Date published: October 1, 2011
TAKING PLACE AT A CRUCIAL TIME FOR the Middle East, this year's World Economic Forum Special Meeting on Economic Growth and Job Creation in the Arab World will kick off under the influence of the Arab Spring, creating a 'renewed urgency' for action. Today, the region's population of 360 million is one of the youngest in the world. The 'youth bulge' has raised expectations of the region's economic growth, social development, governance and resource management. Government, private sector and civil society representatives from the Gulf, the Levant and the Maghreb will gather in Jordan from 21-23 October to address some of these imperatives and, hopefully, formulate a clear action plan.
The WEF has been shaping the Arab World's agenda, especially its economic agenda, for a long time. However, the Arab Spring represents a watershed moment in history and, in many ways, has helped unlock the debate on certain issues including the 'sEs', i.e. employment, education and entrepreneurship.
According to Miroslav Dusek, Head of MENA at the World Economic Forum, the region's youth has proved a major driver for change and the choice of the 3ES was in large part chosen to reflect this. "The top priority for the region today," says Dusek, "is to deal constructively and in a forward-looking way with the youth bulge, the generation of young people that has just entered the workforce. There is a widespread consensus on this point among all the decision makers. The youth bulge represents a unique force within Arab societies and can be transformed into the engine of economic growth and human development for the future decade or two. However, we need to make sure that the overall ecosystem of job creation works, as this major opportunity could potentially become a liability if those young people are not transformed into a dynamic workforce but rather stay unemployed or underemployed."
Dusek is confident that the WEF will also contribute to empowering the young generation and enhancing the "voice of the youth". "This year, you will see a clear shift in our approach towards younger generations not only in terms of numbers and the overall composition of the participants," he explained. "We will position young leaders in key panels and sessions alongside the renowned Young Global Leaders, now in their 30S and already established in their fields. We will be working extensively with the Global Shapers, young, outstanding individuals in their 20S. We believe in empowering these young leaders to assume key positions and become the decision makers of the future."
In the past, the WEF has been harshly charged with accomplishing little of substance but Dusek believes the Forum in Petra offers a unique platform to make a difference. Its strength lies in the fact that the Forum brings together the three segments of government and public sector, private sector and civil society. "For any challenges societies face - be they economic, social or political - these three different groups of decision makers need to come together and seek a consensus. In addition, we provide a platform for global leaders and experts from all over the world to confront and share their expertise, success stories and lessons learned in economic reform or transition experience in Indonesia, Latin America and other scenarios. Last but not least, throughout the year, we consult on a continuous basis with the Regional Agenda Council on the Arab World, a body made up of regional experts from various backgrounds."
New states in the making, changing balances, and unpredictable outcomes bring with them both tremendous opportunities and new challenges. Asked about the mood amongst stakeholders the WEF talks to when designing their agenda, Dusek was ambivalent. "Neither one of optimism nor pessimism. But I can tell you that the mood is different from spring 2011; now it is about making sure that 2011 works and that we build on it - towards more positive outcomes. There is a renewed emphasis on learning best practice, working on the economy, and ultimately delivering on expectations. The general mood suggests that it is time to get to the workshop and apply solutions urgently to face political and social challenges. These challenges are not underestimated and people are coming here to work together, hopeful this is the longed-for opportunity to tackle many of the systemic challenges the region faces. In terms of competitiveness, for instance, 2011 has allowed a more open and vibrant dialogue, which will enable the drivers of competitiveness to progress. As the global competitiveness report we have just published shows - and more detailed analyses to be released shortly will confirm - there is a diversity in trajectories in different countries; however, the constant element is that there are immense opportunities for public-private partnerships and for the different stakeholders to act jointly and tackle long-term challenges."
With the Arab Spring, the world has come to see that the Arab world is far from being one homogenous region, politically, economically or socially. Politically, some states in the region have undergone radical transformations and more countries are expected to follow a similar pattern. Change is considered inevitable almost everywhere, sooner or later. However, it is not clear what direction each of these transitions will eventually take, and radical differences have already emerged just by comparing the Egyptian, Tunisian and Libyan scenarios. Dusek remained diplomatically neutral when asked whether the WEF was a proponent of one particular model over another. "We provide a neutral platform and a message of diversity, through which we want to support change in the direction of positive outcomes. We aim at providing a platform for stakeholders to inform the agenda, evaluate developments, and formulate solutions. Whenever a society is undergoing a transformation, our focus is a better life for individuals and the society as a whole, yet respecting the different trajectories diverse societies may undertake. Ultimately, we believe the mission of governments is to serve the individual citizens and make sure they live better lives. In fact, this is not only our goal for 2011; this is coherent with the overall mission of the WEF, which is ultimately improving the state of the world."