An exceptional fourth edition of Future Investment Initiative
I took part last week in the fourth edition of “Davos in the Desert,” as the annual Future Investment Initiative (FII) in Riyadh has come to be known.
Due to social distancing measures, the event was organized as a hybrid one, with speakers joining Riyadh from New York, Sydney, Beijing, Mumbai, London, Paris and Moscow, among other key international capitals around the world. I must say, it was a unique and exceptional gathering of public decision-makers and business leaders, locally and internationally, and in person as well as virtually.
Speakers such as David Rubenstein, co-founder and co-CEO of The Carlyle Group; Ray Dalio, co-chief investment officer of Bridgewater Associates; Stephen Schwarzman, chairman and CEO of Blackstone; Larry Fink, Chairman and CEO of Black Rock; David Solomon, CEO of Goldman Sachs and Thomas Gottstein, CEO of Credit Suisse, were moderators and speakers, among other CEOs of leading global financial institutions.
I believe it is the first international event of such magnitude to take place this year in terms of global high-profile participants debating a globally impacted agenda. The event’s theme, “Neo-Renaissance,” was an appropriate one, given that the world is seeing unprecedented opportunities and a new economic renaissance, while the COVID-19 crisis changes the concept of the economy around the world.
There is a new wave of optimism surrounding the investment climate in Saudi and the Gulf region in general. After the last Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit, collaboration among all member countries was restored, with recommendations to strengthen military integration to face emerging challenges, cooperate on health issues and further integrate economies. As a result, capital flows between GCC members, with their formidable respective sovereign wealth funds, carry the promise of mutual benefit and future prosperity.
It is worth noting that foreign ownership restrictions have been dramatically lifted in Saudi Arabia and across other Gulf Arab states as well. The American Enterprise Institute’s Gulf Economic Policy Tracker tallies over 1,000 economic policy shifts in GCC countries since 2015, with 164 COVID-19-related measures adopted in 2020 alone. This makes for a more competitive regional economic landscape.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, chairman of the Public Investment Fund (PIF), gave a keynote interview conducted by Senator Matteo Renzi, former prime minister of Italy, where he highlighted the next five-year plan of the PIF, including promising investment opportunities in the Saudi capital Riyadh, and in NEOM, the city of the future.
He highlighted certain groundbreaking projects which will transform Riyadh into one of the most desirable business destinations. Actually, in a brief video shown during the event, several high-profile CEOs spoke and confirmed their plans to make Riyadh their regional headquarters.
One of the topics discussed throughout the sessions was the trend of new investment requirements in compliance with environment, social, and governance principles (ESG). ESG has become a buzzword among sovereign funds and leading fund managers. By 2025, it is estimated that the majority of professionally managed funds around the world will conform with ESG principles.
The unique state-of-the-art fourth edition of FII will always be remembered. I would like to congratulate Yasir Al-Rumayyan, Richard Attias, Rakan Tarabzoni and their teams for their success in spite of the exceptional challenges facing them.
During the BMG Annual Summer Retreat, planned in July 2021, we plan to carry on with a similar theme and we will be using London as an international platform to promote foreign direct investment in the country.
• Basil M.K. Al-Ghalayini is the chairman and CEO of BMG Financial Group.