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Forum seeks better economy through public, private partnership

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Justin Smith is the CEO of Bloomberg Media Group

With the rise of new markets, new industries, new technologies, and new models of employment and civic participation, businesses and societies face a daunting new set of challenges. Yet around the world, innovative approaches to some of these challenges are already beginning to emerge and are being tested in big and small ways.

The New Economy Forum, which started last year in Singapore, would hold the second edition on November 20 to 22 in Beijing, China. The event is organised by Bloomberg Media. Recently, The Guardian’s MARGARET MWANTOK caught up with the Chief Executive Officer of Bloomberg Media, Justin B. Smith at Radisson Blu, Victoria Island, Lagos, while on a two-day visit to the city. He spoke extensively on the Forum and the purpose of his visit.

The global media appears not to be very optimistic about the Nigerian economy of recent. What is the reason for this, especially given that certain indices point towards optimism?
I cannot comment on the broad western media about the Nigerian economy because I am not familiar with it. I know that Bloomberg has several reporters based in Lagos and our economic reporting is based on data; we try to interpret in order to draw a conclusion. In as much as those reports are based on truth, then I think journalism stands.

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What is the objective of the economy forum?
A number of years ago, we began designing the idea for a new global forum and it struck us at the time that one of the important trends in the world was the fact that the global economy was shifting so rapidly away from the centre is in the west to it being more in the east; a shift of economic power and geopolitical influence from the west to the east and from the north to the south. We developed the idea of the new economy forum, which is a gathering that highlights the leaders of the future of the global economy that would be most influential in the coming decades.

There is a figure that suggests that 80 to 90 percent of economic growth would be coming from India, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. If the future of Gross Domestic Product growth is going to be from those parts of the world, that’s the future of the global economy, we set out to gather all the leaders of the new and emerging global economy to meet in China, the centre of the global economy.

What should we expect at this year’s edition?
In 2019, we are expanding on that idea by finding solutions that are already working and providing them with the momentum, the support, and the attention that they deserve. The New Economy community includes some of the most influential leaders in the world; they’ll apply their expertise, their perspective, their mentorship, and their business acumen to help scale and implement these solutions, to build an inclusive economy.

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Following a dedicated workshop on-site at the forum, the selected solutions will receive on-going support from the Bloomberg New Economy Solutions team, to help define and achieve specific goals over the course of the next year.

This support can take many forms, from convening global business leaders and experts from across the New Economy community, to work on scaling the solution, sharpening ways of framing the problem to better attract investment, launching pilot programs, or discovering strategic partnerships that allow the solution to scale to new markets and new applications.

Each selected solution will again be featured as part of the program at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum in 2020, to report on their progress. Up to seven solutions will be chosen from the open call, aligned to each of Bloomberg’s New Economy’s core topic areas — trade, technology, climate, finance and capital markets, inclusion, urbanization, and global governance.

When you talk about building an “inclusive economy” does this not suggest a negation of what economics is all about or is that a way of returning socialism?
On one hand, you have the new emerging part of the world beginning to take on a greater role in the global economy, both in size and influence, and on the other hand, you have other significant global trends; you have technology taken over every industry all over the world. To a great extent, the new economy forum is a dialogue about how as the geographic centre of the economy changes and as new technologies emerged to rapidly transforming the economy, how do we ensure that where we end up on the other side is a better economy for everyone.

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By inclusiveness, we are talking about a number of levels; economic inclusiveness, which is being able to design economic institutions and business models that could allow for participation in economic growth. We are also looking at inclusion from the gender level; making sure that this new economy provides more balance in terms of male/female participation. Also inclusiveness on the ethic level as well. The one most talked about is the rising inequality and the need for businesses and governments to develop economic systems and societies that are much fairer where everyone is given equal opportunity to thrive and benefit from the economic progress.

How many world leaders are you expecting at the forum?
We are looking at bringing 500 leaders together in Beijing, China on November 20 through 22, 2019. The leaders will be primarily from the global private sector; the CEOs of global businesses and they will represent 60 countries. We will be looking at having a strong representation of the new and emerging economy.

Of the 500, the significant numbers would be Chinese, Indians, Africans and Latin Americans. One of the reasons I am in Lagos, Nigeria is to meet with many of the business leaders to work with them on participating in the forum. Giving the importance of the trading relationship between Nigeria and China, there is a lot of interest.

We see the trends in the past two decades, and we see the economic dynamism in the African continent that is emerging, the demographic trends that are really favourable to Africa, the growth of entrepreneurship on the continent and as we build out the new economy forum, we hope that levels of the 21st century, having a very important role for Africa and African business leaders is a big priority for us. We have been fortunate to have the participation of Aliko Dangote, Jim Ovie and a lot of other business leaders from Nigeria. Nigeria is now the largest economy on the continent, it is very important that Nigeria has a significant role and Lagos in more than many ways is going to be the most important capitals of new global economy.

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Do you think the western template for political and economic development has been working for Africa?
The model of the western or US democracy; the capitalist model has been very successful for many decades in many countries of the world, advancing economic growth in allowing broad populations to grow middle classes and see broader prosperity, which is one truth, but the other hand, across recent years, in the later stages of experimenting in liberal free-market democracy, you have seen a widespread in balance developed around the question of who gets to participate in the economic opportunity in the form of inequality or the income gaps that are developing all across the world. What we are seeing is a legitimate reaction through politics and the ballot box, which are changing the political landscape out of the reaction that the liberal democratic capitalist system has not been delivering for every part of society. It brews much deeper inequality than anybody would want.

Given the circumstances that led to Brexit and the increasing nationalist movement in the United States, what are your thoughts on globalisation and the pressure on African countries to liberalise their economies?
I think putting aside the political systems that may be elected or not, there are certain fundamentals of growth to take place which needs to be realised by any country in order to have a productive and high growth economy, and I think it makes sense that many countries including African countries should adopt some of these practices.

The issue we are seeing with the rise of populism is that the system, particularly at its more developed stage, is not effectively dividing the benefits and the opportunity that is more beneficial. More African countries should adopt some of these policies but they need to keep in mind the possibilities that these policies may need to be reformed like we are looking at across the west.


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