Middle East Business Outlook for 2023
These five practices will continue to drive uncommon growth in the region in the year ahead.
The Middle East is set for success and growth in 2023, even as businesses in other parts of the world face more challenges. Its importance as a hub for global trade is growing and companies are attracting more significant investments and talent. Overall, the bar is rising as the region takes a more prominent place on the global stage.
That combination is breeding optimism and ambition throughout the GCC region. We’ve identified five opportunity areas companies should consider so that they can take part in that growth.
1. Rebalancing Transformation Strategies, Making Them More Human and Less Digital
Human centricity should be at the heart of any transformation efforts. Organizations should be putting people–customers, employees, investors and communities–at the heart of their strategies and evolving from the inside out.
Digital is still essential, of course. But the goal isn’t to become more digital–it’s to become better organizations. The most progressive companies recognize the difference. The first question is no longer, “What technology should we invest in?”, it’s “What do our people need to be more productive, and how can we best support that?” And with this human-centric approach, companies are redefining what it means to be a modern enterprise.
2. Defining Purpose Through the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Lens
Environmental, social and governance policies are growing in importance, shaping businesses worldwide. But here, the emphasis is somewhat different. Organizations in the Middle East are more focused on sustainable development goals. These 17 global SDGs, set by the United Nations to achieve by 2030, matter more than the ESG goals devised by individual companies.
Governments are setting the vision, sometimes with breathtaking ambition. The UAE, for example, has excelled, working SDGs into its national agenda. And it’s paying especially close attention to the guidelines for developing growth and innovation. This approach reflects its national ideals and challenges many people’s perceptions of the priorities of a Middle Eastern nation. Both these focus areas are now enshrined in the SDGs as it moves toward turning commitments into action.
For companies, it’s inherently more confusing than simply delineating a strategy that best suits them. So, companies are plunging in with trial-and-error gusto as each tries to find a path forward. They want to comply, of course, and successfully navigate among many shifting government mandates. But they also want to do so in ways that build on their individual purpose, controlling what is theirs to control. They face intense pressure as they make these decisions–from employees, customers, investors, NGOs and regional communities. As they realize they don’t have to align with every SDG, the most forward-thinking companies choose the goals they can best contribute to and embed those into their purpose and strategies.
For example, we’ll see continued growth in sustainable travel and tourism, with companies carefully examining how people’s hotels, itineraries and experiences impact the entire value chain. And since the region is heavily dependent on foreign investors, there will be greater efforts to demonstrate that companies act responsibly.
3. Investing in the Start-Up Ecosystem
The region is on track to produce a substantial number of unicorns in the next ten years. Uber, for example, recently scooped up Careem, based in the UAE, for $3.1 billion. And companies like Kitopi, a cloud-kitchen company; Fawry, an Egyptian fin-tech company; and Swvl, a mass transit system, are all in the $1 billion valuation club.
This start-up ecosystem’s emergence encourages larger companies to chase business innovations. They’re making strategic bets on new business models. We see companies striving for greater agility. They’re using pod-based innovation, for example, as they look for new ways to collaborate. They’re more deliberate in efforts to break down silos and optimize spending. And they’re more likely to pursue joint ventures.
4. Creating Data-driven Experiences That are Customized for Audiences
Digital thinking continues to be the lifeblood of business. But–as is true in C-suites around the world–leaders in the Middle East recognize that data is only valuable when used strategically.
People in the Middle East, especially in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, are among the most connected and digitally savvy in the world. Consumers want things now. They expect a seamless brand experience. They want holistic omnichannel experiences with personalized communication at every stage of the purchasing funnel. Now that brands have access to more customer data, it’s imperative to use this to unlock the opportunities it presents–delivering very tailored, specific products and personalized messages and communications.
That means moving beyond broader mass-marketing tactics that simply target groups like millennials and Gen Z. Yes, the youth market is intensely significant in the Middle East. But younger consumers only spend on things they care deeply about. They prize authenticity in the companies, brands and influencers they deal with.
Prophet’s recent Gen Z research finds that younger people are increasingly determined to curate their own digital experience. They want to connect with others that share their values and are eager to balance digital interactions with those that are human.
5. Designing an Employee Experience that Delivers Well-Being
More traditional leaders may still roll their eyes at the expansive responsibility of providing for employee well-being. But unless they understand how holistic well-being is fast becoming a requirement for job seekers, they won’t be able to gain a hiring advantage.
Health is now the ultimate headline. People have had the chance to re-evaluate what’s important and possible in their lives. They’re fed up with outdated norms like the 9-5 schedule. They’re more open about burnout, chronic stress and fatigue. Employees are less willing to sacrifice their physical, mental and social health for their job.
In the UAE, the government has set the way forward with a shorter working week–at 4.5 days–to help employees achieve a healthier work/life balance. Such steps allow organizations to re-energize employees, so they can become more productive and innovative. And it also helps retain talent long term. Enterprises are beginning to understand that it is their people that make companies what they are–and it’s essential to take better care of those workers.
Employee experience design is a rapidly growing discipline. It’s how organizations can maximize their advantage in the war for talent and take advantage of seismic shifts in working patterns. When employee experience becomes a central pillar in a company’s people strategy, aligning with brands, business strategy and customer experience is easier.
The Middle East has distinct competitive advantages, positioning it for growth in the foreseeable future. Relatively insulated from current global challenges and replete with an influx of talent, businesses here can–and should–be optimistic. They’re looking for new ways to increase revenues and find uncommon growth, outperforming other regions.