7 Agendas for Change in the Arab World: WEF Day 2 Summary

On the second day of the World Economic Forum Special Meeting on Economic Growth and Job Creation in the Arab World at the Dead Sea, Jordan, themes discussed the first day gelled into several specific agendas.

Generating stability in the wake of the Arab Spring, creating the near 75 million jobs that need to be created, and generating economic growth during a potential second recession may sound impossible.

But several points were laid forth to create change. Two central panels on the final day summarized and debated these final agendas, the panel on Addressing the Employment Challenge and the closing panel, An Action Plan for 2012. Watch the videos on the WEF website via the links above.

Here is a general summary. Stakeholders at WEF called for leaders to:

- Generate multistakeholder support for entrepreneurs.

As Wamda CEO Habib Haddad pointed several times throughout panels with the Young Global Leaders Forum (YGLF) and co-chairs, and the YGLF-Booz & Co. report affirms, supporting entrepreneurs necessitates private sector investment, support from incubators and accelerators, support from the government in creating a more conducive regulatory environment, mentorship, and a shift in media narratives to show positive stories of small business growth. “Government should not play the role of investors themselves,” however, he warned in the final panel of the day, An Action Plan for 2012.

- Build better, more business-creation-focused curriculums.

One surprising statistic that Nemat Shafik, Deputy Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) cited was that the Arab World spends more on education than any other region in the world. Yet, as she pointed out in the panel on employment, the lack of talent in the region is loudly lamented, and there are huge inefficiencies in the system.

HM Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan urged in the panel on Addressing the Employment Challenge, that when it comes to changing society, “You cannot make something out of nothing. But that's exactly what we need to do. That will take a modern curriculum that will teach the skills of an entrepreneur.”

Soraya Salti, the CEO of Injaz al-Arab, an organization that provides youth with experiential training in business creation and mentorship, summarized the conclusions of many in the final panel on an Action Plan for 2012. “The Arab Youth have done the impossible politically. We need to empower them to do the impossible economically.”

You’re not off the hook, she said. Start an entrepreneurship chapter at your local high school or university. Begin mentoring youth yourself. Make a five-minute video explaining what skills you need at your business.

- Listen to the youth.

Almost every panel involved a brainstorm on how youth could be more involved with government. The young people present also projected an optimism and energy that should be harnessed. In an panel announcing the Global Shapers, Yasmine Galal from Egypt noted that, “During the revolutions, our strength came in numbers. Hopefully Global Shapers can bring us together to effect change."

Global Shaper Amira Yahaoui from Tunisia noted that there is a lot of pessimism at WEF, and urged optimism. “Today we are electing our constitutional constituency. I cannot afford this pessimism,” she said.

Sharan Burrow, General Secretary, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), urged governments to create youth apprenticeship programs, noting the success of youth development programs in Australia.

Mahmoud Jibril, Chairman of the National Transitional Council of Libya, noted his commitment to the youth: “We cannot be perceived as having a mandate over the youth. They know much more than we do. I have met with some of those young people in civil society organizations. I was impressed with the maturity of their thought. It is the opposite to our old way of thinking.”

- Create an Arab Marshall Plan.

While the original Marshall plan was implemented by the U.S., giving monetary support to European economies after World War II to reduce trade barriers, modernize industry, and rebuild in a post-war environment, the “Arab Marshall Plan” generally suggested was not aimed at U.S. support. Rather the idea was to enhance intra-region economic flow from the Gulf to the Levant and North Africa, to rebuild economies after the Arab Spring and promote job creation.

One crowd member pointed out the urgency of the need. “Egypt will be out of cash by April,” he said. “We need an injection of capital. The rise of oil due to this revolution will inject US $2-3 billion into the GCC. Can we come up with a Marshall Plan?" He reiterated, noting that IMF and World Bank funding was rejected in Egypt.

While Shafik of the IMF affirmed vaguely that, “smart investment comes in a time of uncertainty,” not everyone agreed that a Marshall Plan was a great idea.

Members of the crowd pointed out throughout WEF that master plans have a way of falling apart in this region. In the Action Plan Panel, Habib Haddad called for an end to master planning, saying, “Let’s just act,” pointing to the need to experiment with education and iterate in support of entrepreneurship instead.

- Create effective free trade agreements.

Many called for enhanced free trade within the region, via lowered tariffs and creation of incentives, especially in the panel on Linking Trade to Development on the first day. The call for enhanced economic solidarity in the Arab World, despite its diversity, was strong.

Leaders also called for more international trade agreements with the U.S. and E.U., and more foreign investment as well as partnerships with these regions to enhance technical knowledge in the Arab World.

- Formalize informal economies.

Sharan Burrow highlighted the need to formalize the black and grey markets of the Arab World, as informal economies that account for as much as 50%-80% of commercial operations. Having that degree of unregulated informal trade can stymie reform and discourage outside investment. The process of formalization has to involve social dialogue, with the government, private sector, labor unions and civil society all taking responsibility, she said, in the initial panel on the employment challenge.

- Work with a sense of urgency as well as long-term vision.

Many panelists discussed the need to act with a sense of immediacy, while acknowledging that change takes time, and results will not be immediately visible.

In the panel on the employment challenge, HM Queen Rania closed with a comment that addressed this paradox by reinforcing the idea that government must focus on education and economic reform. “In the Arab mentality,” she said, “there seems to be a very thick and bold line between economic and political reform. We need to realize that economic reform is political reform. The danger is that if we have this dividing line, things like education and job creation... [will be] falling down the priority list. This is a very important thing that we have to realize- we cannot antagonize the private sector.“

This theme was echoed in the final panel on An Action Plan for 2012 as panelists called for action. “We need less leaders and more doers,” said Habib Haddad, echoing the idea that no one should look to government or a particular sector alone to solve these problems.


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