GITEX GLOBAL - October 2022 - Dubai

How will the metaverse create jobs and economic opportunities in the MENA region, we ask Meta’s regional head

Meta – formerly Facebook – isn’t going to build, own, or run the metaverse on its own. Bringing it to life will require collaboration across companies, developers, creators, and policymakers to ensure an open, interoperable, and inclusive metaverse, the regional head of Meta tells Arabian Business.

Facebook – which is now known as Meta – has been a household name in the Middle East region for more than 10 years, working with communities, creators, partners, media, and governments to enable the millions of people who use its platforms to create content and flourish across a number of industries.

The move to “Meta” has signaled a key technological and cultural step for the firm – moving beyond 2D screens towards immersive experiences such as virtual and augmented reality, while creating jobs, economic opportunities, and opening out a world of new possibilities.

Sharing his thoughts in an exclusive interview with Arabian Business, the regional director for MENA at Meta, Fares Akkad, said: “At Meta, we’re committed to building technologies that help millions of people who use our platforms to express themselves, stay connected to their loved ones and their communities, and start and grow businesses. We’re helping build the next evolution in social technology – the metaverse.”

Meta supports job creation and unlocks economic opportunities

Meta’s business strategy aligns with the growing emergence of digital creatives in the Middle East and North Africa region.

According to a World Bank report released in 2022, the universal adoption of digital technologies in countries across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is expected to create a much-needed surge in jobs and reap huge socio-economic benefits worth hundreds of billions of dollars each year.

Akkad added: “Digital creatives represent a powerfully diverse pool of talent — one that holds the key to reaching the next billion people who are coming online. We believe technology is giving people new opportunities to become entrepreneurs and content creators, and the metaverse has a big role to play here.”

At the apex of the digital technology boom in the region, the metaverse is expected to help unlock economic opportunities for communities and businesses across industries.

“The mobile internet has already allowed people to work, learn, and socialise in ways that are less limited by their physical location. The metaverse will help expand these opportunities even further,” Akkad explains.

“For instance, people will be able to choose to study and train in places that felt off limits because of where they lived or what they could afford. These could help spread economic opportunities and help grow significant sectors of the global economy.”

He adds: “While it’s an exciting and promising vision — there’s still a long road ahead, and for many businesses — the best way to get started is by leaning into their existing marketing strategy today; and start imagining the opportunities for the future.”

Key challenges to overcome in 2022

As the Middle East region slowly emerges out of the Covid-19 pandemic, advertisers and marketers are steadily coming back on their feet.

“In 2020 and 2021, there was a lot of uncertainty and confusion. However, now we are seeing everyone getting used to the new normal. Despite the challenges of Covid-19, successful businesses have proven that customer-centricity is integral to success,” Akkad said.

During the pandemic, connectivity proved essential for social and business continuity in the MENA region, where governments and businesses were able to pivot and respond with a range of measures and solutions for a digital-first world.

“Building the metaverse will be more like how the internet came about than how any one app was launched. Meta isn’t going to build, own, or run the metaverse on its own. Bringing the metaverse to life will require collaboration and cooperation across companies, developers, creators, and policymakers to ensure an open, interoperable, and inclusive metaverse,” Akkad added.

“We are only at the start of this journey and a lot still has to happen before this vision of the metaverse becomes a reality.

”Responding to what precisely needs to be done in order to bring the metaverse to life, Akkad pointed to three key factors:

Hardware needs to be built: Even if we just look at AR, to bring this vision to life we basically need to fit a supercomputer into a pair of normal-looking glasses. We have to fit hologram displays, projectors, batteries, radios, custom silicon chips, cameras, speakers, sensors to map the world around you and more into glasses about 5 millimeters thick. This is still years in the making.

Infrastructure needs to be transformed: Models will need to be larger and more complex and there will need to be a dramatic shift towards cloud-based infrastructure to help deliver a scalable platform to support the metaverse.

Access needs to be improved: Our vision is for the metaverse to reach a billion people in the next decade, but for that to happen, access to hardware has to improve and connectivity across the world has to increase.

Leaning into the metaverse of tomorrow

When asked how businesses can make the most of the metaverse in its nascent stages, Akkad said that it was important for businesses to stay focused on the smart strategies they are using today to reach customers and grow, which will help prepare them for the metaverse of tomorrow.

He explained: “For now, the primary way people will experience the metaverse is through 2D apps, including Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, and WhatsApp. And beyond that, we are focused on building bridges from our apps on 2D screens into more immersive virtual 3D experiences in the metaverse.

“To start planning for this future, it is important for brands to continue growing their brand and business in the digital space on our 2D apps.

”Meta has also begun testing tools to sell digital assets and experiences within its Horizon Worlds platform, which is an expansive virtual reality social media platform focused on virtual events.

Developers who are creating virtual classes, games, and fashion accessories within the Meta’s immersive virtual reality environment, which is accessible via VR headsets, will be able to sell their accessories or offer paid access to the specialised digital spaces they have built.