Wednesday, 15 May 2024 17:53

UN forum in Bahrain: Innovation as the key to solving global problems

A wide view of attendees to the World Entrepreneurs Investment Forum (WEIF) in Bahrain.

A major UN forum opened on Tuesday in Bahrain. Its mission: to empower entrepreneurial leaders who can build a brighter future and achieve sustainable development for all.

Getting under way in Manama, the fifth World Entrepreneurs Investment Forum (WEIF), with a key focus on Arab and African regions, is being held under the theme of ‘Achieving the [Sustainable Development Goals] through Fostering Innovation and Economic Growth’.

Over the next three days, the forum will weigh urgent issues such as poverty, inequality, and climate change, examined within the framework of the SDGs.

With a robust coalition of stakeholders driving the agenda, the WEIF sets the stage for transformative dialogue and action-oriented initiatives aimed at reshaping the global economic landscape while advancing sustainable development objectives.

Under the stewardship of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) Investment and Technology Promotion Office in Bahrain, the WEIF has garnered support from a consortium of influential partners.

Collaborators include the League of Arab States, the Union of Arab Chambers, the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa, the Shenzhen Federation for Entrepreneurship Promotion, alongside various local, regional, and international entities.

Private sector’s critical role

In an interview with UN News, Fatou Haidara, UNIDO Deputy Director-General, emphasized the pivotal role of the private sector in economic development, particularly in the developing world.

She highlighted, “It shows the importance of [this] gathering, not only for the private sector but for all actors, policymakers, academia, investment, and financial institutions to come together and see how we can accelerate implementation of the SDGs.”

Highlighting the imperative of working together, Ms. Haidara asserted: “The challenges we are facing today cannot be tackled by one entity, one group. We need collective effort.”

With a focus on fostering partnerships, WEIF aims to galvanize international cooperation, uniting Arab and African stakeholders to promote investment and entrepreneurship development.

Ms. Haidara also underscored the pivotal role of the private sector in driving investment, technology, and innovation, stressing that these key players will accelerate SDG implementation.


Rethink, reshape development investing

During the opening session, Rola Dashti, Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), articulated the forum’s commitment to translating the SDGs into tangible outcomes.

“The theme of our Forum, Six Transition Investment Pathways to deliver the SDGs, challenges us to rethink and reshape our approaches across sectors such as energy and digital connectivity,” she explained.

Ms. Dashti urged stakeholders to leverage digital transformation and enhance education systems to combat climate change and create inclusive jobs, emphasizing the urgent need for strategic partnerships to address pressing global challenges.

‘Architects of the next revolution’

Ms. Dashti went on to highlight the pivotal role of young leaders and entrepreneurs, stressing that they are “the architects of the next revolution in global development... Let us be inspired by the collaborative spirit of this forum and remember that our work does not end here.”

She encouraged the Forums’ participants to harness their ideas to bridge the ‘digital divide’, create sustainable environments, and forge pathways out of poverty.

Academia’s role

WEIF also underscores the importance of partnerships across sectors, including academia.

In that context, Lydia Takyi from Ghana’s AAMUSTED University emphasized the forum’s timeliness in addressing employment challenges faced by graduates.

It was vital, she said, to provide students with entrepreneurship skills – the University’s core mandate – and access to smart finance and networking opportunities, underscoring the role of academic institutions in fostering innovation and economic growth.

The WEIF also calls for academic institutions to escalate investment in research and development, as such a strategic move can birth new technologies capable of addressing some of the world’s most daunting challenges.

The Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania is implementing that as it has found ways to empower its students even before they graduate. It has set up a Sokoine University Graduates Entrepreneurs Cooperative, SUGECO, which works as an incubator for graduates.

Speaking to UN News on the margins of the forum, Revocatus Kimario, Executive Director of SUGECO, says, “We want to commercialize agriculture; we have the students; now we provide them with entrepreneurship skills as well as technology.”

Currently, SUGECO has established a solar-powered irrigation system. The technology allows the Cooperative’s members to farm sustainably, and now they have even secured a market for sweet water lemon in Dubai, UAE.

“We want to make farming the first choice and not the last choice for university graduates,” says Mr. Kimario, who attended the forum as an entrepreneur.

Financing and networking

Promoting entrepreneurship by providing access to smart finance and networking opportunities is another approach that UNIDO is citing to promote the SDGs.

Olive Zaitun Kigongo, President of the Uganda Chamber of Commerce, notes that today, African countries “are giving away our resources to developed countries. We are exporting jobs and resources.”

“Lots of Ugandans are working abroad because they cannot be employed in Uganda,” she told a panel discussion on building sustainable partnerships.

Ms. Kigongo added, “We must add value to our resources; without that, small and medium enterprises will never grow. Let’s join hands, as two heads are better than one. You have money, and we have resources.”

Bahrain and multilateralism

“The timing of...the WEIF this year coincides with the Arab League summit, where the Secretary-General António Guterres will be attending in person,” according to Khaled El Mekwad, UN Resident Coordinator in Bahrain.

“The sequence of the two events reflects the increasing role Bahrain is playing in the multilateral platform and positioning itself as a proactive player,” he explains.

“The holding of the WEIF this year coincides with the formulation of the UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework for the period 2025 to 2029. And what we did this year, we held a series of consultations and negotiations with the government and national stakeholders at different levels to be able to formulate the new cooperation framework.”

Mr. El Mekwad said this year was the first-time civil society was included as part of the national stakeholders, in addition to the private sector and other development partners in Bahrain.

“The national ownership was reflected in the discussions where the government of Bahrain embraced the consultations and the negotiations, and we came together with the main pillars of the new cooperation framework, which will be the cooperation framework for Bahrain,” he concluded.

‘Believe in yourself’

Reem Seyam, President of the Economic Businesswoman Council in the Federation of Egyptian Chamber of Commerce and a Board Member of the World Chamber Federation, is among the beneficiaries of UNIDO training programmes.

Speaking to UN News, she had a message for women entrepreneurs:

“I received UNIDO training in 2015 here in Bahrain, through the UNIDO-ITPO office. I really benefited from this training. It helped me in my business and opened doors to financial institutions and banks. My message to women entrepreneurs is believe in yourself.”

‘Orange economy’

On Wednesday, WEIF 2024 will focus on, among other topics, harnessing agricultural technology for food security, and the role of the so-called ‘orange economy’ – made up of creative sectors that can help fast track the SDGs.

Among the key speakers on the forum’s second day will be Mr. Felipe Buitrago, Former Minister of Culture, Colombia, who is known as the founding father of the Orange Economy.

According to the UN, the creative economy is an evolving concept based on the contribution and potential of creative assets to contribute to economic growth and development. It embraces economic, cultural and social aspects interacting with technology, intellectual property and tourism objectives: it is a set of knowledge-based, and thus more localized, economic activities with a development dimension and cross-cutting linkages at macro and micro levels to the overall economy.