Aug 04 2012
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100 Leading Entrepreneurs from MENA region, Pakistan and Turkey tackle global issues
Co-founded in 2007 by Deirdre M. Coyle, Jr. and Anne Habiby, AllWorld's mission is to find and scale all the growth entrepreneurs of the emerging world by 2015. Its first major initiative began in 2008 with the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA), when AllWorld launched the Saudi Fast Growth 100, the first national program that highlights fast-growing entrepreneurial companies. "This journey, which began in Saudi Arabia," commented co-founder Coyle, "has taken us around the world and in July we welcomed over 100 extraordinary entrepreneurs and partners to the AllWorldSummit@Harvard. These are the companies leading economic reform and progress in their countries and regions, and when they come together there is no end to the problems they can solve."
For three days, some of the world's top performing entrepreneurs attended sessions and brainstormed with illustrious Harvard faculty, investors, and corporate leaders from around the world. National and international VIPs joining the entrepreneurs included U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia James Smith, Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust, Richard Crosby, General Manager, Middle East & Africa, Innovative Plastics for SABIC (the largest company in the Middle East), executives from the International Finance Corporation ( IFC ) of the World Bank, Fahd Al Rasheed, CEO of King Abdullah Economic City, renowned competitive strategy expert and Harvard Business School Professor Michael Porter, Dean of the Graduate School of Design Mohsen Mostafavi and Founding Editor of Inc. magazine and of the Inc. 500 George Gendron, among others.
The importance of this group was demonstrated by the reception they received from Harvard President Drew Gilpin-Faust. "We are delighted to have such an accomplished group of visitors from the Middle East," commented President Gilpin-Faust as she welcomed the entrepreneurs to the summit on July 9th. A special welcome was directed to U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia James Smith who led the day two session on "Accessing the Saudi Market - the engine of the region."
"At a time of significant change in the region and in light of the possibilities that the future offers, you represent the opportunity for an economic spring," emphasized President Gilpin-Faust. "We are very pleased to be able to work with you as you pursue these important goals. And we are especially glad to recognize your commitment to innovation and entrepreneurship at a time when we ourselves are increasingly dedicated to advancing activities and understanding in these areas."
Harvard Graduate School of Design Dean Mohsen Mostafavi added his welcome to the summit attendees and noted the importance of considering the relationship between great ideas and the environment that makes these ideas and actions possible. He emphasized the need to balance economic advancement with the needs of the environment and the future landscape of the region.
Opening keynote speaker George Gendron set the stage for what was going to be an unforgettable three-day summit when he engaged the participants in a lively discussion on entrepreneurship. "We don't need to encourage people to be entrepreneurs," asserted Gendron. "It is a fundamental part of our DNA to build things." He noted that "scalability is key to the success of entrepreneurship," and emphasized that "entrepreneurship creates a vital set of life skills."
Focused on AllWorld's "Solve It!" theme, the summit offered participants a wide range of sessions that addressed issues such as "Mega-trends and Mega-cities," "Your China Strategy - exploring entrepreneurial and innovative opportunities," "Building King Abdullah Economic City - Tapping the Saudi Growth Engine," "The Future of Plastic - Opportunities with SABIC and Global Mega-trends,""Education and Technology - the Future of Education," as well as additional sessions on agriculture, renewable energy and the future of business in Afghanistan.
"This was a valuable three days spent here at Harvard," noted Ozan Acar,, economic policy analyst at the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV). "After all the discussions with these very successful people I realized the value of being connected. I spoke with some entrepreneurs from Jordan and I realized they are all connected with the Saudi market, with Egypt and with Tunisia."
Acar commented that, "as a Turk we are more interested in the European Union (EU) market and after this summit, I realize we are really missing an opportunity in the MENA market. In Turkey we generally view the MENA market primarily as a place we can export to, but I now realize there are many highly talented and successful companies that Turkish companies can partner with. " Acar added that he is leaving with long-lasting friendships and potential business partnerships."The networking was excellent."
Rafah Al Khatib, a Saudi-based entrepreneur and founder of 3eesho, was one of several female entrepreneurs at the summit. "The summit was a great opportunity for me to be surrounded by other entrepreneurs from the MENA region and elsewhere," explained Al Khatib. Thanks to the networking opportunities and the panel discussions Al Khatib noted that the summit "was eye-opening for new ideas, new experiences and new discoveries." Describing the summit as a "once in a lifetime experience," Al Khatib said attending the summit was "the best reward for a whole year's hard work!"
Leànne Viviers, SME Toolkit Program Manager, IFC said, "The collaboration between AllWorld and IFC 's SME Toolkit aims to inspire and enable SMEs in developing countries. We are putting together our resources and network to reach out and convey to them that with the right mindset and proper management skills they too can overcome serious challenges in their markets and prosper as businesses."
Day two of the summit focused largely on how to access the thriving market in Saudi Arabia. The workshop on Doing Business in Saudi Arabia was led by an all star line up of the Honorable James B. Smith, United States Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Amer Kayani, Senior Counselor for Commercial Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh, and Dr. Richard Crosby, General Manager of the Middle East & Africa for Innovative Plastics at Saudi Arabian Basic Industries (SABIC), the largest company in the Middle East.
"The development of an integrated global economy fueled by technological change is the defining event of our time," commented Ambassador Smith, who has twice hosted the Saudi100 and Arabia500 at his diplomatic residence in Riyadh. "As the technological revolution gains momentum," he added, "it is increasingly clear that most of the innovation is driven by small and medium-sized enterprises.
AllWorld's Summit is very timely and I am pleased to see so many young and emerging entrepreneurs in the audience." The Ambassador asserted that the challenge all countries face is creating an enabling environment in which SMEs can prosper. "My hope is that through partnerships with American businesses, the Arabia500 will capitalize on the opportunities inherent in shaping the knowledge economy and realize the profits that come with it."
Ambassador Smith further explained that despite political upheaval across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, sovereign-debt crises in the Euro-zone, and continued weakness in other major global economies, Saudi Arabia's economy continues to expand at a healthy pace, with real GDP growth estimated at around 5 percent in 2012. With $577 billion in GDP, Saudi Arabia represents 25 percent of the Arab world's economic output and generates approximately 50 percent of the entire stock market capitalization in the MENA region. The Kingdom's foreign-exchange reserves are estimated at nearly $550 billion and it is one of the least indebted countries in the world.
Senior Counselor Amer Kayani presented an overview of business and investment opportunities in Saudi Arabia and noted that approximately 1,000 projects valued at more than $1 trillion are currently underway in the Kingdom. In the midst of the Arab Spring, the Saudi Arabian Government has committed significant resources to improve social and economic outcomes, explained Kayani. As part of this strategy, $67 billion was recently allocated for 500,000 new housing units, as well as $6.72 billion for transportation and telecommunications projects that include 36,800km of new roads and four new airports. Likewise, a multi-billion dollar metro rail project in Riyadh was recently announced and $22 billion was approved for revamping the education infrastructure.
"Improvement of the investment climate continues to be an important part of the Saudi Government's broader program to liberalize the country's trade and investment regime, to diversify an economy overly dependent on oil, and to promote employment for a young population," said Kayani. The Saudi legal system, consistent with the Islamic practice of respecting private property, is becoming stronger at protecting the acquisition and disposition of private property, asserted Kayani. He noted that Saudi Arabia recently undertook a comprehensive revision of its laws covering intellectual property rights to bring them in line with the WTO.
Dr. Richard Crosby of SABIC led the second part of the Saudi workshop which focused on the petrochemical industry. He began the session on the future of plastics by saying "Everyone look around you, I am sure you see plastic within a foot of your seat. Plastic is everywhere. Saudi Arabia is the epicenter of an emerging economy and a new value chain around petrochemicals and plastics," explained Crosby. "SABIC's goal is to expand downstream industry opportunities by engaging Saudi and regional entrepreneurs to identify new opportunities. To put this in perspective, Saudi Arabia's thermo-plastics are where the U.S. thermo-plastic industry was 30 years ago," he added, "so there is a big opportunity."
"I came to the summit for one very simple reason," said Crosby. "We are looking at demand creation in Saudi Arabia and also in the region, but mainly in Saudi Arabia. We have good entrepreneurs, but we need more of them," emphasized Crosby. "The summit gave us the opportunity to meet entrepreneurs and to show them what we are doing, and the opportunities we think exist in Saudi Arabia."
"I met some extremely exciting people, many of them Saudis but also many from the GCC and the Levant," said Crosby, who noted that he was made aware of AllWorld's data on the fast growth companies. "I'm looking at the data now to get a better understanding of who is where. This is an opportunity for me to see what exists in the SME region, which we think is critical for growth in the region," added Crosby.
One very unique aspect of the summit is that it was one of the first - if not the first - to be held in the U.S. that showcased leading fast growth Pakistani entrepreneurs and facilitated direct networking with other entrepreneurs in the MENA region and Turkey. Over 30 percent of the participants were from Pakistan.
Several representatives from Cyan, the second largest private equity fund in Pakistan and AllWorld's partner for the Pakistan 100 attended the summit. Isfandiyar Shaheen , a Principal and Co-head of Growth Equity at Cyan noted that the summit excelled in "making us aware of what other entrepreneurs are doing in the region. One big reason we wanted to partner with AllWorld," he added "is that it opens gateways to other economies and makes us aware of what's happening elsewhere. It's just like seeing AllWorld's Visibility Economics in action."
Monis Rahman, founder and owner of ROZEE.PK, Pakistan's largest career site, publishes more jobs online than all the newspapers combined in Pakistan. Over the last few months, Rahman met with Saudi100|Arabia500 winners, including Ihab El Sammanudi of Sukoon (#1 company on the first Saudi100), Mohammed Fatahi of BabyFatahi, and Enas Hashani of Rumman (#1 start up on the second Saudi100). ROZEE PK is currently expanding into Saudi Arabia and Malaysia.
Yaruz Eroglu, owner and General Manager of SEM Plastik in Istanbul, Turkey, emphasizes that participating in the summit "has made me more optimistic and more motivated. This is very important for an entrepreneur because these convictions are what keep you going. In our region, in addition to these personal convictions we need to have political change, because if the political environment is not the right one, individual efforts will not be enough to make the necessary changes."
"The entrepreneurs at this summit are different," added Eroglu. "They are not the "old-boy" network. They are the future. They are entrepreneurs who are also interested in changing and improving their communities and becoming public opinion leaders...maybe future prime ministers!"
Addressing a packed lecture hall at Harvard's Graduate School of Design on the last day of the summit, Fahd Al Rasheed, CEO, King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) and CEO of Emaar.E.C., explained that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia launched the development of six planned economic cities six years ago. These planned cities are driven by public-private partnerships and are strategically located to utilize regional strengths. The cities provide incubation space critical to Saudi Arabia's efforts to diversify its oil-based economy. "These are cities created from scratch by the private sector," noted Al Rasheed.
Economic reforms in Saudi Arabia are key to growing private sector investment in the Kingdom according to Al Rasheed. He noted that 132 economic reforms have taken place - policy and legally driven reforms - since 2005. Accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and Saudi Arabia's improved ranking in the World Bank's "Ease of Doing Business Report" have attracted outside investors. Currently, Saudi Arabia has climbed from 84th place (out of 100) to 11th.
As the flagship of the economic cities, KAEC was the first and largest city to be launched in 2006. It offers 100 percent foreign ownership and is the largest private sector project in the Gulf region. KAEC's vision is simple, emphasized Al Rasheed, "We want to be a great agent for socio-economic development. We can't build something this large and not have a significant impact," he said. "Our success depends on having a major impact. We have linked our vision to the social and economic success of the country."
Investors have ample opportunities in Saudi Arabia. With 65 percent of the population under the age of thirty, the government needs to double its housing stock and build four million housing units in four years. Alternative energy, tourism, airport and railroad development, industry and services are all growing fields for private sector investment, according to Al Rasheed.
"When you bring innovation to your work, you can actually do amazing things," concluded Al Rasheed, who said that KAEC has attracted committed investments of approximately $10 million over the next three years.
The Harvard summit concluded on July 11th with a final and highly anticipated session led by Professor Michael Porter on "Strategy and Shared Value." One of the world's leading experts on competitive strategy, Porter emphasized that "no leader and no company can ever stop thinking about strategy."
Strategy, according to Porter, defines a company's distinctive approach to competing and the competitive advantages on which it will be based. It is different from aspirations, action or vision. "The worst error in strategy," explained Porter "is to compete with rivals on the same dimension. Don't aim to be the best, there is no best. Compete to be unique, not to be the best."
Speaking of unique, Porter congratulated Coyle and Habiby "for everything they have achieved with AllWorld. With incredible determination and entrepreneurial skill they have put together a marvelous global enterprise which I think is on its way to changing the world in very important ways."
Addressing the entrepreneurs who crowded the packed lecture hall, Porter expressed the hope that "participation in AllWorld has brought something to you - given you some opportunities and connections and visibility that you would not have had otherwise. We think this is profoundly important in transforming the developing world," emphasized Porter. "You all are the ones who are going to transform the developing world, not governments. Governments have had their chance and they are not doing so well."
Ira Jackson, Distinguished Scholar at the Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship, Massachusetts Institute of Technology agrees that AllWorld is a significant game changer. "AllWorld is an emblem and a symbol and a reality of convening some of the world's most interesting and successful young entrepreneurs from around the world," said Jackson. "They are forming a community of interest and partnership that has its own magic and alchemy that we can't predict where it will lead but it surely will be for the good. "
"Just listening to the conversations over the last days of what's happening in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan and even Afghanistan is emblematic of how dramatically the world is changing for the good," suggests Jackson. "AllWorld, by providing the glue and the magnet... is playing an important role as an intermediary. If AllWorld did nothing other than bring everyone together and make these connections it would be significant. Add to that the intellectual leadership of Michael Porter and others also help to guide this new and emerging field in a powerful way. It's a potential game changer for the good."
As a group, entrepreneurs attending the Summit grew an astonishing 60 percent annually over the past three years and created thousands of jobs while the world's economy stagnated. In 2012-2013, they expect sales and employment to rise significantly and two-thirds expect to establish another company.
"In order to fast forward entrepreneurship, " explained Anne Habiby, co--founder of AllWorld, " we needed a starter kit. We needed to find you," she said as she addressed the participating entrepreneurs. "Once we began to look there weren't five or ten of you, there were hundreds. And you are in different places, in the hardest places achieving at unprecedented levels. You are defying all the odds of economic gravity."
© The Saudi Gazette 2012
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