The global economy is entering a period of significant changes due to a myriad of factors at play, which bring about both opportunities and challenges. Additionally, new innovations and technological discoveries are made every day, mostly driven by market trends and evolving consumption patterns. Major important transformations are being witnessed at all levels; never in recent history has humanity witnessed so many political, economic, social, technological, environmental, and legal changes that are transforming the global political-economic landscape.
So how can one benefit from these changes? Is the job market ready to embrace these changes? Are companies, along with governments, in the MENA region ready to take advantage of all the opportunities these changes bring along?
The private sector should be an important driving engine of economic growth, poverty alleviation and job creation.It does not only provide goods and services, and generate tax revenues to finance essential social and economic infrastructure, it can also develop new and innovative solutions that help tackle development challenges, and transform corporate social responsibility and philanthropic efforts
The private sector, in Jordan and in the region, has to move from the conventional approach of supporting economic development to entering inclusive and elaborated partnerships with the public sector. Public-private partnerships are important in the provision of infrastructure projects, including social infrastructure and services like, for example, hospitals and education facilities.
Cooperation between the government, the business sector and civil society may help create a strong and durable economy and work force, and social development at large. All these stakeholders need to realize that economic and social development has to be more resilient and sustainable, and adopt a human rights-based inclusive approach that leaves nobody behind. This calls for the good will of businesses, government and civil society.
ARDD, a civil society organization, believes that innovation needs sustainable finance, development and aid work. It also realizes that any tangible impact needs the cooperation of and resources from all major stakeholders.
A good example in the region is that of charity funds introduced in Egypt in 2019. The Egyptian Ministry of Social Solidarity, Nasser Social Bank and a number of companies announced in October 2019 the launch of the Ataa charity fund, the first charity investment fund in this country. All the proceeds of the fund were to be directed toward supporting differently abled people, either physically or mentally, who represent around 10% of the population. The fund is managed by Azimut Egypt Asset Management, an investment management company with a strong portfolio and successful track record of investment performance, which operates in accordance with capital market legislation under supervision from the Financial Regulatory Authority.
The Ataa fund invests in various securities and bank savings funds All profits made by the Ataa Fund are directed to financing selected initiatives and projects implemented by organizations and associations that provide health and social services to differently abled people, and provide scholarships and loans to differently abled students, finance and provide cash or in-kind assistance for differently abled persons and their families, and contribute to financing the construction and operation of hospitals and centers for the care of differently abled children, and to equipping youth and youth centers.
Similarly, in March 2023, Saudi Arabia launched the world’s first charity subscription campaign to raise one billion riyals to secure housing for needy families in the kingdom. By the end of the holy month of Ramadan, the campaign had raised nearly 1.5 billion Saudi riyals (equivalent to $400 million). The charitable campaign, titled Evergreen Stock, is an IPO simulation that targeted Saudi Arabia’s most prominent corporations, institutions, and individuals.
The campaign, resorting to a share subscription, enables participants to subscribe to shares amounting to 100 million, at a value of 10 riyals each. The shares do not generate material returns, instead offer the community charitable returns by securing houses for those in need. Nearly 26,250 individuals from 5,250 families throughout the Kingdom had obtained houses thanks to the campaign
This successful campaign was launched by the Jood Al Iskan platform, a Saudi crowdfunding platform for home ownership launched in 2019 by Sakan, a non-profit arm of the Ministry of Municipal, Rural Affairs, and Housing. However, the private sector played a major part in enabling and assuring the success of such campaigns. Private sector companies that played a role include the General Endowment Authority, Al Rajhi Bank, STC group, MBC, Al- Arabiya, Ajlan and Brothers, Sumou Real Estate and Khuzam Real Estate.
These examples from the region demonstrate the critical role of business thinking and business know how in serving societal needs and enabling the enjoyment of human rights.
Innovation can drive the productivity in the non-profit sector and introduce new and better approaches. The expertise, research, resources, innovations and reach those businesses bring to social development and philanthropy, in general, can help civil society come up with new solutions that it could never afford to develop on its own.
At global level, in addition to donating drugs, Pfizer developed a cheap treatment for the prevention of trachoma, the leading cause of preventable blindness. It worked with Edna McConnel Clark Foundation and World Health Organization to distribute the treatment to populations with little access to health care and modern medication. Within one year, the incidence of trachoma was reduced by 50% among target populations in Morocco and Tanzania. The success of the initiative has led to its expansion of the initiative by adding Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the British government as partners to reach 30 million people worldwide.
In Jordan, major steps have been taken, yet more needs to be done and more integrated efforts need to be exerted to reach innovative business solutions that secure sustainable finance and provide solutions to challenging social problems. The question is, how can the expertise of business leaders, their clout and connections, and their international networks be used to come up with solutions for present and emerging social problems?
In February 2023, the civil society, represented by ARDD, and the Jordanian Businessmen Association started a new chapter of collaboration introducing and signing the voluntary Goodwill Declaration “Toward a Common Goal: Strengthening Equitable Economic Growth in Jordan”, to build a new partnership among state institutions, the business sector, and civil society, to promote social dialogue and actions that contribute to sustainable socio-economic development in Jordan. This Goodwill Declaration outlined a number of key principles and an agenda of action to achieve concrete goals within the framework of UN Guiding Principles on Human Rights and Business.
The declaration recognizes that Jordan’s business sector is critical to the country’s economic growth, provides much-needed employment opportunities, and contributes to poverty alleviation. However, considering the current global conditions and the recent political, economic, and health crises that afflicted Jordan and the region, and created a gap between labor market needs and supply, in terms of available skills and expertise, and the increasing unemployment rates among young people, a new roadmap and action agenda, and increased cooperation between the civil society and the business sector were needed. Thus, this first-of-its-kind initiative came after extensive dialogue between civil society and the private sector; it was announced at an event where 20 prominent business leaders signed the Goodwill Declaration, encouraging others in Jordan to follow their lead and setting Jordan as a model for other Arab countries to follow.