Bahrain: Fikr 6 – Changing the World

Free Image Hosting at allyoucanupload.comLast week I was privileged to attend Fikr 6, a conference organised by the Arab Thought Foundation:

In keeping with the mission of the Arab Thought Foundation to promote the unique culture and values of the Arab people, Fikr 6: Arab Strategies For the Global Era will assemble the smartest leaders in Arab countries and beyond to discuss the major challenges facing the region, and how they are developing innovative solutions to the complex problems of: the rapidly rising global energy demand, regional and country-specific security measures, fulfilling the expectation of a youthful population, mitigating economic disparities alongside prosperity, meeting societal needs, and developing a sustainable environment. We will ask the assembled leaders how they are engaged in doing good for society while doing well for their organizations and business enterprises in the different Arab countries.

The speakers came from all over the world – and included John Clippinger and John Palfrey from the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, which founded Global Voices!

Six Bahraini bloggers attended the event in all (each link takes you to all the Fikr 6 posts by that blogger):

المنعوت دائما

هذيان الحروف

bint battuta in bahrain

Mahmood's Den

Yagoob's Dome

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Ammar wonders about globalisation:

A question was raised over what the Arab world has contributed to the process of Globalization; the answer was “We buy. The world produces and we buy”. This does make you think, considering that we have become consumer economies rather than producers (with the exception of oil). We don't export motor vehicles, we don't export electronics, we don't export technology, and so on. People don't travel to world to attend our universities, people don't leave their countries to receive our healthcare.

Sure, a few countries do produce and offer services to a certain extent, but overall the general notion is that we consume. Essentially this means that most of our money is not being used inside our countries, and is slowly being pumped out of the region. Cash inflow from outside the region isn't very outstanding either, and besides the petroleum (for a few countries) and to a certain extent, investments, what else do we really have to offer the world? Isn't it about time this started to change?

Mahmood reports on a session about education he chaired:

It was agreed that modern education is the missing catalyst in the Arab world, a situation which must be corrected at all levels and completely overhauled should we wish to be part of this technologically advanced era. […] The political situation in many parts of the Arab world coupled with the dearth of opportunities for young minds provide a fertile ground for frustration, one that possibly leads to that young mind to prefer foreign lands for furthering their education or indeed to emigrate to in the hope of more respect, remuneration and a wealth of other opportunities. The “brain-drain”; however, is not that simple. The panel suggested that for enterprising minds the world over, geographical limits are immaterial, and in a lot of cases this migration is actually beneficial to the person’s country of origin or community as when the resources are provided, then the result of that migration will cross the physical geographical border and have a positive impact on the community as a whole.

Bint Battuta (that's me) quotes a surprising statistic:

In Finland you need to be in the top ten per cent of graduates to become a teacher. In South Korea you need to be in the top five per cent, in Singapore and Hong Kong the top thirty per cent. In the Arab world teachers tend to be recruited from the bottom twenty per cent of graduates, who have no other option.

Yagoob is impressed by a young Saudi student:

A surprise addition to the panel was the young Abdulaziz Al-Taraizouni, a Saudi studying at King Fahad University and heads an IT society at his university. He compares the education of old as the obtainment of “pure knowledge and nothing else” whereas modern education is looking ahead and is more concerned with the job market. He supported his fellow panelists in that students must gain the skills needed to adapt to all changes. The society he heads is the ‘IT Leaders Society’ which is a society that encourages the students to find new and innovative ways to use and create technology. He finds that the society has given so much freedom for the students and much room to grow, develop and find themselves with the final product being the amount of productivity the students show in their work..

Bint Battuta is also impressed by the Saudi participants in Fikr 6:

Some of the most impressive speakers were Saudi, and I mention that only because of the stereotype of Saudis prevalent in the Gulf, let alone the rest of the world. I have encountered a number of very cultured Saudis, mainly writers, but this was the first time I had listened to people working in business and industry, and I was struck by their education and articulacy (whether in Arabic or English) and their dynamism and innovative thinking. At one point I was feeling tired, and uncertain whether I could sit through a particular session; I checked to see who the speakers were, and because they were Saudi I knew it would be worth attending.

Butterfly is happy to have had the opportunity to attend:

أنتهى المؤتمر وخرجت بحصيلة من الافكار والمعلومات من خلال ورش العمل والجلسات التي كانت في المجمل هادفة ومميزة اثراها التفاعل المتواصل بين الحضور والمشاركين أثناء الجلسات وبعدها. أستمتعت كثيرا بالجو العام الذي ساده الود والتفاؤل وأستمتعت أكثر بالنقاشات واللقاءات التي جمعتني بنخبة من المثقفين والمفكرين العرب من المغرب ومصر وفلسطين والسودان والذين لم اكن لألتقيهم لولا هذا المؤتمر
The conference ended and I left having gained ideas and information from the workshops and sessions, which were on the whole focused and effective in terms of the interaction and connection between the audience and the speakers both during the sessions and after. I very much enjoyed the general atmosphere in which friendship and optimism prevailed, and enjoyed even more the discussions and meetings which brought me in contact with the elite of Arab intellectuals and cultured people, from Morocco, Egypt, Palestine, Sudan – whom I wouldn’t have ever met if not for this conference.

But she wonders what the follow-up will be:

الاسئلة المهمة التي تطرح نفسها، هل يكفي أن تنجح مؤتمراتنا العربية؟ وكيف يمكننا ان نقلل الفجوة بين الآمال التي نعقدها على هذه المؤتمرات وبين تنفيذها على ارض الواقع؟
Some important questions which present themselves: Is it enough that Arab conferences succeed? How can we reduce the gap between the hopes that we pin on these conferences, and their implementation on the ground?

Other Fikr 6 posts worth reading: a debate about the single Gulf currency, and an interview with philanthropist and high-tech entrepreneur, Kamran Elahian.
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