Long considered the stellar engine of the world economy, financial markets have set in motion the biggest global crisis since World War II. Caused by inherent weaknesses in risk management practices, the current downturn has been exacerbated not only by lack of transparency and poor corporate governance but also by stakeholder complacency. Like every other region on the planet, the Middle East faces a host of challenges requiring bold leadership and firm commitment from all interested parties, if it is to successfully weather the storm.
Recognising the complexity of global challenges and the need for collaborative, innovative and integrated approaches, in 2008, the Network of Global Agenda Councils was formed. Professor Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the WEF, had the vision of bringing together the very best minds from a variety of diverse sources and geographic perspectives to engage in dialogue and debate that would encourage the sharing of specialised knowledge and the exploration of problem solving across myriad global issues.
In a global environment often marked by short-term orientation and narrow thinking, the Network of Global Agenda Councils will help foster interdisciplinary and long-range planning in the face of prevailing global challenges. As Marwan Muasher, senior vice-president of the external affairs department at the World Bank and the chairman of the Global Agenda Council on the Future of the Middle East, noted: "As a region that faces huge political, security and economic challenges, the Middle East needs to adopt policies that would better integrate it with the global world in a sustainable manner. Such policies should emphasise values of tolerance, inclusivity and good governance."
As envisioned, the Network of Global Agenda Councils is already proving to be an integral part of the Forum's commitment to delivering value to its partners, members and other communities. Council members and experts are currently in the process of assessing whether an early warning system based on macro-prudential surveillance could help anticipate future financial market exuberance.
In a region with a strong tradition of contributing to society, the Arab Business Council (ABC)--composed of leading representatives of the private sector committed to enhancing economic competitiveness in the Arab world--is debating to what extent corporate engagement in society can have a tangible impact on economic progress and the environment.
The world is undergoing a profound transformation in global governance driven by the financial situation that is unfolding. In finding solutions, a key and long term resource will be education, explained Patrick Aebischer, president of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology: "The solutions to regional problems in the Middle East require home-grown strategies focused on building institutions of educational, academic and research excellence. Partnerships with international institutions are crucial, but cannot succeed without effective integration and the commitment of academics, scientists and business leaders from the region," he observed.
Over the past decade, the Middle East has witnessed the rise of a generation of young entrepreneurs who have introduced new business models and built companies with a global presence. There is consensus that diverse groups reach better decisions than homogeneous ones and that closing the gender gap will result in increased levels of competitiveness and success. On this front, the WEF Gender Equality Report 2008 gives restricted cause for celebration. The report highlights the fact that while most Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region countries continue to perform far below the global average, countries such as Tunisia, Jordan, the UAE, Algeria, Oman, Egypt, Morocco and Yemen have shown a marked improvement. Unfortunately Syria, Qatar, Bahrain and …