DUBAI: The growing momentum for reform and rebuilding inclusive economies in the Arab world is a stark contrast to the headlines of violence and sectarian anarchy that dominate the region. Therefore it is encouraging to see the amount of thought that government and business are putting into reviving the civil communities across the Arab world that will be on display at the World Economic Forum’s Middle East and North Africa meeting at the Dead Sea in Jordan.
The meeting’s formal programme has the theme: Enabling a Generational Transformation, and is based on three interrelated pillars: two long term and one urgent. The first long term pillar focuses on how to enable collaborative innovation and youth empowerment by using the technologies of the fourth industrial revolution like bio-tech, nano-tech and artificial intelligence. These new technologies will be in demand for decades as they continue to develop, so training people in these areas will last and become part of a long-term solution to the Arab world’s need to offer young people fulfilling work.
The word “innovation” has become very over-used, but there is no doubt that the topic itself is vital. A key premise of the programme is that innovation is no longer an option, and is the only path to transformation in the Middle East and North Africa as those directing the region’s economies create the environment in which businesses and society together can seek to anticipate the many challenges that are coming, by focusing on any countries only sure resource, which is its young people. Government needs to learn to trust their youth and give them the tools with which to make the changes that they will inherit in time.
The second pillar is about finding a framework for an inclusive economic transformation that can create jobs for the 1 million young Arab people entering the job market every year. All the training in the world will not find someone work if the Arab economies remain as they are today, which is why the governments of the region need to plan ahead, collaborating so that best practices can be shared across the Arab world and the new economies can play a successful part in a competitive global market.
It is clear that governments and NGOs on their own cannot cope with the scale of the problem, which is why the World Economic Forum is looking at how to achieve unprecedented economic reform that is needed through building more public-private cooperation that is required to achieve the desired outcomes for the future of the region.
The third and more urgent pillar is the search for how to best cope with the vast humanitarian crisis that has affected so many countries in the region, and sent millions of refugees into countries like Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey that have only just managed to handle the tide of humanity. But as the wars drag on for years, these countries have not been able to offer much long term support such as education for the children, and re-training for the adults who have been ruthlessly uprooted and may never go back to their former lives. But even in the most desperate camps there are great stories of hope that can inspire others to change their lives, which is why the meeting includes sections on how refugees can benefit from higher education on the internet, looking at what innovative solutions hold the greatest potential to improve refugees’ learning outcomes and elevate young people as creators and change-makers.
The common thread in all three strands is a determined optimism that anarchy and sectarian chaos can be defeated, and the rule of law can be restored through stable nation-states throughout the Arab world. This may seem like a dream to a Syrian in the middle of the war, but it is politically imperative to the rest of the Arab world that watches with horror the humanitarian disaster. This why the World Economic Forum’s meeting also includes a political dimension that will focus on how to de-escalate conflicts and provide a vision for shared stability through diplomatic dialogue.