Covid-19 years can offer lessons in the importance of innovation

The Gulf has the tools to rebound from the pandemic stronger than ever

GCC governments have been lauded for their response to the pandemic. Silvia Razgova / The National
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2022 can be the year when we turn what has been a decade of challenges into a decade of opportunities. As we plan our short- and long-term goals, we have a chance to renew our commitment to the well-being of our communities while accelerating the economic recovery. To do this, we must keep in mind what we have just been through, with the pandemic years offering an indispensable lesson on the importance of innovation.

GCC economies are projected to witness a 4.2 per cent overall GDP growth in 2022, according to the IMF. This is promising news after a challenging era for the region, given drops in fuel prices and the undeniable impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Our region has responded well to these crises. Our governments have worked tirelessly to vaccinate and protect its citizens and residents to keep society both safe and operational. And collaborations between the private and public sectors have seen critical industries such as health care and logistics lead the way forward.

While we have managed to successfully reset in many respects, we must heed the lessons of being caught off guard by the disruption we have experienced over the past 24 months, and be ready to mitigate future risks to our way of life to continue to protect our communities.

For instance, as we were headed towards post-pandemic recovery, new variants of the coronavirus caused further spikes in cases. We must see this pattern as a reminder to maintain precautions as we work towards coming phases.

While frustrations over the prolonged changes that have occurred as the consequence of the pandemic are entirely valid, we cannot discount the danger of being overconfident and overlook the essential precautions we must continue to make at this critical stage of our socio-economic recovery efforts.

We are all in this together. Everyone is responsible. And accountable. Governments, businesses and individuals alike must do their part to follow up-to-date recommendations coming from health authorities to reduce further contagion, especially given how fast newer variants of the virus are likely to spread.

The Gulf region is at a critical juncture. To ensure the best long-term mental and physical health of our communities, our decision-making must be prudent and must find ways to allow businesses and the entities that support them to operate seamlessly.

A handout picture released by the Emiri Diwan in Kuwait shows Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah a-Khaed al-Sabah eceiving a Pfizer-BioTech COVID-19 vaccine injection at a vaccination centre set up in the Kuwait International Fairground in the capital Kuwait City, on December 24, 2020. Some Gulf countries have started rolling out their vaccination programmes, with Kuwait and Oman announcing they will start inoculating people with the Pfizer-BioTech vaccine today and December 27, respectively. -  === RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / HO / EMIRI DIWAN" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS ===
 / AFP / KUWAIT EMIRI DIWAN / - /  === RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / HO / EMIRI DIWAN" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS ===
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The Gulf region is at a critical juncture

Over the past two years, we have seen individuals and organisations adapt to changing circumstances in creative ways. From increasing the use of technology in communications and supply chains to developing solutions such as the widespread use of click-and-collect in retail.

We must continue to carry this innovative approach into the future if we are to forge a truly robust, resilient and agile economic model of production and consumption.

Organisations should encourage their employees to actively engage in brainstorming ideas that can help adapt international best practices into their workplaces and processes to ensure efficiency across the board.

An informal approach can help. But these ideas can be streamlined into programmes that allow management to support their practical implementation. This will help boost employee morale following a long period of uncertainty and help improve performance.

There is also an opportunity for industry leaders and partners to connect and collaborate on ways to tackle the major challenges they face as we see to accelerate recovery efforts. As one example, the increased deployment of Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies can help enhance the efficiency of industries. So, how do companies, organisations and governments do this? It is a question that requires a collective and collaborative response. And – perhaps most importantly – it is an opportunity to create more inclusive working environments.

To power these plans, funding should be readily available. And here, there is an opportunity for financial institutions in the GCC to offer lending programmes specifically designed for the purpose of investing in changes and technologies that support a seamless transition towards the next phase of development. There is plenty of room to innovate and expand our impact beyond our current circumstances. We can develop frameworks, products and services that bring long-term value to the economy.

The GCC has developed at a rapid pace in recent decades. It has diversified its economic mix while increasing levels of education among citizens and empowering men and women, boys and girls, with a raft of initiatives, programmes and supporting mechanisms.

The infinite possibility of our human capital, our natural resources and our burgeoning youth population provide the region with the potential to drive and deliver transformative change in the critical years ahead as we approach the deadlines for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

The world is at a crucial crossroads now, and we must keep our eye on the prize and do what is required to safeguard our health as well as our economic interests, which we now know more than ever, are closely tied together.

While economic forecasts for growth in the region offer hope, we cannot be passive of overconfident. Rather, we must harness our resources and collective determination to create a more secure future for ourselves, our citizens, our communities and our region.

Published: February 15, 2022, 9:00 AM