Importance of education and inequality highlighted as major issues for global economy

Sustainable global growth well within reach, but risks have to be managed

Big data offers huge potential, but safety and ethics framework required to ensure benefits fully realised

Former UK PM Tony Blair praises Vision 2030

Riyadh, 24 October 2017:  Influential international politicians, investors, corporate leaders and policy makers grappled with the economic challenges and opportunities facing the world during the opening morning sessions of the Future Investment Initaitive (FII), which started today in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. 

The three day event was opened with remarks delivered by the Minister of Commerce and Investment, Dr Majed Al Qasabi, on behalf of His Royal Highness Prince Mohammad bin Salman Al-Saud, Crown Prince, Deputy Prime Minister, Chairman of the Council of Economic and Development Affairs and Chairman of the Public Investment Fund (PIF).  Outlining the necessity of international partnership and collaboration, Minister Al Qasabi said that FII represented “a platform that helps us forge relationships, share ideas, and explore future opportunities.”

His opening remarks were followed by two sessions: the first looking broadly at the new frameworks likely to shape the global economy over the next decades, and the second looking at how data is driving the new information economy. The morning was concluded by a conversation with former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde opened discussions in the first session by noting that the current picture for the international economy is more positive than it has been for some time, with 3.7 percent global growth projected.   However, she warned that there were two clear challenges facing the international community that will fundamentally impact development over the next five decades: climate change and the risks from growing inequality.  Addressing these two issues is critical to ensuring a positive future, Lagarde argued.

The concern over rising inequality was supported by Larry Fink, Chairman and CEO of BlackRock and David McCormick, Co-CEO of Bridgewater Associates. Both also cited rising populism in the West, which has been exacerbated by technology, as posing one of today’s greatest risks.  Victor Chu, Chairman and CEO of Hong Kong’s First Eastern Investment Group, spoke from the Chinese perspective, citing the ‘One Belt, One Road’ infrastructure and development initiative as a key example of a long-term policy for wider economic benefit, not least to emerging frontier economies.

Discussing the Kingdom’s plans for investment, PIF Managing Director, H.E. Yasir Al Rumayyan emphasized the importance of creating new international partnerships, citing recent agreements the Fund has made with Softbank and Blackstone. H.E. Al Rumayyan also touched on PIF’s wider investment strategy, including its commitment to localize technologies in Saudi Arabia, which is hoped to create more than 20,000 new jobs by 2020.  

Amin Nasser, President and CEO of Saudi Aramco, discussed the future of energy, noting the enormous potential for renewables, whilst affirming that hydrocarbons will continue to play a key role in the global economy for many decades.  Nasser noted the importance of  exploring how to reduce and collect carbon emissions as well as creating more energy efficient systems, while building renewable capabilities. 

Returning to global social development issues, Larry Fink noted that education will be fundamental for emerging economies looking to continue strong growth rates, highlighting the importance of everyone playing a part in “equalising the world”.  In this regard, Christine Lagarde emphasized that, “The new order is coming, but it should be centered on community, equality, and trust.”

The second session of the day outlined the enormity of the potential changes and opportunities caused by big data feeding into the emerging knowledge economy.  Thomas Kennedy, CEO of Raytheon, highlighted that the world is only witnessing the start of big data’s fundamental role in the global economy. Kennedy predicted that big data will “take off” over the next five years.

Tidjane Thiam, CEO of Credit Suisse, noted that while the data revolution was exciting, there is a critical need to address the growing threat of information security.  Joe Kaeser, CEO of Siemens, stressed the importance of agreeing what the purpose of data should be, noting that big data can help mankind overcome major existing obstacles. “Data can even help us defeat cancer,” he said.

Ajay Bangam, President and CEO of MasterCard, made a strong call for a new regulatory system covering both safety and ethics to ensure that all the benefits that big data will bring are not lost through misuse.  Mohamed Alabbar, Chairman of Emaar, also cited the importance of using big data not just for commercial advantage, but also to benefit society. Lubna Olayan, CEO of Olayan Financing Company, highlighted how big data has helped her company improve efficiencies, reduce costs and innovate new products. She also struck a positive note on how the new generation’s greater social responsibility should help channel the use of big data in the right direction. 

Giving an assessment of the current direction of international affairs and the global economy, the UK’s former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, highlighted that in facing today’s challenges, countries have a choice of nationalism or reform. Commenting on Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, Blair said it was “the most important and exciting thing to happen in the region during the last few years” and while noting the challenges, he said it was “vital that it succeeds as it will affect the region and the security of the rest of the world.”   

Organized by PIF, the FII is taking place in Riyadh from 24th to 26th October. The invitation-only event is being organized in the context of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, a blueprint that is already charting the path for the Kingdom to harness its strategic location and strong investment capabilities.