10 Trends Shaping the Future of Business in the Arab World, from Fadi Ghandour

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At the MENA ICT Forum in Jordan this past week, Fadi Ghandour, Vice Chairman and founder of Aramex, and Chairman of the Board at Wamda, kicked off the second day with a focus on major trends facing the Arab world today.

"With everything going digital, connectivity is a must and broadband is a human right," he explained, to the crowd of tech entrepreneurs, investors, and policymakers. 

Here are 10 of his predictions for the ways that technology, education, and entrepreneurship will shape the future of the Arab world. 
  1. Learning and education in the Arab world will change. The need for education reform hardly an issue exclusive to the Arab world. To give an example of how outdated models no longer apply around the world, Ghandour pointed to the fact that early in his career, Joichi Ito, who is now one of the world’s leading thinkers on innovation and technology and director of the MIT Media Lab, was automatically rejected when applying to companies because he had no college degree. Globally, hierarchal organization is becoming history, and technology is changing how we think about education.
  2. E-commerce is on the rise. With 100 Million Arab users online, “e-commerce is it!,” he said. It doesn’t hurt that payment gateways are spreading, PayPal is expanding in the region, and the biggest online retail players- Namshi, MarkaVIP, and Souq- have received a collective injection of close to $100 million over the past year, as international investors bet on e-commerce in the Middle East.
  3. Commerce will continue going social. With social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Google+, online businesses are becoming inherently social, and are more able to receive instant feedback from customers and respond quickly to customer needs by having active social engagement policies. It's no longer an option but a must.
  4. Jobs will become more flexible and less secure. “Ten years ago, Facebook didn't exist. Ten years before that, we didn't have the Web. So who knows what jobs will be born a decade from now?” Ghandour said. Quoting a Time Magazine feature called The Future of Work, he pointed to the idea that in the future jobs will become more flexible, more freelance, and less secure, and women will increasingly be at the front.
  5. Corporate structures are becoming decentralized. Today, organizations and companies are adopting democratized social structures and becoming increasingly decentralized. Continuous on the job training and education is a crucial component for talent retention; every company should have an education institution in its core to keep its talent.
  6. People will increasingly congregate based on interests. “Borders are obsolete, and sovereignty is overvalued,” Ghandour said. From Occupy Wall Street to Tahrir Square, common interest is mobilizing people globally, not their sense of nationality. In a globalized world, that trend will continue.
  7. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) will lead the way. SMEs are fast, agile, lean and are always generating new ideas. Especially with broadband, cloud services, and the latest technologies, they will be able to grow quickly and eat market share, he said. As he’s said when explaining Corporate Entrepreneurship Responsibility, a new movement for galvanizing the private sector to boost entrepreneurship, formal SMEs in the Middle East and North Africa account for an average of 30% of all private sector employment, and will continue to be a part of the solution for job creation.
  8. E-Government will grow. Governments must become more digital and interact with their citizens online to keep up with the fast pace of change.
  9. Social activism will become easier in the digital age. Non-state actors, business leaders, academics, students and all citizens are as equally as important as the government, especially as technology empowers individuals and increasingly transforms social activism. The crowdsourcing map movement, beginning with Ushahidi’s role in mapping violence during the Kenyan elections in 2007, and continuing to those that map harassment incidents in Egypt and elections in Jordan, will continue to enable social activists.
  10. Avoiding information overload will be one of our biggest challenges. A Reuters report called “Dying for Business” revealed that information overload causes 33% of managers become sick, is the cause of 66% of tensions between colleagues, and causes delays in decision-making for 43% of those polled. One of the critical ways to survive will be to filter information that’s relevant to us and to our lives.

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