Israel, US startups to join 100 Arab firms at World Economic Forum push
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Israel, US startups to join 100 Arab firms at World Economic Forum push

Selected local companies filling region-specific gaps, some operating under the most adverse circumstances

From (L-R) Chief Business Officer Murat Sonmez, Chief Commissioner of Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority Hani Mulki, former British prime minister Gordon Brown, Vice-Chairman of GE John Rice, Chief Executive Officer of Crescent Petroleum Majid Jafar, and Chief Executive Officer of Meridiam Infrastructure Thierry Deau attend a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum (WEF) on the Middle East and North Africa 2015 on May 23, 2015 in the Dead Sea resort of Shuneh, west of the Jordanian capital, Amman (AFP/Khalil Mazraawi)
From (L-R) Chief Business Officer Murat Sonmez, Chief Commissioner of Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority Hani Mulki, former British prime minister Gordon Brown, Vice-Chairman of GE John Rice, Chief Executive Officer of Crescent Petroleum Majid Jafar, and Chief Executive Officer of Meridiam Infrastructure Thierry Deau attend a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum (WEF) on the Middle East and North Africa 2015 on May 23, 2015 in the Dead Sea resort of Shuneh, west of the Jordanian capital, Amman (AFP/Khalil Mazraawi)

Startups from Israel, the United States and France will join some 100 from Arab countries, including Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Lebanon, that are said to be shaping the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” at a meeting to be held at the Dead Sea in Jordan next week.

The World Economic Forum and the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private sector arm of the World Bank Group, have partnered to bring together the gathering, the first of its kind, the website said. And while the Israeli, US and French startups will be part of the forum, the focus will be on the Arab world.

The Arab startups were chosen in collaboration with experts and entrepreneurs operating in the region. Representatives of the selected companies will meet 1,000 leaders from business, government and civil society at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa at the Dead Sea in Jordan, on May 19-21.

A vast majority of the 100 companies are building their business model, products and services on new technologies like artificial intelligence, blockchain, and satellite technology – “pioneering a generational transformation in the Middle East and North Africa – while at the same time serving basic needs such as transportation, communication or payment processing,” the World Economic Forum said in a statement.

The Jordanian bank of the Dead Sea. (CC BY jemasmith, Flickr)
The Jordanian bank of the Dead Sea. (CC BY jemasmith, Flickr)

Among the companies’ technologies are those that let their users order food home-cooked by refugees, teach children to code, get medical support online, make payments securely, and chat with bots in Arabic. In fact, many startups are closing region-specific gaps in services and products, for example by providing telehealth services in Arabic, curating Arabic news sources, using GPS to guide product deliveries or facilitating hotel reservations by phone for users who are not comfortable paying with credit cards online, the statement said.

The participants will discuss how new technologies can be used to create employment, encourage entrepreneurship and push growth in a region that has a young population.

“You can see the impact and ingenuity of Arab startups everywhere in the Arab world. We see impressive momentum and — with sovereign wealth funds and traditional family businesses — the emergence of a whole new type of venture capitalist. For me, this is the biggest underreported story in the region,” said Mirek Dusek, head of Middle East and North Africa at the World Economic Forum.

Entrepreneurs will be joining the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa from host country Jordan as well as Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, the Palestinian territories, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

Many of the businesses have been founded under the most challenging circumstances. Arabic voice-recognition software was developed in Syria, the first e-mobile wallet in Libya, a labor marketplace in Yemen and mobile games by a team in Gaza, the statement said.

“While the initiative seeks startups specifically in the Arab world, given the clear entrepreneurship imperative there, the meeting will also integrate select international startups from the US, France, Israel and elsewhere,” the statement said.

“It’s refreshing to hear the stories of entrepreneurs in the Middle East and North Africa who are talking about hope, opportunities and are creating jobs for young people,” said Philippe Le Houérou, IFC chief executive officer. “The region needs peace and security. It also needs a vibrant private sector — with dynamic entrepreneurs leading the way – to help create inclusive and sustainable growth.”

The initiative has the support of King Abdullah II and Queen Rania Al Abdullah, who will attend the conference. This year marks the Forum’s ninth meeting in Jordan and the 16th meeting in the region. More than 1,000 business and political leaders and representatives from civil society, international organizations, youth and the media from over 50 countries will participate under the theme, “Enabling a Generational Transformation,” the statement said.

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