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WEF in Turkey after 4 years... Anything new?

The World Economic Forum on Europe and Central Asia held in Istanbul in October 2008 attracted lots of interest as it coincided with the days the global financial crisis erupted, and many critical and heated issues were discussed as part of its agenda.

Once again, I didn't miss WEF's second meeting in Istanbul after four years. Considering the time since then, this meeting was a great opportunity to both retrospectively assess our global situation in the aftermath of the crisis and better understand the time ahead, and listen to Turkey's position and potential in the geography of the "Middle East, North Africa, and Eurasia" which were the focus of this year's meeting.

Although the excitement and intensity of the meeting in 2008 were missing, the focus was on particularly three questions that could be regarded as the common themes of the wide region;

1) What can governments and the business community do to revamp the agility and innovativeness of the economies of the region in face of a slow-down in global growth and a possible further decline thereof?

2) How can we accelerate R&D investment which is imperative for energy cooperation and increased added value in the region?

3) How can the social dynamism, now symbolized in “the Arab Spring”, be turned into an opportunity to improve entrepreneurship, and governance quality?

Below you’ll find my notes that I think are worth sharing from the given sessions.

Session on "innovation for growth" :

Below you’ll find my notes that I think are worth sharing from the given sessions.

Session on "innovation for growth":

Smart Growth:
“Smart growth” is needed in this period where growth has slowed down and volatility prevails, particularly in this geography. Smart growth means increasing competitiveness by leveraging technology and innovation while ensuring sustainable development.

Prerequisites of Innovation:
It is becoming critical for organizations, countries even, to reinforce the “culture of experimentation”. Other critical factors include encouraging the culture of collaboration, and supporting education systems starting at primary school level.

The "Big deal" session

The discussion at this meeting revolved around how emerging markets would transform into established finance centers in the near future thanks to their economic power they have structuralized. Main messages were:

This seems to be possible.

However, their financial markets need a reliable track record of performance, and this is a process that will take quite some time. The biggest strength of significance here is pointed out to be political stability.

A driver is definitely necessary for a burgeoning financial market.

For instance, something like Dubai’s advantage of oil… Although Istanbul should be considered as a long-term project of 10 years, its domestic consumption power and growth make it an attractive city preferred by expats as well.

The session on "The Geopolitical Situation after the Arab Spring":

At this session, where the future of the Arab Spring and Syria were discussed, speakers emphasized that the democratization process would take very long, but that it is was an irreversible process since the civil movement was "authentic". With regards Syria, the ineffective, passive structure of the United Nations Security Council was criticized. For the Arab Spring to be permanent, particular emphasis was put on attracting investment into the region urgently, and solving youth unemployment issues.

The Social Entrepreneurship case:

Social Entrepreneurship is a subject the Schwab Foundation, the organizer of WEF, has been attaching great importance to for the last two years. I had the chance to get introduced to and understand the mission of this concept for the first time at this meeting. The Schwab Foundation considers social entrepreneurship to be crucial in solving the world’s fundamental problems. Therefore, supporting the formation of social entrepreneurship groups has become an important item on their agenda.

For a country with a big young population and an abundance of problems, I think this is a golden opportunity – to the attention of all existing and potential non-governmental organizations!

At the end of the day we should not forget that WEF is perhaps first and foremost a critical networking platform… The content of the program might not be as satisfactory as it used to be, however the high number of participants, and the excessive demand for participation (even if you wanted to go, the event was fully booked months in advance!) has very clearly confirmed the importance of Turkey in the region, as well as its attractiveness as a meeting point for world leaders in politics/business/academia.

Kind regards,

Mehmet N. Pekarun