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A Decade of Entrepreneurship in MENA

A Decade of Entrepreneurship in MENA

Looking back at a decade of entrepreneurship in MENA is by Triska Hamid of WAMDA who on September 30, 2019, reported the following.

This year marks a decade since Yahoo acquired Maktoob, in a deal worth $164 million. It was the first time that a technology company based in the Middle East had attracted such significant interest from a giant of its day.

At the time, the deal paled in comparison to the acquisitions and mergers typical in the region, between telecoms operators, industry and real estate. But for the entrepreneurship ecosystem, it was a seminal moment, validating the region as a place for technology and startups.

Back when this happened, there were no venture capital (VC) funds, mobile and internet penetration was low, Apple’s iPhone was still out of reach for most people and unicorns were mythical creatures with the power of flight.

Ten years later, the region boasts its own unicorn: Careem, which was acquired by Uber earlier this year for $3.1 billion, global investors are investing in Middle East startups and entrepreneurship is increasingly becoming a viable career path.

Maktoob was founded in Jordan by Samih Toukan and Hussam Khoury as an Arabic webmail service. It grew to become the main destination for Arabic speakers on the internet and amassed 16 million users. Beyond the main portal, Maktoob offered online payments through CashU, an e-commerce platform that resembled US-based eBay called Souq and gaming company Tahadi MMO Games.

Yahoo was only interested in the main portal and so Toukan and Khoury established Jabbar Internet Group to absorb Maktoob’s other assets. In hindsight, Yahoo failed to see the consumer trends that unfolded in the region and the inevitable rise of online payments and shopping.  

Souq became the biggest asset in Jabbar’s network. Emaar Malls reportedly made an offer of $800 million in 2017, but it was Amazon that would come to acquire the e-commerce site for $680 million of which $580 million was paid in cash. Emaar’s chairman Mohamed Alabbar decided to pump $1 billion into launching his own e-commerce platform, noon, as a result.

In between these two acquisitions, the technological landscape in the region had changed drastically. Internet penetration was on the rise, mobile penetration was close to or exceeded 100 per cent in every country of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Smartphones were also popular and Nokia’s dominance in the mobile phone market had been dismantled across the region, replaced by the app-friendly iPhones and Android-based Samsung and Huawei phones. With the introduction of 4G technology, the cost of mobile broadband fell from an average of $9.50 for half a gigabyte in 2016 to $5.27 for double the amount of data.

Empowering The Youth

Amid the protests and revolutions that disrupted the region’s economies in the so-called Arab Spring, the high youth unemployment highlighted the importance of the private sector for job creation. Entrepreneurship was presented as the silver bullet to stymie the rise of unemployment and a way to empower the youth, who make up two thirds of the region’s population.

Government policies and regulations across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) slowly became friendlier to entrepreneurs and investors. Efforts to cut down startup costs continue as regional competition to become a hub for entrepreneurship has ignited. Startups have been recognised as a way to create not only employment but a means to solve for problems that societies and economies face in the Middle East.

The general shift in attitude and government policies created fertile ground for companies like Dubizzle, Talabat and Babil to emerge, most replicating models and ideas that had proved successful in other parts of the world. Germany’s Rocket Internet arrived in 2011 and began founding startups aggressively, replicating successful business models to launch companies like Namshi, which was recently acquired by Emaar Malls, wadi.com and Carmudi. Serious investors began to emerge and institutionalise and the region became home to VCs and angel investors with an eye to reap lofty returns. Today, there are several funds dedicated to entrepreneurship and a few governments have established fund of funds, to co-match VCs and help develop a local ecosystem that can generate economic growth.

One of the most prolific of these early angel investors was Aramex founder and Wamda chairman Fadi Ghandour. He was one of the initial investors in Maktoob and then in Jabbar Internet Group before establishing Wamda Capital.

“The world was changing and I had felt the internet change the world, I already felt it affecting Aramex, so when Samih and Hussam came for investment, for me, it was a no-brainer,” he says.

Still On The Backfoot

But even after all these years, there has only been a handful of exits valued at more than $100 million across the Middle East. Oil still accounts for the majority of gross domestic product (GDP) in the GCC, youth unemployment is the highest in the world at 26.5 per cent according to the World Bank and costs to start a business in the current hub of the region, Dubai is among the highest in the world. For almost every country, regulations still need improvement beyond registering a business. Innovation is also lacking, the highest-ranking MENA country in the Global Innovation Index is the UAE at 36th place, behind smaller economies like Cyrpus and Malta.

Yet, there is hope.

“There are more mature companies and more mature VCs, so there are better deals happening. Exits like Careem and Fawry, those kinds of big companies that are having a real impact is one key metric of a potentially successful ecosystem,” says Abdelhameed Sharara, founder of RiseUp. “I think we are still very early compared to the US and China, but it’s a very promising space compared to the past.”

The region also has a more active female population in the startup sector, with 23 per cent of startups in Gaza and the West Bank led by women, while 19 per cent are led by women in Beirut, both ahead of New York which stands at 12 per cent. Even at RiseUp, women accounted for almost 40 per cent of the attendees last year.

“The region has really become a place where entrepreneurs can thrive and provides supportive environments for startups,” says Amina Grimen, co-founder of e-commerce beauty site, Powder. “In the beauty space, looking at the accomplishments of big female players like Huda Kattan and Dr Lamees Hamdan is truly inspiring.”

Read more from WAMDAs

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5 steps to reshape economic geography and rejuvenate the MENA

5 steps to reshape economic geography and rejuvenate the MENA

The Brookings’ FUTURE DEVELOPMENT elaborated these 5 steps to reshape economic geography and rejuvenate the MENA this Friday, September 20, 2019, as a demonstration that it is possible to do so. The story is by Somik V. Lall and Ayah Mahgoub. Here it is.

5 steps to reshape economic geography and rejuvenate the Middle East and North Africa

The destinies of people in the Middle East and North Africa are shaped more by accidents of where they were born than in any other part of the world (Figure 1). This is considered a problem by governments in the region, and it should be. They have tried many ways to respond to the needs of people in lagging areas; much money has been spent on investment in these places. Thus, to add jobs in poorer areas, policymakers have tried to strong-arm new production facilities into these areas. To meet the need for decent homes and amenities in poor urban neighborhoods, money has been poured into massive housing projects.

People shop for food in Djemaa El Fna square in Marrakesh July 8, 2010. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (MOROCCO – Tags: SOCIETY TRAVEL) – GM1E67L0L0U01

Even so, spatial disparities continue to grow, or are closing more slowly than would be expected given the volume of investment directed to these locations. The main reason: the causes of spatial exclusion are not locational and physical but are economic and institutional.

Figure 1: With a few exceptions such as Jordan, spatial inequality is higher in MENA

With a few exceptions such as Jordan, spatial inequality is higher in MENA

WHY IS MENA SO FRAGMENTED?

Why is territorial convergence so difficult? In a report that we just completed at the World Bank, we identified four reasons.

  1. Most lagging areas in MENA have not been able to leverage the full returns to their endowments because the business environment and infrastructure in their cities and towns makes it hard for new firms to start and grow (Figure 2). One reason is that outside the capital city in MENA countries, smaller cities invariably lack the authority to raise their own revenues and to manage local service provision.
  2. Most residents in lagging areas are “stuck in place,” unable to take full advantage of jobs that more vibrant urban economies offer. Credentialist education systems may be most to blame for making people immobile.
  3. In leading areas, rigid and outdated regulations distort land markets and stymie development. For example, regulations in Tunisia prohibit residential buildings more than three stories high, and regulations in Jordan impose a minimum lot size of 100 square meters—restricting the supply of affordable formal housing.
  4. MENA’s governments have created formidable obstacles to trade and migration. The main barriers are limits on news and information and practical constraints on travel and trade (visa difficulties, weak infrastructure, logistics hurdles).

Figure 2: It’s tough for firms outside MENA’s capital cities

Figure 2: It’s tough for firms outside MENA’s capital cities

Notice that while they result in spatial inequalities of opportunity, the reasons for fragmentation are not themselves spatial.

ENGINEERING A CONVERGENCE MACHINE

Increasing the pace of integration and convergence will require fixing these problems. Governments in the region can reduce territorial disparities quickly and effectively by doing five things:

  1. Strengthen coordination and complementarities across initiatives. Development strategies are more likely to succeed if they are multidimensional, including access to energy, transport, land, and markets—in the same place, whether sequentially or concurrently. A good place to start is by anchoring investments in and around cities. Complementary reforms that help get the prices right—for energy and for land—can go a long way in creating the conditions for job creation in lagging areas. The good news is that governments don’t have to pay more to see better results, because spatial coordination will generate cost savings in the medium to longer term.
  2. Redistribute roles and responsibilities across tiers of government. Citizens in different parts of the country have varying needs, and local conditions require flexible service delivery models. Redistributing responsibilities for local revenue generation and local service provision to local governments can make them better equipped and more accountable.
  3. Enable mobility of people between lagging and leading areas. On average, people in MENA are half as mobile domestically as people in other parts of the world (Figure 3). Our research shows that living standards of people moving internally to major cities can increase by an average of 37 percent in the region. Women are more likely to move and find jobs in urban areas, but they need support to do so. Education systems across the region need to be reoriented toward marketable skills.
  4. Build dense and connected cities. Well-functioning cities offer a wide variety of jobs—for women and men. Making land markets in cities more efficient is critical for agglomeration and specialization—two dynamics that enhance job creation and economic prosperity. Whether in larger or in smaller (secondary) cities, agglomeration and specialization require the benefits from high economic density, which concentrates economic activity geographically. For this, the fabric of cities needs to be spatially connected, dense with people, and transit-oriented—not sprawling that perpetuates the dispersion of people and jobs. Planners and regulators can attract firms to invest in cities by reducing frictions such as zoning regulations, impediments to property acquisition and new construction (costs, height limits, density limits), challenges to local business registration and licensing, limits on news and information, and obstacles to developing local business networks.
  5. Enhance market access nationally and regionally. Historically, MENA’s cities were part of economically important global trade networks. Many of these cities persisted into modern times as large urban areas. But governments in the region have managed to shrink the networks from global to local. These networks have, at a minimum, to be expanded to national and regional dimensions. A good place to start would be to improve the links across national borders—reducing tariffs, improving logistics, and facilitating trade, and instituting migration protocols. Such efforts will grow the economies, providing much-needed resources to redistribute in areas left behind.

Figure 3: Just 14 percent of MENA’s people have left their place of birth, compared with 28 percent in countries elsewhere

Just 14 percent of MENA’s people have left their place of birth, compared with 28 percent in countries elsewhere

In other words, MENA’s governments have to start putting together a modern convergence machine. The main parts of the machine are institutions that integrate and infrastructure that connects. MENA is no longer a poor place: Last year, the region’s GDP per capita was nearly $7,000 placing it comfortably in upper middle-income levels. Its people should have access to quality basic services such as education, clinics, sanitation, and public security. Well-chosen infrastructure initiatives—roads, railways, ports and communication facilities—can provide its entrepreneurs access to the region’s sizeable markets (the region’s GDP is $3 trillion) and even bigger nearby markets to MENA’s north and east. Spatially targeted interventions might also be needed, but they are not the main components of the machine.

Perhaps the biggest mistake that governments have been making is to regard these interventions—programs to push economic activity into lagging areas while simultaneously favoring capital cities—as the mainstay of the machine. It’s time to stop these self-defeating measures that exacerbate fragmentation in MENA, and speed up efforts to engineer integration.

Authors:

  • Somik V. Lall, Global Lead on Territorial Development Solutions and Lead Economist for Sustainable Development in Middle East and North Africa – World Bank. somikcities
  • Ayah Mahgoub, Senior Urban Development Specialist – World Bank
A deep dive into the MENA games industry

A deep dive into the MENA games industry

SPECIAL REPORT of Region focus: A deep dive into the MENA games industry dated August 30th, 2019, by Will Freeman is literally illuminating in the sense of shedding the light on the presence of the games industry in the MENA region that was discretely kept away from the attention of the many. Here it is.

A deep dive into the MENA games industry

Ask anybody with their ear to the rail of the global games industry about the MENA region and they’ll very likely assert that it offers ‘opportunity’.

The vast area has for some time now been associated with market potential that games companies from across the globe would be wise to harness.

However, the detail around what founds that opportunity, how it should be seized and the reality of its distinct challenges can seem like something of a mystery. A thorough analysis, however, reveals a region that might not be as atypical or enigmatic in its machinations as many assume.

As the oft-talked about BRIC region – ‘Brazil, Russia, India and China’ – has blossomed from ‘emerging’ to ‘emerged’, the MENA countries have been quietly building an impressive momentum of their own. And it is the mobile games sector specifically that provides the region with its most striking prospects.

By MENA, of course, we mean ‘Middle East and North Africa’. It is ultimately an area without a firm or agreed definition. But for the purposes of this article – which kickstarts a series of pieces looking at MENA – we’re considering numerous countries, including but not limited to, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates/Dubai, Bahrain, Iran and Lebanon.

Nations such as Israel, Turkey and Egypt also warrant reflection, though those are places with games sectors that are relatively well-known to the outside world and even distinct from the rest of their MENA family.

Speaking the same language

While one could spend a lifetime developing a universally agreed framing of ‘MENA’, the reality is that the opportunity for mobile games developers, publishers, platforms and service providers is significantly defined by a language; not a list of countries. That language is Arabic, and one thing is clear; the Arabic speaking world provides a substantial audience for those that make a living from mobile games to consider.

A deep dive into the MENA games industry
Petra, Jordan

“The reason why the mobile gaming market [here] is so interesting comes from the fact that Arabic is the fourth most spoken language in the world, yet less than one per cent of all content available online is in Arabic,” offers Hussam Hammo, CEO of Jordanian outfit Tamatem, which specialises in publishing and maintaining mobile games in the MENA region.

“More than 70 per cent of the population of the Arabic speaking countries – around 400 million – use Arabic as their default language on their smartphones. Add to that that countries like Saudi Arabia have the highest ARPPU in the entire world, and you have a perfect opportunity.”

Record-breaking ARPPU alone should immediately prick the ears of industry observers. For while the world’s biggest gaming market China has ARPPU of around $32, Saudi Arabia’s ARPPU is a striking $270. Tamatem’s own figures, meanwhile, point to consumers in MENA spending $3.2 billion on games broadly back in 2016.

Arabic is the fourth most spoken language in the world, yet less than one per cent of all content available online is in Arabic.

Hussam Hammo

And then there are those 400 million people keen to digest Arabic language smartphone titles. They are presently served with a bounty of gaming content; but a great deal more fails to support both Arabic language – and culture.

An appetite for growth

It seems clear there is an underserved and ravenous appetite for gaming in MENA, which means one thing; there is a generous capacity for growth. Indeed, consulting giant strategy& predicts that by 2022, mobile gaming across MENA will stand as a $2.3 billion industry.

Smartphone penetration has also hit alluring levels in many MENA countries. 46 per cent of Saudi Arabia’s 33,554,000 residents own a smartphone, according to Newzoo data. That’s just shy of 15.5 million people.

The United Arab Emirates, meanwhile, can boast of an 80.6 per cent smartphone penetration rate. That is against a relatively modest population of 7.5 million, but it still presents a demographic worth serious attention.

Contemporary data on smartphone penetration on Jordan is a little harder to come by, but the Pew Research Center’s data for 2016 lists a 51 per cent rate. The same study gives Lebanon a slight lead at 52 per cent. Of course, not every country in MENA provides such appealing device penetration, but looking at the region as a whole, growth is forecast.

The global trade body for mobile network operators, the GSMAcounted 375 million unique mobile subscribers across MENA in 2017. They expect that number to reach 459 million by 2025. By that same year, GSMA predicts the area will count 790 million individual SIM connections, not including IoT devices. That’s a striking 118 per cent penetration rate, if you consider the region’s entire population, across all languages.

As for the make-up of mobile device breakdown in MENA, region-specific data is in relatively short supply. StatCounter figures for specific countries in the area do, however, paint a fairly familiar picture.

As of July 2019, in Saudi Arabia specifically Android accounts for 65.6 per cent of in-use handsets, while iOS trails at a still-healthy 34.12 per cent. That leaves a trivial amount of unknown and fringe or legacy OSs, including the likes of Series 40, which still has a 0.01 per cent penetration rate in the country.

A deep dive into the MENA games industry
United Arab Emirates

Over in Jordan, Android dominates with 84.65 per cent of the market, while iOS accounts for 15.15 per cent of smartphones. And in the UAE, Android can claim 77.34 per cent of the market, with iOS holding on to 22.18 per cent. The picture appears reasonably consistent, including looking back over the last year.

The Google Play and Apple App Stores dominate, but that is a topic PocketGamer.biz will return to in-depth later in this series of features.

Cultural localisation

‘Growth’ remains the keyword if you look at MENA as a place to succeed with gaming content. And, when considering mobile specifically, that growth which will likely be significantly facilitated by providing a great deal more games in the Arabic language. Those 400 million handsets set to Arabic by default are active now, and their number is likely to climb.

Not that language is the only factor in localising a game for MENA. The region is culturally a different place from both the West and areas like China or Southeast Asia. Making a game created outside of MENA culturally appropriate for the market will perhaps offer the biggest challenge to companies external to the area.

The UAE and the Gulf region are at the forefront globally in terms of 5G launches and plans.

Jawad Abassi

It’s a perfect example of the distinction between translation and true localisation. As for the key to mastering cultural localisation? Collaboration with resident MENA outfits may be an absolute necessity.

Tamatem is one of a number of companies specialising in publishing to MENA, and it’s certainly not alone in its effort. Babil Games, MENA Mobile and others are striving to connect international games companies with the local market.

And then there are those taking the opposite approach. Saudi Arabia’s Manga Productions, for example, endeavours to deliver ‘animation and video game projects to promote Saudi ideas and messages internationally through unique and professional productions’. As a local market, MENA is culturally distinct, but that doesn’t stop it from being globally ambitious.

Another factor central to the potential of mobile gaming in MENA is, of course, the arrival of 5G networks. GSMA points out that in some parts of MENA, 5G has already been commercially deployed.

“The UAE and the Gulf region are at the forefront globally in terms of 5G launches and plans,” confirms Jawad Abbassi, head of Middle East and North Africa at GSMA.

“Operators in MENA – particularly in the GCC States – are among the first to launch 5G networks commercially. Following these launches, operators in 12 other countries across MENA are expected to deploy 5G networks, covering around 30 per cent of the region’s population by 2025. By then, regional 5G connections will surpass 50 million. Early global 5G pioneers include the GCC countries, South Korea, the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom.”

Clearly, when it comes to infrastructure, much of the MENA region rivals some the rest of the world’s tech leading nations.

Ultimately, of course, MENA is a diverse and multifaceted place. Its various nations all bring their own distinct make-ups, and in taking a broad perspective this round-up has perhaps just served to highlight the fundamentals of a very real opportunity.

The figures speak for themselves. But if you want to move on what MENA offers? You’ll want a little more detail.

That is why this piece is just the start of a series of articles looking at the companies, countries and trends shaping MENA’s mobile gaming future.

So keep an eye on Pocketgamer.biz and consider joining us at Pocket Gamer Connects Jordan on November 2nd and 3rd, where you can come and meet the publishers, developers and game tech outfits that might be the future of your success in MENA.

Get the latest mobile games news, interviews and in-depth analysis on TwitterFacebookLinkedIn and our daily newsletter.


Pocket Gamer Connects Helsinki is on October 1st and 2nd 2019. Book now!

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Will Freeman
A deep dive into the MENA games industry
  • Will Freeman is the former editor of trade publication Develop, having also written for the likes of The Guardian and The Observer.
Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution in the UAE

Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution in the UAE

The UAE Government, in cooperation with the World Economic Forum (WEF), has opened the Centre for Fourth Industrial Revolution in the UAE at AREA 2071, Emirates Towers in Dubai, the first of its kind in the region and the fifth globally.

UAE opens centre for Fourth Industrial Revolution



In line with the rapid global changes and developments of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the Center aims at preparing strategies, policies and developing solutions to the most pressing challenges in the region and the world. In addition, it works towards developing mechanisms, applications and uses for the fourth industrial revolution in the UAE.

Mohammed Abdullah Al Gergawi, Minister of the UAE Cabinet Affairs and The Future, vice chairman of the Board of Trustees and managing director of Dubai Future Foundation stated that the opening of the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution reflects the vision of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

Al Gergawi also highlighted that the UAE is continuously developing new business models that are dependent on technology and the outcomes of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, to join global efforts for shaping a better future.

Borge Brende, president of WEF said: “In the Fourth Industrial Revolution, countries and businesses need to move fast or risk getting left behind. Emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and blockchain have the power to benefit everyone, but they must be shaped strategically to maximize the benefits and mitigate the risks.”

 “We are looking forward to working with the UAE to accelerate the impact of the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Network’s work in this area and scale projects globally” Brende added.

 The opening of the Centre was attended by His Excellency Omar Sultan Al Olama, Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, Deputy Managing Director of Dubai Future Foundation, His Excellency Borg Brenda, President of the World Economic Forum, Her Excellency Dr Aisha Bint Butti Bin Bishr, Director General of Smart Dubai, His Excellency Khalfan Belhoul, CEO of Dubai Future Foundation, alongside a number of senior representatives from the local government and the World Economic Forum.

The Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (C4IR UAE) is a collaboration between the Dubai Future Foundation (DFF) and the World Economic Forum (WEF).

An affiliate center of C4IR San Francisco, opened in 2017, C4IR UAE researches key focus areas in the fourth industrial revolution network: Blockchain and Distributed Ledger, AI and Machine Learning, and Precision Medicine.

 Blockchain is the first project area launched under C4IR UAE in 2019 and will look into the governance frameworks around implementing blockchain across government sectors. The center will also trial a supply chain pilot, focusing on the correct governance protocols and practices with regards to security, data privacy and identity verification within blockchain. Across the three project areas, C4IR UAE aims to showcase UAE case studies, policy, and governance frameworks to WEF’s global network, as well as develop new research and policy around relevant UAE 4IR topics.

 The Centre’s official launch follows the MOU signing that took place at the Annual Meeting of the Global Future Councils at the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier this year, in the presence of His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of Dubai Executive Council.

The Centre for Fourth Industrial Revolution in the UAE, seen as the fifth of its kind in the world after the United States of America, Japan, India and China, comes as part of the strategic partnership between the UAE government and the World Economic Forum.

TradeArabia News Service

How does the Latest Crop of Technologies help

How does the Latest Crop of Technologies help

As we kick off the new year with news often conflicting on how does the latest crop of technologies help and / or support our life’s initiatives and goals per our newly adopted resolutions, should not we first be aware of these and what would their impact be on our future.  Could this Engineering.com produced article throw some light on us which in our view, ought to be pondered upon. Here are then the following :

5 Technologies Transforming the 21st Century

By Kyle Maxey posted on January 10, 2017

If there’s one thing the twenty-first century has delivered, it’s explosive technological growth. Since the beginning of the Aughts, technologies like mobile computing, artificial intelligence, improved sensors, self-driving cars and even bio-technologies like CRISPR have brought the shimmering vision of a borderline techno-utopia into sharper focus.

Though this century is only 16 years old, the promise it holds for the betterment of the human condition is boundless (provided we don’t destroy the planet in the next twenty years), and large tech firms like IBM are scrambling to figure out exactly how to maximize this century’s potential.

In an effort to inform public opinion—or possibly prime the pump for upcoming innovation—IBM has released its list of the 5 technologies that will most impact the globe over the next 5 years.

What is IBM looking forward to as the 2010s fade into the 2020s? Let’s take a look.

  1. AIs Will Detect Metal Disorders by Combing Speech and Writing

Some of the most insidious conditions affecting humanity are the hidden away in our genes or psychology.

Sometimes those suffering from brain disorders, psychological illness or chronic disease are aware of these problems, however, in some cases those affected have no idea that a condition is developing.

IBM predicts that in the next five years, the power of massive artificial intelligence systems will be able to audit the speech and writing patterns of individuals and make assessments about the state of their health.

According to IBM: “Cognitive computers will analyze a patient’s speech or written words to look for tell-tale indicators found in language, including meaning, syntax and intonation. Combining the results of these measurements with those from wearables devices and imaging systems (MRIs and EEGs) can paint a more complete picture of the individual for health professionals to better identify, understand and treat the underlying disease, be it Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s disease, PTSD or even neurodevelopmental conditions such as autism and ADHD.”

Whether potential AI-docs will be combing Facebook feeds, YouTube posts and other social media forums to create a baseline for diagnosis is still up for debate. I imagine that before this technology becomes widespread there’s going to be a rigorous ethical review of how an AI-doc collects information and parcels out diagnoses.

 

2. AR Will Improve Our Vision Beyond the Visual Spectrum

Augmented reality (AR) has been a hot topic among technology firms for the past few years. Devices like Google Glass and Microsoft’s Hololens headset are the harbingers of what’s to come. However, the experience of augmented reality has tended to exist within the realm of the visual spectrum. IBM’s futurists believe that in the coming years, augmented reality systems will not only accommodate data derived from what we can see, but it will also pull in information from the electromagnetic spectrum and other sources, lending humans superhero-like vision.

According to IBM: “In five years, new imaging devices using hyperimaging technology and AI will help us see broadly beyond the domain of visible light by combining multiple bands of the electromagnetic spectrum to reveal valuable insights or potential dangers that would otherwise be unknown or hidden from view. Most importantly, these devices will be portable, affordable, and accessible, so superhero vision can be part of our everyday experiences.”

Imagine this type of technology being employed in cars, where fog, snow and torrential downpours can disrupt traffic and lead to fatal accidents. With a fully developed suite of electromagnetic sensors connected to an embedded HUD, drivers (if there are still any on the road) could be completely aware of their surrounding even if their visual sense is impaired by the weather.

 

3. Big Data Transforms into a “Macroscope” for Investigating the World

Today, the Internet of Things (IoT) is getting a lot of press because it previews a world that’s intimately connected. Though the IoT is still a fledgling technology, it offers the chance of interconnecting a vast amount of data that can be mined to harvest indicators of social trends, disease development and economic inclinations. While the technology is currently being used to serve consumer demands, product development cycles and industrial stocking schemes, the technology’s future looks to be very bright.

Or at least that’s the opinion of IBM’s brain trust:

“In five years, we will use machine-learning algorithms and software to help us organize the information about the physical world to help bring the vast and complex data gathered by billions of devices within the range of our vision and understanding. We call this a ‘macroscope’ — but unlike the microscope to see the very small, or the telescope that can see far away, it is a system of software and algorithms to bring all of Earth’s complex data together to analyze it for meaning.”

Building a digital twin of the physical world is an enormous task. Analyzing the data that underpins that model will be even more difficult. However, if a system similar to the one IBM envisions ever comes into being, whole new methods of predictive analytics will be available to scientists and researchers around the globe.

 

4. Lab on a Chip Makes Disease Diagnosis Faster, More Accurate and Earlier

Not all diseases display symptoms immediately. Parkinson’s disease, for example, can hide within the human body for years before any symptoms appear. What’s more, even when symptoms do appear, it’s often difficult to diagnose, requiring many trips to neurologists to reach a clear-cut verdict. Moreover, even if the disease is diagnosed, it’s often so far progressed that treatment is limited.

IBM predicts that labs-on-a-chip—medical diagnostic tools the size of a USB—will change the timeline for disease diagnosis, potentially improving treatment outcomes.

“Lab-on-a-chip technology could ultimately be packaged in a convenient handheld device to allow people to quickly and regularly measure the presence of biomarkers found in small amounts of bodily fluids, sending this information securely streaming into the cloud from the convenience of their home. There it could be combined with real-time health data from other IoT-enabled devices, like sleep monitors and smart watches, and analyzed by AI systems for insights. When taken together, this data set will give us an in depth view of our health and alert us to the first signs of trouble, helping to stop disease before it progresses.”

 

5. Smart Sensors Help Curb Environmental Pollution

Climate change is one of the greatest existential threats facing humanity, impacting our planet, global economies, migration and a litany of other issues. To curb these effects, nations will need to take direct action to limit carbon-based pollution and the first step in doing that is monitoring the facilities that generate our carbon-based energy.

“Most pollutants are invisible to the human eye, until their effects make them impossible to ignore. Methane, for example, is the primary component of natural gas, commonly considered a clean energy source. But if methane leaks into the air before being used, it can warm the Earth’s atmosphere. Methane is estimated to be the second largest contributor to global warming after carbon dioxide (CO2). Networks of IoT sensors wirelessly connected to the cloud will provide continuous monitoring of the vast natural gas infrastructure, allowing leaks to be found in a matter of minutes instead of weeks, reducing pollution and waste and the likelihood of catastrophic events.”

Although monitoring wellheads and other carbon-based fuel facilities is a first step towards combating the potentially devastating effects of climate change, more will need to be done to ensure that our planet isn’t completely corrupted by our ravenous need for cheap, carbon-based energy.

The United States, China, India and Russia will need to take the lead in developing real strategies for stemming humanity’s growing appetite for carbon-based fuels. Even more, nations that are already implementing renewable solutions like Germany, The Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, etc. will need to lead the way in showing that a carbon-free or carbon-weening world can exist even as our demands for energy continue to grow.

What do you think of IBM’s predictions? Are they big enough and bold enough to stand as the five most impactful technological trends of the next five years? Are there other technologies that should have been included on the list? If so, what are they? Leave a comment below or on the original Engineering.com site.

Real Leaders need to make Globalization work for all

Real Leaders need to make Globalization work for all

As we head into 2017, and further to our previous contribution Leadership Priorities in Year 2017 we would like to give this opportunity to our readers to go through this article written by Rawan Al-Butairi, Financial analyst of Saudi Aramco and published on Monday 2 January 2017 on the WEF website.  The author questions leaderships attributes but within the specific Arab context of the MENA countries.  Experience tells us that practitioners love to see what is happening in their domain and for one reason or another do generalise it to all by asserting that Real leaders need to make globalization work for all .  

The above image is of REUTERS/Victor Ruiz Garcia

 

What does leadership really mean? Two things

 

 

 

A young person could almost be forgiven for feeling despair and hopelessness today. Everywhere they look, there is escalating inequality and a lack of opportunity.

In certain regions and countries, the problem is more acute; from hyperinflation and a collapsed economy in Venezuela to an Arab Spring in Egypt which toppled a government but ultimately has yet to improve the lives of ordinary Egyptians. In fact, with a recently de-pegged currency and an IMF bailout, it will ostensibly get much worse there before it starts to get better.

At the time, many pundits argued that the 2011 Arab Spring was about people in the region demanding greater democracy and liberal freedom. However, I think this misses the heart of the problem. At that time, Egypt was still suffering from the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, with important industries such as tourism still far from recovery. Moreover, large increases in food and raw material prices caused a huge trade imbalance (Egypt- as well as Venezuala – is a significant net importer of food).

With the rising cost of food, an unsustainable trade imbalance leading to unaffordable domestic subsidy programs, an overly concentrated economic model susceptible to crippling exogenous shocks, and a growing population to “feed”, the situation mirrored the predictable fall of a neatly stacked set of domino chips. These countries simply ran out of room and ran out of time to modernize their economies to provide opportunities for their growing young population.

Leaders fell back on the status quo, too afraid, too self-interested, or too corrupt to make the difficult trade-off decisions to fix the numerous structural imbalances. These were tragic and epic failures.

In this context, what does responsible leadership mean? While it is tempting to provide the never incorrect “it depends” answer, I believe there are two universal and key themes.

First, globalization, like capitalism, must be effectively managed to be more inclusive. Globalization leads to a bigger overall pie, but responsible leaders must find ways to distribute that pie to more people. Conversely, protectionism and populism to me is just Neo-Luddism, a misguided and ultimately futile tilting against windmills which will only lead to a smaller pie for everyone.

With technological advancement and the oft-touted “knowledge economy” naturally favoring a small group of the highly skilled, government and the private sector can and must do more to even the playing field, including potentially higher minimum wage laws or progressive taxation to fund more targeted and effective social programs. These programs must be financially sustainable, free of corruption, and efficiently enacted.

At a community level, responsible leadership must encourage more volunteerism and gifting – of not just money, but time, knowledge, and mentoring those with less opportunity – and these individuals and institutions must personally lead by example. The leaders and workers of tomorrow need to understand the impact of globalization, both its benefits and its implications, so that workers are motivated to develop competitive skills in an increasingly global and interconnected economy. Inevitably, there will be groups who will be marginalized and unable or unwilling to adapt to this future, and the social programs will need to be creatively designed to reach and help these people.

Second, responsible leaders must have deep social capital, particularly “bridging social capital”. According to Robert Putnam, a political scientist and Harvard Kennedy School of Government professor, bridging social capital builds key networks between different social groups. It allows people from different socio-economic backgrounds, genders, ethnicities and cultures to share and exchange ideas and build consensus among groups with diverse interests.

Responsible leaders must develop empathy and solidarity with all people they serve, so that they will forge collective benefits that enlarge the pie for everyone. Again, volunteerism and community engagement are crucial. Unfortunately, with social media and an overabundance of choice, people are easily conditioned to only seek out interactions with people they “like” or to “friend” people of similar views or backgrounds. This is the exact opposite of the desired outcome, and can lead to irresponsible leaders with low social capital, and low empathy, who see the world as a fixed pie that must be divided up with the largest slice going to themselves and people like them. The future of the world, particularly the one that the young will inherit, must be defined by what we share, not our superficial differences.

So what, again, is a responsible leader?

In summary, a responsible leader to me is person who has abundant social capital, an intrinsic desire to maximize the economic pie to create opportunities for everyone, someone who is able to effectively manage globalization, and looks to build bridges instead of walls. He or she will enable hope to once again flourish within the sea of hopelessness, and turn despair into optimism.

About this article: Rawan Al-Butairi is a World Economic Forum Global Shaper. Her article is one of the short-listed entries in the 2016 Global Shaper essay competition on the theme of responsive and responsible leadership.