What brings you to Johannesburg?
I am here to raise awareness about Expo 2020 that takes place in Dubai, whether it is from a business participation perspective, nations for their impact people providing innovations, or solutions that we can showcase to the world at this Expo. This is the first world expo in our region, so the developing world hasn’t had an easier access of showcasing their developments to the world.
What is the current link between the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Africa?
Historically, there have been a lot of ties between the UAE and Africa. The UAE is at the center of Africa and Asia. Between these two regions, you have some of the world’s largest growing economies and the largest growing societies. What we want to make sure is that we capitalize on that relationship, to bring value for both parties and the world.
There is an initiative, called Expo Live. It is a $100 million fund that supports innovation around mobility, sustainability and opportunity, with a social impact component. It supports grant recipients with an opportunity for unlocking potential for people and communities to be able to succeed in access to funding, in access to education, in access to markets, supporting entrepreneurs, empowering women and empowering youth. All of these are access to opportunities. …So far we have 45 recipients that have been grantees of Expo Live. From the 45, 14 operate or are from Africa.
You’ve been instrumental in regional business development and integration, where do you see Africa positioned in terms of global business?
There is huge potential in Africa. African nations have done a tremendous job in really leveraging their assets. I am not just talking about its natural resources, I am also talking about the educated young population. From a geographical perspective as well as historical relationship between Africa and the UAE, we want to make sure that this expo provides opportunities. In 2017 we have awarded about $3 billion in contracts – construction and non-construction related. On top of that we will have 180 nations participating in our expo. These nations will need help in terms of design, construction and content and exhibits. On top of that we will have 25 million visits to our expo during a six-month period. We will need all kinds of services. The expo is a huge opportunity for businesses that already have the capability, in terms of resources, brain power and passion, to be able to deliver to the world.
What attracted you to Expo 2020?
We live in a world that is so connected we can no longer say ‘it is not my problem, it does not affect me’. That is not right. Sooner or later it will affect everyone. That is why the social impact component is critical.
Each nation should have its own voice. It doesn’t matter how big your country is, in terms of land or the economy. If we really want to solve the world’s pressing challenges, everyone has to be on equal footing. Everyone has a voice towards that solution.
Do you see African cities attracting global events, like Expo 2020?
Already in South Africa you have an ability to host; you’ve had the 2010 World Cup that had so much energy, the rest of the world watching wanted to be here and be a part of it. For any major event there are certain criteria that you need. You need a solid infrastructure, you need a strong hospitality sector, in terms of hotels services and food and beverages. From a communications perspective, you need to be able to tell the stories. You need a safe environment. You need support from the business community and from the people of the community itself. There are a lot of African nations that have made great strides in all of these areas.