Everything in the Middle East was built on oil and state petrodollars. There was never any real need to do anything else. The result is that the region is now struggling to come up with alternatives to oil to move its economy forward.
It's a far cry from the Middle Ages when Islamic scholars led the world in everything from medicine to astronomy. Nowadays, even large corporations (set up on the back of state money and subventions, mind you) have to fly in expertise from abroad to take companies to the next level.
Faced with this dismal state of affairs, Gulf countries have set up initiative to promote private enterprise and encourage young talent. Science and technology parks and Knowledge Cities are springing up from Qatar to Kuwait to plug the gap. But what the region need is a real overhaul in mentality rather than a few business parks.
Sam Hamdan, chairman of the US-based Global Leadership Team says that it is up to government to put in place the right framework. "The government's primary role is to develop the policies to help their citizens. We need to allow women to work. Intellectual property rights must be enforced. Successful role models should be highlighted. We need a blueprint for an innovation valley."
It will take time to change the mentality of a population that has been used to cushy jobs for life within the government. Young people, therefore, have little incentive to study, and in many countries the education system is appalling.
"We don't celebrate failure in the Arab world," says Hamdan, "and entrepreneurism is all about celebrating failure as well as success." Dubai and Qatar have given a taste to the area of what private enterprise can achieve. The region as a whole now has to rise to the challenge.
Source: Nurturing talent
MEED, 1-7 September 2006, Vol 50 No 35
Review by Emilie Filou