Is it only January? Though we've just begun 2011, the world has already witnessed some pretty dramatic
events, from the popular uprising in Tunisia on January 14 that sent ripples into several neighboring
countries, to the continued WikiLeaks fall-out, a polarizing state visit of China to the United States,
claims of an intensifying emerging vs. emerged market "currency war", and yesterday's deadly terror
attack at Moscow's Domodedovo Airport.
Many are wondering what the future holds for this world where economies are shifting, power
dynamics are in flux, and the youth in many nations are so dramatically demonstrating their desire for a
new reality based on stability, innovation and economic growth. The scale of today's protests in Egypt,
and the speed at which they erupted, shows us that these changes are happening faster and faster -
sometimes overnight - and that this is no time for our global leadership to passively observe how our
world is shifting.
I'm in Riyadh this week at the fifth annual Global Competitiveness Forum and have been struck by
the contrasting social and economic realities you find across the Arab world and the broader circle
of emerging markets. While the recent unrest in Tunisia has drawn attention to some of the great
challenges this region is facing, it has distracted us from another important truth: that a large part of
this region is strongly and steadfastly committed to growth, and recognizes innovation, change and
collaboration as the key to boosting their standing in the world economy.
As Edmund Phelps, my friend and colleague at Columbia University's Center for Capitalism and Society
wrote in the Financial Times yesterday, one of the fundamental causes of the unrest in Tunisia is a long
history of stifled entrepreneurism and innovation. Over the past three days, it's been heartening to see
that that trend is not consistent across this region.
GCF is a gathering of the top minds from across the Middle East and the world, focused on finding new
approaches to global sustainable competitiveness. Over the past three days, I have had the chance to
hear dozens of business leaders, policy makers, and academics come here to share ideas and draw new
insights about what it takes to up the global competitiveness of emerging markets.
The face of today's global competitiveness is changing by the minute. Saudi Arabia, the host country
of GCF 2011, has itself has made a remarkable transformation over the past 5 years: in 2005, it ranked
67th in the world in terms of foreign direct investment; in 2010, its ranking increased to 11th in the world,
with roughly US$ 150 billion in FDI.
This echoes what I saw last month in Brazil, which is currently one of the most dynamic and fastest
growing economies in the world. There I saw an enormous level of investment and innovation in public
infrastructure and mining, paving the way for sustained macroeconomic growth.
These are remarkable signs that today's centers of growth and influence look very different than
they did fifty, ten or even five years ago. Jim O'Neill, the Goldman Sachs economist that coined
the term "BRIC" in 2001 as a grouping of the four fastest-growing economies - Brazil, Russia, India,
and China - was spot-on at the time in singling out these four as the powerhouses among emerging
economies. But now we've entered a new decade, and we're starting to see more players join this club.
Last month, the original BRIC nations officially admitted South Africa into their grouping. I'm convinced
that the stronger forces in the global economy for the coming years fall along an axis that runs from
Brazil to China, crossing through Africa, the Middle East, and Gulf countries.
From one corner of the world to another, and even between neighboring countries, there are great
disparities in the degree to which national economies are embracing and encouraging economic growth.
So many countries are "getting it right," and have important insights to share - insights that may help
to avoid difficult consequences such as the ones we're seeing in Tunisia. For me, this underscores the
importance of events like the Global Competitiveness Forum, and all the other platforms we create to
bring leaders together to share their perspectives and foster open dialogue. Given the rapid pace at
which these changes are happening, there's no time to just think. The world won't wait for anyone; the
time to come together and act is now.
Now more than ever, the winners are the doers.