Samer Salty wonders what position will Arab countries have in the world and will they be able to catch up? What will it take to become competitive?
If technology is the indicator of leadership in the world, can the Arab world ever catch up? Can the Arab world lead? What is the next edge beyond technology? Can we leapfrog?
In this article I would like to project a new vision that allows for the answer YES, the Arab world can leapfrog. As I look at the next 50 years, I argue that the ownership of technology will no longer be the driver for leadership. I believe we are embarking on a new approach where leadership in the world will only be measured in terms of sustainability.
As I look at what is happening in the Arab world I get the sense of excitement, hope and prospect for a better world. I am optimistic that things will be better. However, the next question that crosses my mind is what position will Arab countries have in the world and will they be able to catch up? What will it take to become competitive? As I observe the changes that are taking place in the world, their speed of development and the nature of competitiveness, I get a heavy feeling of despair. It appears that countries with a technology edge will continue to have the lead and drive the world in the foreseeable future. These technology leaders are the masters of the world and they are moving forward fast increasing the gap between the ones who know and the ones who don’t. The Arab world is far behind and although often it seems that it is improving on many fronts, the actual leadership gap is growing making it even harder to keep the same relation let alone improve on it. I get the feeling of hopelessness that we will not be able to catch up in the next 50 years and beyond let alone become a leading region. My hopelessness increases as I know that oil will run out and Arab economies are still relying directly and indirectly on oil exports.
Then my natural optimism and refusal to accept hopelessness, and the strong belief that there is a path forward start to push toward an alternative way of thinking. Leapfrogging is possible with new thinking and the acceptance that things can happen in ways that are very different from the traditional paths.
The Arab world has the opportunity to re-launch itself as the leader in sustainability. The concept of sustainability is strongly aligned with historical Arab culture and with religionDuring my college days in the early eighties, I focused on fibre optic communication as I believed it is a way for the developing world to leapfrog in communication bypassing the limited copper based cables and providing a vastly better communications infrastructure. During my graduate studies in the early nineties, I wrote a case study on mobile telephony replacing physical lines for many parts of the developing world allowing the catch up and leapfrog. Although both of these scenarios are limited to physical communication capability, recently I have been asking the question: who are going to be the winners in the world (all developed and developing)? What approach allows people or nations to leapfrog ahead? If Apple Computer does not innovate within months constantly, how far behind they will be? If they can’t do it for two years will this giant disappear? What is the next edge beyond technology? What should the Arab world and Egypt as its most populous country focus on to have an edge and leapfrog?
One answer comes to mind: approaching every development whether, social, legal, political, educational, financial, human, locally or globally with a long term sustainable solution. For example, democracy is good not just because it provides representation for every individual but also because it is sustainable. Renewable energy is a foundation for a country’s resource usage even if it is oil rich, because it is sustainable. A legal system that protects the right of ownership and the human right of an individual can only be good if it is sustainable. A company that integrates its products and services within the community for the benefit of a community whether locally or globally is a more entrenched company that is difficult to unseat. If ownership comes with a responsibility to protect the interests of all stakeholders and not just the roster of shareholders then it is a sustainable business with a higher potential survival in the long term. Sustainability touches every aspect of our life and defacto leads to the understanding of global citizenship.
Sustainability and its potential is an evolving approach. Nonetheless, The Arab world has the opportunity to re-launch itself as the leader in sustainability. The concept of sustainability is strongly aligned with historical Arab culture and with religion. It is something that can be felt, developed, nurtured, communicated, intrinsic to day to day life at the individual, family, community, city, country, region, and global levels. It will be a path that Arab countries with their new Jasmine and other revolutions can take by writing the rules, implementing them, showing the world their value and teaching others how it can be done. Catching up may not be an available option; leapfrogging may be the only solution and sustainability is its path.
Samer Salty is the CEO of Zouk Euorpe’s largest dedicated clean technology fund