WEF meeting in Jordan to address ‘new platforms of cooperation’

WEF meeting in Jordan to address ‘new platforms of cooperation’
Updated 06 April 2019

WEF meeting in Jordan to address ‘new platforms of cooperation’

WEF meeting in Jordan to address ‘new platforms of cooperation’
  • The World Economic Forum in Jordan aims to be more than just a talking shop by providing tangible solutions
  • The stated aim of the two-day World Economic Forum in Jordan is ambitious

DEAD SEA, Jordan: What has the World Economic Forum ever done for us?

It is the perennial question asked of the forum’s headline event in Davos, Switzerland, held at the beginning of each year.

But it is, perhaps, an even more pertinent one ahead of the annual Middle East-focused gathering in Jordan, which starts today.

To some, World Economic Forum (WEF) events are love-ins for the global elite of Davos men, and occasional woman, who fly in — many on private jets — to talk a lot, but achieve very little.

To others — including, doubtlessly, most of the attendees — the forums are more than mere talking shops. They are a genuine attempt to make true the WEF’s mantra of “improving the state of the world.”

So as the WEF’s regional event kicks off at the Dead Sea resort, will solutions to the Arab world’s myriad problems come rising to the surface, or will they sink in the water amid the chitchat of the chattering classes?

The stated aim of the two-day World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa — which will gather some 1,000 leaders from government, business and civil society — is nothing if not ambitious.   

Organizers say it will address “new platforms of cooperation” for the Arab world, and focus on “shaping a new economic and social model for the region,” along with offering “initiatives to help resolve long-standing conflicts.”

But can such an event provide any tangible solutions in a region plagued by widespread conflict and intractable social, political and economic problems?

Mirek Dusek, a member of the executive committee at the World Economic Forum, said that the Jordan meeting will have a real impact on the ground, rather than being purely theoretical.

“We are very outcome-orientated here, so there’s going to be a number of concrete initiatives coming out of the summit,” he said.

One such initiative set to be launched at the forum is a “University of the People” in Arabic. The US-accredited online university will be run primarily by refugees, and is also directed at refugees from Syria, Yemen, Libya, and Iraq, as well as other qualifying students.

There will also be a focus on the Israel-Palestine conflict, following a WEF initiative formed several years ago by both Arab and Israeli business people to support the peace process. 

The WEF’s Global Shapers Community is expected to announce on Saturday the launch of two hubs in East and West Jerusalem, in which young people will work toward building more peaceful societies.

The forum will also address some of the most pressing issues the region faces: The Syria conflict, radicalization, environmental dangers and the need for greater gender equality.

The overriding objective, however, is how to push what Dusek described as the “forward-looking” societal model in the Arab world, rather than legacy systems led by the often bureaucratic and inefficient public sector.

“The region really is a region of two systems. One is a very forward-looking, agile system. You could characterize it by a dynamic private sector, a technology-native young population … like in the UAE, for example,” he said.

“The other one is a legacy system, which could be characterized by a bloated public sector … by fragility and conflict.”

The WEF meeting will look at building a collaborative platform to help the former system “really take off,” Dusek said.

“We have all these amazing individual pockets of excellence that are representing the forward-looking system. So (it’s about) how we enable those to grow,” he said.

“The economic model of the future here (is) going from a more public-sector dominated employment-generating model … to a more private-sector led, entrepreneurship-led growth system.”

The Middle East’s thriving startup scene will be well-represented at the Jordan meeting.

One hundred Arab startups were selected to attend the event, including 10 from Saudi Arabia, with entrepreneurs getting a chance to discuss and promote their companies to government and business leaders. Executives from Careem, the Middle East ride-hailing service that Uber recently agreed to buy for $3.1 billion, will also attend.

Fadi Ghandour, the founder of courier service Aramex and executive chairman of venture capital firm Wamda Capital, sees the region’s startups as a positive force in building a better Middle East.

“The region is complex, full of so many challenges. It always moves on many tracks. Some are way above my pay grade, but what I see on my level is plenty of young people building the businesses of the future, changing the face of how business is done and moving governments along the way to keep up with them,” said Ghandour.

“Whether in fintech, mobility, commerce, health care, entertainment or logistics, every sector is being challenged; these are the platforms of change that we should look out for.”

 




The Forum will feature appearances by Klaus Schwab, Emine Erdogan, King Abdullah of Jordan, Fadi Ghandour and Thani Ahmed Al-Zeyoudi. (Reuters)


Mining in the dark: how Lebanese crypto miners are dealing with the electricity crisis

Mining in the dark: how Lebanese crypto miners are dealing with the electricity crisis
Updated 5 min 33 sec ago

Mining in the dark: how Lebanese crypto miners are dealing with the electricity crisis

Mining in the dark: how Lebanese crypto miners are dealing with the electricity crisis
  • GPUs now mine $1-$5 of bitcoin every 4 hours vs. $10-$20 before power crisis
  • Mining rigs now powered by diesel

BEIRUT: Lebanese crypto miners are in trouble. Lebanon has plunged into near total darkness because of its recent electricity shortage crisis, leaving mining machines suspended mid-way in their operations and their owners writhing over their financial losses.

In the last two years, a growing number of Lebanese youths have turned to trading and mining cryptocurrency in a desperate attempt to gain financial freedom and secure the much-needed remittances of USD cash. This movement was spurred by distrust of the Lebanese banking sector, which has all but swallowed up people’s life savings.

Today, the electricity crisis constitutes a thorny problem for crypto miners who have invested a fortune in buying mining machines that were supposed to function 24/7, mining as many cryptocurrencies as possible.

“Before the electricity crisis, each GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) used to mine $10-$20 worth of bitcoin every four hours,” 34-year-old electrician Alaa Ayash, who is the co-owner of a gaming-turned-mining lounge in Mar Elias, Beirut, told Arab News. “Now they mine about $1-$5, almost a quarter of what they used to.”

What exactly happens when a mining machine is turned off due to an electricity shortage?

Put simply, mining is the process of getting rewarded for solving complex computational math problems with chosen cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin. The miners are actually being rewarded for completing a secure transaction using the blockchain. There is value to solving these problems because otherwise, there would be no way to securely exchange bitcoins. The transaction, however, stops when the electricity is cut off and there is a huge chance that the miners will not be rewarded with their bitcoins.

How are miners in Lebanon dealing with the electricity shortage?

Their first option is to rely on generators that run on diesel. These generators are effective in supplying the GPUs with electricity- until the diesel runs out, another thorny problem.

This comes after Lebanon has recently agreed to partially lift government subsidies on all kinds of fuel in a bid to ease their shortage. This also meant a significant increase in cost to the consumers who can no longer obtain fuel at the official exchange rate of 1,500 Lebanese pounds to the dollar, but instead must resort to the black market and bargain with fuel importers.

“One gallon of diesel used to cost around 30,000 Lebanese pounds,” said Ali Mortada, a Syrian janitor who is responsible for securing diesel to the building he works for. “Now it costs somewhere between 100,000 pounds and 150,000 pounds in the black market, if not more.”

“We used to pay 1,000,000 pounds monthly for the generator for our gaming lounge, with 12 GPUs included,” Ayash said. “Now we pay 3,000,000 pounds, sometimes more, because diesel is so expensive.”

Another issue that cannot be overlooked is the fact that crypto-mining is an overwhelmingly energy-hungry process that often consumes much more electricity than a generator can cover. In May, Iran blamed major power outages on illegal bitcoin mining and banned the latter after it was confirmed that 4.5 percent of all bitcoin mining this year has taken place in the Persian country. One wonders if Lebanese miners would share a similar fate.

Are there any substitutes for diesel when the fuel runs out?

There are two substitutes: UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) and computer batteries. The former device allows a computer to keep running for a short time when its primary power source is lost while providing protection from power surges. Meanwhile the batteries supply energy for two-to-three hours. Both devices can be purchased from local and international manufacturers (mainly China), but because of skyrocketing demand on behalf of crypto miners and dealers, they are constantly in short supply.

“Demand for UPS and batteries have certainly soared at our company,” said an employee who works at a Lebanese hardware manufacturing company. The employee wished to remain anonymous.

“We used to have orders of about three containers of UPSs per week, and now our orders are up to 12 containers a week. We can’t keep up with all that supply.” The employee added that she was worried that very high demand may translate to an increase in hardware prices, as was the case with GPUs in the last two years.

“Customers used to be able to import GPUs from the US for $300 in 2019. Now the prices are bordering $1,200 per GPU,” she said. “Everything is getting more expensive for mining. I wonder if it’s worth it.”

Indeed, if one were to add up the many costs of mining mentioned in this article and compare them to the meager income of $5 every four hours (as mentioned above), the numbers certainly don’t add up.

“I wish I wasn’t so hasty in my insistence to risk everything I have and give mining a shot,” said 28-year-old Sary Mohsen. Mohsen had sold two iPhones in order to buy two GPUs. “I joined a mining pool three months ago, right before bitcoin crashed, and things have been downhill ever since.”

Indeed, bitcoin’s decline in the past few months saw its value more than halve since its April peak of $63,745, falling below $30,000 on July 21. Bitcoin has since rebounded and was trading at $41,695 on July 31.

Another source of worry for miners who want to cash out but fear they will be missing out if bitcoin’s value rises again.

“I’m glad I cashed out my bitcoin when it was at its peak in [April],” a miner who goes by the gaming nickname Commando1 told The New Arab. “Today all bitcoin owners have no choice but to wait and hope bitcoin’s value rises again. I don’t envy their situation.”

If anything is keeping the youth in Lebanon hopeful about mining, it’s desperation and fear from the looming specter of unemployment and financial crisis. Whether all their efforts to keep their mining boat afloat turns out to be worth it, however, remains to be seen.


Global fashion’s workshop returns as Bangladesh factories reopen despite virus surge

Global fashion’s workshop returns as Bangladesh factories reopen despite virus surge
Updated 18 min 41 sec ago

Global fashion’s workshop returns as Bangladesh factories reopen despite virus surge

Global fashion’s workshop returns as Bangladesh factories reopen despite virus surge
  • Country’s 4,500 garment factories employ more than four million people
  • Nation suffered 80,000 pandemic deaths, experts predict

SHIMULIA, BANGLADESH: Hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshi garment workers rushed back to major cities Saturday, besieging train and bus stations, after the government said export factories could reopen despite a deadly coronavirus wave.
With the economy badly hit by the pandemic, the government excluded the factories that supply top brands in Europe and North America from a nationwide lockdown order.
Authorities had ordered factories, offices, transport and shops to close from July 23 to August 5 as daily coronavirus infections and deaths hit record levels.
Officially, Bangladesh has reported 1.2 million cases and more than 20,000 deaths. Experts say the real figures are at least four times higher.
The government said however that the country’s 4,500 garment factories, which employ more than four million people, can reopen from Sunday, sparking a rush back to industrial cities.
The influential garment factory owners had warned of “catastrophic” consequences if orders for foreign brands were not completed on time.
Hundreds of thousands who had gone back to their villages to celebrate the Eid al Adha Muslim festival and sit out the lockdown, headed to Dhaka in any available transport — some just walking in the monsoon rain.
At the Shimulia ferry station, 70 kilometers (45 miles) south of Dhaka, tens of thousands of workers waited hours for boats to take them to the capital.
Garment factory worker Mohammad Masum, 25, said he left his village before dawn, walked more than 30 kilometers (20 miles) and took rickshaws to get to the ferry port.
“Police stopped us at many checkpoints and the ferry was packed,” he said.
“It was a mad rush to get home when the lockdown was imposed and now we are in trouble again getting back to work,” Jubayer Ahmad, another worker, told AFP.
Bangladesh is the world’s second largest garment exporter after China and the industry has become the foundation of the economy for the country of 169 million people.
Mohammad Hatem, vice president of the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said up to $3 billion worth of export orders were at risk if factories had stayed closed.
“The brands would have diverted their orders to other countries,” Hatem told AFP.


How Islamic finance can help build a better future for all

Islamic finance products ‘aim to reduce the risk of asymmetric information and are contract-based, making them a natural fit for investors.’ (Shutterstock)
Islamic finance products ‘aim to reduce the risk of asymmetric information and are contract-based, making them a natural fit for investors.’ (Shutterstock)
Updated 31 July 2021

How Islamic finance can help build a better future for all

Islamic finance products ‘aim to reduce the risk of asymmetric information and are contract-based, making them a natural fit for investors.’ (Shutterstock)
  • Shariah-compliant finance is a rapidly growing industry that prioritizes sustainable expansion

LONDON: The Islamic finance investment model is a natural fit for investors looking to use their money ethically and sustainably, and could be a key industry in helping the world to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), experts have told Arab News.

Islamic finance takes a different approach from today’s profit-above-all investment orthodoxy.
It prioritizes low-risk investments, and avoids markets such as pork, alcohol and gambling — as well as barring the payment of interest and ensuring ethical governance.
Far from impeding growth, however, this alternative approach to investing is rapidly evolving into a booming industry, Martina Macpherson, senior vice president of partnerships and engagement at Moody’s ESG Solutions Group, told Arab News.
She and her team expect the industry to hold over $4 trillion in assets by 2030.
“Islamic finance (will) continue to expand in the next decade across regions and asset classes, and there is an opportunity for Islamic Finance and Shariah-compliant investments to align with the UN Sustainable Development Goals,” she said.
Aligned with Saudi Arabia’s own Vision 2030, the SDGs lay out a vision of a just, fair and prosperous world by 2030, codified into 17 interlinked goals designed by the UN as a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.”
The growth of Islamic finance as an alternative investment model will help to meet these goals in two ways: By uncovering sustainable and ethical opportunities and by reducing risk, she said.
The “SDGs and Islamic finance share joint values and fundamentals,” she said. “They are ethically linked, asset-backed, focused on risk and opportunity management, and centered on good governance as well as stakeholder impact.”

FASTFACTS

• Islamic finance products a ‘natural fit’ for meeting the UN sustainable development goals — Moody’s.

• The growth of Islamic finance as an alternative investment model will help to meet these goals through uncovering sustainable and ethical opportunities and by reducing risk, says expert.

“Islamic finance products aim to reduce the risk of asymmetric information and are contract-based, making them a natural fit for institutional investors committed to positive impact.”
Much like the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, one of the central goals of the SDGs is to tackle climate change, and this is “one of the key areas for Islamic finance to synchronize with the SDGs,” Macpherson said.
Stella Cox, managing director of Islamic finance intermediary firm DDCAP Group, speaking with Arab News, echoed Macpherson’s views on the role that Islamic finance can play in addressing issues like climate change. She emphasized, however, the importance of developing “a set of common standards, laws and regulations that will ensure shared best practice” moving toward 2030.
This cooperation, she said, “should be perceived as opportunity, rather than challenge, and that opportunity will enable Shariah compliant firms to work more closely with others in addressing and providing solutions for the biggest environmental and social challenges that the world has ever faced.”
Samina Akram, managing director of Samak Ethical Finance, told Arab News that the importance of ethical investing has only grown as the millennial generation have been “exposed to the harsh realities of the conventional financial system” in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.
They have been turned off conventional investing by “bad governance, bad leadership, casino type banking, and a lack of transparency,” Akram said.
And critically, she added, “they want no part to play in damaging the environment.”


4IR can help KSA become a global hub for new drone technology

There were also key areas where 4IR technology could be used in the campaign against climate change. (SPA)
There were also key areas where 4IR technology could be used in the campaign against climate change. (SPA)
Updated 31 July 2021

4IR can help KSA become a global hub for new drone technology

There were also key areas where 4IR technology could be used in the campaign against climate change. (SPA)
  • Improving the Kingdom’s logistical infrastructure is a priority area of the Vision 2030 strategy

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia could become a global center for new drone technology under plans being advanced by the Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) recently inaugurated in Riyadh in partnership with the World Economic Forum (WEF).

Mansour Alsaleh, director of the center, told Arab News that heavy lift drone technology had been prioritized by the Kingdom as one of its 4IR projects. “Saudi Arabia can be a leading country in developing the regulatory framework for heavy-lift drones. It can be ahead of the world,” he said.
Heavy lift drone technology has advanced to a stage where it requires a more sophisticated regulatory framework, he said, not just in the Kingdom but globally, and these are being developed in partnership with the Saudi General Authority of Civil Aviation, the Ministry of Transport and Saudi Aramco. “The applications are endless,” Alsaleh said.
Advanced drones have been used to deliver vaccines in Africa in the course of the pandemic, and American drone manufacturers have also been accelerating their efforts to transport heavy loads — up to 500kg depending on the technology — to locations with poor access. Improving the Kingdom’s logistical infrastructure was identified as a priority area of the Vision 2030 strategy, and drones are seen as a key enhancer of existing transport systems.
“By integrating these two mutually supportive components of regulatory transformation and pilot tests, Saudi Arabia can be a model for the rest of the world while supporting its own industrial development and social goals,” the WEF said in a recent report of which Alsaleh was a co-author.

Mansour Alsaleh

Alsaleh said that the Kingdom had identified 70 opportunities to apply 4IR technologies, and was prioritizing plans in five other areas, apart from drone technology — artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), blockchain, government data systems, and “smart cities” such as NEOM.
Each potential project goes through four stages, he explained: Identifying and selection; framework development in partnership with other stakeholders; prototyping and testing; and scaling up within a regulatory framework.
At the recent two-day event run from Riyadh to celebrate the inauguration of the 4IR center, many speakers underlined the need for partnership between government and other parts of the economy and society. Alsaleh reinforced that view. “We are looking for an eco-system, involving the public and regulatory sector, along with private industry and research and academia. It is about having the right blend between those areas,” he said.
One of the challenges was to identify technology at an early stage and take it through the phases of “sandboxing” and testing to further development, even as a regulatory framework was being fully developed. “Sometimes you have just got to take the risk,” he said. Some experts have warned of the challenges associated with rapid technological development, such as vulnerability to cyberattack and concerns over data privacy, but Alsaleh was confident these issues could be met and overcome. “There is no one single recipe to solve these challenges, we need to tackle them one by one. But if we focus more on the benefits that will flow from 4IR technology, it will help you overcome the challenges. We have to minimize the risks from emerging technologies,” he said.
The impact of 4IR technologies cuts across all aspects of human social and economic activity, Alsaleh said. “You cannot limit it to one particular sector, it is everywhere. If you do not keep up with the pace and become an early adopter, you will fall behind,” he explained, underlining the need to strike a balance between the “explore” and “exploit” phases of a 4IR project. But he said that IoT and AI technologies had great market value and could be used in multiple different applications. “You never know what will be shaping the future,” he said.
There were also key areas where 4IR technology could be used in the campaign against climate change. “We have the Circular Carbon Economy initiative. To make a clean energy transition, 4IR must be at the heart of that,” Alsaleh said.
Advanced technologies have been crucial in helping confront the big issues presented by the pandemic, and some changes — such as remote working via virtual communication systems — may become a permanent feature of the post-pandemic world.
Saudi Arabia is one of 13 centers for 4IR around the world, and Alsaleh said the benefits would have global impact.

“Organizations such as the WEF and 4IR are reaching out to everybody. It is all accessible and everyone can benefit from the work,” he said.


Pace of CEO resignations at listed KSA firms picked up amid pandemic

The largest number of resignations in one company was four within three years. (SPA)
The largest number of resignations in one company was four within three years. (SPA)
Updated 31 July 2021

Pace of CEO resignations at listed KSA firms picked up amid pandemic

The largest number of resignations in one company was four within three years. (SPA)
  • Three quarters of the resignations were attributed to special circumstances while 8 percent left for other roles

RIYADH: Saudi Arabian listed companies lost CEOs at twice the average annual pace in the first half of the year as the stresses of the pandemic took their toll.  
There were 128 CEO resignations from 97 companies listed on the Tadawul’s main and parallel markets over the past five years for an average of about 25 a year, according to a study by the Capital Market Authority (CMA). However, 26 CEOs resigned in the past six months, Maaal newspaper reported. The largest number of resignations over the past five years came from the telecommunications sector and the real estate management and development sector with six and 13 resignations, respectively, the study showed.
Three quarters of the resignations were attributed to special circumstances while 8 percent left for other roles. The largest number of resignations in one company was four within three years.
Developing the Saudi market to align with Vision 2030 requires good investment tools and excellent financial results, and the pandemic revealed the inability of some executive departments in some companies, in dealing with the risks and changes occurring, and the lack of capabilities to help them lead companies, Faiz Alhomrani, a financial market analyst told Arab News.

HIGHLIGHT

The largest number of resignations over the past five years came from the telecommunications sector and the real estate management and development sector with six and 13 resignations, respectively, the study showed.

Companies’ shareholders started to see that some CEOs or executive departments did not provide anything, and they couldn’t achieve positive results, neither in financial results nor in cash distributions, during three to four years, Alhomrani said.
“I think four years for a CEO is enough time to be evaluated,” he said.
The number of resignations in 2017 and 2020 was the highest during the study period (2016-2020), which may be attributed to unfavorable economic conditions during those years, with 45 percent of year 2020 resignations occurring in the fourth quarter.
Previous studies confirm that the biggest reason behind forced resignations is the company’s poor performance, CMA said.
The Saudi market today has moved from an internal local market to a global market and has begun to be closely linked to global markets, thus if CEOs have not new ideas, they will have to resign, said Alhomrani.
Major Saudi companies to have lost a CEO last year include STC, Almarai, Savola, Sipchem, Petrochem, Samba, Alinma Bank, Bank Aljazira, NCB and ANB.