The fifth Manama Declaration, named after the Bahraini capital where the 2024 World Entrepreneurship Investment Forum (WEIF) has been running since Tuesday, echoed the gathering’s theme: innovation can drive development of technologies and products to help address socioeconomic and environmental challenges.

The resulting economic advances can provide the resources needed to invest in sustainable development.

In a message to the Forum, UN Secretary-General António Guterres, looking ahead to the highly anticipated UN Summit of the Future in September, encouraged delegates in Manama to “find ways to harness the power of entrepreneurship and innovation to make our world a better place for all people and the planet we share.”

The issue of innovation and entrepreneurship as a vehicle to fast-track achievement of the SDGs was highlighted on the margins of the forum, where persons with disabilities showcased how technology helps them overcome obstacles and ultimately, build inclusive communities.

A group people with disabilities who are participating in WEIF 2024.

Inclusive society​

WEIF is facilitated by the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) in partnership with local, regional and international partners.

Hashim Hussein, who heads up that Office, noted earlier stated that 15 per cent of people in the Arab region have disabilities, so innovation and entrepreneurship are important to ensure an inclusive society.

On Wednesday Tarek Salem, Co-founder and CEO of Egypt-based AccessLife, which offers a range of assistive technology for persons with disabilities and older persons, told UN News: “I have quadriplegia and cannot move my legs or fingers. I faced a great challenge in relying on myself.”

He went on to explain the three stages of the AccessLife programme: “The first stage is to bring all medical tools under one platform, and we also prepare video clips to educate persons with disabilities as they may not know these tools exist nor how they can help [with self-reliance]. For the second stage, we conduct a survey to find out the tools that [are needed] most, with the aim of manufacturing them. [Thirdly], and most important, is that we create an inclusive society for people with disabilities.”

UN News’s Assumpta Masoi interviews Olfa Dabbabi, a young woman from Tunisia who founded the company OLFUS, which uses digital art to convey various messages, including encouraging people facing challenges.

Innovation and disability​

Olfa Dabbabi, a young Tunisian woman with a disability of the nervous system, came to WEIF to spotlight OLFUS, the company she founded, which uses digital art to convey various messages, including encouraging people facing challenges.

She told UN News that she refused to let her disability deprive her of the right to contribute to her community. This was especially relevant as people are increasingly being judged by their appearances and as the plague of online bullying is only making matters worse.

“I was bullied as a kid. I have a disability and [was bullied because of that] but my family was with me,” she stated.

Speaking from a booth showcasing her digital artwork, Ms. Dabbabi said: “Even though I have a disability…it did not hinder me but rather inspired me to confront it and become the woman I am now. Innovation and technology are not only my passion but enablers of the work I am doing now… [they] enable me to serve others.”

She went on to say: “I like to talk about bullying because it is not a good thing to do. I also talk about the importance of accepting who we are and rejecting body shaming, as well as [about] mental health.”

Ms. Dabbabi uses computer technology and artificial intelligence (AI) to create her art and print the images on T-shirts and mugs. She wants to share messages that can help those facing similar challenges.

Abdullah Shabana, who hails from Saudi Arabia, focuses on participatory design, which is an idea initiated by MIT and the Saudi Authority for Intellectual Property.

“Participatory design is an initiative that brings together designers and persons with disabilities…starting from the research idea through to the production idea. Through participatory design, more than one project is produced,” he told UN News.

At WEIF the project he was presenting was a voice application that serves people who have difficulty communicating. “The application enables people with disabilities to communicate in the language of the people of the country.”

A beacon of hope in Palestine​

Also speaking to UN News was Nadia Musleh, President of the Women’s Renaissance Association, established in Ramallah in 1925 as the first project to care for people with disabilities in Palestine.

“We have a rehabilitation center that serves between 45 and 60 disabled people daily. We provide them with daily plans and programmes. The center teaches people with disabilities how to make various hand tools, coloring and drawing. We came here to highlight what we have in Palestine,” Ms. Musleh told UN News.

“With us here is Anton, who joined the association at the age of 3 years. He is now 40 years old and specializes in making games,” she explained.

Nadia Musleh is the President of the Women's Renaissance Association in Ramallah, which was established in 1925.

Innovation and the ‘orange economy’​

The Manama Declaration also calls on the international community to promote and leverage promising new sectors such as the creative or ‘orange economy’, embrace digital transformation, including artificial intelligence, and instill smart farming practices that would create jobs and attain economic development.

Governments, the private sector, academia, civil society, media, and international organizations, as well as all ecosystem operators, are called upon to cooperate in facilitating the promotion of entrepreneurship and innovative enterprises towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and the outlook towards the year 2050.

The two-page document calls on all stakeholders to work together to promote entrepreneurship and innovation towards achievement of the SDGs. It looks ahead to 2050 and concludes with a call to the international community “to end conflicts and extend swift support to women and youth in post-conflict areas.”

The Manama Declaration will be presented to the UN General Assembly.

The WEIF will wind up tomorrow with focus on ‘women, peace and security’, including promoting stability in conflict-affected countries by funding female entrepreneurs