Having lived outside of my hometown of Jeddah for more than half of my life, I eagerly await the annual Jeddah Economic Forum (JEF) for an opportunity to get a flavor of what has changed in the city, to re-connect with my friends and listen to a number of globally renowned speakers share their experiences, visions and insights.
Over the past 14 years, JEF has been a platform for dozens of inspirational speakers which included heads of state, prime ministers, entrepreneurs, academics as well as a number of Saudi Arabia’s finest and most influential movers and shakers.
However, the past 14 years have seen Jeddah change dramatically as well.
This is no longer the quiet, cozy city it once was.
With an estimated population of nearly five million people, Jeddah has become a busy, crowded, metropolis where it is almost impossible to avoid road congestion and where there is a growing demand for almost everything; from desalinated water, to food, to electricity to schools and hospitals.
Of course, the growing demands have not been specific to Jeddah but to Saudi Arabia as a whole, which saw its population grow more than 333 percent over the last four decades.
As long as we think that throwing money at any issue is the solution to it, then we will only be contributing to the problem rather than fixing itFaisal J. Abbas
What this meant is that contrary to what many other Arab states suffered/are suffering, Saudi Arabia’s biggest challenge was its own political stability and economic prosperity.
Indeed, as oil-rich and resourceful as it is, the kingdom needs to ensure a sustainable future for the growing number of people.
Hence, it was almost natural to see JEF’s agenda shift over the past 14 years from having an international focus to being more and more focused on resolving local issues such as unemployment, empowering youth and discussing housing problems.
Of course, the added-value of addressing these local issues under the JEF umbrella is that we get to do so with global expertise on-board.
This year I couldn’t help but “raise my shemagh” in respect to one particular speaker: “financial dignity” and poverty-eradication expert, John Hope Bryant.