Early in my career, when I was spending my time in a more traditional corporate environment, I always knew that I wanted to run my own consulting business and follow my own ideas. Now, with WETEC Consulting, I am able to do just that. But what I didn’t necessarily expect all those years ago was that I would end up in the MENA region.
I’ve worked in a number of countries in the area over the years, including Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan. Currently, I live and work in Dubai, UAE. Being here, it’s easy to see the incredible potential for growth in the region’s business sector, especially the financial industry.
The MENA region currently accounts for about 5.5 percent of the world’s population and nearly 4 percent of the world’s GDP. It’s biggest economic appeal has historically been its oil sector, which has accounted for most of its world trade — but it’s only a matter of time before the area becomes known for other beneficial factors.
PwC released a report detailing megatrends that are transforming the MENA region, some of which indicate obstacles to overcome, but also show promise if they are addressed. The report showed that the population of the area has doubled over the past 20 years, reaching 51 million in 2015. Not only that, but the region is filled with young people, with over 40 percent of the population under the age of 25. This represents a valuable economic opportunity if the region is able to give these young people the tools, resources, and knowledge they need to make an impact in this region.
The Middle East and North Africa region is also quickly becoming a global center for trade. Being located directly between Africa, Europe, and major Asian countries like India and China, it is in the prime geographic location to do so. In less than 10 years, Chinese companies in the Middle East have increased from a mere 18 to 3,000. Egypt in particular attracted $18 billion in foreign investment in 2014.
This shift in global economic influence is fundamentally improving the economic outlook for the region. Importantly, it’s allowing for the MENA area to become self-sufficient and stimulate its own growth. Trade between GCC countries (Gulf Cooperation Council) has risen from $8 billion to $54 billion in 13 years, which equates to a 700 percent increase. And GCC sovereign wealth funds have become some of the biggest investors in the world, investing $24 billion USD a year. As a result of these economic achievements, the middle class in this area is forecasted to grow exponentially.
Perhaps the MENA region’s greatest strength, though, is it’s rapid technological growth. The region is investing heavily in telecom infrastructure, digital readiness initiatives, and competitive arrangements for network providers. And according to McKinsey, the region has only reached 8 percent of its digital potential. On the other hand, more developed regions like Western Europe and North America have achieved 15 percent and 18 percent respectively. This just means that the region has far more room to grow than it already has. The MENA region already has a budding fintech scene, with regional governments making efforts to open fintech accelerators and introduce regulations that encourage digital banking.
The MENA region might not seem like an obvious choice to entrepreneurs at first glance. We are years away before it can claim the same level of success and economic status as North America or Europe, certainly. But all signs are pointing toward upward growth. In my time here thus far, I have already begun to feel the effects of the region’s ongoing transformation. Entrepreneurs should not turn a blind eye to this area of the world, or they might just miss out on something special.