Cleopatra Kitti is a citizen of the Mediterranean. Born and raised on the island of Cyprus, she has had a distinguished career as a businesswoman, an advisor to the EU and other global institutions, and a certified independent director specialising in corporate governance. Through her latest venture, The Mediterranean Growth Initiative, she is forging a new direction as an advocate for the Mediterranean region as a whole. She is a visionary spokesperson for the untapped human and economic potential of Europe’s forgotten zone, the countries that cluster around the Mediterranean Sea.
Cleopatra’s contention is that the Mediterranean has long been misperceived and underestimated. We have somehow failed to see it for what it is – a coherent geopolitical zone with a common history and an interdependent set of economic interests. She believes that all sorts of opportunities and benefits would become visible if only investors could look at the Med through a different lens. And that potential, once exploited, would be a boon both to the people of the region and to any commercial concern prepared to take a leap of faith. ‘The first thing that you have to understand about the Mediterranean,’ she says, ‘is that the culture is shared. It is universal across the entire seaboard – that is, in southern Europe, at the eastern extremity in the Middle East, along the North African coast. Everywhere, from Marseille to Carthage to Alexandria, there is a trading culture that goes back hundreds or thousands of years. And life on the Med is about resilience, because having to contend with the sea makes you that way. There are other big themes that hold true across the region: openness, hospitality, diversity…’
These ideas about the nature of the Mediterranean zone are not mere academic constructs. For Cleopatra they are grounded in an experience of displacement that is also at the root of her work in conflict resolution. ‘In 1974, when I was ten years old, Turkey invaded Cyprus,’ she says. ‘Fear came into my life. I saw the people closest to me, my parents, with fear in their eyes. We spent weeks in bomb shelters, then had to leave Nicosia and escape into the mountains. We drove through the dark in our very small car, and were given shelter by people we didn’t know. In a situation like that, what is yours must suddenly become everybody’s. Everything is shared – food, clothes, living space, even education. Our school had to do double shifts because the influx of refugees meant that there was not space for everyone: one week we went to school in the morning, the next week in the evening.’
Cleopatra says that her current thinking about the future of the Mediterranean focusses on ‘collaboration and interdependence’ – the same kind of imaginative sharing that she encountered in her schooldays. MGI, the data analytics system that she has developed, is a tool designed to promote those aims. ‘I created MGI to introduce analytics into the discussion about the Mediterranean. Economic facts are where I start, because they remove emotion from the equation and replace it with unequivocal data that can shape decisions about the future.’
The tool is both a networking platform and an intra-Mediterranean information source. ‘Data analytics exists everywhere,’ says Cleopatra, ‘but all the reports that governments, analysts and international finance institutions get on the economies of the Med, all the analysis that they do, is static or even backward-looking. MGI, on the other hand, offers real time, aggregated comparative information that is interactive. In other words, we make live simulations of growth that look ahead.’ Data is painstakingly gathered from every national statistics agency, then collated and aggregated by the tool. MGI also lists release dates for economic data – year round, and for every Mediterranean country. An investor can easily find out, say, when Egypt releases GDP or employment figures, compare that to past figures and review projections for years ahead. The modelling is unique as it combines knowledge of economic and development policy with data analytics.
In some ways MGI is like a traditional economics-based newswire. Twice a month, it issues sector-by-sector analysis of topics such as transport or communications, or the integration of women in the marketplace. All the national data is checked against figures from the IMF, the OECD and the World Bank, and any divergence is scrupulously recorded. So, while the raw data is internationally available, the aggregation is based on a model that the tool explains: any economist or econometrician can verify it.
And all this happens in real time, and all of it is publicly available to anyone who has a mind to invest in the region. ‘In the end, this is all about creating a dialogue, adding another dimension to our understanding of the Med,’ says Cleopatra. ‘So, let’s just see where it takes us. Because the facts show that there is a better dynamic in collaboration than in division – and that we all have things to gain by working together.’
Cleopatra Kitti was interviewed by Jonathan Bastable for thisisabout.com