The Milken Institute Mena summit kicked off in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday with speakers highlighting investment opportunities in the Middle East and North Africa region and how countries are diversifying their economies to boost growth and create employment.
Waleed Al Muhairi, deputy group chief executive officer of Mubadala Investment Company, said Mubadala was created essentially to help in diversifying the economy and also it invested by creating engines of growth into a dozen or so areas.
He cited the examples of Cleveland Clinic and Strata, which helped in creating several jobs for locals as well as contributing to the revenues of Mubadala.
“We deployed capital in those growth engines that will benefit Abu Dhabi and the growing economy. For example, health care represents less than 3 per cent of our overall portfolio but the potential impact of it would make Abu Dhabi and the UAE a magnet for health care tourism.”
“We invest responsibly and if we didn’t have that, we would be a government institution that is project-based. “
Mohammad Al Shaya, executive chairman of Kuwait’s Alshaya group, said his company invested heavily in retail, creating thousands of jobs in the country.
The group which has 80 different businesses will continue to invest in and outside the country, Al Shaya said. It is building a huge retail and leisure complex in Riyadh, where construction is expected to begin later this year.
When asked about the challenges in the retail sector, he said although online retail is growing faster, he is optimistic of the company’s growth.
“Retail will be challenging but shops won’t die. They are cultural centres of the Gulf because of the weather. It is a lifestyle.”
Mubadala’s Al Muhairi also said they plan to deploy capital in technology to leapfrog into the changing competitive world.
“We are great users of technology but we are not developers of technology. We need to figure how we can be developers of technology. That will help us carry forward and create jobs,” he said, adding: “we as a region are not creating enough jobs.”
Speaking on food security, he pointed out that the UAE imports 80 to 85 per cent of food. “That is a security issue, a matter of life and death for us. Only technology can help us to be the producer of food.”
Mubadala made Dh55.1 billion commitment to the Dh367.4 billion SoftBank Vision Fund last year and invested in about 16 different hi-tech projects in silicon valley as part of a partnership with the group.
Patrice Motsepe, founder and chairman of African Rainbow Minerals said Africa is a good place to do business but there are several challenges including a lack of significant private sector investment.
“There are some countries that do the sort of things that are out of line of competitiveness and attractiveness but overall Africa is good place for investment. Africa will significantly take off when there is significant private sector investment.”
“We are excited about young Africans studying in the US and UK and bringing skills of entrepreneurship and innovation to the continent.
He also said there was a trade of $220 billion between Africa and China last year.
The two-day Milken summit will feature sessions on capital market developments, health care, education, food security, technology, among other things.
More than 500 delegates from across the world are attending the event including high-profile executives, influential investors, political leaders, government officials, heads of sovereign wealth funds and philanthropists. Former US president George W Bush will speak on Thursday.
The event takes place as the Middle East countries undertake reforms to cope with low oil prices and introduce new measures to increase revenue.