This year’s conference will be held in conjunction with the well-known Doha Forum on Democracy, Development and Free Trade, which will be celebrating its tenth anniversary. The joint conference promises to be the most productive yet, with over 500 participants from 100 countries expected to attend.
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Doha 2010 Final Closing Remarks
As we convened our fifth annual conference this year, we felt that the many pressures we confront in the region demanded institutional reassessment. We sought to address the consequences of the recent financial crisis but also to generate creative solutions. With this in mind, we designed the conference around the theme: “Building an Enhanced World Order: Looking Forward, Solving Problems.”
I asked each of our panelists to move beyond the “yes we can” rhetoric President Obama made famous and to truly focus on “how we can” enhance economic development and potential solutions to specific problems we currently face in the region. And true to the theme of the conference, our panelists kept their focus on new solutions to the problems facing the region.
But of course we cannot be Pollyanna-ish and the recurring theme throughout the conference on the changing definition of security is emblematic of the broadened problems we face in the region. Today, when we think about security, in addition to worrying about traditional conflicts, we must address poverty, disease and natural catastrophe.
The opening sessions set the foundation for the conference by outlining the panelists’ visions for the future of the region. Speakers recommended the creation of new global institutions to address the complexities of the 21st century, and one dignitary suggested creating political and economic unions throughout the region based on the model of the GCC. Panelists also urged the international community to refocus development and foreign aid on investing in the infrastructure of the region’s economy, including education, science and technology, managerial training and sustainable investments.
Our next series of plenaries explored current economic recovery efforts underway and the need to address both local and global problems in tandem. The future of the Middle East’s economic relationship with China in particular was explored, as panelists pointed out that China fared better than most Western economies in the global financial crisis and enjoys a productive and peaceful relationship with the Middle East. One Chinese ambassador shared an optimistic that periods of economic recovery can be an opportunity for governments to collaborate with one another in order to develop better, joint solutions.
Panelists argued that countries in the Middle East should focus on capturing China’s trade markets, particularly by offering low cost manufacturing. At the same time, higher end service jobs such as investment, banking and tourism, were identified as the best candidates for job growth in the Middle East. Panelists were particularly optimistic about the future of the GCC, where they saw the potential for region to serve as a hub between China and North Africa, and pointed out how oil revenue can be reinvested in growing the region further.
During today’s sessions, our panelists looked more specifically at practical options for a post-crisis economy, considering new ways to identify emerging real estate opportunities, encourage women’s leadership in business, respond to the tensions between climate change, energy and growth, and promote regional entrepreneurship.
On the topic of real estate, conference attendees ultimately agreed that this was a very locally-driven market but that a lack of transparency in the real estate market was a recurring problem. One panelist made the provocative point that governments may face a conflict of interest in serving as both a regulator and a developer in a real estate market.
Turning to the role of women in business, we learned that Arab women are now benefiting from improved access to education, but that education is not translating into women joining the work force. Panelists called for new mentorship initiatives and leadership training programs to help bridge that gap, and one speaker pointed out that women with children will, most of all, need entrepreneurship skills as they will likely work from home and start their own small businesses.
On the critical issue of climate change, development and environmental issues are inextricably linked. One panelist pointed out the example of China’s development. While their economic growth stands at about 10% of GDP, activities fueling that growth have led to environmental damage causing illnesses with costs over 13%.
Panelists made clear that global cooperation was the only way forward on climate change. They also recommended altering behavior through education, starting with the very young.
Panelists were asked how they would choose to allocate $10 billion on energy reform. One answered that she would invest in initiatives that have the most bang for the buck—clean coal technology, energy storage and super conductivity. Another said he would allocate funds to politicians to relieve them from having to chase money for elections, and allowing them to focus on fact-driven environmental solutions. He was most critical of ethanol, arguing that elections had generated a futile road to environmental improvement. All participants insisted on the needs for more R&D.
Finally, panelists urged regional governments to recognize that entrepreneurship is the engine of economic growth, vital for job creation. Panelists shared information on existing initiatives available to support entrepreneurs and called for new efforts to enhance entrepreneurs’ technical and managerial capabilities and new ways to apply entrepreneurship to existing social challenges in the region. They saw education as the key to creating a culture of entrepreneurialism that will help young people overcome some of the social costs to risk taking. A specific idea surfaced of creating a public/private fund to which young entrepreneurs could apply, similar to the model of the U.S. Small Business Administration and a similar Saudi program. These funds would have private judges selecting from applications and be accompanied by mentorship programs to help ensure that promising proposals succeed.
The meeting concluded with a widely accepted proposal that next year’s theme should be “Facing the Youth Tsunami,” with the focus on job creation through a new entrepreneurial culture—including social entrepreneurship—vocational training, an improved role for government in job creation, and renewable energy development as a future source of employment.
So, you see, we have our work cut out for us.