Improve and simplify the lives of people
Two interwoven themes are likely to dominate the business and political landscape of the Middle East and North Africa. The first is around the well-being of the region’s citizens, and how smart governments will continue to improve and simplify the lives of their people. While regulation and investment will play huge roles in this improvement, it is technology and collaboration with the region’s tech community which will act as the critical enablers to lifting the region’s fortunes. This second theme, equally as significant, has already begun, and will pick up pace in the coming years.
In today’s world, the prosperity of any given city largely depends on its ability to drive a technology agenda alongside its social and economic goals. From the environment to education, from healthcare to housing, and from tourism to transportation, technology has a powerful role to play in improving how people live their lives, and ultimately, how economies thrive. Digital technologies can also have a positive impact on inclusion, reduction of poverty, improvement of quality and access to healthcare and education, as well as a cutback in CO2 emissions. Already, we are witnessing initiatives across the region where government and private sector are coming together to build solutions that elevate the digital capabilities of a country.
Until today (Jan.2019), much of the Arab world has largely missed out on the transformational impact of the internet revolution. Only 14 percent of people in the region, from Morocco to Pakistan and from Turkey to Sudan, have access to a bank account, according to the World Bank. That’s about 600 million people without the ability to make digital payments or store cash securely. Change is coming fast, and this presents a massive business and investment opportunity. By 2020, mobile internet penetration is expected to reach 48 percent, up from 38 percent in 2016. E-commerce in the region, which is currently at just two per cent of all retail sales, is set to grow by 16.4 percent over the next three and a half years, making the market worth around $43bn by 2022, according to Fitch Ratings.
Pathways to Prosperity, a commission on technology and development, argues that while job losses dominate the conversation in the developed world, this sentiment must not hold back the progression of technology in the developing world, where technology is a catalyst for positive change. Rules for the private and public sector need to be established to protect all people and ensuring tech advancements are inclusive and driven by a purpose to progress society as a whole. Developing countries have to play a greater role in the creation of global digital infrastructure and standards, so that the specific nuances of these markets are factored into the mix.