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World Economic Forum- Beyond Davos

11 Sep

I recently visited the head office of the World Economic Forum in Geneva, Switzerland.  It was a perfect bright and sunny day to visit the office nestled on a hill-top, overlooking the beautiful Lake Geneva. All along the tram ride from the commercial center to the WEF office, my mind raced with questions about the organization. WEF is generally known for the annual Davos summit, pictures of snow capped small resorts in a town bustling with leaders from across the world, and I was busy recalling all that I had seen and heard about it on television. By the end of the day, I got answers to all my questions and learnt quite a bit about the WEF and its work. In the following paragraphs, I will briefly describe what I now know of the World Economic Forum and its various initiatives:

The World Economic Forum (WEF) is the 3rd largest broker in the world after United Nations & World Bank. Founded in 1971 by Professor Klaus Schwab, the WEF aims to improve the state of the world through multi-stakeholder engagement. The approach they follow can be described as:

  • Multi-stakeholder: WEF engages various stakeholders – Governments, Businesses and Civil Society to further its goals.
  • Future Oriented: There is emphasis on engaging with Young Global Leaders, Global Shapers, Social Entrepreneurs and Technology Pioneers as a strategy to make an impact in the long term.
  • Strategic Insight: The Forum has helped set up Councils and Networks to develop strategies to improve the state of the world, such as the Global Risk Response Network, the Global Benchmarking Network, the Global Agenda Councils and the Global University Leaders.

A widespread network of diverse communities helps WEF address issues on social, economic, political, environmental level by bringing people from different walks of life on a common platform to find real-time solutions to world problems. An excellent example of the same would be the ‘Breaking the Impasse Initiative’ held during the WEF forum on ‘Middle East & North Africa’ in May 2013 where over 300 business leaders from Israel and Palestine in the presence of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas & Israeli President Shimon Peres appealed to their respective governments to renew ties with each other, thereby putting an end to the long-drawn conflict between the two nations.

WEF also actively engages in dialogues aimed at addressing issues like youth unemployment in the Arab world, gender inequality in India, the future of energy etc. by calling upon industry leaders at one table to discuss possible solutions.

Some of the other activities undertaken by the WEF, which is increasing its visibility across the world are:

  • The Global Competitiveness Report– An annual report released by WEF measures the ability of a country to provide high levels of prosperity to its citizens, and incorporates over 110 different variables to arrive at the ‘attractiveness’ of a country as a place of residence and work.
  • Regional events/Forums – WEF with help of its regional partners engages in constructive discussions with industry leaders, government officials, NGOs & community leaders to solve wide range of issues facing them. Some of these include:

*        Helping Myanmar’s rural poor

*        Safeguarding Syria

*        Dialogue on the future of Mongolia

*        Dialogue on the future of South Caucasus & Central Asia

  • Global Agenda Councils– A network of over 1500 Thought Leaders from across the globe have been grouped into over 80 Councils. The WEF encourages dialogue, outlines agenda and catalyzes their activities. These focused groups address technological, economic, geo-political, social, environmental & regional issues to encourage brainstorming and provide innovative solutions.

In the context of education, which is the focus of the blog, World Economic Forum addresses a range of issues too. The forum has discussed issues such as:

  • How businesses benefit from investing in education
  • Providing quality education to rural areas in Latin America
  • Need for increased investment for education of girls
  • Need and importance of Early Childhood Education
  • Educating the next wave of entrepreneurs

An article from the website of SOS Children’s Villages states that there are about 720 million adult illiterates in the world which is roughly 10 times the population of France. What’s more worrying is that almost 75% of them belong to 10 countries of the world – mainly Pakistan, China Indonesia & Brazil. Also, almost 40% of these adult illiterates are from India.

The Forum has dedicated one Agenda Council to Education & Skills with an objective to improve education levels across the world. Improved education leads to higher productivity & innovation, thus leading to job creation and hence, economic growth. A WEF report on Global Education Initiative can be accessed at http://tinyurl.com/pxrkgww

Such dialogues when combined with implementation strategies have far reaching affects. For instance, sharing best practices with organizations working at the ground level will enable resolution and facilitate change at a much faster rate. Over 60 projects including steps to tackle corruption, combating chronic diseases and improving environmental standards are currently being addressed by the WEF.

To conclude in the words of Klaus Schwab – “Collaborative efforts are needed in a multi-stakeholder community and they are the best way to achieve sustained economic development and social progress”.

There is a long way to go, but as long as steps are being taken in the right direction, we can hope to achieve the much-needed goals of – sustained and sustainable economic development as well as social progress.

A point of light for underprivileged communities in the Middle-East

18 Aug

An exclusive interview with Cayce Pack, Women’s empowerment coordinator at Tomorrow’s Youth Organization (TYO)

TYO is a non-governmental organization that aspires to break ground in non-formal early childhood education and women’s empowerment. Founded in the year 2007, TYO is currently working in Palestine & Lebanon.

What was the motivation behind setting up TYO in Palestine and Lebanon?

Tomorrow’s Youth Organization first opened its doors in Nablus, Palestine in March 2008, when the city was heavily affected by longstanding conflict, and isolated by surrounding checkpoints. Within this context, a small team of American and Palestinian staff pursued TYO’s mission to make life better for women and children marginalized by poverty and violence. Their success was marked by the community’s overwhelming response, and in the time since, TYO continued to grow remarkably, reaching nearly 15,000 community members through holistic, multigenerational programming. In 2011, Tomorrow’s Youth Organization Lebanon was established to bring the success of TYO Palestine’s women’s entrepreneurship programs there.

Low female labor force participation rate (15.5% in Palestine and 21.7% in Lebanon) but higher levels of education- why the disparity?

Throughout the Middle East, women have made great progress at gaining more equal access to education, but that has not yet translated into more access for employment outside the home. Main obstacles stem from gender-biased beliefs about women’s rights- which can range from early marriage, inability to work outside the home, family limitations on a woman’s travel, and restrictions on property rights.

Women entrepreneurs in Palestine at a TYO training program

Women entrepreneurs in Palestine at a TYO training program

Can you tell us about some of the successful start-ups that have come up through this FWEME program?

Since our female entrepreneurship programs began in 2010, over 15 women-owned businesses have been launched in Palestine, and Lebanon has seen similar success. They represent a host of innovative ideas, such as graphic design, compost production, catering services, and more. Female entrepreneurs from TYO’s programs have been afforded opportunities to travel to countries like the United States or the United Arab Emirates for conferences and business trainings.

How easy/difficult it is for you to make the women in Palestine understand about their potential and their ability to make that difference in the professional world?

As we saw in recent recruitment for our latest female entrepreneurship program, Fostering Women Entrepreneurs in the Middle East, there is an outpouring of women very interested in starting or growing their own business- but obstacles still remain. Primarily, we work with women as they take risks for the first time, explore options like loans or investments, negotiate resistance they might receive from their families, and split from traditional societal norms that would want them to work only within their homes.

How do you raise awareness about your work among the people of Palestine and mobilize them for these programs?

In the five years since our founding in Palestine, we have become increasingly known in the community, given our American and Palestinian roots. Our center in Nablus serves the four refugee camps in the area, as well as other disadvantaged areas. We work with both local and international organizations to expand our work. Our center also serves as a hub for programs throughout the northern West Bank area, reaching communities often underserved. With this strong network of partners and contacts, TYO continues to successfully outreach in the community and country at large.

What are the main issues that Palestine is currently grappling with and do you think organizations like yours are bridging these gaps?

Palestine faces a unique set of challenges, which include conflict, poverty, and marginalization of women and children. The lack of women’s economic empowerment does limit Palestine’s growth and poverty reduction, and also leads to less favorable education and health outcomes for children. Until women are equal decision makers in their homes and communities, full economic and social progress isn’t possible.

TYO adopts a holistic approach to make life better for women & children

TYO adopts a holistic approach to make life better for women & children

Is there good support for your work from national and international organizations/donor agencies/governmental support (including from Palestine).

Yes, TYO’s work is powered by strong partnerships with both local civil society partners, as well as international institutions. TYO’s unique multigenerational, holistic approach- as well as the proven programmatic success- has led us to work alongside leading regional and global organizations. These partnerships allow us to continue our groundbreaking work, and expand our point of light throughout the Middle East.

With fragile geo-political situation in that region, how do you manage to continue moving forward while taking all the stakeholders into confidence?

TYO’s apolitical, areligious approach allows us to meet the needs of Nablus as well as engage a wide variety of stakeholders- our work is based around both needs assessments and monitoring & evaluation, so we are certain to provide relevant, effective services.

Increasingly, CSR initiatives are becoming an important part of companies and even B-schools are incorporating social-business courses in their curriculum- how do you view this development? And is it helping social organizations (like yours) in achieving its objectives?

TYO knows that investing in women’s empowerment is nothing less than smart economics- and the increase in CSR and social responsibility programs only benefits this belief, and provides more opportunities for our work. These programs also helps develop innovative revenue streams and increase organizational sustainability.

Cayce Pack- TYO coordinator Cayce holds a Master of Social Work degree from New York University  and has worked for UNICEF USA in the past. She has also been  significantly involved with programs for refugee and immigrant women  in the United States. She originally hails from Tennessee (US) and is  currently based in Nablus (Palestine).

Innovative ways to introduce business skills among schools students in Morocco

8 Jun

Casablanca, Morocco: – Argen Robben & Mario Mandzukic would probably qualify as two of the happiest persons on 25th May 2013. After all, they made the difference on the field and helped Bayern Munich lift the UEFA Champions League cup. Some 2800 kilometers away, in Casablanca, people were as passionate as the people in the stands at Wembley stadium in London. All cafes in Casablanca were full of people watching the final match intently. Sipping Moroccan tea and chanting Yalla-Yalla (which mean “Go-Go” in Arabic), it seemed like they were having the time of their life.

Though I will not even faintly qualify as a football fan, but the enthusiasm and energy that day surely rubbed off on me too. On the same day, I also happened to visit a government school in Casablanca where I observed and participated in an innovative session titled the “Entrepreneurship Master Class”, facilitated by Injaz Al-Maghrib – a social organization based in Casablanca.

Entrepreneurship Master Class (EMC) is a 5-hour long class conducted by volunteers. These volunteers however, happen to be senior executives from major private sector companies in Morocco. The Class is directed at students from Grade 6 to Grade 9 (referred to as Collège in the French baccalaureate system) with an objective to instill a sense of entrepreneurship and understanding of corporate structure from a young age. In the class that I observed, students were divided into small groups and all activities were required to be done and submitted as a group activity. A volunteer from Attijariwafa Bank (one of the biggest banking groups in Morocco) showed logos of famous brands and asked students to identify them with the company concerned. Students were explained the importance of a brand and were later asked to design a logo which is simple in design but one that resonates in the mind of people for a long time. The next activity was a discussion about the company structure and the designations & roles of important people. Students were then asked to suggest a role for themselves and also mark on a sheet facilitated by Injaz listing characteristics that define them. They were then required to create a business card for themselves. “The best thing that I liked was the enthusiasm and the sheer excitement among the students to do something different than the other group. And to do this, they were keenly looking at each proposal that was coming from the members of the group”-said another volunteer, manager at Attiwariwafa Bank who works in the credit card division of the company.

Students designing logo as part of the EMC activity

Students designing logo as part of the EMC activity

Unemployment rate among the youth is a major problem in the Arab world and Morocco is no different. In the past couple of decades, the Arab world has gone through a dramatic demographic transition. With more than 3 million new individuals entering the job market every year, the labor force in this region is growing by a CAGR of about 3.3%. What makes matters worse is that the unemployment rate among the youth is at its peak at the moment. According to a World Bank report, the average unemployment rate in Morocco is 35% (only better than Iraq and Palestine), and the average rate in Arab countries is about 24%. With a stable democratic political system and its geographical advantage (only 7.7 nautical miles from Spain), Morocco has all the potential to overcome the problem of unemployment.  According to a survey conducted by a consulting company with the CEOs of private companies in the Arab World, only 54% agreed that the current educational system provides the graduates with the adequate skills needed by the industry. Even after investing 25% of the Total Government Expenditure (TGE) on education, things are not moving in the right direction for Morocco, which also witnessed sporadic protests by young people in the backdrop of the Arab uprising that was visible in many countries especially Tunisia, Egypt and Syria .What is needed is the right kind of education and training that resonates with the needs of the industry making it easy for the fresh graduates to be absorbed by companies as soon as they complete their graduation.

I feel initiatives such as EMC are a step in this direction since they are providing business skills to students at an early age, making students look beyond the existing rote based learning in schools. The final task in the EMC session is the new product development. Students were asked to design a greeting card. In order to do so, each group was asked to buy the raw materials (such as tapes, paper, crayons, etc.) necessary to make the greeting card. Specifications regarding the minimum standards of the final product were provided to each group. In the end, each team submitted their work including the logo and the final product for evaluation. The final product also had a cost sheet where each team was required to first calculate the cost of each of the raw materials purchased and then determine cost per unit. They were also asked to define the selling price of the product and also the net profit per unit of the product. “This activity was interesting as I understood what direct & indirect costs are. Also how the cost can change when produced in large quantities was interesting to see” said Sanaa, a student who happily showed me the logo that her team had prepared.

Students ready with their product design- the final requirement of the Entrepreneurship Master Class(EMC)

Students ready with their product design- the final requirement of the Entrepreneurship Master Class(EMC)

A winner was declared at the end. Each team was given a feedback on their performance. Prizes were distributed to the winning team and everyone who participated in the class was provided with a certificate. The smiling faces of students flashing their business cards while receiving certificate clearly showed the impact made by the program.

As I saw the students leaving the classroom with the certificate in their hands, they had a big smile and a glint of hope in their eyes. It seemed as if a whole new different world awaits them in the future, but only if we continue to nurture this talent and prepare students to face the challenges of the professional world, come what may.

According to Gloria La Cava, World Bank Senior Social Scientist and author of the report ’The Challenge of youth inclusion in Morocco’- said “Before the ‘Arab Spring,’ there was a lot of talk in Morocco, and in many of the neighboring countries, about how the youth were an important resource, that they represented the future. Now is the time to advance in the direction of actualizing an ambitious vision to place this generation at the center stage of development in Morocco.”

United Nations Global Education Initiative

11 Jan

Millennium development goals set in the year 2000 had a mandate that every child at primary level across the global should have access to basic education by 2015.

On 26th of September 2012 Ban Ki Moon, the secretary general of the United Nations pledged to put education at the heart of the sustainability agenda. The Secretary General launched a dedicated website to address the issues pertaining to education http://www.globaleducationfirst.org/. The initiative “Education First” has already won commitments of $1.5 billion. Has the situation improved is a big question?

Year

Out-of-School Children (Millions)

1990

105

2000

102.1

2010

61

There are 61 million children of primary education age in the world  without access to education.  Let’s analyze this data over some decades.

Interventions by various governments especially in Africa & South Asia greatly reduced the out-of-school children number from 102.1 million to 61 million but the dark side is that the 61 million figure has largely remained constant for the past 4-5 years.  According to UNESCO’s Institute for Statistics (UIS), of these 61 million children, 47% are expected to never attend the school, further 26% entered the school but left in the middle and the remaining kids are likely to join the school again in the future. Since 1990, South & West Asia have reduced the out-of-school number by two-thirds.  Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for 50% of the total out-of-school children in the world.

Efforts like “Education First” have become very important to find a solution for problem of education. In low-income countries such as Burkina Faso, Chad, Sudan & Zambia, an additional year of education increase the average income of the person by approximately 10% and in some countries a correlation was found with the GDP levels.  An additional year of education can lift the GDP by 0.37% annually.

Let’s hope for a better world where everyone is assured access to education. Efforts have to be made to come up with improved policies that address these concerns. It’s time for various Governments across the globe to make education their top-most priority.

 

Education- The Only Way

31 Jul

The power of education is no more a mystery. It is perhaps the biggest tool currently available for the successful running of the nation or if I can take a leaf out of Thomas Friedman’s “The world is Flat”, then perhaps the whole world.  The “Jasmine Revolution” that led to the ousting of the Tunisian President followed by the “Great Uprising of Egypt” that saw the end of the 30 year rule by President Hosni Mubarak was invincible. An effortless gaze at these demonstrations would tell you that this is a movement of the youth who have been fed up with the government for its failure to accomplish socio-economic development of the country.

An excess of adult young male population sometimes leads to social unrest & possibly war. A term “Youth bulge” has been coined to define this concept. Looking at the median age across the world, African continent & the Middle East have the least amongst all the other countries.  There is a serious necessity to equip the young generation with adequate education that will help them in finding jobs and making a life for themselves. As per Gordon Brown–“The consequences of this profound social failure will make this year’s youth uprising in Egypt and Tunisia look like the opening salvo of a wider generational battle for justice for the world’s young people. Our failure to meet our promise on education is an immoral neglect of our most vulnerable citizens.”

The UNESCO’s Millennium development goal which promised to get every child into basic education by 2015 remains a far fledged dream as the number of out of school children is increasing year after year. Let’s take a close look at the spending on education for few countries. Cuba & Uzbekistan top the world table in terms of the spending on education as a percentage of their GDP. The literacy levels in Cuba are above 96% and that in Uzbekistan hovers around a phenomenal 99%.African countries such as Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger & the newly formed country of South Sudan have the least literacy levels in the world( around 26%).These 4 African countries spend roughly 4% of their GDP on education.  The overall literacy level in the African Continent is less than 60% with roughly 40 million children out of school.  There is an ever increasing intervention of NGOs in the Africa region over the years trying to supplement the works by African governments but the need is for more. 3 days ago UN declared famine in parts of Somalia. An armed movement called Al-Shabaab( which translates in English as “The Youths”) rejected the UN statement as baseless & called for a war against the current government in Somalia. We are talking about these youths who should be our focal point for development and all other out of school children who are in danger of joining or forming such organisations.

I was reading an article on a website (http://www.campaignforeducation.org) which put an estimate of $16 billion that is required to get everyone enrolled in a school for a basic education.  Let’s not forget that education is a basic human right of every child. As far as India is concerned, I am happy that the Right to Education Act is finally operational. A recent article in Times of India newspaper titled “Escape from Ajamgarh”( http://tinyurl.com/3vdwjzh) again talks about such kids who somehow wants to escape from this misery that has overpowered this sleepy town of Ajamgarh in eastern Uttar Pradesh.

Things have to change and change for the good of all. Each one of us has an equal stake here.