Davos: “Business has a responsibility to take lead and start to help finding solutions to the Arab world’s problems, and we cannot sit back and rely on the progressive policies of the UAE government to solve everything in the region,” said Badr Jafar, Chief Executive Officer of UAE-based Crescent Enterprises which employs 5,000 people in 22 countries across five continents.

“It is the duty of private sector to step up to the plate. Many of the region’s problems can be tackled with operations with perfectly good business cases to back them. We need normal businesses but focused on the important areas that will make a long term change,” said Jafar, talking to Gulf News at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

“For example, there is a desperate need for job creation in the Arab world but new jobs should be productive and encouraging of people’s talent, which will allow them to feel engaged and the danger of working in a bureaucracy and becoming complacent.”

Pace of change

Jafar added that finding relevant education and skills in the region is another issue that needs to be addressed. “Education is not keeping up with the pace of change. Just go into a classroom and you will find that the environment will be same as when I was at school, and probably my father’s time as well: classrooms filled with desks, children all of the same age, who did not chose their subjects but were given to them, and doing 6 to 8 one-hour lessons a day, getting ready for a written exam. Where is the change and or even readiness to look at new ideas?

“We also need to welcome entrepreneurship but encourage the effort into sector that will make a long term difference such as health care. The Arab population has a major problem with obesity, and if a new business working on normal business lines seeking a return, could also do something about this issue there would be a win-win.

“We need to channel energy into these sort of solutions. There will never be one answer and we will find all sorts of different solutions, both large and small but they should all be engaged in problem solving. And when a good idea arrives we should be ready to allow it to spread across borders which is something that Arab brands have been very poor at doing” said Jafar.

Image of the region

Jafar pointed out that very few Arab business or brands have gone international. In Brand Finance’s annual ranking, of the 300, there is only one Arab brand which is Emirates taking 171st place. “Where are the Arab Apple, Google, or Spotify?” he asked. “The point it that such brands add to the image of the region. For example, the Emirates brand speaks of reliability, hospitality, and innovation, and that all reflects back indirectly into the region, with a more powerful global impact than a government initiative.

“We all need to help move the needle,” said Jafar. “We need policies that listen to business needs, like patent protection, improve regulations and structures that allow people to start businesses quickly, and reduce the cost of doing business. But then let the young people of the Arab world do the heavy lifting. There is masses of ability and it just has to be released.”