Mediterranean leaders debate and share common solutions to achieve greater cooperation between the two shores of the region and tackle challenges such as digitalisation, sustainable transition and female entrepreneurship

MedaWeek Barcelona 2023 calls for more cooperation between Mediterranean countries to tackle the geopolitical crisis, digitisation and sustainable transition


The experts and representatives of the main institutions of the Mediterranean gathered at MedaWeek Barcelona 2023 have analysed the main challenges of the present and future of the region, calling for more public-private cooperation, greater union of the Mediterranean with Europe and Asia and the joint search for solutions to challenges such as digitalisation, sustainable transition or the promotion of female entrepreneurship. The meeting, which is the socio-economic summit of the Mediterranean that brings together the main leaders of this area every year, will close in the Llotja de Mar, a historic building in Barcelona, a symbol of commercial transactions between merchants in past centuries.

Ahmed El Wakil, President of ASCAME, opened the forum by stressing the difficulties of the current "fragmented" political context, calling for "more protectionism and collaboration, strengthening multilateralism and alliances". For his part, ASCAME Director General Anwar Zibaoui affirmed that MedaWeek symbolises "the triumph of hope over uncertainty, of development over violence, the building of bridges over walls of misunderstanding". In his speech, the President of the Barcelona Chamber of Commerce, Josep Santacreu, highlighted the city's role as a Mediterranean meeting point, stating that despite the uncertain regional and global business environment in the context of COVID-19, Ukraine and the Israeli-Palestinian wars, Barcelona "maintains its competitiveness as a Mediterranean and international economic centre thanks to its free economy, its rule of law, its well-established infrastructure system and its pool of international talent". 

Technology transfer, key to the economy and sustainability

The "Mediterranean of Tomorrow" session, led by Medaweek sponsors Digital Realty, explored the crucial role of data centres in shaping the future of the Mediterranean region, highlighting the importance of submarine cables, which are driving the digital revolution in these coastal nations. By 2027, Digital Realty plans to increase the capacity of submarine cabling for data transfer in the Mediterranean tenfold. Robert Assink, CEO of Digital Realty, said that data centres are at "the heart of the Mediterranean's digital future", comparing the role of airports as passenger hubs to data centres, which "would be information hubs". Viktor Kyuzov, Director of Development, explains that for every million euros invested in data centres, the impact on GDP is between 9 and 12 million. Moreover, he points out, digitalisation contributes to building a more sustainable world. "In Spain, almost 5,000 tonnes of CO2 could be reduced thanks to digitalisation," he concludes. Digital Realty has invested more than 21 billion euros to build its global platform consisting of 300 data centres in 28 countries. 

Alongside Robert Assink, Islalink CEO Esther Garces, EXA Infrastructures Vice President Steve Roberts and Medusa Submarine Cable System COO Damien Bertrand discussed the major impact of improved connectivity on economic growth, innovation and collaboration in the Mediterranean, as well as the challenges and opportunities to be explored.

Africa, land of opportunities

At the 20th New Africa Business Development Forum, the relevance of Africa as a land of opportunities has been highlighted: there are business projects in various sectors worth more than 2 billion dollars and the demand for infrastructure is growing. With special attention to the private sector, the focus was on the need for Africa and Europe to work together to build a platform for business and economic cooperation. 

"We need to boost African infrastructure for digitisation and energy trade," said Chigozie Nweke-Eze, CEO of Integrated Africa Power (IAP). Daniel Francisco Chapo, Governor of Inhambane Province in Mozambique, called for more transport connectivity on the African continent: "That is why we are working to link Mozambique and South Africa through roads". 

Discussing the EU's relations with Africa, Roger Albinyana, Director General of the European Institute of the Mediterranean (IEMed), announced that 150 million will be invested in the African continent, making Africa "a key player in the balance of the Mediterranean". Loubna Karroum, an expert in territorial development and the African economy at AfricaMED, declared that for her, "Africa is the present, and we must begin to consider it as a partner". 


Entrepreneurial women, the highlight of the first day

The flagship event of the first day of Medaweek 2023 was the 15th Forum of Mediterranean Women Entrepreneurs, which brought together twenty prominent businesswomen, world leaders, partners from the public and private sectors and entrepreneurs from all over the Mediterranean to discuss the integration of women in the economy, a pending issue. Inequalities in the business sector were the focus of this session, analysing their deep roots, ranging from cultural factors to insufficient support for women-led businesses, the lack of policy frameworks to address the gender gap and the challenge of promoting work-life balance, among others.

Women representatives from relevant organisations in Mediterranean countries such as Spain, Tunisia, Turkey or Slovenia have delved into the problems of the scarce presence of women in high-ranking positions, the gender gap in managerial positions and the barriers to access to finance, technology and other sectors. 
Helena de Felipe, president of the Federation of Mediterranean Women Entrepreneurs (AFAEMME), stressed that the aim of the MedaWomen forum is "to focus on the fact that women lack financing". 

Eva Borrás, President of the Barcelona Chamber of Commerce, highlighted the studies by the Women, Business and Economy Observatory on women and inclusion, the mental burden of housework and the creation of the gender equality index. "Only 22.8% of women hold senior positions, a percentage that has multiplied since 2009. In the technology sector the rate is between 8 and 12%. There are only 8% of women on boards of directors. The glass ceiling is holding back women's opportunities for senior positions, equal pay, and support for work-life balance. This has to be changed". The Minister of Economy and Finance of the Generalitat, Natalia Mas Guix, highlighted that, despite all the studies that show that companies led by women obtain better results than those led by men, very few leadership positions are occupied by women. 

Several of the participants agreed on quotas as a solution to the problem of under-representation, considering it essential to provide women with the same opportunities as men. The importance of investment in education was another of the topics discussed, as well as the promotion of inclusive trade to promote women's leadership in male-dominated sectors, such as energy. Gemma Aubarell, Director of Gender at the European Institute of the Mediterranean, highlighted the current context of socio-economic crisis, stating that "we must give the global challenges of the Mediterranean region a chance to launch cooperation on an equal footing". 

MedaWeek 2023 Awards

ASCAME closed the first day of MedaWeek Barcelona 2023 with the presentation of the "Mediterranean Medals" awards to companies and organisations for their support for the social, environmental and economic development of the Mediterranean region. Among the award winners were Ghassan Aidi, the president of the International Hotel and Restaurant Association; Robert Assink, from MedaWeek 2023's data centre sponsor Digital Realty, received an award for promoting the technological advancement of the Mediterranean region. Estrella Damm won one of the medals for its "Mediterráneamente" strategy, which highlights sustainability values. The Euro-Mediterranean Association of Economists, the EADA Business School and the Escola Europea were also among the winners.