The World Bank has revised its 2023 economic growth projections for GCC countries, from 7.3 per cent last year to 3.2 per cent. This is based on the assumption that the windfall from rising oil prices will come to an end. While this might seem discouraging at first, it is a useful reminder for the region that economic diversification must remain a core priority in order for it to be less affected by fuel prices in coming years.
Gulf nations have come a long way in the past few decades, lessening their reliance on oil and investing in their citizens – undoubtedly the greatest asset and a driving force towards success. Economic diversification has been an ongoing objective, and while we cannot doubt that significant progress has been made, we must continuously re-evaluate and adapt our efforts according to business trends and forecasts.
Given the fast pace at which digital industries are growing globally, they must be part and parcel of our region’s growth plans. We must take the expertise that we hold in a diverse range of areas – from oil to renewable energy sources, youth engagement, SMEs, tourism, agriculture, conferences and trade events to retail. This places our region at an advantage in the international business arena – we must take centre stage to develop and promote digital solutions specific to these areas of business and market them to industry players across the globe.
There is room to do research into the needs and wants of potential business partners across borders, and engage with them to offer solutions that address their challenges and goals and generate business opportunities in the region.
Banks and governments in the GCC can also further incentivise existing and aspiring tech entrepreneurs in the region, with a special focus on cross-border collaboration to support region-wide growth. While the region does boast a series of supportive policies, there is always room to build on these offerings and make them more accessible to entrepreneurs – from funding to mentorship programmes and networking.
The economic inclusion of citizens who face barriers to traditional forms of employment and entrepreneurship is now more accessible than ever, owing to efficient technologies. Governments and businesses in the region must engage with these citizens – including women in caregiving roles, students and senior citizens – to brainstorm ways that make the best use of their talent through the utilisation of relevant digital channels.
Existing businesses in the region must also re-evaluate their use of technology and seek out the latest, most efficient solutions for seamless and cutting-edge operations. Further, they must foster an environment of continuous digital learning so that management along with employees at various levels of the organisation are up to speed with the latest industry technology and innovation.
Besides digitising existing business components as extensively as possible, companies can also look into expanding and creating products and services that are entirely digital in nature. Diversification of business interests will not only safeguard the economy but the interests of an organisation’s stakeholders as a whole. No stone must be left unturned with respect to potential ventures that could create more jobs and additional revenue streams.
Our region’s youth is both tech savvy and innovative – however, there is room to facilitate career and entrepreneurship paths that address wide-scale digitisation. Educational institutions and industry leaders can join forces to collaborate and produce synergistic outcomes, from an increasingly skilled talent pool to home-grown innovations that could drive national economic growth.
Closer collaboration between tech leaders and educational institutions could help bridge any gaps that may exist between academia and the professional world, enabling students and young graduates to grasp and perform to the highest industry standards as soon as they enter the job market.
The Gulf is on the radar of foreign investors and there truly is no better time than now to attract FDI towards digital industries, which are poised for growth, and encourage global leaders in the space to set up shop or expand in the region.
With efficient business infrastructures that are continuously evolving, an educated and motivated stream of young professionals and a geographic location that connects various markets across the globe, our region offers the ideal landscape for investors from various backgrounds. Although the GCC region has been attracting a great deal of interest, we must keep our eyes on the prize and finding innovative ways to attract foreign investment.
Governments can also place a special emphasis on investing in research and development facilities within the region. Further, they can invite tech leaders from around the world so that they can engage directly with the market and see first-hand how our region aligns with their vision of an efficient and modern world.
Following an especially challenging few years, the GCC region has fared well overall and is on the path to progress. However, the global climate is constantly changing and increasingly complex, and oil still accounts for a significant percentage of economic activity in the region. In order to safeguard the future, we must continue on our path to further diversify the region’s interests and I see digital industries as a key component of a prosperous future.