Davos is the Middle East’s time to shine, says WEF’s head of MENA Maroun Kairouz

Special With the World Economic Forum WEF returning to Davos, many are wondering what the Arab delegations will bring to the mix
Davos is playing host to this year’s WEF Annual Meeting under the theme ‘Cooperation in a Fragmented World.’ (Manuel Lopez/World Economic Forum)
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Updated 17 January 2023

Davos is the Middle East’s time to shine, says WEF’s head of MENA Maroun Kairouz

With the World Economic Forum WEF returning to Davos, many are wondering what the Arab delegations will bring to the mix
  • Middle East and North Africa region has become a “centerpiece of global geopolitical efforts,” Kairouz tells Arab News
  • A record number of Arab heads of state are participating in this year’s World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

DAVOS: With the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting returning to the familiar snow-covered mountains of Davos, many are wondering what the Arab world’s delegations are going to bring to the mix.

“I think, in short, it is their time to shine,” Maroun Kairouz, WEF’s head of the Middle East and North Africa region, told Arab News.

“(This is) the culmination of years of efforts and commitment to reforms that we have seen in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar and Oman.

Maroun Kairouz, WEF head of the MENA region, says the Gulf is in a prime position as the ‘centerpiece’ of global geopolitical efforts. (Supplied)

“Now they are harvesting the fruits of seeds that were planted five, six, and, for some countries, 20 years ago, and that puts them in that position.”

This year’s summit follows the theme of “Cooperation in a Fragmented World” — a fitting one given the many overlapping crises now plaguing the globe.

Russia and Ukraine’s war is approaching its first anniversary with no signs of abating, contrib

uting to an ongoing inflationary crisis, which has placed a huge strain on households worldwide.

Delegates at the WEF Day One in Davos. (AN photo by Tarek Ali Ahmad)

Meanwhile, intensifying geopolitical and geoeconomic competition between world powers, particularly China and the US, is creating further uncertainty and reshaping the global power balance.

With a record number of Arab heads of state descending upon Davos for this year’s summit, it is clear that the region, thanks to its geopolitical and economic positioning, is a strong candidate to act as a mediator amid such crises.

“We have seen a return of the region as a centerpiece of global geopolitical efforts,” Kairouz told Arab News.

Notable examples of this over the course of the past year include US President Joe Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia, the Kingdom’s hosting of Chinese President Xi Jinping at the China-Arab Summit in December, and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s role in mediating a prisoner swap between Russia and Ukraine.

“It’s a bit of a dose of realism to say, even if you have interests elsewhere, that this region is key to global stability, it’s key to energy stability and to economic stability across the world,” said Kairouz.

“I think many countries have come to that realization given the events of the past year.”

The Middle East is important when it comes to investments, with sovereign wealth funds that are investing all over the world, says Borge Brende,
WEF President

Borge Brende, the president of WEF, also highlighted the importance of the Arab world at the opening of this year’s meeting. “We have six heads of states and governments, and very strong delegations,” he told a press conference.

“The Middle East is also important when it comes to investments, with sovereign wealth funds that are investing all over the world,” he added.

Although Kairouz praised Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar for their recent progress on the economic and diplomatic fronts, he urged them not to take their foot off the accelerator of reform.

Police officers stand guard at the entrance of the Congress centre in the alpine resort of Davos, on the opening day of the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos on January 16, 2023. (AFP)

“The hope now is that high energy prices, and let me say, a more favorable fiscal environment, does not lead to a relaxation of momentum around reforms to further consolidate that position and further advance on that path of prosperity and economic importance,” he said.

Saudi Arabia’s economic importance is evident through the scale and strength of its growth rate. The Kingdom is set to overtake India as the fastest-growing major economy in 2023, driven by the gains of higher energy prices.

According to official data released by India’s Ministry of Statistics and Program Implementation, Saudi Arabia is expected to outpace India with 7.6 percent gross domestic product growth.

“The Gulf Cooperation Council has been one of the strongest subregions in terms of economic growth,” said Kairouz.

“For 2022, Saudi Arabia was one of the fastest-growing large countries with around 8 percent of economic growth. Keep in mind, the S&P is down 20 percent over the last year,” he added, referring to the US stock market index that tracks 500 publicly traded domestic companies.

“If we have a replay of the 2007-2008 financial crisis, which investors have deep patient pools of capital? It’s again the sovereign wealth funds of the Arab world. They played a key role back then to stabilize global markets and to provide liquidity.”

A photograph shows a general view of the alpine resort of Davos, on the opening day of the annual World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos on January 16, 2023. (AFP)

With this in mind, Kairouz predicts that if the world does enter a recession, the Gulf countries will “again be front and center in those efforts.”

According to WEF’s own research, two-thirds of chief economists expect a global recession will occur this year, given continued geopolitical tensions and further monetary belt-tightening in the US and Europe.

“With two-thirds of chief economists expecting a worldwide recession in 2023, the global economy is in a precarious position,” Saadia Zahidi, managing director of WEF, told a press conference ahead of the meeting.

“The current high inflation, low growth, high debt and high fragmentation environment reduces incentives for the investments needed to get back to growth and raise living standards for the world’s most vulnerable.”

More than 2,700 world leaders and diplomats will take part in this year’s WEF meeting, with a strong representation from all the key regions of the world.

However, Arab delegations who are absent from this year’s summit include the crisis-wracked nations of Lebanon and Yemen. Kairouz says both governments were urged to attend but to no avail.

“We have extended invitations to their governments, and we had at one point positive momentum,” he said.

“But unfortunately, internal dynamics have prevented them from being represented. You know, Lebanon, for example, now has a presidential vacuum, and it’s difficult for ministers or the prime minister to travel under these circumstances.”

Lebanon has been mired in its worst-ever financial crisis since late 2019. Despite the unprecedented crisis, which has thrown millions into poverty, its politicians continue to squabble, leaving the appointment of a new president in deadlock since October last year.

Arab participation in WEF and other such summits has an added urgency as the common threat of man-made climate change leads to evermore extreme weather events and environmental damage across the Middle East region.

“By 2050, we could lose 14 percent of the region’s GDP because of water issues,” said Kairouz. “If there is no action being taken very quickly, this region is one of the ones that will suffer the most because of climate change.”

However, with climate conference COP27 having taken place in Egypt last November, and with COP28 hosted by the UAE later this year, Kairouz says there is “a great opportunity to already set the stage for 2035 for the region to become a leader and pioneer.”

He added: “We have all the tools that we need — the financial tools and the expertise in terms of managing big projects — to really become a global leader in climate action.”

In addition, the Davos meeting will feature its highest-ever business participation, with more than 1,500 private sector leaders registered across 700 organizations, including more than 600 of the world’s top CEOs from WEF Partners.

Over 125 experts and heads of the world’s leading universities, research institutions and think tanks will also join the meeting.

According to organizers, the WEF meeting will also be climate-neutral for the sixth consecutive year.

Jordan’s Arab Bank reports 73% surge in profit to $544m in 2022

Jordan’s Arab Bank reports 73% surge in profit to $544m in 2022
Updated 7 sec ago

Jordan’s Arab Bank reports 73% surge in profit to $544m in 2022

Jordan’s Arab Bank reports 73% surge in profit to $544m in 2022

RIYADH: Jordan’s biggest lender Arab Bank has reported 73 percent rise in profit to $544 million in 2022, compared to $314.5 million in 2021, driven by robust growth in its core banking business across different markets. 

Amid higher operating income, Arab Bank’s net profit before provisions and tax increased by 23 percent to reach $1.35 billion in 2022, the bank said in a press statement.

Randa Sadik, CEO of Arab Bank, said that bank delivered sustainable growth rates during 2022 despite the economic challenges stemming from high inflation, increased interest rates and the devaluation in exchange rates of several currencies against the US dollar.

She further noted that Arab Bank group’s liquidity and asset quality remain solid where the loan-to-deposit ratio stood at 74.2 percent and credit provisions held against nonperforming loans continue to exceed 100 percent. 

It should be noted that the Arab Bank’s 2022 financial statements are subject to the approval of the Central Bank of Jordan. 

Sadik pointed out that the group is currently maintaining a strong capital base that is predominantly composed of common equity with a capital adequacy ratio of 16.6 percent. 

As profit soared in 2022, the bank’s board has recommended distribution of a 25 percent cash dividend to shareholders for the 2022 financial year.

Reaffirming Arab Bank’s commitment toward sustainability and its environmental, social and governance priorities, the bank has launched its Sustainable Finance Framework, in line with international principles, guidelines and best practices, Sadik added. 

It would be pertinent to mention here the Arab Bank is the first bank in Jordan to adopt such a framework. 

Reaffirming the progress of its digital transformation journey, Sadik added that the bank launched several digital banking services and solutions across various markets to meet the evolving needs and expectations of the different customer segments. 

Sabih Masri, chairman of the board of directors at Arab Bank, noted that the financial results reflect the bank’s unique footprint as well as its diversified franchise and rooted presence in several markets.

King Abdullah Port records 3.25% growth in container throughput

King Abdullah Port records 3.25% growth in container throughput
Updated 15 min 15 sec ago

King Abdullah Port records 3.25% growth in container throughput

King Abdullah Port records 3.25% growth in container throughput

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah Port recorded a 3.25 percent in container throughput in 2022 and cemented its position among the world’s fastest-growing ports, said a statement issued on Sunday.

“We are proud that King Abdullah Port reported a positive performance in 2022 notwithstanding international trade facing challenges arising from global economic headwinds. This achievement is a validation of its robust business model, its industry-leading capabilities and offerings, and the undisputed role it plays in Saudi Arabia’s logistics and maritime sectors,” said Jay New, the port’s CEO. 

The port has had a successful year in 2022, receiving recognition as the “second fastest-growing port in the world” in April from Alphaliner, a global leader in analyzing maritime transport data, port capabilities, and the future of vessels and shipping route development. 

The port has been honored twice with this prestigious ranking in the last four years, reflecting its commitment to continuous efforts to further develop its infrastructure, improve the depth and breadth of its offering, and enhance its operations.

The port handled 2,905,306 twenty-foot equivalent unit of containerized cargo at its container terminal up from 2,813,920 TEU recorded in 2021. In another major milestone, the port facilitated the shipping of 288 trucks to Australia as part of its first ro-ro trial.

“Despite the challenging outlook for 2023, we are optimistic that the port will emerge stronger this new year to cement our position as one of the fastest and top-performing growing ports globally. We remain committed to providing the highest level of service to our customers and partners and contributing to national efforts to achieve the goals of Vision 2030,” the CEO added.

In May 2022, the port reached a milestone of handling 15 million TEU in a record time since its container terminal started operations 9 years earlier. Additionally, it rose from second place to first place, making it the most efficient container port in the world, according to the 2021 Container Port Performance Index, published by the World Bank and S&P Global Intelligence in May 2022.

Substantial growth was also seen in most segments within King Abdullah Port’s non-containerized sector such as break bulk 143 percent, and agri-bulk 108 percent.  Other bulk categories increased 52 percent.

Saudi Cenomi Retail plans to divest 26 brands to focus on key offerings  

Saudi Cenomi Retail plans to divest 26 brands to focus on key offerings  
Updated 26 min 6 sec ago

Saudi Cenomi Retail plans to divest 26 brands to focus on key offerings  

Saudi Cenomi Retail plans to divest 26 brands to focus on key offerings  

RIYADH: Saudi franchise retailer Cenomi Retail plans to divest 26 non-strategic brands as part of the strategy to rationalize its brand portfolio, the company said in a Tadawul filing.  

Formally known as Fawaz Abdulaziz Alhokair & Co., the Riyadh-based firm said it wants to focus on “Champion Brands” occupying the number one or two positions in their sectors.  

In the first phase of its transformation program, Cenomi Retail has decided to divest three brands under Azal restaurant and Shawarma Almuhalhl for SR25 million ($6.66 million). 

This comes as Cenomi Retail has completed the acquisition of 30 Subway restaurants across the Kingdom while adding directly operated stores to its sub-franchisor store footprint. The company said this strategic growth in the food and beverage sector will be furthered by 17 additional Subway locations opening in 2023 as well as 15 Cinnabon openings. 

“We have made a number of well-considered transactions that fully support the ambitious transformation journey that we are taking Cenomi Retail on. This includes a stronger focus on key areas of growth, such as F&B, and our partnership to bring Subway to the Kingdom is a clear example of this in action,” said Mohamad Mourad, interim CEO, Cenomi Retail.  

He added that the company is firmly focused on being the retail brand partner of choice as well as the number one retailer for consumers in the Kingdom. “We will continue to identify and work with brands that align with our strategic goals, represent a diversified mix of sectors and support the country’s own ongoing transformation.” 

According to the statement, the company has already appointed advisers for the divestment process, and the brands earmarked for disposal are expected to have a revenue impact of SR288 million, with an uplift in the profitability of SR25 million accruing once the divestment program gets completed.  

“This program will support the evolution of the brand portfolio. It facilitates the continued focus on bringing the most coveted winning brands to the Kingdom to meet consumer needs and support the growth of retail across the country,” the company added.  

Earlier in January, to catalyze its digital transformation journey, Cenomi appointed three chief technology and information officers for Cenomi Group, Cenomi Centers and Cenomi Retail. 

Binoo Joseph joined as CTIO of Cenomi Group, Lijo Kankapadan as CTIO for Cenomi Centers, and Sunil Nair took on the role of CTIO in Cenomi Retail.  


Italy, Libya sign $8-billion gas deal as PM Meloni visits Tripoli

Italy, Libya sign $8-billion gas deal as PM Meloni visits Tripoli
Updated 29 January 2023

Italy, Libya sign $8-billion gas deal as PM Meloni visits Tripoli

Italy, Libya sign $8-billion gas deal as PM Meloni visits Tripoli
  • Meloni is the highest European official to visit oil-rich Libya since the country failed to hold presidential and parliamentary elections in December 2021.

CAIRO: Italy’s prime minister held talks in Libya on Saturday with officials from the country’s west-based government focusing on energy and migration, top issues for Italy and the European Union. During the visit, the two countries’ oil companies signed a gas deal worth $8 billion — the largest single investment in Libya’s energy sector in more than two decades.
Libya is the second North African country that Premier Giorgia Meloni, three months in office, visited this week. She is seeking to secure new supplies of natural gas to replace Russian energy amid Moscow’s war on Ukraine. She previously visited Algeria, Italy’s main supplier of natural gas, where she signed several memorandums.
Meloni landed at the Mitiga airport, the only functioning airport in Libya’s capital, Tripoli, amid tight security, accompanied by Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani and Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi, her office said. She met with Abdel Hamid Dbeibah, who heads one of Libya’s rival administrations, and held talks with Mohamed Younis Menfi, who chairs Libya’s ceremonial presidential council.
At a round-table with Dbeibah, Meloni repeated her remarks from Algeria, saying that while Italy wants to increase its profile in the region, it doesn’t seek a “predatory” role but wants to help African nations “grow and become richer.”
During the visit, Claudio Descalzi, the CEO of Italy’s state-run energy company, ENI, signed an $8 billion deal with Libya’s National Oil Corporation to develop two Libyan offshore gas fields. NOC’s chairman Farhat Bengdara also signed.
The agreement involves developing two offshore fields in Block NC-41, north of Libya and ENI said they would start pumping gas in 2026, and estimated to reach 750 million cubic feet per day, the Italian firm said in a statement.
Meloni, who attended the signing ceremony, called the deal “significant and historic” and said it will help Europe securing energy sources.
“Libya is clearly for us a strategic economic partner,″ Meloni said.
Saturday’s deal is likely to deepen the rift between the rival Libyan administrations in the east and west, similar to previous oil and military deals between Tripoli and Ankara. It has already exposed fractions within the Dbeibah’s government.
Oil Minister Mohamed Aoun, who did not attend the signing, criticized the deal on a local TV, saying it was “illegal” and claiming that NOC did not consult with his ministry.
Bengdara did not address Aoun’s criticism during his conference but said those who reject the deal could challenge it in court.
ENI has continued to operate in Libya despite ongoing security issues, producing gas mostly for the domestic market. Last year, Libya delivered just 2.63 billion cubic meters to Italy through the Greenstream pipeline — well below the annual levels of 8 billion cubic meters before Libya’s decline in 2011.
Instability, increased domestic demand and underinvestment has hampered Libya’s gas deliveries abroad, according to Matteo Villa of the Milan-based ISPI think tank. New deals “are important in terms of image,” Villa said.
Also, because of Moscow’s war on Ukraine, Italy has moved to reduce dependence on Russian natural gas. Last year, Italy reduced imports by two-thirds, to 11 billion cubic meters.
Meloni is the top European official to visit oil-rich Libya since the country failed to hold presidential and parliamentary elections in December 2021. That prompted Libya’s east-based parliament to appoint a rival government after Dbeibah refused to step down.
Libya has for most of the past decade been ruled by rival governments — one based in the country’s east, and the other in Tripoli, in the west. The country descended into chaos following the 2011 NATO-backed uprising turned civil war that toppled and later killed longtime autocratic ruler Muammar Qaddafi.
Piantedosi’s presence during the visit signaled that migration is a top concern in Meloni’s trip. The interior minister has been spearheading the government’s crackdown on charity rescue boats operating off Libya, initially denying access to ports and more recently, assigning ports in northern Italy, requiring days of navigation.
At a joint news conference with Meloni later Saturday, Dbeibah said that Italy would provide five “fully equipped” boats to Libya’s coast guard to help stem the flow of migrants to the European shores.
Alarm Phone, an activist network that helps bring rescuers to distressed migrants at sea, criticized Italy’s move to provide the patrol boats.
“While this is nothing new, it is worrying,” the group said in an email to The Associated Press. “This will inevitably lead to more people being abducted at sea and forced to return to places they had sought to escape from.”
Jalel Harchaoui, a Libya expert and an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, said that Meloni needs to show “some kind of a step-up, compared to her predecessor in terms of migration and energy policy in Libya.”
But “it will be difficult to improve upon Rome’s existing western Libya tactics, which have been chugging along,” he said.
The North African nation has also become a hub for African and Middle Eastern migrants seeking to travel to Europe, with Italy receiving tens of thousands every year.
Successive Italian governments and the European Union have supported the Libyan coast guard and militias loyal to Tripoli in hopes of curbing such perilous sea crossings.
The United Nations and rights groups, however, say those European policies leave migrants at the mercy of armed groups or confined in squalid detention centers rife with abuse.

One-stop shop helping revolutionize Mideast’s healthcare sector

One-stop shop helping revolutionize Mideast’s healthcare sector
Updated 28 January 2023

One-stop shop helping revolutionize Mideast’s healthcare sector

One-stop shop helping revolutionize Mideast’s healthcare sector
  • Abdul Latif Jameel Health to offer underserved populations transformative products, says CEO

RIYADH: In a short span of two years, Abdul Latif Jameel Health has successfully accelerated modern innovation to provide cutting-edge healthcare solutions to people who would otherwise not have access to it.

According to its CEO, the digitally enabled company is now focused on building a commercial platform to offer underserved populations products that are both impactful and transformative.

“Since most of the innovations happen far away in the US, Japan, or in Europe, which are the hubs of medical innovation, small companies would not initially come to our parts of the world,” Akram Bouchenaki told Arab News in an exclusive interview.

“However we, at Abdul Latif Jameel Health, are giving them a chance to very quickly broaden their footprint and immediately become a global organization with the benefit of having us as that one-stop shop organization that takes care of everything for them.”

He added: “We take the product, we register it with the local regulatory authorities, we do all the promotion, medical education to physicians and we also take care of pharmacovigilance and all the regulatory requirements. That’s really the model where we’re building with several companies.”

Innovative products

Illustrating his point of bringing innovative healthcare products to the market, Bouchenaki cites the example of a new handheld, ultrasound device from a company called Butterfly that they have introduced to the market.

It is the world’s only single probe, whole-body handheld ultrasound solution that connects to a cellphone, iPhone or Android, and then gives access to ultrasound imaging to users anytime, anywhere, and at a very affordable cost.

Healthcare providers can collect advanced imaging, perform rapid assessments, and guide critical procedures no matter where they are, and share those images seamlessly with doctors across the globe to help with reading and interpreting scans.

Fusing semiconductors, artificial intelligence, and cloud technology, the product is designed to dramatically expand the capabilities of practitioners working within and outside of hospitals in developed, underdeveloped, and remote areas. 

The company has plans to steadily grow its presence in the Kingdom, the region’s largest healthcare market. (Shutterstock)

“This is a revolutionary type of device that we introduced in India and in several markets in the Middle East including Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, and Turkiye and now we are expanding to Egypt, Morocco, and other markets. It will transform the way people are diagnosed,” he said.

Bouchenaki added: “It is our mission to collaborate with sector disruptors, who question how healthcare services have always been delivered, and how billions of people in underserved communities can be served better.”

He then went on to give another example of a product that his company is getting ready to introduce with EQRx, a new type of pharmaceutical company based in Boston. “EQRx has developed innovative technologies and treatments at a fraction of the cost of what current cancer therapies cost,” Bouchenaki revealed. “Their approach is really to make innovation in oncology highly affordable.”

Abdul Latif Jameel Health has entered into a strategic collaboration with EQRx for the commercialization of two affordable novel lung cancer therapeutics to people across the Middle East, Africa and Turkiye.

These therapies will offer treatment to patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer at a fraction of the cost of existing and traditional approaches.

“This agreement comes as we forge ahead in our mission to source, collaborate with, and fund innovators within the medical world that are re-examining how to improve the current healthcare landscape by disrupting existing methods,” said Bouchenaki.

Care medicine

Abdul Latif Jameel Health is keen on the development of care medicine, whereby the company is taking care to the patient as opposed to having a patient come to the hospital or the clinic.

“These interventions can have a high impact in large countries where there are remote locations,” Bouchenaki said.

He went on to cite the example of a device from a Japanese company called Melody International that will help in the maternal-fetal area to illustrate his point. 

We’re looking at growth in terms of technology because we are really building this company as a digitally enabled company from the beginning.

Akram Bouchenaki, Abdul Latif Jameel Health CEO

“We are going to introduce this device that would be able to monitor fetus health in utero while they are in the mother’s belly and the mother’s uterine health remotely,” he said. The cloud-based mobile wireless fetal monitor platform will soon be introduced across selected markets in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.

It is a convenient, smart, and highly portable remote mobile fetal monitoring device to assist in problematic or high-risk situations, enabling safer and more secure births for mothers.

Their integrated platform comprises a fetal heart monitor; a uterine contraction monitor; and a smart tablet device to see data in real time and connect to the internet.

Its effectiveness has been proven in a variety of clinical cases, including as a partial alternative to periodic medical checkups for pregnant women living in remote or isolated areas.

Key markets

Talking about Saudi Arabia, Bouchenaki said that it was critical for Abdul Latif Jameel Health to have a strong presence in the Kingdom as it is the largest healthcare market in the region by far.

“We have a team that is established in Saudi Arabia and we have an initial portfolio of products that we have brought to the Kingdom that we have registered and we’re getting ready to launch,” he explained.

He added: “We also have Japanese innovations that are already in the market like one for heart valve repair and another for post-stroke or post-trauma rehabilitation.”

Since Saudi Arabia is a key market for Abdul Latif Jameel Health, the company has plans to steadily grow its presence in the Kingdom.

Egypt, Bouchenaki said, is another very important market. “Like Saudi Arabia and Turkiye, we are also focusing on Egypt as we are looking at expanding in countries that have taken a very deliberate and proactive approach to the handling of public health issues,” he said.

“I’ve had a really good experience working in Egypt on their hepatitis C elimination program,” Bouchenaki continued. “It’s probably one of the first countries with such a high impact of hepatitis C and we’ll be able to eliminate the disease thanks to a very strong political commitment to fight this viral infection.”

With regard to the company’s outlook for the future, Bouchenaki said he saw Abdul Latif Jameel Health’s growth along three dimensions. “We see our growth in opening new territories and new markets,” he informed.

“We also see our growth in the expansion of our portfolio in terms of new disease areas — we’re looking at a number of spaces like rehab diseases, innovative surgical technologies, etc.”

“Lastly, we’re looking at growth in terms of technology because we are really building this company as a digitally enabled company from the beginning,” he added.

“The good news,” Bouchenaki concluded, “is that we don’t have a long history, so it allows us to leverage all the technology that is at our disposal today to have the fastest and most positive impact on the market.”