Milken Institute Mena Summit 2019 in Abu Dhabi - Day 1 as it happened

Technology gurus, billionaire investors and environment chiefs address some of the region's biggest challenges

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 12 FEBRUARY 2019. Milken Institute 2019 MENA Summit. Gala dinner.  LtoR: Kevin O’Leary, O’Shares ETFs and Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Group. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: Sarah Townsend. Section: Business.
Powered by automated translation

Water security, the refugee crisis and rising unemployment among the youth are all topics under the microscope as the Milken Institute’s Mena Summit returns to the capital city.

Entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson and American technology guru Sean Parker are among the guest speakers.

Here you will find all the latest news from The National's reporters on the ground.

All times UTC+4


08.00 Join us for Day 2 live

Join us here for live coverage of Day 2 of the Milken Institute's Mena Summit in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday.


21:30 Blog closes

And that's a wrap from the Milken Institute Mena Summit in Abu Dhabi. There will be more coverage on Wednesday. Thank you for joining.


20:00 Sir Richard Branson calls for greater parity of global wealth

British businessman Sir Richard Branson called for greater distribution of global wealth, through investment in high-quality entrepreneurs and ensuring that more people benefit from free markets at a time when distrust in capitalism is at an all-time low.

“We have to try and do everything we can to lift the vast majority of people up, when for the last few years the vast majority have not seen their living standards improve,” he told the summit audience.

Interest in socialism has risen in the past decade since the global financial crisis, especially among young people distrustful of capitalism as they bear the brunt of previous financial systems that have left them struggling to find job security and accumulate wealth, Sir Richard added.

He said socialism was not the answer, but that governments and businesses should work hard to make free-market systems benefit more people.

The billionaire founder of the Virgin Group, with interests spanning the aviation, retail, space industries and more, also told the Milken Summit that climate change is one of the biggest threats facing the planet, and urged governments to introduce a ‘carbon tax’ on energy-guzzling companies, with the proceeds redirected to those promoting and utilising clean energy.


18:00 Sean Parker discusses biomedicine

Entrepreneur and philanthropist Sean Parker discussed the future of biomedicine on Monday.

Mr Parker, who was an early part of Facebook and set up music sharing site Napster, has funded research into cancer medicines.


16:31 Michael Milken's 'liking for hats'

ABU DHABI , UNITED ARAB EMIRATES , February 12 – 2019 :- Left to Right - Khaldoon Khalifa Al Mubarak, Board of Directors, Group CEO and Managing Director, Mubadala Investment Company and Michael Milken, Chairman, Milken Institute during the Milken Institute MENA Summit 2019 held at The St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort in Abu Dhabi.  ( Pawan Singh / The National ) For News/Business/Instagram. Story by Dania
Khaldoon Al Mubarak, Group CEO and Managing Director of Mubadala Investment Company placed a ghutra on the head of Michael Milken, Chairman of the Milken Institute. Pawan Singh / The National

Khaldoon Al Mubarak, chief executive of the Mubadala Investment Company, adorned conference chair Michael Milken with a traditional Arabic headdress during their session at the Milken Institute’s Mena Summit in Abu Dhabi this morning.

“Mike is a fan of, or has a particular liking for, hats,” Mr Al Mubarak said. “So…today is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday and we all know who he was, but it would have been complicated to bring a wig today. But, still, I have a small present for Michael.”

At this point, he leant over and put an Arabic headdress, or ghutra, on the Milken chairman’s head, which he wore for the rest of the session.


16:10 Iran is a paper tiger with steel claws says Saudi Prince Turki Al Faisal

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - Interview with Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud at St. Regis Hotel, corniche Abu Dhabi.  Leslie Pableo for The National for Mina Aldroubi���s story
Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud said Iran is a paper tiger with steel claws. Leslie Pableo for The National 

Iran is a paper tiger with steel claws represented by its proxy militias from Hezbollah to the Houthis, Saudi Arabian Prince Turki Al Faisal said on Tuesday.

The kingdom's former ambassador to Washington and London and previous head of intelligence said in an interview with broadcaster CNBC that Tehran's network of local armed groups across the region had the sole purpose of furthering their influence at the expense of impoverishing the nation.

“The leadership in Iran has developed into a paper tiger with steel claws, the steel claws are the militias that they have established throughout the Middle East,” he said.

The main aim of these groups, he added, “is to further Iran's influence and its domination over the areas in the Middle East".

Prince Faisal is currently chairman of King Faisal Foundation's Centre for Research and Islamic Studies. He is due to speak at the 2019 Milken Institute Mena Summit in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday.


15:35 Arab Youth unemployment in the spotlight

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 12 FEBRUARY 2019. Panel discussion on Workforce at the Milken Institute 2019 MENA Summit. LtoR: Mina Al-Oraibi, Editor in Chief The National, Jeff Maggioncalda, Coursera and Solveig Nicklos, Abu Dhabi School of Government. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: John Dennehy. Section: National.
Mina Al-Oraibi, Editor in Chief The National, Jeff Maggioncalda, Coursera and Solveig Nicklos, Abu Dhabi School of Government attend a panel discussion on Workforce at the Milken Institute MENA Summit. Antonie Robertson / The National

Skills are the new currency and jobseekers will have to adapt or else face increasing redundancy in the new machine age, a panel on youth unemployment heard.

Jeff Maggioncalda of Coursera, one of the world’s leading online learning platforms, said the percentage of jobs taken by robots is going to rise and people must show what sets them apart.

His comments came at the Milken Institute’s Mena summit in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday.

In a panel moderated by Mina Al-Oraibi, editor in chief of The National, the summit heard how 60,000 Abu Dhabi Government employees will be given access to Coursera's online courses.


14:56 'Mubadala has evolved, we cannot just invest in UAE'

Mubadala Investment Company, the Abu Dhabi strategic firm with Dh832 billion in assets under management, has evolved over the years by partnering with investors and venturing into new sectors as it seeks to be part of the economic diversification strategy of the emirate, its chief executive told the Milken summit on Tuesday.

"Mubadala has changed a lot over the years and we have a big responsibility. We are managing the future funds of the nation," said Mr Khaldoun Al Mubarak, the chief executive of Mubadala.

"Given our size we can't concentrate investments in the UAE. Eighty per cent of our investments are international. At the end of day, our economy cannot handle this size of investment," he said.

The company will continue to partner with investors to help grow its portfolio, which has expanded to include technology, agriculture and biotechnology.

"We have truly over the last 15 years become a global player and built such a track record by partnering... partnering with the best in class," he said.

"As an investor, we have evolved. We are not only managing the sovereign wealth fund, we are also managing other funds."


14:38 Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed meets Virgin's Branson

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE's Armed Forces, met the founder of Virgin Group Sir Richard Branson on Tuesday.

The meeting comes as Mr Branson – one of the UK's best-known businessmen – prepares to speak at the Milken summit in Abu Dhabi this evening.

A video captured at the World Government Summit earlier on Tuesday shows Sheikh Mohamed and Mr Branson shaking hands before entering the conference venue.


14:30 Leadership profile: Khaldoon Al Mubarak, CEO of Mubadala

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 26: Manchester City Chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak during the International Champions Cup 2017 match between Manchester City and Real Madrid at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on July 26, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images)
Khaldoon Al Mubarak, Chief Executive of Mubadala. Getty Images

He may be more widely known as chairman of all-conquering Manchester City Football Club, but Mr Al Mubarak serves in a number of important Abu Dhabi government roles.

He is managing director and group chief executive of Mubadala, an investment vehicle tasked with diversifying Abu Dhabi’s economy. He is also a member of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council and the UAE Supreme Petroleum Council.

Mr Al Mubarak was instrumental in bringing Formula 1 to Abu Dhabi in 2008 as chairman of the Abu Dhabi Motor Sport Management Company.

He will speak on Tuesday on the current global economic outlook.


14:26 Mubadala chief: human capital essential for UAE leadership

Developing human capital in the UAE has been the main focus of the UAE leadership in order to create a successful country similar to Singapore, Khaldoon Al Mubarak, chief executive of Mubadala Investment Company, told participants at the Milken summit in Abu Dhabi.

"We always look at Singapore as an example we try to emulate," said Mr Al Mubarak. "They focused on the human being. We are trying to do the same in the UAE. Education and healthcare are two foundations for success of any country."

The New York University Abu Dhabi is one example of an institution the UAE that is trying to develop in order to become the next Oxford, Harvard or Cambridge, he said.

The UAE has the will, financial ability and vision to create such an institution, he added.


13:30 Alabbar: Changes in Saudi are critical and brave 

The changes taking place in Saudi Arabia are healthy, critical and brave and are needed in order to help develop the kingdom's economy, Mohamed Alabbar told the Milken summit.

"The change we are seeing in Saudi Arabia is so deep and so critical," said Mr Alabbar. "With having a brave chief executive, [the Crown Prince] these are really healthy changes. That change is putting pain on organisations but there is no other solution except moving forward."

Mr Alabbar has partnered with Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund to set up the $1 billion e-commerce platform that is competing with companies such as, which is owned by Amazon.

ABU DHABI , UNITED ARAB EMIRATES , February 12 – 2019 :- Mohamed Alabbar, Founder and Chairman, Emaar Properties speaking during the Milken Institute MENA Summit 2019 held at The St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort in Abu Dhabi.  ( Pawan Singh / The National ) For News/Business/Instagram. Story by Dania
Mohamed Alabbar. Pawan Singh / The National

"I want to defend my local economy against the big players that will come in and control the life of our retailers," he said.

He also said he is keen to work on advancing e-commerce and digitisation, which is necessary for any business in this age.

"Every single part of the economy will be digitised. if you are not going to go digital you will be dead. Without it you will probably lose 50 per cent of your value," he said.


13:30 Alabbar: World is drugged by low interest rates

Mohamed Alabbar told the summit that low interest rates have left the world vulnerable:

"[in a world where] we have all kinds of debt flying around - government debt, corporate debt, you name it, as we were all drugged by low interest rates.... baby steps are going to be crucial. The answer is, are we building our businesses to sustain the good days and the bad days?"


13:15 Inequality is 'biggest risk' facing the world

Inequality in the world is the biggest risk facing the world right now, with the rise of populist governments posing a threat to free market economies, speakers at the Milken Summit told participants on Tuesday.

"I really think the biggest risk is when I saw the yellow vests in France," said Mohamed Alabbar, the billionaire businessmen who is also chairman of Emaar Properties.

Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris said socialism and populism had failed to create an equitable society and the rise of such movements in Europe were alarming.

"We tried socialism and socialism has failed and failed drastically. The only theory that works is capitalism."

Mr Sawiris said that trade wars could be a good thing if it allows counties like China to open up more.

"Once China opens its markets it will create opportunities for people like me who want to tap into (the market of one billion people)," he said.


12:15 Richard Branson makes an appearance in Dubai

Richard Branson, who is speaking at 7pm tonight at the Milken Summit, has been spotted at the World Government Summit in Dubai. 

He shook hands with Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.

Meanwhile, Marcelo Giugale, Director of Financial Advisory & Banking at the World Bank, has arrived. He'll be on the panel for MENA: Building the Next FinTech HUB on Wednesday afternoon.


11:40 A few pictures from the ground

ABU DHABI , UNITED ARAB EMIRATES , February 12 – 2019 :- Delegates attending the Milken Institute MENA Summit 2019 held at The St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort in Abu Dhabi.  ( Pawan Singh / The National ) For News/Business/Instagram
Delegates attending the Milken Institute MENA Summit 2019. Pawan Singh / The National
ABU DHABI , UNITED ARAB EMIRATES , February 12 – 2019 :- Delegates attending the Milken Institute MENA Summit 2019 held at The St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort in Abu Dhabi.  ( Pawan Singh / The National ) For News/Business/Instagram
Delegates attending the Milken Institute MENA Summit 2019. Pawan Singh / The National


11:15 Second major UAE summit this week

As the Milken Institute's Mena Summit begins in Abu Dhabi, it comes hot on the heels of the World Government Summit, which is in its final hours in Dubai.

Actor Harrison Ford took to the stage this morning to deliver a passionate call for action on climate change.

The only solution to climate change will be a global one, he said.

He also said climate change deniers are on the wrong side of history, in what he described as "the greatest moral crisis of our time".

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - February 12, 2019: Harrison Ford speaks during day 2 at the World Government Summit. Tuesday the 12th of February 2019 at Madinat, Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Harrison Ford speaks at the World Government Summit.  Chris Whiteoak / The National

Mr Ford praised the UAE for preserving the mangroves on the coast of the country, a plant that can capture significant amounts of carbon.

"The problems are global, the solutions must be global," he said. "Nature doesn't need people, people need nature. Let's work together, lets roll up our sleeves, lets get this thing done," said Mr Ford.


11:00 Key speaker: Paul Kagame

It is estimated some 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed by Hutu forces in 100 days during Rwanda’s civil war in 1994.

Mr Kagame was then commander of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, which fought to end the conflict and stop the genocide. He became president of the country in 2000 and since then has slowly rebuilt Rwanda’s shattered economy on the back of its tea and coffee exports, while tourism is also being encouraged.

Rwandann President Paul Kagame attends a session during the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting on January 24, 2019, in Davos, eastern Switzerland. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)
Paul Kagame, the Rwandan president. AFP

Mr Kagame has been praised for his role in the recovery, but has also faced criticism from some quarters over his human rights record.

He is an avid user of social media and will appear at the summit on Wednesday to discuss the future for Africa.


10:30 Key speaker: Sir Richard Branson

It is hard to believe now but the billionaire founder of the Virgin Group started off as the head of a mail order business. From this sprang the first retail outlet of Virgin Records on London’s Oxford Street.

And from there Virgin developed into a record label - resigning the punk legends The Sex Pistols to huge success.

Airlines, a mobile phone network, finance and then a rail franchise followed.

Mr Branson also founded Virgin Galactic - its space tourism business - with which he wants to begin commercial space flights.

He is also known for his record-breaking exploits. Mr Branson entered the history books with the first successful transatlantic crossing in a hot air balloon in 1987.

He will speak tonight (Tuesday) about how he wants to "democratise" space.


10:05 A look back: George W Bush

George W Bush attended last year's inaugural gathering, which saw the former United States president take a subtle aim at some of Donald Trump's policies.

On the issue of immigration, he told the summit that it was “important to realise is that the US has had a history of assimilation, that we welcome people regardless of their religion and where they were born because we've got confidence in what we stand for".

“That confidence is diminished now, but it’s still evident among most Americans," he said.

President Bush was speaking at the first Milken Institute Mena Summit on Saadiyat Island, and described Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Commander of the UAE Armed Forces as “one of the best leaders in the world. He’s smart, he’s got vision and he’s a dear friend".


08:20 Six people to watch 

Technology gurus, billionaire investors and environment chiefs are gathering in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, in an effort to address some of the region's biggest challenges.

Topics under discussion will include the growing threat to MENA's environmental sustainability, the ongoing refugee crisis and youth unemployment.

More than 1,000 dignitaries, academics and world leaders are expected to attend the two-day conference.

Here are six key figures taking part.


08:00 Welcome to our live updates

Good morning and thank you for joining us as we keep you up to date with all of the latest news from this year's Milken Institute Summit which is taking place at the St Regis Saadiyat Island.

Key discussions to look out for today include:

The Role of Philanthropic Capital in Conserving Our Biodiversity - 10.15-11.45am - featuring Rezan Al Mubarak, Managing Director, Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund and Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi

Opening Lunch Programme - 12-2pm - featuring Mohamed Alabbar of Emaar Properties, Khaldoon Khalifa Al Mubarak of Mubadala Investment Company

Investing in Space - 2.30-3.30pm - featuring George Whitesides, chief executive of Virgin Galactic

World-class Healthcare: Investing in Biomedical Innovation - 3.45-4.45pm - featuring Sean Parker, chairman of The Parker Foundation

Sir Richard Branson and Michael Milken in Conversation with Kevin O'Leary - 7-9pm