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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.
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It’s Good To Teach Entrepreneurial Thinking At A Young Age

It’s Good To Teach Entrepreneurial Thinking At A Young Age

Published by Entrepreneur Middle East, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media, this article dated August 15, 2019, is an eye-opener on not only the educational requirements of the near future but on the times we’re presently going through. There are according to Helen Al Uzaizi CEO, BizWorld UAE, Three Reasons Why It’s Good To Teach Entrepreneurial Thinking At A Young Age.

Teaching entrepreneurial thinking at a young age can help kids learn and hone valuable skills that they can use to cope with stress and unforeseen issues that arise in their ever-changing world.

Three Reasons Why It's Good To Teach Entrepreneurial Thinking At A Young Age

Moving from childhood into adolescence can be a very challenging time for kids. Not only are social norms changing, but their ability to adapt to their quickly evolving environments is being developed. Schools change, responsibilities change, and their lives become different from day to day. Throughout this time, maturing happens, and it aids in their ability to critically think, react to situations, and become more independent.

But is there a way to develop these skills sooner to help them mature, and ultimately, cope better? In a nutshell, yes. Teaching entrepreneurial thinking at a young age can help kids learn and hone valuable skills that they can use to cope with stress and unforeseen issues that arise in their ever-changing world. Creativity, problem-solving, and emotional intelligence are just a few of these skills that can be gained through early teaching and long-term practice. For kids that practice entrepreneurial thinking, in difficult situations, they are able to problem solve effectively by analyzing long-term ramifications. This kind of processing comes with so many benefits that will bode well for kids from childhood all the way into adulthood.

1. Positive habit-forming Entrepreneurial thinking is not just an activity, but rather a lens through which all situations are viewed. This is also known as a “positive habit.” Instead of going down another path, the child has to make a conscious decision to change their perspective. By making these daily decisions, kids become more aware of the benefits that come along with forming positive habits and find them easier to engage in a variety of life aspects.

2. Emotional support When a child is able to effectively problem solve, and see the fruit of their efforts, positive feelings and increased self-worth follow. This internal confidence leads to kids feeling emotionally supported, and it has a great effect on their ability to take criticism and grow without fear of failure.

3. Behavior Most of the time, bad behavior comes from the inability to control one’s emotions and/ or the inability to communicate. Practicing entrepreneurial thinking solves both of those inhibitors by giving the child the tools to be able to look at the problem from a big-picture and emotionally intelligent perspective. All of the attributes that are gained from teaching entrepreneurial thinking tend to lead to better behavior, emotional health, and positive habits by giving kids the tools to not only cope, but thrive. Equipping them early helps kids navigate the landscape of their lives so that they can face obstacles with creativity and without fear. Difficult situations, new experiences and issues that arise are all the more easily handled and learned from by learning and practicing entrepreneurial thinking young.

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War and turmoil in MENA region hitting youth job prospects

War and turmoil in MENA region hitting youth job prospects

The Guardian in 2015, came up with an article Enduring conflicts and political upheaval across the Middle East and North Africa are stopping almost 14 million children from going to school and shattering “the hopes and dreams” of a generation, according to a new report from the UN children’s agency, UNICEF. More recently, Arab News published War and turmoil in MENA region hitting youth job prospects, experts warn.

Conflict and unrest in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region are having a marked impact on youth unemployment, according to a former top UN official. (AP/File Photo)

By Sarah Glubb. July 03, 2019

  • Christer Elfverson tells Arab News diversity in the Arab world partly due to population growth and GDP.
  • Unless tensions are eased the outlook for many young Arabs remained bleak.

LONDON: Wars and turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region are having a marked impact on youth unemployment, according to a former top UN official.

And unless tensions are eased the outlook for many young Arabs remained bleak, said international diplomatic adviser, Christer Elfverson.
His comments follow figures from the International Labor Organization (ILO), showing that one in five young people under the age of 25 in the region are jobless and have no skills, and in some countries, the issue is becoming more acute.

Elfverson, who spoke at a recent event hosted by Education for Employment (EFE) in collaboration with Citi Foundation, told Arab News that the diversity in the Arab world was partly due to population growth and GDP.
But he added that turmoil and wars in the region had also affected unemployment rates, and a lack of initial education in some MENA countries was concerning for future generations.
Salvatore Nigro, EFE global VP and CEO, said that the MENA region had the highest percentage of young people, with 65 percent under the age of 25, yet unemployment rates were running at an average of 30 percent.
More than 27 million young people will come of working age in the next five years, creating even more pressure and competition in the jobs market. However, MENA countries often face very different problems.
In some mountainous regions of Morocco, for example, it is difficult and dangerous for children to undertake daily journeys, whereas Syrian or Palestinian refugees do not have the money for school transport or books.
“In some issues, it has gotten better and others it’s worse but at the same time those in the countries that have been able to find jobs then maybe the possibilities are greater now. But it is two different worlds,” said Elfverson, who is an EFE board member.

Abdesselam Aboudrar, the Moroccan ambassador to London, said that the education system in his country was currently being reformed. He added that the illiteracy rate had decreased from just over 40 percent to about 25 percent, which although “still a lot,” had been slashed over the past 10 years. “We are reforming the whole system to make it more effective and more empowering for youth,” the envoy said.
Aboudrar told Arab News that Morocco had been working with several NGOs and countries including Japan, China, Russia, Canada and EU nations to develop the maritime, industrial and textile sectors and encourage more young people to take jobs in these fields.
The ambassador said vocational training was a very important aspect in preparing young people for current and future jobs. It was also vital to simultaneously train youth in supplying water, maritime and fisheries, developing skills in the automotive, computing, agricultural and tourism industries, to curb poverty, educate women and provide young girls with access to education.

When it came to the MENA region, David Cowan, Citi Africa economist, compared Saudi Arabia with Algeria due to the oil factor.
“The level of growth and employment per dollar of government spending is one of the lowest in the world. If the Saudi government spends $10, the amount of jobs and growth that number generates is much lower than, for example, in many other countries. So that is a problem,” he said.
Cowan added that Saudi Arabia had a high level of revenue with no constraint but said: “It is how you spend that revenue wisely. Sometimes you need to spend money on lower-profile projects that may generate more employment in the long run.”

Jordan’s EFE chief executive officer, Ghadeer Khuffash, told Arab News that this quarter’s unemployment rate had increased to 19 percent. She said there was “economically active people in Jordan and there are economically inactive people.” The inactive ones were not working or looking for jobs.
“In Jordan, 87 percent of females are economically inactive, which means only 14 percent of the women are contributing to the labor market. So, in our work, we don’t only target unemployment or unemployed youth, but we also target those who are economically inactive.”
Not only is Jordan suffering from a high unemployment rate, but the country also has to bear the responsibility of millions of refugees or displaced persons and borders states that have endured years of war and unrest.

Refugees often do not have valid permits and are not able to leave camps. Those that do are barely able to move within the camp, let alone leave to go to work.

Regarding the challenges females face in employment, Khuffash said: “All the reports from the World Bank and so on, highlight the lack of public transportation systems and nursery care.”
She added that most of the work was predominantly in the capital Amman and the northern city of Irbid. The other governorates had minimal job opportunities.
One key factor, however remains consistent: As candidates filter into the market, it has become evident that they are ill-prepared for the workforce, whether coming from a disadvantaged background or a more educated path. The problem cannot be solved by simply modernizing education and labor markets.
Speaking to Arab News, Cynthia Muller, board member of EFE-Europe, said the EFE had a measurable, traceable and easily comprehensible mission that did not need a lot of due diligence because “the money goes to where it is supposed to go. And it’s effectively being put to work.
“There is a bit of magic when you have humans together with a common mission who have not had the privilege of being attended to on a silver plate. I have been amazed to see people change their life with a very small amount of help by getting that first job,” the hedge fund banker added.
For any economy to advance it needs human talent. “Anything that affects the economy and the country, and the well-being of people affects the youth more than the adults,” said Elfverson.

Making sure there’s ‘No Lost Generation’ among Millennials

Because it is felt that “Young people are graduating with no clue on how to implement what they have learned,” the UNICEF is making sure there’s ‘No Lost Generation’ among millennials.

By Mariam Nabbout 2019-06-24

The Middle East is plagued with some of the highest unemployment rates among the up-and-coming generation. One reason behind this could be that most education systems in the region do not link what students learn with the knowledge they actually need in the future. 

However, it seems that’s about to change thanks to the efforts of individuals and organizations who are tirelessly working to bridge the gap between learning and earning. This specific issue is at the center of the region’s third annual “No Lost Generation Tech Summit,” which is set to be held in Jordan’s capital Amman on Tuesday and Wednesday. 

The two-day event is primarily organized by UNICEF’s regional office for the MENA region and NetHope – an NGO “eager to make a difference in this world through technological innovation.” It is also “supported by the steering committee for youth from the region, and representatives from the International Labor Organization, the International Rescue Committee, Mercy Corps, the Norwegian Refugee Council, UNESCO, UNHCR and World Vision.”

The summit focuses on presenting tech-enabled solutions attemped to link learning and earning among youth from vulnerable communities across the region. 

The event’s packed agenda is “almost entirely developed and managed by young people who have all pioneered ways to bridge the gap between young people’s schooling and employment.” (These juniors were selected by involved committees after applying for various roles.)

Speaking to StepFeed, a few of these bright young participants told us more about the ambitious initiative and what it means for youth across the Arab world. 

“What makes this summit special is its impact on youth”

Balqees Shahin Al Turk, a 22-year-old Jordanian, has been participating in youth engagement programs and events with UNICEF and other NGOs since 2016. When she learned about this year’s Tech Summit, she immediately applied for a leading role. 

“What makes this summit special is its impact on youth, since youth engagement is very high pre, during and post-summit,” Shahin explained.

There are 75 youngsters from across the MENA region working on this summit, she says. The fact that people her age are organizing such an event and have their voices heard among adults is a boost of self-confidence and energy to work harder.

“The rate of unemployment in the MENA region is about 30% although most of the MENA populations is composed of youth,” which Shahin finds disappointing. A main problem, according to her, is the gap between what young people learn and what real work environment requires. 

“Young people are graduating with no clue on how to implement what they have learned so its quite important to work on minimizing this gap first by figuring out that there is a problem and second by talking about it and trying to find solutions for this and that’s what the summit is about,” she explained. 

“I think the impact on adolescents and youth after the NLG Tech Summit will be wonderful”

For Syrian teens – and those a bit older – it’s not easy to cope with all that’s been lost. “This summit is very important for me as a young person because I have lost a lot of important things like education and my country Syria because of the war,” Saber Al-Khateeb, a 22-year-old Syrian and one of the representatives of youth at the NLG Tech Summit, said.

The summit will bring together “youth, private sector companies, development and humanitarian experts, academic institutions and donors to leverage technology and cross-sector collaboration to connect learning to earning for young people in the region, particularly those affected by the crises in Syria and Iraq,” he explained. 

Al-Khateeb remains hopeful when it comes to learning-to-earning solutions, as he believes proper implementation will lead to a decrease in unemployment rates. 

NLG’s young participants are here to inspire future generations

Speaking to StepFeed, 24-year-old Palestinian Shahenaz Monia, another young participant in the summit, said the gap between learning and earning should be reduced before unemployment rates skyrocket. 

“Never underestimate the power of any opportunities to get more experience,” as these, in her belief, will allow anyone to enhance and hone their skills.

The two-day event will be packed with people from different backgrounds, and with divergent experiences and success stories, which should be interesting and educational to young people.

“Passing through a hard and long way doesn’t mean you are wrong,” Monia said. “If you believe in something work hard to make it true. It’s okay to feel nervous, it only means you are stretching out of your comfort zone,” she continued. 

20 June, World Refugee Day: A long way to safety

20 June, World Refugee Day: A long way to safety

Maria Diaz Crego wrote in commemoration of 20 June, World Refugee Day: A long way to safety that :

According to UNCHR, those fleeing their own countries for fear of persecution travel collectively around two billion kilometres per year to reach a safe haven. To honour their resilience and determination and to remind us of the long and tortuous journeys they are forced to make on their way to safety, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has launched the www.stepwithrefugees.org campaign to mark 2019 World Refugee Day.

Meanwhile, a New paper: Teachers need support to better help migrant and refugee students suffering from trauma Posted on 20 June 2019 by GEM Report reads as follows:

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Image: UNESCO/Seivan M.Salim

The number of migrant and refugee school-age children around the world has grown by 26% since 2000. Eight years on from the beginning of the Syrian conflict, a new paper released today and at an event in the Netherlands looks at the importance of making sure that education systems are set up to address the trauma that many of these children face before, and during their journeys to new countries. In particular, teachers need better training to provide psychosocial support to these children, including through social and emotional learning.

In Germany, about one-third of refugee children suffer from mental illness, and one-fifth suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Unaccompanied minors are particularly vulnerable. One third of 160 unaccompanied asylum seeking children in Norway from Afghanistan, the Islamic Republic of Iran and Somalia suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. Among 166 unaccompanied refugee children and adolescents in Belgium, 37-47% had ‘severe or very severe’ symptoms of anxiety, depression and PTSD.

Rates of trauma among the displaced in low and middle income countries are also high. For instance, 75% of 331 internally displaced children in camps in southern Darfur in Sudan met diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder, and 38% had depression.

2
Image: Anthony Upton/ARETE/GEM Report

In the absence of health centres, schools can play a key role in restoring a sense of stability. Teachers are not and should never be leant on as mental health specialists, but they can be a crucial source of support for children suffering from trauma if they’re given the right training. But they need basic knowledge about trauma symptoms and providing help to students, which many do not have. NGOs, including the International Rescue Committee, iACT, and Plan International, are training teachers to face this challenge through their programmes, but their reach is not enough.

In Germany, the majority of teachers and day-care workers said that they did not feel properly prepared to address the needs of refugee children. In the Netherlands, 20% of teachers with more than 18 years of experience working in mainstream schools reported that they experienced a high degree of difficulty dealing with students with trauma. The vast majority of these teachers (89%) encountered at least one student with trauma in their work. A review of early childhood care and education facilities for refugee children in Europe and North America found that, although many programmes recognized the importance of providing trauma-informed care, appropriate training and resources were ‘almost universally lacking’.

The paper shows the importance of social and emotional learning, as an approach to psychosocial support which targets skills, such as resilience, to manage stress, and is often rolled out through interactive, group-based discussions or role play. It shows the importance of this approach for less acute situations but emphasizes that for more challenging cases trained specialists are needed.

It is also important to involve parents in social and emotional learning so that activities can continue at home. One programme in Chicago looked at addressing symptoms of depression among Mexican immigrant women and primary school children with in- and after- school programmes and home visits, for instance, and improved school work, child mental health and family communication.

Key recommendations:

  1. Learning environments must be safe, nurturing and responsive.
  2. Teachers working with migrant and refugee students who have suffered trauma face particular hardships and need training to cope with challenges in the classroom.
  3. Psychosocial interventions require cooperation between education, health and social protection services.
  4. Social and emotional learning interventions need to be culturally sensitive and adapted to context. They should be delivered through extra-curricular activities as well.
  5. Community and parental involvement should not be neglected.
MENA region hosts the world’s elite today

MENA region hosts the world’s elite today

As per the World Bank in its latest announcement, “Growth has picked up across the region and is projected to strengthen over the next few years. And almost all MENA countries have moved to reduce or eliminate energy subsidies, identify new sources of non-oil revenues, and expand social safety nets to shield the poor from adverse effects of change.”

Meanwhile the World Economic Forum informs that the MENA region hosts the world’s elite today and tomorrow by the Dead Sea shore, to try and debate some of the region’s current issues. Jordan has already held the WEF’S gathering in the recent past; refer to MENA-Forum.

5 key challenges facing the MENA region ahead of our global summit

ByMirek Dusek, Deputy Head of the Centre for Geopolitical and Regional Affairs, Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum

The sun rises on the first day of Eid al-Fitr in Amman August 19, 2012. Eid-al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan, the holiest month on the Islamic calendar.  REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed (JORDAN - Tags: CITYSPACE ENVIRONMENT RELIGION) - GM1E88J1APD01

For thousands of years, the Dead Sea has attracted visitors from far and wide, drawn by legends of its power to heal and rejuvenate. On 6-7 April, 1,000 key leaders from government, business and civil society will gather on its shores for the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Over two days they will confront the issues facing more than 400 million people.

A region of two opposing systems

The Arab world is a region of two contrasting systems. One system features a dynamic private sector, digitally native youth and open economies. The other has a bloated public sector and closed, controlled economies.

Most people in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) interact with both systems, facing a mixed reality. Wealth sits side-by-side with poverty; an exciting entrepreneurial culture struggles with leaden bureaucracy; and an insatiable appetite for the new is balanced with a reverence for tradition.

How these two systems interact – and whether the dynamic, forward-looking system can thrive while respecting the traditions of the Arab world – is among the most important issues the region is facing today.

Five key questions

The following five areas will determine whether the Arab world can successfully move towards the system of innovation and competitiveness.

1. Can the Arab world develop a new, sustainable economic and social framework?

The social contract in much of the Arab world has relied on state-provided employment. This is unsustainable. Nearly half the population is under 25, and a quarter of those are unemployed. Add the biggest gender gap in the world, and it’s clear a new framework is needed.

2. Can a mechanism for conflict resolution be developed?

Ongoing humanitarian disasters in Syria, Yemen and Iraq require immediate attention, as do the longer-term projects of rebuilding fully functioning states. The region has been home to long-standing tensions, and unless these are mitigated, a thriving, competitive region will be hard to realise.

3. Can an ecosystem of entrepreneurship and innovation be developed?

The stories of individual success in the region are too often ones of thriving despite the economic framework. An ecosystem that nurtures innovation and encourages firms to flourish and grow is needed.

4. Are countries prepared for the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

Changes in the way we work are happening more quickly than most societies are prepared for. There is a short window for establishing the right regulatory environment, and reskilling people to make sure they – and the larger economies – can capture the opportunities of technology.

5. Will addressing corruption and transparency be a priority?

Governance reform is a “must do” issue in the region and disillusionment caused by perceptions of corruption is particularly strong among young Arabs.

Global questions, Arab answers

While other regions have grappled with similar questions, the Arab world needs Arab solutions, that capitalize on the unique strengths of the area while accounting for its important sensibilities. There are good examples of this starting to happen.

The UAE is playing a leading role in integrating the region into the global economy. The new Emirates Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, run by the Dubai Future Foundation in partnership with the World Economic Forum, is working to shape governance and capacity issues in the MENA, and it could shape data protocols across the world as a whole. Europe is enforcing strict data protections and regulations, while the United States is taking a more liberal approach. The Arab solution being developed may not just be a better fit for the region, but for elsewhere as well.

Saudi Arabia already has an influential voice as part of the G20, and it’s a voice that can grow. In 2020, it will host the Riyadh Summit, presenting an opportunity for greater impact on the regional and global agenda. A forward-looking programme that strengthens the MENA economies and the global economy as a whole will be an important step toward long-term success for the area.

Actions not words

There is a dire need for a new collaborative platform that brings governments together with businesses and other stakeholders in private-public cooperation. This is the aim of the World Economic Forum’s summit in Jordan. By convening members of the public and private sectors, and bringing new voices into the arena, such as the 100 Arab Start-ups, we hope to facilitate forward-leaning dialogue that understands and respects the values and culture of the region.