Bringing People Together with Digital Innovation


The 10th edition of Mediterranean Economic Week was launched on Wednesday November 2nd at Marseille’s Villa Méditerranée, with this year’s event focusing on digital advancement and interconnected communities after a positive and hope-filled introductory session.

“We can come to terms with the digital world if, and only if, we are connected to our neighbours.” This was the fraternal expressionmade by Bernard Valero, Director of the AviTeM (Mediterranean Sustainable Towns and Regions Agency) that set the tone for the conference. Bolstered by the presence of high-level representatives and experts such as the OCEMO Co-President, the Ambassador for His Royal Highness Mohamed VI of Morocco, Ms. Assia Bensalah Alaoui, and Professors Pierre-Jean Benghozi and Adel Ben Youssef, the opening ceremony of the event’s 10th edition gave way to two round-table discussions involving various representatives involved in digital initiatives around the Mediterranean.

With 5% of the world’s submarine data cables passing through Marseille, in recent years the city has become a regional capital for the relation between communities and digital networks. The digital revolution has impacted every aspect of our daily lives: From tax returns to airline tickets and the smartphones in our pockets, our whole day is governed by the data we create in our vicinity with every action. As shown by Pierre-Jean Benghozi, Professor at the prestigious Ecole Polytechnique and board member of the ARCEP (France’s regulatory authority for electronic devices and communications): “Digital advancement has provided solutions, and brought local communities closer together via global platforms. Who could have imagined twenty years ago that the French taxi industry would be competing with a US-based website? ”

“We are facing a digital tsunami”

The digital world is in perpetual motion, sustained on technologies which will, in turn, be swamped by new innovations. According to Mr. Adel Ben Youssef, senior lecturer at the University of Nice-Sophia Antipolis, the Mediterranean region must brace itself “for a tsunami. By tsunami, we mean that innovations such as virtual reality and 3D printing are already commonplace in the world of industry. In order to benefit from these developments, countries must meet a precise set of specifications.”

First of all, this involves ensuring that all citizens are connected in order to avoid creating a bipolarity between “the connected world and a digital wastel and.” Secondly, we must adapt our education system in order to ensure that children are exposed to current technological tools from the early stages. We must also consider improvements to digital administration so that educated citizens become a central part of their country’s information systems. Finally, we must protect fundamental online freedoms so that citizens are not cut off from information. The aim is to ensure that data collected has a purpose and can be used in the most efficient way, while also remaining totally secure.

Focus on Data

90% of the data stored on our servers has been generated since 2014. Big Data has become a major issue for both governments and companies. Data processing has become a driving force for investment and the creation of new businesses. This was emphasised by Gunnar Muent, innovation director for project management at the European Investment Bank: “Investment in new technologies and the internet for on-line sale of items is the key to success in the Mediterranean.”

Speaking to a captivated audience, Florence Dur and-Tornare, founder of the “Villes Internet” association, presented her vision of a connected society in which citizens would play a central role in the choices and decisions made by their administrations: “Citizens must be taken into consideration when building the internet of cities. Their choices are essential, and are expressed via a council of internet citizens.” Following these rewarding and comprehensive presentations, speakers conducted Q&A sessions with the audience. One of the questions involved the role of human beings and how humanity can make real use of data and the internet. A vast subject that would require much more time than the 90 minutes available for the round-table discussion.

Business and enterprise in the digital economy

In the digital world we live in, companies occupy a key position.  As the primary drivers of digital activity, business leaders are implementing solutions to help bridge the digital divide. It was in this context that the event organisers had invited Kevin Polizzi, President of the Jaguar Network, a company which advocates access to technology for all. “In order to combat the digital divide, it’s important to provide new generations with the necessary means to access the technology they need.” He also explained how providing support for companies is the keystone for business development.

Stéphane Soto, director of Aix-Marseille French Tech, is actively involved in this approach, working to train young programmers in Marseille’s northern districts. “France knows how help businesses get off the ground, and it’s essential that our organisations have one foot on each side of the Mediterranean in order to get the most out of each continent and their respective expertise.”

The subject of Africa was discussed by Zakaria Fahim, President of Hub Africa, the main platform for African entrepreneurs. Its aim is to put small and medium-sized businesses (SME) in touch with each other: “In Africa, small businesses do not yet see digital innovation as a means to develop their activity internationally.”  Therefore, it is essential to show examples of success to these SME  for them to be digitally orientated. By focusing on data and technology, digital operators are opening communities to closer links and working actively to bridge the digital divide.