World Bank Convenes Arab Voices and Views Conference | World Bank Institute (WBI)

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  • The World Bank convened Arab scholars, opinion leaders and thinkers to dialogue on the recent political changes across the Middle East and North Africa region.
  • Panel discussions focused on the role of new media and access to jobs.
  • The event drew a wide public audience from across the world via social media.

March 25, 2011—As political revolutions continue across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), the world watches and wonders what this change means for the countries and their people. On Monday the World Bank convened Arab scholars, opinion leaders and thinkers to discuss these changes, and bring new voices and views to light.

"No country is immune from the beautiful contagion that Tunisia and Egypt started,” said journalist Hisham Melhem at the Arab Voices and Views conference, which drew a wide public audience not just in Washington but globally through social media and other online outreach.

Panel participants included Mona El Tahawy, award-winning journalist and activist, Nasser Saidi, chief economist at the Dubai International Financial Centre Authority, and Riz Khan, commentator and host on Al Jazeera.

“In order to identify and explore these issues, we need first and foremost to open up a genuine and deep dialogue with and between the different voices in the region,” said World Bank Group President Robert B. Zoellick at the opening of the conference. “We need the new dynamics of public choice. This could contribute to new social contracts.”

Issues of the Day: Jobs and New Media

The first discussion of two panels focused on “Social Accountability and the Role of New Media.”  The internet, largely through social media, gave people a way to recognize that they were not alone, not isolated, and not without support. The people – not just the young but the old, the poor and the affluent – could organize, mobilize, and act collectively at unparalleled speed. Panelists agreed though that traditional platforms like cell phones, mosques and market places played an important role and should not be discounted.

The second panel discussed “Equity in Access to Jobs.”  With rates of unemployment in the MENA region around 10 percent and youth unemployment at 24 percent, approximately 40 million jobs will have to be created in the coming decade just to maintain the current unemployment levels.

Panelists agreed that it is not just about the shortage in numbers. It is also the mismatch of skills—youth are educated but may not have relevant skills for industry or may not be open to working at lower wage rates. A transformative shift in economic growth is urgently needed if inclusive job-enhancing growth is to be achieved. This will depend upon the successful mobilizing of the current human resources through increase in production and services that can absorb the available work force.

Looking forward, panelists agreed that the prevailing mood in the region is optimistic. Communities must still think in both short and long term. Quick wins and confidence building measures have to be put in place. Protesters must now focus on constructive engagement and how to shape the future of their region.
Nasser Saidi of the Dubai Financial Center does not think this will be easy. “This is going to be a long drawn out process. You have to be very patient,” he said.

Thousands Participate Online

The event – which included panelists both in person in the World Bank’s Washington offices and connected via video in Dubai, Jordan, Lebanon and Tunisia—was webcast in English and Arabic with live chatting in 12 languages, enabling thousands of people from across the Arab and non-Arab world to take part in the event. The event garnered more thank 45 million Facebook views, and reached more than two million people on Twitter.

Arab Voices and Views was organized by the World Bank’s MENA region, World Bank Institute and External Affairs teams.

Summary of main ideas from participants at the conference:

  • Inclusive economic growth can trickle down to the poor and create a middle class
  • Disconnect between skills and labor market needs to be addressed to deal with high unemployment.
  • Economic reforms must have grassroots ownership and should focus on governance and corruption.
  • Enabling a business friendly environment is critical to unleashing the potential of the private sector to create growth.
  • Increased regional and global integration through infrastructure and trade will lead to sustainable growth and new markets.
  • Formalizing administrative law is necessary to close the gap between people and governments.
  • Greater support for education is needed at the primary school level and beyond the university level
  • Must reverse the brain drain.

We need the new dynamics of public choice. This could contribute to new social contracts. Robert B. Zoellick , President, World Bank Group