Deputy Managing Director Bo Li’s Opening Remarks: Young Entrepreneurs and Digital Transformation in MENA

April 13, 2023

As prepared for delivery

Good afternoon. Thank you for joining today’s seminar on ‘Young Entrepreneurs and Digital Transformation in the Middle East and North Africa’.

I am honored to introduce this event because it combines three topics of great interest to me – digital transformation, entrepreneurship, and youth! And we have an outstanding panel of experts who will discuss these topics in greater detail.

Digital revolution – where does MENA stand?

Let’s start with the digital revolution, which was accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic and is continuously reshaping our world. The MENA region is no exception: many businesses and consumers migrated to digital channels for banking, entertainment, and more. Policymakers have set ambitious targets to digitally transform economies. The UAE, for example, aims to double the contribution of the digital economy to over 20 percent of non-oil GDP by 2031.

This is not surprising: IMF research shows that closing digital divides can help countries boost growth and productivity and build resilience against shocks. We are seeing this already: during the pandemic, digitally-enabled firms and industries outperformed peers.

While the case for digital transformation is clear, there is still a lot of untapped potential in the MENA region. Smartphones are widely used, but digital payments and e-commerce are still in early stages. The region still consumes more innovations than it produces. There are also large disparities in digital adoption in the region, especially between low-income countries and GCC countries.

So what can be done to unlock this potential and ramp up digital transformation?

Young entrepreneurs and the future

The key is the region’s young entrepreneurs, who will determine the future. Young people constitute more than half of the population across MENA. They can rapidly adopt new technologies, becoming not only consumers but also innovators and entrepreneurs.

But young people face challenges in launching and growing their businesses. To support the digital transformation, countries must address these challenges and create an enabling environment for new ideas and digital solutions.

Creating an enabling environment

Several MENA countries have taken positive steps to support young entrepreneurs, particularly in the fintech sector, through incubators and regulatory sandboxes. But more can be done to keep up with the evolving digital landscape and foster entrepreneurship.

Here are four ways to create an enabling environment:

  • First, enhance countries’ digital infrastructure to improve access to information and technology.
  • Second, upgrade digital literacy and upskill the young workforce to meet employers’ needs.
  • Third, alleviate the financing constraints that small and medium enterprises face to adopt new technologies.
  • And finally, increase adoption of new technologies by streamlining regulations and enhancing the legal environment.

We should also look for regional cooperation opportunities to promote digital transformation. Young entrepreneurs are well placed to tap customers, talents, and supply chains from across the region, but only if institutional and regulatory barriers are addressed.

I am delighted that today we have with us some of the region’s young entrepreneurs who are successfully leveraging digital technologies across different sectors of the economy. Let’s hear from them on how our economies can take advantage of the digital revolution.

Thank you.

IMF Communications Department


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