Last weekend I had a rare opportunity to spend 36 hours at the World Economic Forum in Jordan. As I wrote, the event happened on the east shore f the dead-sea, the hospitality was amazing, and the discussions were fantastic. I made a lot of new friends from countries I had never visited before, and got invited to come visit them and see development for myself in first person, which I hope to do in the near future.
Since I had a crazy week this week (we are raising capital for a new company), I didn’t get a chance to share the stories, but I took some time in the middle of a quiet Friday night to write a bit of the impressions I collected out there. I will set the blog to post once a day so if you follow through the long weekend/week you will get the entire story.
The first session was the one I already discussed about shaking the tree (or the oil-rig), so I will not repeat it. The plenary met afterwards for a special address by his majesty King Abdullah II, king of Jordan. The king is probably the most impressive head of state I have ever had the pleasure to see, hear, and in his case – shake hands and discuss with. Whenever I have the opportunity to hear his thoughts (he spoke extremely eloquently in Davos to a group of YGL members) I hope that he can project his ideas to the rest of the Middle East. If you subscribe (as I do) to Daniel Lubitsky’s view of the Middle East today – we do not have an Arab-Israeli conflict or an Arab-West conflict, we have a conflict between moderates and extremists, King Abdullah is probably the leader of moderates in the Middle East. The king was also one of the only people to mention the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and project hope that we can resolve it this year, as he sees new opportunities (which we can avoid squandering this time) coming into discussions on both sides.
The king highlighted his views on a number of the issues facing the region which included:
- Water is probably the most essential resource in the region – we have to solve the issue of water availability or we will go to war over water sooner than we realize. Peace depends on water today and in the near term.
- Relying on fossil fuels is not a sustainable approach – The region will have to realize the industry is cyclical and find a path beyond fossil fuels for economic growth
- Transport system solutions are required – 70% of the region’s population will end up in urban centers. We need to transport them efficiently (SA: …and we need to avoid what is happening right now in Amman, where the influx of immigration is creating transport nightmares)
Interestingly all of these issues, including water are directly linked to an energy/fuel strategy for the region. Most states in the MENA (Middle East / North Africa) region still subsidize fuel at the pump one way or another (some more than others), mostly for historic reasons. All would like to walk away from that reverse tax (giving to the car owner at the expense of taxing and spending on the poor), yet that move is a very tough move for social impact reasons.
The king made a great observation about the current state of conflict -
"Stop thinking of Peace as an end [of the conflict] but the beginning of an era that opens opportunities for growth. We must think of the day after Peace"
his point is we all must create the future we want not wait for others to do it for us.
His three action items to the assembled group were
- Think large
- Focus on results
- Dare to achieve them
There was a very interesting panel later on in the day – more tomorrow