A United Nations forum opened in Dubai today, spotlighting entrepreneurship, innovation, and investment in a post-pandemic recovery as vehicles to achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Held under the aegis of Dubai Exhibition Centre at Dubai Expo 2020, it is the 4th edition of the bi-annual World Entrepreneurs Investment Forum (WEIF 2022), which is co-sponsored by the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)/Investment and Technology Promotion Offices (Bahrain).

“The Dubai Expo 2020 is all about connectivity and connecting brains,” said Dr. Hashim Hussein, Executive Director, WEIF.

“We’ll see, in the coming three days, connecting brains between entrepreneurs and experts, from more than one hundred countries all over the world, experts in access to finance, experts in trade and skill development, experts in research, experts and scholars from universities, financial institutions, chambers and of course the NGOs and entrepreneurs,” noted Mr. Hussein, who is also the head of Investment and Technology Promotion Offices at UNIDO.

Over the next three days, more than 1,000 business leaders, government officials, academics and entrepreneurs will be discussing the ways to strengthen global partnerships, entrepreneurship, innovation and investment opportunities for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

This year WEIF’s theme is Achieving the SDGs through Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Investment Post COVID 19, which is closely aligned with the theme of the AIM: “Investments in Sustainable Innovation for a Thriving Future.”

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), were adopted by the United Nations in 2015 as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that by 2030 all people enjoy peace and prosperity.

Integration in a post-COVID world 

The forum noted that COVID-19 has severely affected the functioning of Micro-, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSMEs) and entrepreneurs across the globe. For this reason, there is an urgent need for governments and the private sector to swiftly adapt to the changing market conditions that take digital transformations into account.

With the pandemic creating unprecedented disruptions to global economies and labour markets all over the world, supply chains grounding to a halt, and lockdowns resulting in the forced closure of many businesses, MSMEs were the most heavily impacted.

UAE’s Minister of State for Entrepreneurship and SMEs, Dr. Ahmed Belhoul told the forum that UAE invested heavily in the healthcare system over the last two years that not only enabled the SMEs to operate, but it also helped to drive tourism in the country.

“Ease of doing business is fundamental for the large part of the SMEs entrepreneurs. Without the confidence and support of the governments, they will not be able to survive,” he said.

“We have learnt quickly that this is far more important than direct financial support. I have had regular meetings with the entrepreneurs, and I constantly hear them asking me, not for funding, not for finance, but for access to markets and access to big multi-national companies.”

Dr. Mahmoud Mohieldin, Executive Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), touched on the role that small, medium and emerging enterprises play in achieving sustainable development goals.

He said that the UAE gives us hope and confidence in a recovery from the “health and economic pandemics” that the world is going through these days, noting that these pandemics remind us of the “lean days” that the world went through during the years 2007-2008, as a result of the global economic crisis.

Dr. Mahmoud Mohieldin touched on the regional situation with regard to the Arab economy as a whole, praising the Arab countries, especially the Gulf states, which he said had “taken the reasons for science and increased investments in education, health care, the technological revolution, as well as their interest in issues of sustainability and climate change.”

He added that these investments gave it the opportunity to persevere, grow and develop, expressing his hope that all Arab countries would follow this example and invest in these areas.

SDG wheel at the Opportunity Pavilon, Dubai Expo 2020

Conor Lennon/ UN News

SDG wheel at the Opportunity Pavilon, Dubai Expo 2020

Digital transformation

The world also witnessed the accelerated technological transformation that played a crucial role during COVID-19. As the world transforms, entrepreneurs seek new innovative modes of finance to ensure their resilience and grow sustainably further. Establishing regional Incubators/accelerators networks will go a long way in ensuring connectivity and FDIs for the Arab world.

In a pre-recorded statement, Dr. Bernardo Calzadilla-Sarmiento, Managing Director of the Directorate of Digitilization, Technology and Agri-Business, UNIDO, congratulated the partnership between WEIF and this year’s Annual Investment Meeting (AIM).

That gathering, he said, would serve as an excellent opportunity to address the fundamental challenges that nations are being confronted with “in their journeys to achieve the SDGs, development and to discuss investment trends and strategies that can be utilized to maximize the potential of youth enterprises ecosystems innovators and consequently the food economic empowerment, investment diversification and digital transformation.”

A women's delegation participating in WEIF 2022 organized by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), at the Dubai Expo.


A women’s delegation participating in WEIF 2022 organized by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), at the Dubai Expo.

Role of women entrepreneurs

Speaking on the sidelines of the Forum, Reem Badran, a former Member of Parliament from Jordan, noted that the current pandemic had posed a big challenge to achieving the SDGs, as it had exacerbated challenges faced by women in the Arab region and around the world. However, she believed that the pandemic had also given more room for innovation, for entrepreneurship and a holistic approach.

“Men, in the classical world, have better network services and activities than women. In terms of technical opportunities and exposure, men definitely get more,” she noted, “and that’s why we have brought more women in this conference [so they can access] the networks that they need. And I believe that in a few years’ time these women will excel in their countries because of the networking support.”

Focus on sustainability

The opening session was followed by a session on Inclusive Sustainable Finance, which deliberated new innovative modes of finance to ensure resilience and sustainable growth.

Organized by UNIDO, the Government of UAE and other partners, the forum is expected to build and foster partnerships and share best practices in entrepreneurship and innovation.