Egypt The Future … Recap from Egypt Economic Development Conference 2015

From inside the Jolie Ville International Congress Centre in Sharm El Sheikh, optimism and the sound of a brighter more prosperous future for Egypt’s Economy emanates loud enough to drown out the rumbling of military apache’s flying overhead.

“Your Royal Highnesses, Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies & Gentleman” a new era for Egypt has arrived and the Egypt Economic Development Conference 2015 was the vessel that carried this message to the people of Egypt and the rest of the world. Over 1,700 investors, government officials, business men, media and consultancy experts joined to reinstate that our country is moving beyond our years of revolutionary upheaval towards restoring fiscal stability by driving growth and attracting investment.

From the main stage of the plenary hall to the buzzing sectoral sessions and knowledge sharing ‘brain dates’ taking place in bilateral meeting rooms, there was an all-pervasive buoyant aura permeating the walls of the conference, with hope that Egypt is shedding its skin of the past and taking measures that prepare and connect it to the modern world.

Here are the most important highlights from #EEDC (in our opinion):

FundRai$ing

The opening ceremony started on time! That, in itself, was the first success of the conference. At precisely 4:00pm president Abdul Fattah El Sisi  took to the stage, followed by a relay of royal heirs, princes and heads of state passing along the baton to each other. By 6:30pm Egypt had collected a whopping USD $12 billion in donations from our richer GCC “friends”. The organisers should have removed the inaccurate digital population counter fixed on the top of the CAPMAS building on Salah Salem and placed it on the backdrop of the stage to count the $$ flowing in and eliminate discrepancies in the total amount: USD$38.2 billion  in investments over the 3 day conference, signed and are ready for implementation, is the number we were able to confirm.

Like many Egyptians, President Abdul Fattah El Sisi knows how to haggle! His tales of negotiating prowess, further confirmed by him at his heartfelt closing speech, claiming that he bargained with General Electric to narrow delivery time of their utilities project from 24 months to just 8 months and banking on “???? ???? ????” to slash their asking price and invest an additional $200 million in a manufacturing and training facility near the Suez Canal.

New CC

(no that is not an acronym for the president, it stands for Cairo Capital)

Egyptians have always been a fan of all things “new” and if the stretch from “New Cairo” to “New Giza” is not enough to house our exponentially growing population, the conference revealed the construction of a ‘new’ administrative capital to be built in 5-7 years at a cost of $45 billion confirmed by Mohamed Alabbar of Capital City Partners and Founder & Chairman of Emaar Properties, who also voiced his “emotional attachment” to Egypt. Walking out of the plenary hall after the announcement, it was difficult not to notice the enormous maquette of the yet unnamed new capital located outside in all its glory. The sheer size and attention to detail of this mock-up was enough to bring temporary relief to the many cynics of this announcement, but if the ambitious promise of housing 7 million people and creating 1.5 million new jobs is up kept then the new capital will act as something of a pressure valve for the existing capital’s ever-growing population.

Strat_EGY

Although the first day of the conference was dedicated to ‘fundraising’, the days following served the purpose of the conference’s fitting title: “Egypt’s Economic Development” highlighting reform in all areas contributing to our flailing economy and building on to the few steps taken in the right direction prior to the conference. The Sustainable Development Strategy 2030 shows a plan for macroeconomic stability by addressing declining oil prices, trimming of our energy subsidies, tax reform, official currency exchange rate to float down to market rate, export promotion strategy and an investment law providing incentives and legal protections.

The participants at the sessions were all in agreement that ‘inclusive growth’ should always be the underlying goal going forward. Investment Minister Ashraf Salman even went as far as saying that “the bureaucratic system needs to be totally destroyed using dynamite (no pun intended) and re-designed to create one-stop shops for all individual and institutional investments from here onwards.”

Transparency

Past Egyptian Governments re-defined the “need-to-know” basis to a “no-need-to-know” basis to brush off injustices, the passing of self-serving laws and bad decisions. One thing was evident at the #EEDC this year: this will no longer be tolerated.

The Government’s future plans integrated across ministries were drawn up in co-operation with the private sector, nonprofit sector, local and international economic experts and consultants. Ministers were very present and candid about their plans, opened the floors to unmoderated questions, publicised their planning documents, sat on panels with representatives from all sectors and accepted some very public yet honest criticisms. There were no “boxes” waiting outside to handcuff those who opposed, no men in black with bluetooth earpieces and dark raybans ensuring a safety perimeter around ministers, and roadblocks making way for tinted black mercedes convoys were kept to a bare minimum. That is progress!

Entrepreneurship

Endeavor Egypt is a proud member of a highly collaborative Entrepreneurship Ecosystem “Bubble”. This bubble has been growing over the past 5 years and finally the day has come where positive signs indicate that it is beginning to burst. In the “new” Egypt, Entrepreneurship was given the same importance as tourism, infrastructure and technology with a 2.5 hour specific sectoral session titled: ‘High-Growth Entrepreneurship:  Egyptian women and men building enterprises’. This was powered by yours truly, Endeavor Egypt, and will remain one of our proudest achievements to date.

The session brought together some of Egypt’s leading entrepreneurs and the drivers behind Egypt’s Entrepreneurship Ecosystem, with the aim of informing the audience, identifying opportunities for growth and potential areas for collaboration as well as attracting individual and institutional investments. It  began with an informative panel representing different entities that support and fund entrepreneurs at different stages, including: Hossam Allam; Founder of Cairo Angels, Hany Al Sonbaty; Partner at Sawari Ventures, Mohamed Osman; CEO Sofico , Ayman Ismail; CEO DMG & Chairman of Endeavor Egypt and Hussein El Gueretly; CEO Information Technology Industry Development Agency.

Inspirational entrepreneurs presented their success stories including Endeavor Entrepreneurs Mohamed Azab, Hassab Labs and Shereif Kesseba; Nile Valley Growers and promoted the country’s potential to serve as the entrepreneurial hub for the Middle East. The session concluded with the launch of the Cairo StartUp Map and Cairo Tech Mapvalidating the presence of a collaborative entrepreneurship ecosystem in Egypt. This was followed by an announcement from The World Bank in cooperation with the Social Fund for Development introducing a $120 million Venture Capital Program to overcome the key challenges faced by underserved Egyptian start-ups and to develop and catalyze a nationwide entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Encouraging and facilitating entrepreneurship is a key plank of the Egyptian government’s economic reform program that aims to increase the role of the private sector at every level of the Egyptian economy.  Entrepreneurs drive long-term economic growth and play a key role in high-value job creation and we are relieved that this has finally been recognised by the government and policy makers.

 

EEDC_All

New World of Order

This subtitle does not refer to a conspiracy theory of the emergence of a totalitarian one world government but a literal meaning demonstrated by the conference: Egypt is joining the new world and implementing ‘order’. In my early skepticisms on the organisational aspect and outcomes of this conference, my father gave me great advice; “Lower your expectations and you will lower your disappointments”  Disappointed I most definitely was not. From the provincial government issued dark business suits worn (and praised) by taxi drivers of Sharm El Sheikh to the precisely timed sessions moderated by some of the world’s most recognisable names, the level of organization they were able to achieve far exceeded any of the attendees’ expectations. While a number of unpardonable glitches did indeed occur, the general consensus was ‘very good’ with regards to planning and logistics and any inconveniences caused were recouped by shrimp towers and stellar entertainment at dinners hosted by the Who’s Who of the Egyptian business community.

 The conference closed much like it opened; with a big bang! The heartfelt closing speech given by the president sent out waves of hope through the overflowing auditorium. Emotions were high, laughter from the #SisiSelfie were countered by tears of nationalism from the prime minister and chants from the audience “???? ??? ““.Whether you think this conference was merely a showcase for international fundraising or a diversion of public attention, whether you are a pessimist, optimist or realist, it is undeniable that the Egypt Economic Development Conference served one of its main purposes which was to, at the very least, re-instate our faith as Egyptians in our own economy. The pyramids were not built in a day and subsequently our economy will not be revived over a weekend in the Sharm El Sheikh sun. But this is definitely a step in the right direction…

Until next year…

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