We are barely a quarter of the way through 2020, but it is safe to say that this is a year no one is likely to forget soon. People across the globe, including right here in Saudi Arabia, are facing the devastating impact of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic — an invisible enemy that will require us all to collaborate like never before to defeat. We are resolute, and we are confident in our ability to overcome this crisis. Yet this can only be achieved through hard work and, most importantly, with the support of one another and the global community.
This is just one of the many global challenges that I, along with Saudi Arabia’s business leaders and our counterparts from other countries, will address as we prepare for the B20 and G20 summits in October and November 2020, respectively. The G20 began meeting in 1999 at the ministerial level until the 2008 global economic crisis triggered the need to coordinate decision-making at the highest level. Since then, the G20 summit has been convening the leaders of the world’s largest and most influential economies to address current crises and prepare for future challenges — whether manmade or natural.
This is also a pivotal moment for the Kingdom to demonstrate its global leadership, and I am both fortunate and honored to have been appointed as chair of the B20 Saudi Arabia. Just last week, we witnessed that leadership in full effect when Saudi Arabia organized the Extraordinary G20 Leaders’ Summit to address the COVID-19 crisis. King Salman’s call at the onset of the virtual gathering to address the wellbeing of all, particularly those in developing countries, demonstrates Saudi Arabia’s responsibility — as the first Middle East G20 presidency — to not only be a voice for our country but also for the region and the entire developing world.
For Saudi Arabia, our presidency of the B20 comes at a time when the world is looking to its leaders to unite around the current crisis affecting us all. But while we look for solutions to this problem, we must also continue to work with our counterparts to address the pressing issues that existed before this pandemic. The B20 summit and the meetings leading up to it will address digitalization; energy, sustainability and climate change; finance and infrastructure; the future of work and education; integrity and compliance; and trade and investment — all with the cross-cutting themes of small and medium enterprises and sustainable development goals, along with a specific focus on women in business.
The B20 will also allow Saudi Arabia to not only highlight all our recent achievements, but to build new bridges and create new economic pipelines. We are one of the economies that have exhibited the most progress toward gender equality since 2017, including equalizing the retirement age for women and men at 60 years old, thus extending women’s working lives, earnings and contributions. We are also encouraging women’s entrepreneurship by giving them access to credit, and we are investing more than SR1 billion ($266.3 million) in education to prepare young Saudis for the labor market. But we have more work to do.
All of this will, of course, be even more important as both the global and Saudi business communities look to emerge from the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is important to note that the B20 Saudi Arabia is doing all we can to identify how global businesses — from MSMEs to large multinational corporations — can best manage the current crisis and operate as efficiently as possible.
The UN has warned that a global recession, perhaps of “record dimensions,” is a near certainty, with both growth estimates and consumer confidence dropping as a result of the virus. As the world not only seeks physical health, so too does it look for economic well-being. As the voice of the business community to the G20, we are well-positioned to help.
I am, therefore, proud to announce that we have created an initiative, through B20 Saudi Arabia, to address both this current crisis, as well all future crises that have the potential to devastate financial markets. In concert with this initiative, we have joined with the World Health Organization and the International Chamber of Commerce — as the representative of 45 million businesses worldwide — to call on the governments of the G20 to implement a common framework for coordinated global action to support national priorities aligned with combating the COVID-19. The initiative is designed to work across all B20 taskforces and the Women in Business Action Council via the establishment of a cross-border group to ensure that we are identifying priorities related to the current pandemic and future crises that could cause disruption, thus impacting business continuity.
Although the road ahead will be challenging, we hope that the B20 will not only provide a spark of light for Saudi Arabia come October, but that it will serve as a conduit for business continuity in the months ahead. We look forward to working with everyone in this historic moment for our great nation.
Yousef Al-Benyan is chair of the B20 Saudi Arabia, a voice for the business community of the G20 Saudi Arabia.