Featured conversations with business and government leaders shaping the Middle East.
empowerME Conversations is a project of the Atlantic Council’s empowerME initiative.
Season 3 Episode 4 - Economies in Transition: Middle East
In Season 3, Episode 4 of the empowerME Conversations podcast, host and Atlantic Council empowerME Chairman Amjad Ahmad interviews International Monetary Fund Director of the Middle East and Central Asia Department Jihad Azour with guest co-host empowerME Director Racha Helwa, as they discuss the economy and market opportunities of the MENA region, women and youth empowerment, and the development of differing entrepreneurial ecosystems within the region.
Season 3 of the empowerME Conversations Podcast is sponsored by UPS.
02:43 Azour discussed how the current outlook in the region has moved from promising to challenging in a world where inflation is on the rise, there have been disruptions in supply chains, and there are issues with energy supply and security
07:12 Azour emphasized that the rapid deterioration of climate conditions is only adding to the challenges that countries are facing, and reform must be well-calibrated to overcome these issues
12:25 Azour talked about the importance of direct targeted social assistance, such as in Morocco, where over 5 million families were provided with support through Morocco’s Special Fund for the Management and Response to COVID-19
16:09 Azour mentioned Egypt as an example of a country that has reformed over the last 5 years as it moved from untargeted subsidies to targeted support and improved living conditions for millions of people, highlighting that these changes have helped Egypt’s economy to grow 5%
19:42 Azour emphasized the importance of using renewable energy, citing Masdar, a company in the UAE that emphasizes renewable energy, as a positive example, and adding the importance of creating synergy between the region and other parts of the world in this area
23:33 Azour discussed how when the risk is high in regards to climate reforms, multilateral institutions are important to open the door for the private sector to come in
26:10 Azour stated that governments need a multipronged approach in their response to climate and that they should gradually widen their sources of energy with additional investment into renewable investment
29:04 Azour mentioned that there has been a move toward medium-term planning towards diversification to reduce dependency on oil and gas, and these are positive steps, but emphasized that challenge for Gulf countries is to continue to pursue diversification at a time when oil pries have reached over 100 USD a barrel
32:07 Azour emphasized that if the Middle East and Central Asian countries truly want to succeed in inclusion, they need very clear strategies to involve women in the economic and decision-making arenas
36:18 Azour discussed the IMF’s focus on creating job opportunities for women and its recent creation of a Gender Strategy, citing the IMF’s involvement in Jordan, and mentioned that it is important to level the playing field, as women in the region are often at a disadvantage due to issues with transportation, childcare, and more
38:23 Azour discussed the importance of entrepreneurship, and how entrepreneurship can help create jobs, build the competitiveness of the economy, and grow the economy over the medium term
41:42 Azour highlighted how being involved in the global market can help countries whether shocks such as the COVID-19 pandemic, pointing to Morocco’s involvement in the production of spare parts as an example
44:32 Azour stated that debt combined with external shocks increase vulnerability, and discussed how the IMF helps countries deal with how to reduce the level of debt and the level of external shocks on economies
47:22 Azour mentioned that it is important to have a sustainable level of debt, and what
“sustainable debt” is depends on the country, the nature of the debt, and a...
Season 3 Episode 3 - Economies in Transition: Jordan
In Season 3, Episode 3 of the empowerME Conversations podcast, host and Atlantic Council empowerME Chairman Amjad Ahmad interviews Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan Ministry of Digital Economy and Entrepreneurship Minister H.E Ahmad Al-Hanandeh with guest co-host Beyond Capital Managing Director Tamer Al-Salah to discuss Jordan’s current economic situation, the pivotal role investors play in growing their entrepreneurial ecosystem, and the increasing involvement of women in the Jordanian economy.
Season 3 of the empowerME Conversations Podcast is sponsored by UPS.
02:20 H.E. Al Hanandeh discussed the many challenges that Jordanian youth face today, including unemployment and inflation, and focused on the potential for startups to turn these challenges into opportunities.
05:30 H.E. Al Hanandeh explained that the Jordanian government’s main priority is to grow the entrepreneurial sector by helping them access new markets, obtain financing, and find new talent through Digiskills, a not-for-profit company that works to identify the exact needs to private companies.
9:59 H.E. Al Hanandeh discussed Jordan’s National Entrepreneurship Policy, which establishes the government’s commitment to provide support for the entrepreneurship sector.
22:43 H.E. Al Hanandeh identified Jordan’s current target markets as the US, UK, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, and added that Jordan is also working to identify international and regional seminars, conferences, and fairs that can help create a roadmap for future endeavors.
26:28 H.E. Al Hanandeh discussed how the establishment of the Innovative Startups and SMEs Fund by the Jordanian government helped attract 12 VCs to Jordan, and emphasized that the more you invest, the more you attract other investors.
29:12 H.E. Al Hanandeh mentioned the need for greater contributions from seed investors.
32:18 H.E. Al Hanandeh talked about the ministry’s financing of three new tech hubs in Jordan.
34:22 H.E. Al Hanandeh explained that women are increasingly involved in startups, although women still face challenges due to lack of mobility.
35:30 Al-Salah argued that the flexibility of jobs today, as well as the increase in virtual employment, has increased women’s involvement in startups, and added that the company he works for, Beyond Capital, works to support women investors and increase female engagement in the entrepreneurial sector.
Quotes mentioned by H.E. Ahmad Al Hanandeh
“The entrepreneurial ecosystem is able to provide to be very flexible and agile in providing jobs at the very tough times. During COVID, when things were going bad all over the place, the entrepreneurial ecosystem grew. The entrepreneurial ecosystem created new jobs and new companies. The entrepreneurial ecosystem contributed heavily to the efforts of facing the consequences of the pandemic.”
“The more you invest into your ecosystem, the more you attract other investors to come and invest in your ecosystem.”
“We reached out to an ecosystem that includes hundreds of new startups in different fields, hiring thousands of Jordanian youth into this ecosystem and plenty of very high promising startups, Jordanian startup companies, that have the potential to cross the border regionally or internationally.”
Guest Social Media Links
Season 3 Episode 2 - Economies in Transition: Egypt
In Season 3, Episode 2 of the empowerME Conversations podcast, host and Atlantic Council empowerME Chairman Amjad Ahmad interviews Arab Republic of Egypt Ministry of International Cooperation Minister H.E. Rania A. Al-Mashat with guest co-host UPS President for International Public Affairs and Sustainability Penelope Naas to discuss Egypt hosting COP 27, increasing women in leadership positions, promoting inclusivity in the economy, energy transitions, and the continued development of Egypt’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Season 3 of the empowerME Conversations Podcast is sponsored by UPS.
4:50 H.E. Rania Al-Mashat discussed Egypt as the first country in the Middle East and North Africa or in Africa to issue green bonds, which are anchored on projects that have outcomes related to climate action, such as sustainable infrastructure, water, waste management, transportation, and renewables.
6:10 H.E. Al-Mashat underscored Egypt’s forethought as the country invested in silos for wheat storage for the first time in 2014, demonstrating the resilience in adaptation projects which allowed the country to survive the wheat crisis.
9:10 H.E. Al-Mashat argued that Egypt will attract capital amongst competition because of its success and goals such as the global competition for startups with Green Solutions and continued focus on adaptation for Africa.
13:20 H.E. Al-Mashat emphasized the importance of COP 27 and the necessary energy transitions in Egypt, and Africa at large.
17:00 H.E. Al-Mashat gave an overview of Egypt’s current and future projects to target climate action, such as the Integrated Sustainable Energy Strategy which includes KPIs for renewables, both wind farms, and solar plants, and by 2035 40% of Egypt's energy mix will be renewables.
19:45 Penelope Naas reflected on Egypt asan important crossroad with regards to Egyptian waterways connecting the East to the West, and how this relates to Egypt’s relative climate and the fragility of supply chains and infrastructure.
23:10 H.E. Al-Mashat asserted that regionalization and localization are not mutually exclusive when it comes to supply chain resiliency and furthered that there must be localization but with a level playing field.
26:23 H.E. Al-Mashat stated that there are three words that shape the future of every country's economy: inclusive, digital, and green.
29:30 H.E. Al-Mashat agreed that Egypt must continue to support women at all levels and cited the Closing the Gender Gap accelerator which supports women in leadership positions, pushes for equal remuneration, and also pushes for digital skills.
32:40 H.E. Al-Mashat reflected on Egypt’s increased emphasis on the implementation and execution of recent projects and those since 2011.
37:50 H.E. Al-Mashat purported her optimism and positivity for Egypt come from the amount of engagement that takes place within the country and with other countries.
Quotes mentioned by H.E. Rania Al-Mashat
“Women’s participation requires commitment from the government. And once that happens, culture starts to change… when women are in leadership positions and they do well, it becomes more familiar.”
“I think there are three words that shape what every country's trying to do now on a national level or in partnerships, whether with the private sector or with IFIs, and it is an inclusive economy, a digital economy, and a green economy.”
“There's also a lot of commitment, not just from the government but also from the private sector, that has been experimenting with incubators, pushing risk capital and venture capital into these startups... a key point is to market more and to make the success stories known.”
Season 3 Episode 1 - Economies in Transition: Palestine
In Season 3, Episode 1 of the empowerME Conversations podcast, host and Atlantic Council empowerME Chairman Amjad Ahmad speaks with Palestine Minister of State for Entrepreneurship and Empowerment H.E. Osama Al Saadawi and guest co-host Ibtikar Fund Managing General Partner Habib Hazzan about the challenges facing Palestine's entrepreneurial ecosystem, the private sector's role in promoting economic growth, and strategies to expose local entrepreneurs to global markets.
1:46 H.E. Osama Al Saadawi gave an overview of entrepreneurs in Palestine’s day-to-day, especially in regard to increasing threats of occupation and the restriction of movement
11:34 H.E. Al Saadawi discussed the processes of integrating markets within Palestine and the Palestinian government’s push to cluster enablers for market efficiency
15:50 H.E. Al Saadawi examined the recently passed Start-up Act Law, because the Palestinian Companies Law did not address entrepreneurship or startup needs.
17:15 Habib Hazzan argued that the severed access of Palestine to other markets and communities is the primary obstacle to economic growth in the West Bank and Gaza.
20:55 Hazzan explained the current funding Palestine has received and will receive from external sources to promote entrepreneurship, highlighting World Bank programs, Intersect Innovation Hub, and Flow Accelerator as well as angel investors. Hazzan also discussed the need to engage more deeply with the Palestinian diaspora.
25:40 H.E. Al Saadawi emphasized the need for investors to see a very clear enabling environment for business and underscores the Palestinian government’s push to develop regulations and laws that convince businesses to expand in Palestine.
34:30 H.E. Al Saadawi underscored that with an increased level of confidence in regulations and with enough exposure, then startups in Palestine will attract investors. He cited studies that the contribution of money to the success of startups globally does not exceed 24 percent.
37:02 Hazzan explained that recently the Israeli government has been piloting a program where they give permits to Palestinian engineers to work directly in Israel.
40:30 H.E. Al Saadawi discussed the Palestinian Coding Academy as a successful example of improving Palestine’s IT sector.
45:16 H.E. Al Saadawi referenced that many government employees in Palestine are female and emphasized that while the government is committed, the private sector, usually family businesses, often center men, and females cannot benefit in all cases from such businesses.
Quotes mentioned by H.E. Osama Al Saadawi
“...create an ecosystem that will convince the private sector that we have an investment pipeline environment in Palestine that will be of success.”
“I think this is our role mainly to open the road for the private sector as a government.”
Guest Social Media Links
Season 2 Episode 6 - The Evolution of the Food and Beverage Sector in MENA with Tamer Mosalam
PepsiCo Vice President and General Manager for GCC and the Levant Tamer Mosalam joins Atlantic Council empowerME Conversations host Amjad Ahmad for a conversation about innovation and emerging opportunities for the food and beverage sector, the increase in women’s employment in Saudi Arabia, and ways governments and corporates can support entrepreneurs.
1:58 Tamer talks about the change in consumers over the last 24 months, and how they've now been defined as consumers at home
4:05 Tamer talks about the the younger population in the Middle East and how they are the key to shaping the future
6:04 Tamer talks about the effect Covid has had on innovation and supply chain of manufacturing materials for companies
8:36 Tamer details the importance of startups in the region and how growing the economy is reliant on their success
10:38 Tamer explains how PepsiCo is working with these startups and the programs they have created to help them launch and grow
13:35 Tamer talks about his excitement in the growth of e-commerce and digitization for entrepreneurs
16:16 Tamer talks about women empowerment and participation in Saudi Arabia
19:48 Tamer talks about consumers in the Middle East and how they are driving investors and companies into the region
25:30 Tamer explains the importance of the coming five years for healthier innovation
27:50 Tamer talks about how direct to home will transform supply chain in various industries and regions
32:14 Tamer details their recent investments in US plant based companies
33:35 Tamer talks about recycling and how it is a key factor for companies in the future
PepsiCo - PepsiCo, Inc. is an American multinational food, snack, and beverage corporation headquartered in Harrison, New York, in the hamlet of Purchase. PepsiCo's business encompasses all aspects of the food and beverage market. It oversees the manufacturing, distribution, and marketing of its products.
"The first advice I would give that you have to read a lot. You have to educate yourself about the area where you're building your idea about. You're learning the different trends across the region and the world is very important and critical for ideas to shape up. And the minute those great ideas are shaped up, the appeal of funding is more comes their way as well."
"That also will make you think whether you replace your own delivery trucks with the delivery companies or that you will have more friendly and more environmentally friendly trucks going around the city or the consumer will go and pick their products from a distribution hub that will work with technology as well. I think the sky's the limit when it comes to that."
Guests Social Media Links:
Season 2 Episode 5 - Building Growth: The Future of MENA‘s Construction Sector with Samer Khoury
Consolidated Contractors Company (CCC) Chairman Samer Khoury joins Atlantic Council empowerME Conversations host Amjad Ahmad for a conversation about the future of the construction industry, how companies can partner with and support startups, policies needed to boost the region’s economic growth, and ways to improve the talent pipeline and bring more women into the workforce.
1:36 Samer gives an overview of the region as it comes out of Covid and the push for megaconstruction across the Mena region
3:19 Samer talks about civil infrastructure and big commercial cities on rise like Neom, and how they are pushing towards greener energy
7:13 Samer explains how Covid slowed the process of project completion due to materials having slower transport times and being stuck outside of the countries
10:58 Samer talks about the countries currently with the highest FDI and how they are opening up to be more attractive to investors
12:50 Samer talks about how companies are creating STEM programs through universities to help college graduates enter the field of work with the knowledge needed to succeed
16:48 Samer talks about how Covid changed the work from home model and how online meetings can truly save on time and travel expenses and be beneficial to many companies
19:03 Samer breaks down the number and percentages of women in the workforce and how they are trying to grow with more women in the industry
21:52 Samer talks about the use of small companies and their partnerships so they can help develop their products in a beneficial way for both parties
27:27 Amjed raises a question on geopolitical risk and temperatures in certain regions being a risk factor for investments
30:17 Samer gives his three general trends that have him excited for the future
35:46 Samer gives his predictions and updates on where he see's his company CCC moving in the next decade
CCC: the largest construction company in the Middle East and ranks among the top 25 international contractors with a revenue of US$5.3 billion in 2013 and 7.4 billion by 2017.
FIFA World Cup: an international association football competition contested by the senior men's national teams of the members of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, the sport's global governing body.
ExxonMobil: an American multinational oil and gas corporation headquartered in Irving, Texas. It is the largest direct descendant of John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil, and was formed on November 30, 1999, by the merger of Exxon and Mobil.
Chevron: an American multinational energy corporation. It is the second largest oil company in America. One of the successor companies of Standard Oil, it is headquartered in San Ramon, California, and active in more than 180 countries.
"Women are more meticulous, they're more hardworking, and they care a lot about their continuity because they have a family to care for. So I think this is a trend in the Middle East that we have lagged behind. And I can see it accelerating in the next few years somewhere."
"This is where you help your small, innovative ideas. You are their pilot projects and you can then scale them up. When they go out and they say we tried this on this project with CCC and now it's very good and we have all the data, all the history. They can get other clients and they can get more capital and then they can grow faster."
"There's a lack of cash, lack of funds. So basically, when you are on a limited budget, rather spend it on your own people rather than spent it somewhere else."
Guests Social Media Links:
Website: a href="https://www.ccc.net/"...
Excellent podcast about Middle East business topics
Great podcast! Fascinating to hear insights from entrepreneurs behind successful new companies in the Middle East.
There’s more to the Middle East than you think!
I am already enjoying this podcast! It gives you insight on business and a new perspective on the Middle East that we don’t see in the U.S. media. Looking forward to hearing from more entrepreneurs overseas and moving away from the silly idea that females don’t belong in these spaces. Thank you!