ERF 26th Annual Conference on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a Framework for MENA’s Development Policy - Economic Research Forum (ERF)

ERF 26th Annual Conference on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a Framework for MENA’s Development Policy

29th – 31st March 2020, Luxor, Egypt

The Economic Research Forum’s (ERF) Annual Conference has become the premier regional event for economists of the Middle East, where new ideas are born, nourished and promoted, where the community of researchers meet, and where excellence is celebrated. The ERF 26th Annual Conference will be held in Luxor, Egypt, March 29 – 31, 2020. The main theme of the plenary sessions will be Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a Framework for MENA’s Development Policy.

Conference Theme

Global trends are defined as large-scale and long-lasting transformative patterns of change that have a significant impact upon the planet and its inhabitants (Megatrends Watch, 2019). These trends include, but are not limited to, demographic changes, climate change, political instability, urbanization, global protectionism and digitalization. Thus, linking economic, social and environmental policies is a must to face such challenges in general and particularly in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. This link has been concretized through the conception and implementation of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity.”

Between 1990 and 2015, the MENA region succeeded in reducing hunger and poverty (individuals living on less than USD3.20 decreased from 27% to 16%), in increasing school enrollment (primary school enrollment reached 104.3% in 2017) in addition to an improvement regarding infant mortality, child and maternal malnutrition (Ramadan et al, 2018). However, in a context of climate change and conflicts, the region faces different challenges regarding the achievement of the SDGs. These challenges, including inequality, informality, increasing population, low level of growth and governance failure, hinder the region’s development.

The SDGs are interlinked and highly correlated. High quality and adequate data are needed to follow up the indicators’ progress and to better understand the relation between the different indicators to provide policy makers with evidence-based research. For instance, the region suffers from high spatial, wealth and gender inequality. In addition to the increasing inequality in opportunities in health and education. Achieving SDG 5 (Gender Equality) and SDG10 (Reducing inequality) in the region are necessary conditions to reduce poverty (SDG1), ending hunger (SDG2), ensure healthy life (SDG3), inclusive and equitable education (SDG4). It was found that ensuring equal opportunities for male and female in accessing labor market would yield to an increase in the GDP by 34 percent in Egypt and an increase in the income per capita by 50 percent in Morocco (Ahmed et al, 2009; Elborgh-Woytek, 2013; Momani, 2016; IMF, 2017).

From a policy perspective, in the current geopolitical and economic context, the region needs new inclusive growth model where no one is left behind. This requires better investment in human capital, new regulations for the labor market and creation of decent jobs, engaging in structural transformation, widening the fiscal space for new social protection policies and institutional reforms to achieve better governance.

Finally, in order to achieve these SDGs, several factors are required. First, a partnership of governments, private sector, civil society and citizens is a must to build inclusive and sound strategies in a participatory fashion. Second, a strong data ecosystem is crucial to the success of SDGs in order to review counties’ performance and determine priority areas for action. Third, the implementation of SDGs will also require mobilizing trillions of financial flows to meet the investment needs of these goals.

Against this background, the key challenges to MENA will be addressed during the conference plenary sessions, featuring keynote presentations and panel discussions by leading international scholars, senior officials from planning ministries, UN and other development institutions as well as senior ERF economists and other social scientists.

Plenaries, Panels, and Special Sessions

Three plenaries are planned to address the following issues: first, Towards an SDGs-based Development Framework; second, Climate Change, Environmental Degradation and Sustainable Development; and third, Closing the SDGs Gap: Views from the Policy Makers. One special plenary on Harnessing the Evidence Revolution to Achieve the SDGS is designed to signal an emerging research agenda of profound importance for assessing effectiveness of development policy and discuss relevant issues and methodologies for future research.  One more special plenary on Dealing with MENA’s Looming macroeconomic crises is aimed at responding the emerging macro-financial crises and its manifestations, among others, in terms of high indebtedness and fiscal unsustainability and exchange rate appreciation. In addition, there will be three panel sessions dealing with Panel 1 – The Political Economy of Climate Change: Lessons for the MENA Region; Panel 2 – Towards Enhancing the on-going Governmental Efforts to Digitize the Egyptian Economy and Finance session; Panel 3 – Positioning MENA Financial Systems to Foster Inclusive Regional Development.


Plenary Session 1: Towards an SDGs-based Development Framework


   Abdlatif Al-Hamad (Arab Fund for Economic & Social Development and ERF)

Welcome Remarks:   

   Sherine Ghoneim (Economic Research Forum)

Keynote Speaker:

   Mahmoud Mohieldin (The World Bank)

Lead Commentaries:

   H. E. Hala El Said (Minister of Planning and Economic Development) – TBC,

   H.E. Ibrahim Elbadawi (Minister of Finance, Sudan)


As it was highlighted by the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres “It is abundantly clear that a much deeper, faster and more ambitious response is needed to unleash the social and economic transformation needed to achieve our 2030 goals”. To achieve such goals, it is important to have the appropriate tools to monitor, evaluate and benchmark the measures implemented by each country. This is why the Stakeholder Forum for a Sustainable Future and partners developed a tool that provides an accountability instrument for stakeholders to use in assessing the progress made in designing the SDGs, and with which to hold policy-makers to account for the final outcome. Moreover, at the national level, each country developed its own strategy to achieve the SDGs. Against this background, the session will examine two interrelated questions associated to the development framework of SGDs. First, it will analyze the main challenges faced by governments in conceiving and implementing national strategies. Second, this session will investigate how, concretely, SDGs, while being a general framework, can be customized and tailored to each country’s needs.


Plenary Session 2: Climate Change, Environmental Degradation and Sustainable Development

Chairperson & Moderator:

   Hala Abou Ali (Member of Parliament, Cairo University & ERF

Keynote Speaker:

   Steve Polasky (University of Minnesota)

Lead Commentaries:

   Hamid Mohatadi (University of Wisconsin)

   Atif Kubursi (McMaster University)

Climate change reflected by high temperature, heat waves, floods, droughts, change in precipitation patterns, storms, and other weather events, have significant negative impact on different economic performance indicators such as agricultural production, labour productivity, commodity prices, individual’s health and economic growth. For instance, heat waves result in declination of precipitation levels, decrease in agricultural per-capita output and adverse health effects. This is relevant in the MENA region context where water is scarce. Understanding the climate change-growth relationship and its impact on development is required to achieve inclusive sustainable development. Sustainable development entails the use of affordable and clean energy (SDG7) while managing efficiency water resources (SDG 14) and avoiding wasting water (SDG 6). The environmental dimension has to be considered in the growth process by undertaking the needed efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects in both developed and developing countries, by investing in adaptation and mitigation policies and by aiming to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change as defined by the Paris agreement. Hence, this session discusses the implications of climate change and environmental degradation on sustainable development.


Plenary Session 3: Closing the SDGs Gap: Views from Policy Makers

Chairperson & Moderator:   

   Mustapha Nabli

Keynote Speaker:

   Mary Kawar (Former Minister of Planning and International Cooperation)

   Jeffrey Sachs (Columbia University) – by Video


   H.E. Rania Al-Mashat (Minister of International Cooperation, Egypt) – TBC

   Vincent Caupin  (Agence Francaise de Developpement)


Policy makers face several challenges in closing the SDGs gap. As the SDGs targets are interlinked; policy makers need to understand these interdependences and how the goals influence each other. Policy makers cannot continue following the same development model where isolated policies are implemented without considering the tradeoff between economic, social and environmental policy objectives. Achieving the SDGs requires new integrated and coherent development models where all targets are tackled simultaneously and the interdependence between the SDGs is considered, taken into consideration the country’s context and its institutional arrangements (Allen et al, 2018; OECD Development Co-operation Report; 2018). Additionally, policy makers, especially in low income countries, face an investment and financial challenges.  To close the SDGs financial gap; policy makers need to mobilize more national and international financial resources and to coordinate budgets, policies and planning among the different sectors. Hence, this session discusses these challenges and what are the needed economic, social and environmental transformations needed to leave no one behind.


Special Plenary 1 – Harnessing the Evidence Revolution to Achieve the SDGS

Chairperson & Moderator:

   Jackline Wahba (University of Southampton)

Keynote Speaker:

   Howard White (Campbell Collaboration)

Lead Commentaries:

   Ragui Assaad (University of Minnesota & ERF)

   H.E. Nevine Kabbaj (Minister of Solidarity)- TBC

   Clemens Breisinger – IFPRI


An evidence revolution has taken place over the last thirty years, at the heart of which has been the rise of rigorous impact evaluations and synthesis of the findings of those studies.  Some of the headline findings from the frontline of the revolution are discouraging: most things don’t work, and where they do work the effects are small. More encouragingly effective interventions can be found and are increasingly being adopted based on the evidence. The challenge is to institutionalize the use of evidence and both international and national levels.


Special Plenary 2 – Dealing with MENA’s Looming Macroeconomic Crises

Chairperson & Moderator:

   Diaa Noureldin (AUC)


   Said Bakhache (IMF)

   Klaus Schmidt-Hebbel (Catholic University of Chile)

   Ishac Diwan (Paris Sciences et Lettres)

   Bessma Momani (University of Waterloo)


MENA countries have undertaken two categories of reforms in recent years to restore macroeconomic imbalances. On the one hand, most of the reforms implemented were of a stabilization nature, such as fiscal, exchange rate, monetary policies. On the other hand, other reforms were aimed at improving the structural characteristics of the economy in the countries where they were undertaken. Yet, despite several internal reforms and structural adjustment programs, developmental goals have not been achieved. This is why this session will examine how macroeconomic policymaking can be improved in the MENA region so as to contribute to the 2030 SDG Agenda, namely more inclusive, gender-sensitive and environment friendly policies. It will also shed the light on the significant constraints of the macro policymaking.


Panel 1 – The Political Economy of Climate Change: Lessons for the MENA Region


Chairperson & Moderator:

   Hassan Hakimian (Middle Eastern Studies Department, College of Humanities and Social Sciences)


   Mohammad Reza Farzanegan (Philipps – Universitat Marburg),

   Kamiar Mohaddes (University of Cambridge),

   Hamid Mohtadi (University of Wisconsin)


The socio-economic costs of climate change are more significant in the global South and lower income countries. According to the World Bank, climate impacts could push additional 100 million people in poverty by 2030, if the current conditions do not change. And by 2050, around 143 million people across three developing regions will become climate migrants. The MENA region is one of the regions to be affected by climate change impacts as it is the most water scarce region in the World, suffering from poverty and increasing population. A FEMISE report (2012) predicts “a loss of 0.4 to 1.3% of GDP in MENA countries due to climate change effects, which could even rise to 14% if no mitigation and adaptation measures are undertaken”. The negative impacts of climate change include a decrease in agricultural production threatening the food security of the region, a rural-urban migration posing more pressure on urbanization process and decrease in tourism sector. In addition to these economic losses, climate impacts may include social and political consequences, as water crisis and shortage of precipitation might reduce income of people in the agricultural sector and drive people to tension and violence. This panel aims to investigate and discuss different socio-economic aspects of climate change in the MENA region and extract policy lessons from experience of other countries.


Panel 2 – ECES – Towards Enhancing the on-going Governmental Efforts to Digitize the Egyptian Economy 

Chairperson & Moderator: 

   Abla Abdel Latif (ECES)


   H.E. Amr Talaat, (Minister of Communications & Information Technology) – TBC,

   Khaled Abdel Kader (AmCham Digital Transformation Committee & GM of Microsoft Egypt),

   Ehab El-Hagar, (Regional Director, DMG Consult), Amr Badr el-Din, (AUC),

   Mohamed Hegazy, (Head of Legislative Committee, Ministry of Communications & Information Technology)


The World is in the midst of a digital revolution. The latter is associated to several threats and opportunities for developing economies and emerging markets as it can affect financial markets, global value chains, job creation and,  thus, economic growth and sustainable development. Egypt has given priority to the information and communications technology (ICT) sector in order to transform Egypt into a digital economy. Thus, the Government tries to achieve this by renovating the telecommunications infrastructure, raising awareness about the digitization process and encouraging citizens to use digital services especially in the financial sector. Against this background, this session will try to address the following questions. First, it will examine the governance of the ICT sector with a special focus on information processing and security. Second, it will analyze the readiness of physical infrastructure (soft and hard) in Egypt. Finally, and most importantly, it will present the main opportunities and challenges in the overall regulatory framework for digitization.


Panel 3 – Positioning MENA Financial Systems to Foster Inclusive Regional Development

Chairperson & Moderator:

   Wafik Grais,


   Samy ben Naceur (Institute for Capacity Development),

   Zamir Iqbal (Islamic Development Bank),

   Mahmoud Haddad (University of Tennessee at Martin)


Over the years, the main focus of finance was on market behaviors, comparative efficiency and regulatory policies. Given increasingly prevailing concerns for the distributive impacts of financial services activities, it would be appropriate and timely to increase focus on financial literacy, gender disparity, microfinance potential, new payment services opportunities, liquidity and credit availability. This panel, in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals, aims at three objectives. First, it highlights the role of finance in contributing to equitable broad-based development in the context of the ERF-MENA region. In other words, it will focus on the role of the financial system in supporting a vibrant inclusive economy that does not sacrifice financial stability. Second, this session examines how Islamic finance can improve resource mobilization and enhance and diversify access to financial services in the ERF-MENA region. Third, the session will cover the inclusiveness and dramatic upheaval FINTECH is causing in global financial markets. It will highlight its various users, advantages and disadvantages, future, and impact on financial transactions consummation lag, safety, cost and risk.