What does inclusive growth mean for the people of the Middle East and North Africa?
Last week I was in Abu Dhabi for the opening of the joint World Bank – Arab Monetary Fund course on policies for inclusive growth. The course was offered to mid- and high-level policy makers and government officials working in central banks and ministries of finance in sixteen Arab countries. After the opening remarks, I was scheduled to start the course with two lectures on economic trends and inclusive growth in the region.
I looked forward to the opportunity to engage with a diverse group of Arab policy makers on a topic that is so relevant in the context of the events of the past year. After all, the Arab uprisings were triggered by feelings of frustration, unfairness and humiliation in response to serious governance issues and lack of level playing field in many aspects of life. The Arab people showed that voice, accountability and inclusion matter for political stability and development.
So, I started my presentations expecting participants to show interest in the topic. What I did not expect was that this interest would be so overwhelming. The group was engaged and prepared to ask tough and substantive questions. It was clear that they had given a lot of thought to these issues well ahead of the course. This was a perfect occasion to exchange ideas and discuss what inclusive growth means to the people of the region.
As the day evolved my feelings were validated. The course provided a unique opportunity to connect and learn from each other, and several themes emerged. Inclusive growth in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) context is about opportunities for more and better jobs, especially for youth; high quality education and innovation; and a business environment that does not favor special interests and in which firms of all sizes can compete on fair terms and access resources, markets and information on level playing field.
One question that came up again and again was about measuring progress with inclusive growth. Some lamented problems caused by insufficient data while others pointed out the perils of drawing conclusions from analysis based on biased data. At this point, I thought how similar we all are in our need to have better access to good quality data for economic analysis. I could not agree more with my colleagues from the Arab world about the need to collect regularly and share information on the state of households and firms in the MENA countries. Designing good inclusive growth strategies rests on rigorous analysis with good quality economic data.