When I was a graduate student, I often drove through the Altamont Pass wind farm. I thought of them as the California’s equivalent of Dutch windmills, more beauty than function. Little did I know that it was one of the first, and largest, wind farms in the United States and that I would someday learn more about their value and potential.
If you think you are immune to the lure of a soap opera then try watching an Egyptian soap. At first, you will be amused and perhaps even laugh at all the melodrama, but in the end you will most certainly find yourself wondering: Will Alia expose her evil twin sister? Will Omar learn how to read, propose to his beloved and be accepted by her upper-class family?
With the limited prospects of a formal job, a growing number of young people, especially the less educated ones, are attracted to the prospects of self-employment. It is seen as a way out of inactivity, low pay, long working hours, and the hazardous work conditions often associated with the informal sector. But their lack of access to business training and finance constitute major barriers towards setting up viable micro-enterprises.
Governments in the Arab world have historically relied on subsidies to lower the cost of fuel and food as the principal means for protecting the poor and sharing wealth. Or so they claim. The fundamental problem with subsidies is that they benefit the rich far more than the poor. They are as expensive as they are inefficient, failing to deliver any economic or social value equal to the money spent on them.
The top blog in 2012 was by far the one calling on people to “Join Our Team”. In a region where youth employment is scarce, this call for applications to a new youth program for Arabic speakers at the World Bank received over 3000 views in Arabic and more than twice as many in English.
When the Arab Spring broke out and regimes began to fall under the pressure of their own citizens, a revolution on social media also took hold. During this critical period, the use of Facebook and Twitter was ubiquitous, especially in Egypt and Tunisia. Social networks and cell phones played an important role.
In light of recent political and social unrest in the region, foreign investors are taking a “wait-and-see” attitude to projects in the Middle East and North Africa. For the region’s investment promoters, this demands better, more proactive performance than in the past. Fortunately, although much remains to be done, the investment agencies of the 19 MENA governments are, as a group, off to a good start.
The topic of inclusive growth has captivated the minds of economists and politicians in the Middle East and North Africa for some time. The interest was there before the events of the Arab Spring and only intensified with the revolutions of 2011. But inclusive growth has eluded the countries of the MENA region.
Erma Bombeck, the famed American columnist, once said: “Volunteers are the only human beings on the face of the earth who reflect this nation's compassion, unselfish caring, patience, and just plain loving one another.” This is exactly what I experienced when I participated in the rehabilitation of damaged homes following the October 19, 2012 car bomb in the heart of the vibrant neighborhood of Ashrafieh in Beirut.