Youth and innovation were the highlight of the Forum’s closing ceremony, as the three top winners of the ‘Arab Rally’ for Entrepreneurship and Innovation were announced.The entrepreneurship competition for university students from the Arab Region was taking place on the sidelines of WEIF 2022.

Sustainable development through entrepreneurship

The closing day of the WEIF 2022 saw the participants, partners and co-sponsors, including the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)-ITPO, as well as the Arab League, Arab Chambers of Commerce, Bahrain Chamber of Commerce & Industry, and the Government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), express their strong commitment to achieving the 17 Global Goals outlined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Further, the UAE Declaration stated: “We recognize that entrepreneurship and innovation are the driving force to the creation of jobs, spurring of economic growth and the realization of social gains; We recommend that all efforts are focused towards achieving sustainable development through entrepreneurship and innovation that can be accomplished via strong, inclusive, sustainable and resilient economic growth.”

Summing up the three-day Forum, Dr. Hashim Hussein, the Executive Director of WEIF, said: “This is the closing session. But WEIF never closes. Every WEIF we have a declaration to summarize what has happened. This year, the declaration is being read by an African and an Arab entrepreneur because this year, this global forum is focussing on the Arab region and Africa.”

“We are here connecting minds and brains, under the umbrella of the Arab League.”

Gender parity ‘a must’ for entrepreneurship

The Forum’s participants devoted special attention to the empowerment of women at all economic levels towards achieving the SDGs through innovation and entrepreneurship. “We encourage the active involvement of women in all sectors through entrepreneurship and innovation,” the Declaration read.

Also emphasized was the need to develop and implement sound economic policies, legislation and programmes as important strategies for sustainable development and to ensure women’s empowerment at the national, regional, and global levels.

The Declaration also stressed the need to build strong partnerships between entrepreneurs – women and men alike – to share best practices in line with linking financial and non-financial services that could improve the stakes of entrepreneurs and bolster Micro- Small- and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSMEs).

Addressing the closing session, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, said that the young men and women of Arab countries, who numbered more than 100 million, are the mainstay of the Arab region.

He also stressed the importance of providing an enabling environment for Arab youth to succeed, “because their success means the success of the nation and the Arab society.”

Mr. Gheit detailed three tips for young people in the Arab region: “First, work to the last moment of your life; second, read to the point of blindness; and third, have hope that your aspirations will come true.”

The way forward and the role of UNIDO

The UAE Declaration also called for exploring and expanding new investment sectors, namely ‘green’ and renewable energy, the blue economy, the ‘orange’ (creative) economy, with a focus on trade and heritage,  special programmes and initiatives that economically empower person with disabilities.

Increasing synergies between governments, the private sector, philanthropists, civil society, financial institutions, think tanks, universities, schools, chambers, non-governmental organizations, media, and international organizations to cooperate in facilitating the promotion of resilient entrepreneurs and innovative enterprises towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals was also stressed.

The role of UNIDO, towards fostering inclusive and sustainable industrial development and the considerable achievements of previous editions of WEIF were also lauded.

UNIDO’s Managing Director for Programs & Partnership, Ciyong Zou said: “I am pleased to see this great innovation and advancement that takes place in WEIF. As you are all aware, post-COVID events are playing a crucial role in achieving economic growth and WEIF has seen how we can create resilience to help the global economy grow and thrive. Yet at the same time, we have to collectively work towards attaining the Sustainable development goals.”

The Declaration urged the international community, United Nations, UNIDO, and other relevant international and regional organizations, think-tanks, civil society, among other stakeholders, to take the recommendations into account when shaping their policies and strategies to support entrepreneurship and innovation for sustainable development.

Supporting youth entrepreneurs and innovation

The ceremony ended with an air of excitement with the announcement of the winners of the second Arab Rally for Innovation.   

The competition targeted university students in the Arab region and featured 20 teams from throughout the region. 

The students and university professors worked hard to find innovative solutions for many of the challenges the region is facing, in areas such as water, agriculture, renewable energy, environmental pollution and recycling environmental waste.  

The first prize went to a Syrian company called BEVOL, which designed an unprecedented and interactive international social media platform to promote the culture of volunteerism and enhancing the performance of social responsibility by using motivational means.

Second place went to WALTER from Palestine, which is a company providing technology solutions for greywater treatment to reduce water consumption in public and private facilities. The company’s special water treatment system is based on the filtration of greywater, implicit storage and treatment to be ready for later pumping into the toilets.

The third awardee was CLOUD, a company that offers a disposable menstruation pad that is body-friendly, mind-friendly, nature-friendly, using 100 per cent healthy, organic and biodegradable materials.

The Forum’s Impact

Over the years, WEIF has supported these young entrepreneurs through their journey to become business leaders. 

Addressing the gathering, last year’s Arab Rally winner, Wadah Malaeb, of Lebanon, said that the competition helped him grow and put him on the global map.

“In 2019, I won the Arab Innovation Rally, which [led to] a pivotal change in my career. Since then, we have patented our technology, expanded our team, set up the manufacturing facility to our chips. We established collaborations with academia, with the faculty of Medicine at the University of Beirut,” he explained.

He went on to say: “We are currently growing, giving different organ and disease models on our chips to create a human model to test drugs on. We have started conversations with pharmaceutical companies like AstraZeneca to set up studies to introduce our concept to the drug discovery process.”

Mr. Malaeb won the first prize for his unique invention: Ductal Organoid-on-a-Chip, based on growing organ chip technology. The chip provides an environment in which cells can grow and reorganize into tissue imitating the human body, providing the perfect atmosphere to conduct drug testing efficiently, and saving money and ordeal of human trials.