• November 24th, 2023

MedaWeek Barcelona 2023, the Mediterranean Week of Economic Leaders held on the 15th and 16th of November at Llotja de Mar (Barcelona), concluded with a call for economic development in the Mediterranean amid uncertainty and conflicts. Leaders, CEOs and international experts from over 20 Mediterranean institutions got together in the 17th edition of this socio-economic summit of reference in the Mediterranean. 

Throughout 12 different forums, all of them debated on the present and the future of the region and found common solutions to current challenges, such as climate change, digital connectivity, female entrepreneurship, sustainable transition and business opportunities in Islamic finance, health, textile industry and tourism.

The event, organized by ASCAME in collaboration with the Chamber of Commerce of Barcelona with the sponsorship of Digital Realty -the largest provider of Cloud and Carrier Neutral Data Center for collocation and interconnection of technology solutions-, was designed around four pillars:

  • Promoting the integration of the region to boost investment, exports, job creation and new businesses, with a focus on the rise of female entrepreneurship throughout the region.
  • Building a common future based on new technologies, innovation, digital transformation, green & blue economy and sustainable finance & tourism.
  • Identifying innovative solutions and trends that will shape the region in the future and help its economic ecosystem to respond to new scenarios and challenges.
  • Creating a common and innovative space that serves as a basic axis for the development of relations between the two shores of the Mediterranean.

“In the current multi-crisis context, both geopolitically, with the war in Ukraine and tensions in the Middle East, and financially, technologically and climatically, it is more necessary than ever to seek synergies and new avenues for cooperation between the public and private sectors on both sides of the Mediterranean”, points out Anwar Zibaoui, General Coordinator of ASCAME. Mr. Zibaoui adds: “Despite the current situation, we want hope to triumph over uncertainty, ideas of development over violence, building bridges over walls. The significant participation we had from the regional private sector is a commitment to the development and building bridges of understanding and peace in the region. MedaWeek is a unique opportunity to do networking, establish business contacts with decision-makers, to open doors to different organisations and companies to the latest and most exciting regional projects.”

In the same sense, Ahmed El Wakil, President of ASCAME, calls for “more protectionism and collaboration and to strengthen multilateralism and alliances”.

Pathways to a sustainable transition and a greener economy

The sustainable transition is one of the main challenges of the Mediterranean. Speakers debated on how to minimize the impact of climate change in the region, which causes losses of between 5 and 15% of its GPD per year. This area is increasingly exposed to natural risks. As we have seen this year, terrifying earthquakes in Turkey, Syria, Morocco, the latest floods in Lybia, Greece and other countries in the region require strong mechanisms for prevention, preparedness and management.

These are some of the main solutions that the panelists shared within MedaWeek: a green recovery, a circular and environmentally friendly economy, sustainable cities, implementation of renewable energies and wind and solar energy. 

Within the summit, we could see good examples of sustainable initiatives. For instance, the cruise sector is promoting different initiatives to reduce the carbon footprint and prevent the environment. 90% of the fleet is self-sufficient in terms of water resources. Representatives from Port de Barcelona told us that 35% of the ships entering Barcelona are powered by natural gas. The goal in the sector is to reach 0 emissions by 2023.

In the “Mediterranean tourism industry forum”, speakers said that “there is a turning point in the sector as a result of a greater commitment to a more sustainable and responsible tourism industry”. Proof of this is the numerous decarbonization initiatives, a greater awareness of consumers with their environmental impact and the synergies that are increasingly taking place between public and private sectors and universities and research centers to jointly advance to the sustainable transition.

In the same sense, within the 7th Mediterranean Textile Forum experts pointed out that one of the most important challenges is the management of textile waste. To them, it is essential to analyse the carbon footprint in garments, to separate the used clothes collected in the street containers and implement decarbonization strategies. The new digital passport, which will give the user information about their carbon footprint, durability and life cycle, will be a great opportunity to make quality products that last longer and pollute less.

We also debated on the green and blue economy. In the blue session, speakers told about the impact of climate change on the oceans (rising sea-levels, costal erosion, changing oceans current patterns, and acidification), waste management (a better waste management on land could help oceans recovery), and its impact on the economic growth (business opportunities and offshore wind). In the green session, we debated on how to help countries transition to a greener and more inclusive economic models.

The commitment to renewable energies is a must, especially in this area where we could produce- much more solar and wind energy. There is also a need to invest in green technology that impacts on economic growth and attracts foreign investment.

Finally, in the 7th Islamic Finance Forum we talked about the opportunities presented by the growth of ethical, sustainable and responsible finance. Speakers shared the opportunity that Islamic finance represents, both for the sustainable development of the Mediterranean and for the improvement of its competitiveness. As they said, “our commitment to sustainability involves being sustainable in all the financial operations, advising banks to minimize their environmental impact and measuring their carbon footprint, apart from complying with the United Nations SDGs.”

Discussing on the Mediterranean digital transformation challenge

MedaWeek Barcelona 2023 was also a great chance to debate on connectivity and digitalization, another great challenge of the future. In the session titled ‘Mediterranean of Tomorrow’, powered by this year’ sponsor Digital Realty, attendees delved into the significance of submarine cables, which are the unsung heroes powering the digital revolution across these coastal nations. To them, “datacenters are the new pillars of modern society and drive economic growth”. They also highlighted that “digitalization is a real solution for building a more sustainable economy”. In this sense, new investments in digital infrastructures transform the Mediterranean Sea into a major global interconnection and traffic exchange.

As we could see throughout the panels, innovation is a common denominator in more industries in the Mediterranean. A good example is the healthcare sector, where innovation is key to improve the efficiency of the healthcare ecosystem: digital solutions that reduce waiting lines, Big Data and AI to improve patient diagnoses as scientific research or the launch of new products. In the tourism industry, where Big Data solutions are being developed to respond to new consumer needs, but also to explore new business opportunities based on an experiential journey and hyperpersonalisation. In addition, in the 20th New Africa Business Development Forum, speakers said that Africa is the continent with the highest percentage of young people, who can contribute to the digital transition to the entire Mediterranean. They also talked about the green technologies needed to move forward a greener economy and a sustainable development in the region.

Networking and business opportunities

Throughout panels, workshops and networking sessions, MedaWeek Barcelona 2023 helped key business, industrial, investment and professional players to understand the changing trends in all sectors, territories and groups of the Mediterranean economies. MedaWeek was also an excellent platform to do networking and to exchange ideas and to explore new business opportunities.

Proof of this was the ‘Matchmaking Event & Afterwork Cocktail’, which was organized by Eco Cruising FuTour, EU-funded project that aims to boost managerial, innovative, blue, green, and digital skills of tourism WestMed SMEs, and 22@ Network Barcelona, the Barcelona’s innovation and entrepreneurship district. This event brought together in an innovation room start-ups, entrepreneurs, incubators, accelerators, institutions, financial institutions, investors and funds in a ring pitch where entrepreneurs had the opportunity to explain their business projects. In total, we had over 350 companies and institutions registered in this event.

Finally, MedaWeek focused on the impact of women entrepreneurs in the Mediterranean economic development. In the framework of the 15th Mediterranean Women Entrepreneurs Forum, speakers shared that some reports show that having 30% more women on the board of directors increases business incomes.

 

Ahmed El Wakil, President of ASCAME, assured that “One in three start-ups in the Mediterranean region is founded or led by women, which is a higher percentage than in Silicon Valley”. In his opinion, “women are becoming a force to be reckoned with on the start-up scene across the region, entrepreneurship is key to boosting women’s economic inclusion and to attract future investment in the region.”

This session stressed some of the odds that women have still to overcome, such as the difficulties to finance their projects, the barriers to achieve a work-life balance and gender-equality, and the difficulties to access new technologies to scale their business projects. Despite some progress, much more needs to be done.