Vision Gulf Business Conference: A New ebbf Initiative

by Wendi Momen

Wendi Momen serves on the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United Kingdom, holds a PhD in international relations from the London School of Economics, and is a founding member of ebbf. She is a frequent Wilmette Institute faculty member for courses on marriage and preparing for marriage. She holds an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) for her work in gender equality and the empowerment of women. Wendi is the author of twelve books.

What is sandy on the outside, oily on the inside, 48 degrees centigrade outdoors, about 0 degrees indoors, and looking towards the future? Yes, the small state of Kuwait, venue of the Vision Gulf Business Conference: Opportunities for Innovation and Co-existence, co-sponsored by ebbf (Ethical Business Building the Future), held on May 31, 2016.

Held at the beautiful Jumairah Beach Hotel, the conference was unique in many ways. I am pretty sure there cannot be many conferences at which the second keynote speaker, having heard the first, tears up his own lecture notes, abandons his PowerPoint presentation and, filled with emotion, speaks from the heart about the future of his country.

That first speaker was Dr. Arthur Lyon Dahl, President of the International Environment Forum and a retired Deputy Assistant Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). He spoke about the future of business in a world with a changing climate, highlighting the requirement of the Paris Agreement for a rapid transition to a low-carbon society and the challenges this represents for a country like Kuwait with an economy built on oil, and suggesting some of the options for a more sustainable future. Kuwait, he said, is particularly vulnerable to even the smallest-degree rise in global temperature, its capital being only 16 metres (approximately 52 feet, 5.9 inches) above sea level, and most of the country being low-lying. Being oil-rich and almost wholly dependent on the petroleum and petrochemicals industries for its wealth, Kuwait is beginning to recognize that it will need to keep most of its oil in the ground if is not to contribute to the carbon in the air, which would hasten its own demise.

So what innovations could Kuwait make to reduce its dependence on oil and remain one of the wealthiest countries in the world? Always innovative himself, Dr. Dahl spoke with infectious enthusiasm of options for a more sustainable future: developing the technology to use the wells to capture carbon and contain it; improving and expanding Kuwait’s desalination industry; and pioneering novel ways to grow the crops Kuwaitis now depend on imports to provide. The following workshop allowed participants to discuss some of the positive directions that Kuwait could take.

The second speaker, Dr. Hamad Al‑Hasawi, Secretary General of the Kuwait Banking Association, had intended to speak on “Strategic Projects in Kuwait: Opportunities and Challenges.” Instead, he abandoned most of his talk, saying that, while everyone knows him as a banker, in fact, he was first an environmentalist and holds a Master’s degree in water resources and environmental engineering. He spoke about the future of his country, discussed the implications of Dr. Dahl’s presentation for Kuwait, and considered the range of innovations suggested.

Conference organizer and ebbf member Bayan Salmanpour asked “Co-existence, Business, and the Environment: Do They Mix?’ and answered, “Yes!” Innovation along the lines already outlined provides the way forward.

Dr. Dahl’s second talk considered the challenges and opportunities of the UN’s Agenda 2030 and the sustainable development goals, particularly those targets relevant to business.

ebbf chairman Wendi Momen asked “Why Bother with Business Ethics? The ebbf View” and provided answers from the Qur’an as well as from the Bahá’í-inspired core values of ebbff (see http://ebbf.org/resources/knowledge-network/the-7-ebbf-core-values/).

The Vision Gulf Business Conference is intended to be an annual event. Next year I will take my winter coat to wear in the hotel!

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