Jeddah Economic Forum

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The JEF theme was ‘The 21st Century Transformation: The Impact of Global Forces’, chosen in reference to McKinsey’s Five Global Forces of change which would shape the world for the coming decade.

On 19 March, the inauguration of the eleventh Jeddah Economic Forum took place at the Jeddah Hilton with H.E. Prime Minister Rajab Tayyib Erdogan of Turkey and HRH Prince Khalid al-Faisal, Governor of Makkah Province, speaking. The forum was convened amid a backdrop of world events, with a no-fly zone being enforced in Libya and Japan battling to contain any nuclear fallout from the earthquake and tsunami it had recently faced. Prime Minister Erdogan specifically praised the theme, saying it was highly relevant and timely.

On March 20, the conference formally began with Mishal Husain, BBC World News Anchor and Presenter of flagship news programme Impact, acting as the Day Moderator. The first session of Day 1 was ‘The Impact of Global Forces’, where Saudi Arabia’s achievement as the fifth most transformed country over the last forty years according to the United Nations was celebrated, but it was also stressed that a new transformation for the country required ‘The 3Es’ as a priority – education, employment and entrepreneurship. Session 2 was a Global Leader Dialogue session with Prime Minister Erdogan speaking and fielding questions about every topic, including his first official statement on the no-fly zone in Libya. Session 3 was on the topic of ‘Prosperous Citizenship’ about the priorities for the Saudi Middle Class. Session 4 was titled ‘The Great Transformation’ (reflected in the Global Force of ‘The Great Rebalancing’).

On March 21, Day 2 began with a session on ‘The State as Equity Partner: The Future of Public-Private Partnerships’ and a direct address to the Global Force, ‘The Market State’. The second session on ‘The Productivity Imperative’, a Global Force combined with another of ‘The Global Grid’, addressed how the region and specifically the Kingdom could boost its productivity through technology. The session on ‘Beyond Calamities’ dealt with the impact of natural disasters on the world and its preparedness, particular in relation to Saudi Arabia and Jeddah, and naturally referenced the Global Force of ‘Pricing the Planet’. The day ended with a National Leader Dialogue with the Governor of Hail Province in Saudi Arabia, one of 13 provinces comprising the Kingdom.

On March 22, the final day of JEF started with a half day on Islamic Finance, a $1 trillion global sector. Following an interview with Sh. Saleh Kamel, a pioneer of Islamic Finance, one of the most prestigious panels on global Islamic finance in recent history was convened on the topic of the future of the sector in the 21st century. The second half of Day 3 began with a session on Saudi Investment Outlook. The final session of the conference was a National Leader Dialogue with HRH Prince Khalid al-Faisal.

Much of this session was indeed historic, unprecedented and epic. Ten young men and 10 young women each asked Prince Khalid any question they liked, in full view of the JEF audience. Once the Q & A part of the session had finished, Prince Khalid removed his black Saudi mishlah (Saudi cloak) to reveal he was wearing a white suit jacket with this thob (white Arabian dress) and then wore a portable microphone headset (received by much wolf-whistling, whooping and applause). Prince Khalid then proceeded to give a TED-style off-the-cuff speech to the audience as well as the youth on stage, highly unusual not only for a Saudi leader but for many leaders in the region. His last words, as those of JEF, were, ‘In the name of the King, we are at your service.

Prince Khalid’s speech was indeed unprecedented, but much of JEF was innovative as well. The conference was the first mass-consensor technology macroeconomic forum in the Middle East, where members of the audience, both male and female, were voting in multiple sessions and seeing the results instantly. On all three days, female moderators and speakers were highly prominent, particularly as last year only one Saudi woman had spoken at the conference. Many of the world’s, region’s and Saudi’s leading companies and institutions were present at the event.

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