From Davos to Dubai: WEIF 2014.
The world's attention turned to Davos, Switzerland, this week for the 44th World Economic Forum (WEF). This year's theme was 'resilient dynamism,' and its founder, Dr Klaus Schwab, asked the delegates to bring four things: their brain, their soul, their heart, and their good nerves.
We have in the Muslim world the World Economic Islamic Forum (WEIF). The 'objective of the WEIF is to facilitate business amongst the Muslim world, promoting and encouraging profits that would eventually flow down to the much neglected peoples.'
Are profits more important than promoting and encouraging quality of life?
The recently completed 9th WEIF in London focused on 'Changing World, New Relationships.' But, it will be mainly remembered by the announcement of UK Prime Minster, David Cameron, of a sovereign sukuk in 2014.
Today, sukuk are about infrastructure projects and addressing short-term liquidity of Islamic banks and the connection to benefitting the 'neglected people' is weak.
The 10th WEIF will take place in Dubai in 2014. It is universally agreed Dubai raised the profile of World Expo, as many people probably could not recall the when and where the last Expo took place. The world now knows Expo 2020 will be held in Dubai.
The WEF is a phenomenon, because it '... encourages businesses, governments and civil society to commit together to improving the state of the world... strategic and industry partners are instrumental in helping stakeholders meet key challenges such as building sustained economic growth, mitigating global risks, promoting health for all, improving social welfare and fostering environmental sustainability.'
Dubai will do the 'Expo' for WEIF, and the event will (hopefully) raise issues/address in the 'misery index,' and not just focus on '... forum in London include Islamic banking and finance, technology, infrastructure development, health, exports, education and youth.'
Dubai can re-direct the conversation and approach of WEIF to make the instruments, stakeholders and partners bring benefit to human-kind.
The world at large, including many Muslims, are interested in addressing macro-problems that affect 'people and republics.'
Dubai can also bring WEIF a missing link of WEF: Bollywood and Hollywood, as actors' words have greater media reach and youth connectivity than politicians.
There are five major areas for coverage at WEF, and WEIF Dubai needs to capture and customise the 'headline taglines' in a flat inter-connected world and separated only by degrees. Thus, the contagion, as highlighted by financial crisis I and II, knew no boundaries and impacted society, especially debilitating the 'have-nots'. The 'have-nots' comprise majority of the 1.8 billion Muslims.
a. Economic growth: The WEF alludes to the financial crisis, and sets objective of 'building and sustaining economic growth... [including] reshape responsible capitalism...' Is Murabaha-centric Islamic finance responsible capitalism? It comes down to addressing two major questions: One, attracting patient and growth capital in the OIC with multiplier effect on economic sectors, and two, facilitating intra-OIC and inward investing, implies reducing capital flight.
b. Environmental sustainability: Food security is not just a Muslim country issue, but becoming a global phenomenon. The WEF states '...one in six people do not have access to adequate nutrition today... [or] a billion people on planet ...' For Muslims, the problem is acute as they do not control the halal food supply chain, hence, a convergence finance opportunity with Islamic finance.
c. Financial system: The crisis high-lighted a 'financial system' built on leverage enhanced by derivatives and facilitated by speculation. Occupy Wall Street flushed out the excess, but where is it today? The WEF states '... focusing on alternative investments... long-term investing, financial governance... sustainable lending.' It sounds like 'boring/accountable finance,' which many linked to Islamic finance, is becoming vogue! But, we need to focus on financial inclusion via impact investing.
d. Health for all: Sedentary life style, processed fast foods, etc, has increased the demand for healthcare funds in the GCC, as obesity has become the enemy of healthcare costs. The WEF states '... forum focuses on three key health-related activities: advocacy, dialogue and action through partnership.' The Muslim world needs to look at healthcare as a sukuk-financed infrastructure play to appreciate its magnitude.
e. Social development: The WEF motto states '... entrepreneurship in the global public interest,' implying convergence of economic progress and social development. Put different, it's A (arts) supported by B (business) yielding C (culture) that reduces D (divide) through E (education) and F (funding) resulting in G (gender equality).
At WEIF Dubai bring four things: Leave your ego at the door, be courageous enough to admit fault of wrong path taken, build consensus via civilised dialogue, and execute the take-aways with accountability.
The writer is a consultant to Thomson Reuters for Islamic finance and halal Industry. Views expressed by the author are his own and do not reflect the newspaper's policy.
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