WEF Blogging | Opening Remarks & Familiar Faces

الجمعة 18 أيار 2007

Less than three hours ago HM King Abdullah II took the stage at the World Economic Forum. Less than 30 seconds into his opening statement the King brought up the Palestinian issue. Calling it a “year of opportunity”, the conflict took center stage here at the WEF and I was not entirely surprised. With the factional fighting taking place in Gaza and Israel’s bombing of targets in the city, there has been a big push for returning to the peace talks by way of Jordan, specifically with regards to the Arab Peace Initiative. The King seems to have set the stage for that with the WEF, especially with so many leaders, thinkers, movers and shakers in the same room.

However what I thought was most interesting about the King’s speech was the transition to the broader lens of the region.

“The time has come to stop thinking about peace as an end; an end to conflict”, said the King, “but as a beginning, a beginning of sweeping new opportunities and benefits for the people of this region. An era that will open new, cross-border opportunities that multiply the benefits of development and investment. But if we are going to take advantage of that potential; if we are going to sustain the peace and build on it, then, we need to ask that question: what about the day after peace?”

Pinpointing some of the key problems plaguing our region, including water, employment, infrastructure and hinting towards alternative sources of energy, the King went on to paint a pretty rosy picture of what he envisions for the future of the region, asking the audience to “imagine for a moment…”

But not by any stretch of the imagination will any such visions ever come to fruition without an established resolution to the conflict next door. At least in my opinion.

What effect ‘peace talks’ will have on the WEF these next few days is yet to be seen. Like I said in the curtain opener, many of the issues are talked about over coffee and tea rather than the sessions. However issues that take place at the highest level, including ‘peace talks’, are happening behind closed doors, as they so often do.


Peres, Abbas and Livni

Meanwhile…

During the opening plenary session, Fadi Ghandour (CEO of Aramex) and other co-chairs of the WEF discussed what it means to make a difference to the future of the region. What was interesting about the session was the extent to which CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) played a role. Both Ghandour and other co-chairs such as Saeed Muntafiq (Chairman of Tatweer), reiterated the importance of businesses beginning to take an active role in shaping their communities and addressing the problems that they can help solve. There was even talk of no longer relying on governments to do all the heavy lifting. I personally always find talk of CSR to be susceptible and uncertain. Probably because I, along with many others I think, cannot be sure just how seriously CEOs take CSR. Actions of course speak louder than words, and we’ve seen some CSR take shape in Jordan but I still find myself cautious of what I feel is “chic-talk”, or in other words, what I feel is just another topic CEOs talk about to make it seem like they care.

Elsewhere…

The WEF is packed with familiar faces. In fact every press kit comes with a thick dictionary of who’s who at the forum. From royalty to thinkers to CEOs and journalists, it’s been an interesting day thus far. HE Prince Zaid is busy talking on his cell phone a few meters away while journalist Rami Khouri is running around and has the magical ability to disappear like a ghost, so tracking him down for a chat has been difficult (so far).

I should note at this point that the first day is mostly an introduction; tomorrow is when the WEF goes into the full gear.