By Kenneth Kwok
Seeing through the lens of global leaders in addressing the Decade of Action
Since 1970, economic growth has been recognized as an important instrument contributing to the decline in global poverty levels. At the same time, it has shown that not all countries have been equally successful at reducing poverty.
As a matter of fact, income inequality has risen considerably in two-thirds of the world’s nations. Moreover, current production processes are still not sustainable for the planet: resource depletion, climate change, massive increases in waste production, and pollution are challenges that have endured.
The driving force of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or Industry 4.0, will be innovation – experimenting with different ways to make use of a range of emerging physical, digital and biological technologies that transform how we produce, consume, interact and, ultimately, how we meet the Sustainable Development Goals. New technologies include remarkable advances in artificial intelligence, robotics, automation, the Internet of Things, 3D printing and additive manufacturing, nanotechnology, and biotechnology.
We had the honor of sitting down with Mr. Namir Hourani, the Managing Director of the organizing committee for the Global Manufacturing and Industrialisation Summit, to learn about the United Arab Emirates and its global aspirations for Industry 4.0. A joint initiative between the UAE Government and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), GMIS is the world’s first cross-industry forum dedicated to shaping the future of manufacturing.
KK: Namir, given everyone’s curiosity regarding innovation being achieved in the Middle East, could you please explain, in your own words, what’s the purpose of the Mohammed bin Rashid Initiative for Global Prosperity and the #Make4ProsperityWeek?
NM: It’s an open innovation platform driven by the belief that innovation and technology can solve many of our world’s challenges. We launch four social impact challenges in September of every year alongside the United Nations General Assembly in New York, and we open them up to anyone, anywhere in the world, to submit solutions.
We encourage startups and innovators to participate by offering cash prizes and partnering with global organizations who provide mentorship and guidance to the finalists. At the #Make4ProsperityWeek 2020, we are showcasing entrepreneurs from 50 countries.
The initiative is named in honour of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai, who has always been a believer in embracing the power of innovation to solve challenges.
KK: I personally cannot imagine a sustainable world which does not require constant innovation. Where does your passion for furthering social innovation come from?
NM: You know, that’s a great question and one that I often struggle to answer myself. From a career perspective, I play multiple roles, all of which have had a major impact in fueling my passions.
It all started when I took up the role of Managing Director of a global thought leadership platform called the Global Manufacturing and Industrialisation Summit (GMIS). It’s an annual conference which brings together leaders from the manufacturing community to discuss, debate and shape the future of the manufacturing sector. The ultimate mission of GMIS is to highlight and showcase how technologies driven by the Fourth Industrial Revolution can enable a stronger and more agile manufacturing sector, and in turn lead to more sustainable global economies and advance global prosperity.
Through this initiative we engage very closely with multiple stakeholders, from governments and academia, to some of the largest organizations in the world. We also work very closely with startups and innovators who are playing a much more prominent role in today’s manufacturing world, specifically when it comes to supporting large organizations with new technologies and innovations.
This led us to think, how can we engage better, and in a more structured way, with these innovators? How can we encourage them to utilize their innovative skills to make our world a better place? And so, we thought, why not ask them to direct some of these skill sets to solving pressing global issues? Why not address real world challenges?
And this was really the starting point of our mission to further social innovation. I’ll tell you, from a personal career perspective, I am also an entrepreneur myself and own multiple businesses, so I have a pretty deep connection to the startup ecosystem. But let me tell you, nothing I have ever done in my career has brought out the kind of passion in me that social innovation does. It ultimately combines two things that I love: entrepreneurship, and making a difference.
KK: I had a front row seat to seeing this passion play out during previous MBR events, which really do involve a global audience. Of course, my goal here is to help onboard more founders from Asia! What advice would you give to our next-gen leaders in Asia and globally in finding and harnessing this passion?
NM: As a father of four, I see first-hand how children today are more concerned about our world and our planet, and how keen they are to make a difference. My children are growing up in a household where plastic is frowned upon, because it is bad for our environment. A walk on the beach often ends up with a clean-up to get rid of public litter. We strictly control water consumption because we want our kids to know that water is scarce, and they shouldn’t take it for granted. But the reality is that this is not unique to my household. In fact, this is very quickly becoming the norm. This is the household of today!
The upcoming generation is a lot more conscious than we were and this is the generation that will become the leaders of tomorrow. They know they can make a difference, and they want to do it! So, my advice to the next-gen leaders, whether in Asia or elsewhere in the world, would be to believe in your ability to make a difference, and always make sure that social responsibility and social impact is placed at the forefront of the decisions that you make.
KK: Now, as we all know, innovation and impact work do not come either cost-free or risk-free. From your perspective, what are the key risk factors and mega-trends your work will have to overcome/adapt to in the next three to seven years, and how have these influenced your strategy
NM: The beauty of the Global Prosperity Initiative is that it calls on communities anywhere in the world to submit solutions on our online platform. The entire process is online, from posting the challenges, to submitting the solutions, to our panel of judges assessing the solutions. The biggest risk factor our world is facing today in light of the pandemic, is the inability to hold physical gatherings or meetings, which in many cases may affect business continuity. In our case, we’ve always been online. Sure, we’ve had to adapt and have more virtual meetings than we’d like, but our business model is strong and purely relies on an Internet connection.
From a mega-trends perspective, all the challenges that we post on our platform are aligned with the mission of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which is a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and improve the lives of everyone, everywhere. You will notice that each of our challenges focuses on tackling one or more of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that were launched by the United Nations in 2015. In fact, the themes for our challenges are identified through an engagement process with over 10 United Nations entities, who are ultimately our partners that help us drive this initiative forward. And because these UN partners have boots on the ground, they are close to the challenges our world is facing, and they tend to be able to see, and to a certain degree even predict, some of the mega-trends that might arise in future.
I definitely see the pandemic influencing the direction of some of the future challenges that we post. Today, more than ever before, we have seen the power of technology and innovation in solving global problems. The one thing that has prevented the world from coming to a complete standstill during the pandemic is the progress that has been made in recent years on developing digital technologies which have enabled humanity to maintain a certain degree of activity, a degree of normal. If it wasn’t for that the world would be in pretty bad shape today. Thanks to these technologies people have been able to work remotely, learn from home, and do all their shopping without having to leave their homes.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Technology offers the potential to do so much more and help address all sorts of pressing global problems. I don’t think this has changed our strategy though. In fact, it has merely strengthened our position and the need for a platform like makingprosperity.com to tackle global problems through technology and innovation.
KK; Technology for Good is most certainly a platform I can subscribe to, and what makes it even more powerful is its ability to showcase our combined resilience against crisis. How have your original 2020 plans changed with the onset of COVID-19? What is the progress so far?
There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic took organizations all over the world by storm. And we’ve seen that being agile has been key to reacting to it. Picking ourselves up and quickly adapting and finding solutions that help us get back to normal, or as close to normal as possible, is key.
In our case, this meant that we needed to pivot towards a more digital world as physical events were all of a sudden no longer an option. Last year we held the pitch event for the Global Maker Challenge in Abu Dhabi, and we invited the startups, the finalists, as well as members from the judging panel, to fly in from all over the world. This year the event will fully take place virtually.
Our biggest challenge was to figure out which platform was the most suitable for our virtual event. We had to assess multiple options and understand the pros and cons of each. But after a few weeks of doing this, we feel like we’ve adapted pretty well, and the virtual events world is now almost second nature to us. Everybody is talking about the new normal. And we believe that virtual events are the new normal. They are here to stay.
KK: How do you describe your personal purpose and how do you help your employees share your vision for the role of the Initiative for Global Prosperity in society?
NM: What I have found is that doing global good is so highly rewarding that it almost becomes addictive. I have a tremendous drive to want to make a difference as it gives me purpose beyond the material things in life, and that is irreplaceable. I have also noticed this with our entire team. They want to make a difference and they realize that being part of this initiative is a great way of doing that. They feel the connection, and this drives them to excel.
For example, every new challenge is launched with a documentary-style film produced by our internal team. They go on the ground and visit areas that are most affected by these challenges. They interview people and hear real stories and they come back to the office and talk about their experience. When the film is completed and the team watches it for the first time, they can relate. If that’s not inspiring, I don’t know what is.
KK: If you had one wish for the Initiative for Global Prosperity, what would it be and what impact could it have on other impact-driven ventures?
NM: The short answer is, I would want it to continue to contribute to making our world a better place. That is the end goal here. I would like to create a community of global social impact enthusiasts with a common goal. I want to see makingprosperity.com become the world’s leading social impact platform that enables entrepreneurs to deploy their innovative solutions to solve real world challenges.
Every challenge that we have ever posted has addressed key global issues. And in only two years, we have managed to see some amazing results which I am very proud of. Across two cohorts, a total of eight challenges received more than 4,500 solutions from over 148 countries. In the process we have created a community made up of thousands of entrepreneurs and innovators that have some great ideas and are hungry to give back.
KK: Wonderful, Namir. Indeed, the 2030 Agenda for the United Nations and the Sustainable Development Goals calls upon countries to pursue a different kind of growth, one that is socially inclusive, economically affordable and environmentally sustainable. It is our joint mission to achieve this, and the time to act is now.
About the Author
Kenneth is the Founder and CEO of Global Citizen Capital, an impact-oriented healthcare, biotech, logistics, technology and education focused multi-family office investment venture based out of Hong Kong. Kenneth has worked 15 years in the finance industry, serving as the CIO to a large Chinese listed conglomerate as well as a financial professional at UBS AG and Deutsche Bank.
He is passionate about social impact work through his Better Together Foundation, which supports youth entrepreneurship related initiatives across Asia, and about health and well-being through his Co-President role at Asia World Anti-Aging and Well-Being Association (“AWAWA”). He is a UN SDG Accelerator Labs Mentor as well as UPenn/Wharton alumni interview chair.