, the private sector, civil society and the academic and scientific community to adopt a shared vision and language for collaboration. In an op-ed, co-authored by H.E. Dr. Rania A. Al-Mashat with Mirek Dušek, Deputy Head of the Centre for Geopolitical and Regional Affairs, Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum and Alain Beijani, Chief Executive Officer, Majid Al Futtaim, a call to action was published identifying 4 ways public-private collaboration can build resilience: 1. Crafting Inclusive Economic Policies and a New Social Contract 2. Stimulating Economic Integration 3. Re-shaping Education Systems 4. Harnessing the 4th Industrial Revolution 5. Promoting Environmental Sustainability 6. Mitigating Global Health Risks 7. Committing to Good and Agile Governance
Fresh thinking is needed on how the region can become more resilient. In particular, the region’s diverse stakeholders – leaders in government, the private sector, civil society and the academic and scientific community – must adopt a shared vision and language for collaboration. A key pillar of this new understanding of cooperation is around the role and responsibility of companies in society – encapsulated in the principles and practice of stakeholder capitalism.
Stakeholder capitalism proposes that companies should consider the interests not only of customers, suppliers, employees and shareholders, but also of the wider community, the environment and society at large. Especially relevant to the societies of MENA, it also puts the emphasis on companies’ responsibility with respect to the most vulnerable segments of the population. To this effect, the members of the Regional Action Group of the World Economic Forum, believe that the principles and practice of Stakeholder Capitalism provide the outlines of a shared vision for building more resilient, inclusive and sustainable social and economic systems in the Middle East and North Africa.
Economic Policies, whether fiscal, monetary, or within trade and public investments, should be steered collaboratively together with all sectors of society. Policies should be designed in such a way as to serve the needs and interests of all societal actors, including women and marginalized communities. Furthermore, they should be based on the imperatives of providing social safety nets for the vulnerable, consider economic inequality, and consider the contributions of the informal economy. Finally, as the region transitions away from rent-based towards more diversified economic models, policies should target concrete areas of impact such as ethical supply chain management and fair income distribution.
Stimulating inclusive economic development and regional competitiveness requires greater levels of intraregional trade and investment, which can only be achieved through the facilitation of an effective cross border collaboration between different economies. Across the region, development is often stifled by trade friction and endemic economic fragmentation, leaving out the potential that more integrated economies could generate, including in the areas of the digital economy, tourism, or non-tariff barriers. Furthermore, public-private cooperation should envision the adoption of more flexible visa policies, as well as broader and mutually supportive institutional mechanisms and regulatory environments.
The implementation of effective labor market reforms needs to be complemented by state-of-the-art educational curricula that can produce graduates who are ready to enter the 21st-century labor force. In light of growing competition globally, and given the challenges of automation and artificial intelligence, education systems should be geared towards promoting skills and faculties such as critical thinking, creativity, emotional intelligence, entrepreneurialism and teamwork. Furthermore, the imperative of providing access to education for all urges stakeholders to design education systems that embrace the speed of technological progress and life-long learning.
In light of unprecedented technological change, now accelerated by the impact of COVID-19, stakeholders must collaboratively shape regulatory environments to balance the imperatives of privacy and efficiency. Existing conditions and resources in the region, such as high rates of internet penetration and the availability of tech-savvy youth populations, should be leveraged as a basis for the integration on a regional level of national digital infrastructures and markets, including the provision of a diversified range of social and financial services. Such efforts need to be underpinned by the creation of integrated technology ecosystems on a national, as well as an overarching governance architecture on a regional level. Finally, technology solutions should be geared towards closing the digital divide while being centered on the individual human being as the chief agent and beneficiary of technological progress.
In a region faced with acute environmental risks, such as those related to desertification, water scarcity and heat waves, social and economic policies should be designed in a way as to mitigate potential future climate-related disruptions. Such policies need to particularly consider the principles of environmental sustainability and invest in innovative projects such as those within the field of the circular economy. Furthermore, companies should be incentivized to re-design their business models for sustainability, thereby re-shaping business ecosystems and value propositions in order to generate value and reduce costs for business and the environment. Finally, environmental policies should advance net-zero emission standards, in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
As COVID-19 has exemplified, epidemics and pandemics can cause severe disruptions to economic and social life. Against this backdrop, governments and private sector players need to cooperate on a regional level in order to mitigate the impact of global health risks affecting their populations, as well as guestworkers, and collaborate in the areas such as research and development, digital health and vaccine development and distribution.
Stakeholders from across the societal spectrum, including government and the private sector, but also civil society actors and the academic-scientific community, must work together in order to strengthen good governance, fight corruption, ensure the guarantee of the rule of law and enable citizens to enjoy fairness, prosperity and dignity. They must also strive jointly to increase the agility of governmental norms and regulations to effectively respond to the interconnected risks and opportunities of this new era.