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Harnessing the Economic Power of Data in the Middle East and North Africa

Most of the countries in the MENA region face similar challenges and share the same set of characteristics, limitations and opportunities.
Among other development enablers, data products and services can become major economic drivers. Data collection, storage, exchange, processing and operationalization are now much easier and less expensive. Massive amounts and formats of data can be obtained or generated from user behavior and data sensors leading to the Big Data phenomenon.

The promise of big data is limitless.Through data analytics, we can gain exceptional customer insights, products and services innovation, better decision making, improved productivity and performance, better research and development (leading to commercialization and economic growth), better health care, innovative social services, optimized infrastructure and enhanced security and safety.

Data Science is the field dedicated to analyzing and manipulating raw data to derive insights and build data products. Data scientists combine interdisciplinary knowledge especially math, statistics and programming in addition to soft skills and relevant technologies to be able to extract, clean, visualize and analyze data, build and test models and deploy predictive solutions.

Universities and training institutions and online MOOCs provide various levels of data science education. Programs range from individual courses to PhDs. The best ones combine core competencies, soft skills and practical experience in partnership with industry leaders.

Major industry leaders like Microsoft, IBM, Amazon and Google offer cloud-­‐based flexible platforms to help both startups and enterprises realize the data analytics potential. There are open source platforms and tools in addition to niche providers that fit other scenarios.

In the MENA region, big data analytics and data science as a field are not mainstream yet. There is growing awareness, some use cases and a few entrepreneurships. Data science education is also at its infancy and other enablers (like research, open data sets and business culture) are inadequate. However, there is both potential in various areas ranging from agriculture to tourism and energy industry. Talents can also be qualified with minimum effort if graduates of close fields are trained.

We recommend an immediate call to action by different stakeholders including governments, industries, educational institutions, professionals and civil society. Awareness, education and training, partnerships, established metrics and contextual adoption are key success factors. There are readily available tools, resources and platforms that fit all scenarios, so no need to reinvent the wheel or wait until it is too late.

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