EDUCATION AND COOPERATION CENTRAL TO THE MIDDLE EAST'S TECHNOLOGY
Dead Sea, Jordan, 16 May 2009 – Innovation in technology is one of the Middle East's best routes out of the economic crisis engulfing the world, agreed panellists in a session at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East. It can also provide solutions to other global issues such as the environment and energy supplies.
However, before choosing the region's technology leap, panellists were unanimous in stressing the importance of improving education. "The most important thing is education and we are lagging behind," said Naguib O. Sawiris, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Orascom Telecom Holding, Egypt. "Everybody says education is important and information and communications technologies can be harnessed to improve and deliver it," said Ahmed Elmagarind, Professor and Director, Discovery Park, Purdue University, USA. The region has a vast young population of 200 million which has to be educated, and "ICT is the best way to do it," agreed Willem Elfrink, Chief Globalization Officer and Executive Vice President, Cisco Services, Cisco Systems (India), India. "We have to create the environment to facilitate this by providing schools with technology as well as a culture which allows mistakes to be made, because this is how you learn," he continued.
Be it innovations in fossil fuels or solar, wind or fuel energy, an approach that is coordinated across the region and maximizes efficiencies will deliver the best results. "The region should not take its natural resources for granted – for example, using sun and wind energy. There is huge potential for innovation in the Middle East, and cooperation within the region can move us in right direction," said Karim Kawar, President, Kawar Group of Jordan.
The region should also look beyond itself for its next technology leap. "The trend is to go to big science – large teams distributed around the world which are collaborating together. Research is ever more complex and interdisciplinary and the exciting work is happening at these interactions among different disciplines," explained Elmagarind.
Cross-border synergies also help avoid duplication and maximize efficiencies, explained Chey Jae-Won, Vice-Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of SK Holdings, and Co-Chair of the World Economic Forum on the Middle East. He made the case for building a green economy as "the only way to protect from global warming," he said. "We must prepare for an uncertain future with alternative energy and environmentally friendly energy." He called on the Middle East to diversify its energy portfolio.
"This region is strong on energy and should use it as a strong platform for new energy – be bold, be part of what is going on out there, the new energy economy which is going to create more opportunities," said Peter C. Brun, Senior Vice-President, Vestas Wind Systems, Denmark. "A bold decision would be democratization in the Middle East, because then the clever guys would decide what's best like opening up the education system," Sawiris said.
Soumitra Dutta, Dean, External Relations and Roland Berger Chaired Professor in Business and Technology, INSEAD, France, noted that the region is headed in the right direction. "The Middle East stands out relative to the rest of the world as making the biggest leaps in technology readiness," he said. He was quoting the findings of the World Economic Forum's Global Information Technology Report, which Dutta co-authors. The report underlines that good education fundamentals and high levels of technological readiness and innovation are essential engines of growth needed to overcome the current economic crisis.
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