Ksenija Pavlovic, political scientist and Editor-In-Chief of The Pavlovic Today, records in her political diary the highlights from the C3 US-Arab Summit in New York City. In the course of two days, high power attendees had an opportunity to engage with ideas raised by Henry Kissinger, former C.I.A. directors Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador James Woolsey, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa of Bahrain, as well as many diplomats, business, and political leaders from around America and the Arab world.
In the first entry of her political diary, Pavlovic writes about thought provoking insights from the Opening Plenary: Youth and Migration: Creating Economic Opportunity in the Middle East and North Africa as well as the Ambassadors’ Panel: Challenges Raised by Globalization.
Monday. September 26, 2016. A busy morning on Manhattan’s Park Avenue. At the members-only Union League Club, I am attending C3 US-Arab Business Summit 2016. The summit was founded by Ransel Potter as an exclusive event dedicated to forging new business relationships and exchanging best business practices between US and Arab World. Over the course of two days, in the small group discussions and plenary sessions, high power attendees will have an opportunity to engage with the ideas raised by Henry Kissinger, former C.I.A. directors Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador James Woolsey, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa of Bahrain, as well as many diplomats, business and political leaders from America and Arab world.
8:30 AM Youth and Migration: Creating Economic Opportunity in MENA (The Middle East and North Africa)
The Lincoln Hall is filled with business leaders, policy makers, educators and industry professionals from the United States and the Arab world who gathered at the C3 US-Arab Business Summit 2016 to address the unemployment rates in Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and the absence of economic opportunities, all seen as key factors to migration and instability in the region.
The first plenary speaker is Ron Bruder, chairman of Education for Employment (EFE), an advocate for increased youth employment opportunities in the Middle East and North Africa. Bruder has been proclaimed as one of one the hundred most influential people in the world, and he was part of the formative year of C3 US-Arab Business Summit when President Bill Clinton gave the talk. Bruder is dedicated to giving youth the skills needed to be productive at times when they do not have any resources. He found employment for 10,000 youth in the Middle East and is known for being one of the people who says what he does and does what he says.
Talking about the problems of youth in the Arab world, he referred to the lack of employment and economic opportunities which make youth “hate” their country. The key challenge that preoccupies young generations in the Arab world is not ISIS, but how to find a job. 1 in 4 people are jobless in Arab countries.
What would be an Alternative future for the region?
How can we create more economic opportunities for the youth in the Middle East and North Africa? This is a global concern: what can youth do after finishing university? The key question is: what are students learning in universities? Since the biggest frustration is going to university, then not being able to get a job.
Vinícius Carvalho Pinheiro, Special Representative to the UN; Director, ILO Office for the UN said that it Is not only about having the right skills but also being able to grow in the job.
“There is no magic bullet solution. If you ask people in this region if they would like to immigrate, the answer is yes. Saudi Arabia is the fastest growing country in terms of births. There is a huge demographic pressure, if you are highly educated and you cannot grow professionally, then there is a huge frustration”.
Matthew Bishop, Senior Editor of the Economist Group referred to migration as a logical solution to not having opportunities at home.
“If you we are talking about talented people who can integrate, that has been a very successful strategy for India, but what we see at the moment, we see failed states with enormous stress, we see refugee camps with people who do not have any chance at all. This is now the worst kind of migration we have seen so far and it is disruptive to economies. How can we provide opportunities to those people?”
Message of Hope for the Middle East and North Africa
Many people felt that Brexit was a consequence of the refugee crisis. If people don’t have jobs, they then feel no dignity for themselves and have no hope. How can we create jobs to create a ripple effect in terms of the ‘Message of Hope’?
In concluding remarks, Vinícius Carvalho Pinheiro, Special Representative to the UN; Director, ILO Office for the UN said that it is important to dissociate refugees and migration.
“Migration should be seen as a positive element and refugees have to be dealt differently. Aspirations, skills so these have to be matched. It is all about finding a way to generate demand”
9:40 AM Ambassadors’ Panel: Challenges of Globalization
The panel of distinguished US Ambassadors gathered at Lincoln Hall to discuss political solutions on how to manage challenges of globalization in the Middle East and North Africa and create the “new” paradigm for long-term economic growth and regional stability of the region. Some of the burning questions raised were: How are the leaders of the region looking at their countries? What are the implications for the people who would be looking to make business with those countries?
Dawn M. Liberi, US Ambassador to the Kingdom of Bahrain opened the panel by stating: “This morning we heard about the challenges in the region but there are also opportunities. One of the things she wanted to focus on are partnerships for the future. How do you start making a match between skill development and force? How to make a match between supply and demand? How to increase this level of partnership and increase that in the next 30 years? “
James Smith, former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia referred to “Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030” which focuses on transparency of government and their transformation.
In Smith’s view, these are aspirational documents and the reality is that they’re very difficult to execute.
One of the reasons to be optimistic is that there is a commitment from the leadership of Saudi Arabia. There is a great willingness to shake up bureaucracy. Also there is a strong focus on the youth and an openness of society – this whole idea of bringing the young person into the top three leadership positions shows that there is support for the youth of the country.
One of the concerns is a huge sense of urgency in the planning process, but not the same urgency when it comes to implementation.
In Saudi Arabia, they say: “it will take time”, but they do not have time. There is a sense of urgency. Also, the same people who are in government are in control of the business sector. The Saudi Arabian government wants to control everything. They want to control and select what companies are coming to invest in their country. The next concern is then how to get a real discussion on policy changes that need to attract real investments? Multilateral focus on development for the region.
Addressing the audience, Patrick Theros, former Ambassador to the State of Qatar said that while many would say that business won’t go where there is uncertainty and that the MENA region is full of uncertainty, this is still the best time to move.
“There is no such thing as crisis from which you can’t make a profit. Smart governments are those who are going to embrace globalization and entrepreneurship. You have to have to have the right project. You would need to get to know your customer and you need to go local. Address the immediate issues of what the customer wants. Even unstable countries are trying to reach the private sector,” said Theros
Importance of visionary leadership
Challenges can create opportunities. In the early 2000s, the US looked at Free Trade Agreements with all the countries from the Gulf Region, but it ended up, in making single agreements. Still, there are issues with Fair Trade Agreements since they do not increase trade.
Marc C. Ginsberg, the Former US Ambassador to Morocco provided his insight from Iran. Ginsberg looks at the Middle East as the space of opportunities. He talked about his experience of building social enterprises from the bottom up and said in the panel of the C3 US-Arab Business Summit that his question is not if Islam is compatible with the West, but whether or not Islam is compatible with good economy.
“If all of us here believe that there was no hope for the region we would not be sitting here at C3 US-Arab Business Summit today. We believe that there is an opportunity,” said Ginsberg.
Whoever is willing to enter Iran now will need to invest time. The banking system is very different from anything we know. Iran is still subject to UN sanctions. Being a pioneer to go to Iran will be extremely challenging for America, but it can bring many rewards.
The panel conducted with a necessity for “strategic patience” and optimistic outlook for the Middle East and North Africa.