Beirut, 17 January 2022–Arab economies have only realized 8% of their digital potential to date, and digital talents account for only 2% of the Arab workforce. Increased digitization would have a profound positive effect on the performance and growth of small and medium enterprises (SMEs), as it would provide them with data collection tools for products, customers and market; streamline their processes; and give them the means to make better business decisions. This is one of the recommendations of the first Arab Regional Economic Forum held jointly by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) and the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) online, on 8 and 9 December 2021.
In the opening session, ESCWA Executive Secretary Rola Dashti underscored the commitment of the Commission to digitize, with the support of ICC, Arab SMEs, in order to scale up their businesses and provide them with the tools and training programmes needed to reach new customers and opportunities.
Participants in the Forum agreed that innovation is also fundamental to the development of trade finance in the region, as technologies have a pivotal role in bridging the gap between financiers and borrowers such as fintech and crowdfunding platforms.
For his part, ICC Secretary General John W.H. Denton AO stressed that “by crowding in the knowledge and know-how within our global network, the ICC-ESCWA Regional Economic Forum aims to enable small businesses and the communities they serve to thrive by showcasing the pioneering solutions we’re developing to help micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) unlock opportunities and access markets faster”.
The Forum also highlighted the importance of equipping women entrepreneurs with the right set of skills and tools to manage and grow their businesses, whether with financial or non-financial support services. Technical support is needed as well to facilitate learning and access to opportunities that will further enhance business growth.
The two-day event brought together a line-up of international development experts, practitioners and policymakers as well as representatives from the public and private sectors such as corporations, MSMEs, regional and international institutions, and civil society organizations, presenting a unique platform to provide SMEs with the tools to rebuild trust, resilience and economic growth after the devastating effects of COVID-19 and other crises in the Arab region.
One of five United Nations regional commissions, ESCWA supports inclusive and sustainable economic and social development in Arab States, and works on enhancing regional integration.
The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) is the institutional representative of more than 45 million companies in over 100 countries. ICC’s core mission is to make business work for everyone, every day, everywhere. Through a unique mix of advocacy, solutions and standard setting, we promote international trade, responsible business conduct and a global approach to regulation, in addition to providing market leading dispute resolution services. Our members include many of the world’s leading companies, SMEs, business associations and local chambers of commerce.