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When it comes to news on economic trends and policies in the UAE, government and business leaders turn to the Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development’s Economic Review. Tahseen Consulting is honored to have its work on developing a knowledge economy in the UAE highlighted in the publication’s November issue. We have posted the full article below.

Tahseen Consulting’s Chief Operating Officer, Wes Schwalje, spoke with representatives from the Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development regarding his thoughts on how Abu Dhabi can build a knowledge economy. In a wide-ranging discussion, Schwalje discusses the link between the UAE’s knowledge-based economic development strategy and high skill, high wage job creation.

Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development: How Can Abu Dhabi Build a Knowledge Economy?

Schwalje: The development goal of transitioning to knowledge-based economies emerged in many countries in the Arab World in the late Nineties due to the commonality of several factors related to culture, the economic environment, and socio-political developments. Across the region, knowledge-based economic development has become closely intertwined with national competitiveness and economic policies that support innovation, technology development, entrepreneurship, workforce skills development, adoption of high performance organizational structures, and information and communications technology infrastructure development. It has also become associated with environmental sustainability, identity, language, gender equality, and political participation and democratic reform in some countries. Five common economic development justifications, job creation, economic integration, economic diversification, environmental sustainability, and social development, are often cited as the underlying rational for pursuing knowledge-based economic development strategies. Research conducted by Tahseen Consulting shows that seventeen of the twenty-two countries in the Arab World have the development of a knowledge-based economy specifically stated as a medium to long-term development policy objective.

Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development: How Can Knowledge-based Economic Development Strategies Lead to High Skill, High Wage Job Creation?

Schwalje: The causal relationship between knowledge-based economic development and ensuing job creation which will create the need for increased supplies of high skill workers has been particularly appealing to GCC policymakers. For Arab governments, the heavy reliance of the concept of knowledge-based economy on human capital development provides a useful means to achieve a number of attributed social and economic objectives, such as higher levels of educational attainment ; increased health; efficiency of consumer choices; higher levels of savings and charitable giving; social cohesion; increased self-reliance and economic independence; reduced crime; growth and competitiveness; increased productivity; domestic innovation.

However, with the emergence of low wage, high skills workers in developing countries, knowledge is becoming commoditized. With increasing cost competition in knowledge-based industries from emerging countries, the less resource wealthy Arab countries could feasibly follow a development trajectory grounded in selective participation in knowledge-based and manufacturing industries in which they have a cost advantage and have or can develop quickly sufficient workforce skills to compete against emerging country rivals. The Gulf countries, which employ many of their citizens in high wage roles in parastatals operating in knowledge-based industries and government institutions, may be particularly threatened by competition from low wage knowledge workers and be subject to significant margin compression which challenges the economics of their entry into knowledge-based industries.

Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development: In Which Strategic Subsectors can Abu Dhabi be Globally Competitive in the Face of the Emergence of Low Wage, High Skill Knowledge Workers?

Schwalje: The Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030 outlines several economic sectors for growth and diversification.

  • Energy – Oil & Gas
  • Petrochemicals
  • Metals
  • Aviation, Aerospace, and Defense
  • Pharmaceuticals, Biotechnology, & Life Sciences
  • Tourism
  • Healthcare Equipment & Services
  • Transportation, Trade, & Logistics
  • Education
  • Media
  • Financial Services
  • Telecommunication Services

An extremely important next step in moving towards a knowledge based economy will be closely scrutinizing the industries identified in the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030 for particular industry subsectors that are economically viable given the emergence of low wage, high skill knowledge workers in emerging economies, have the potential to offer wages that are attractive relative to reservation wages established by the public sector, present the possibility of developing a sustainable cost advantage, and which national workforce skills can be developed to provide the human capital required to grow the industry.

For example, research on the emerging renewable energy industry in the UAE found that the majority of firms which operate in the industry are concentrated in lower value added, downstream activities like installation, maintenance, and trading. Very few firms currently operate in higher value added, knowledge intensive industry segments like manufacturing, consulting, and finance. While such industries are in an emergent stage, it is unclear, if they remain concentrated in lower value added segments, whether their impact on economic development will be as significant as planned.

Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development: What are Some of the Challenges Faced by Countries in Developing Knowledge Economies?

A historical example from the Arab World of the perils of inadequate skills development paralleling foreign and domestic investment is Muhammad Ali’s attempt to industrialize Egypt through the establishment of a textile industry in the 1800s. In 1819, Muhammad Ali began an industrialization drive using imported foreign technicians and investment which led to the establishment of 30 modern factories for textile manufacturing. By 1830, these factories employed 30,000 but within a decade all the factories had failed due to lack of technical skills, European competition, and increased production quality in Europe. At the time, French and English technical superiority and lower labor and raw material costs allowed the Europeans to displace Egyptian imports to Europe. Egypt also faced skills shortages related to engineers and mechanics who could operate, repair, or make innovative improvements to imported technologies which led to obsolescence of Egyptian textile equipment. English free trade concessions further led to industry decline, and by the 1840s Egypt was relegated to a supplier of raw materials to the European textile industry and a net importer of finished textile products from Europe. Despite significant investment in the sector, 87% of cotton in Egypt continued to be processed with manual, time consuming, inefficient methods until 1860 when state of the art steam technologies were introduced due to favorable competitive opportunities for Egyptian cotton resulting from decreased global supply from the US during the American Civil War.

One of the key challenges we have identified in our work with Arab countries pursuing knowledge-based development strategies in the region is the lack of effectiveness of skills formation systems. Our research shows that lack of effectiveness of Arab skills formation systems influences Arab firms to contest lower-skilled, non-knowledge intensive industries at the detriment to regional competitiveness and knowledge-based economic development. Adaptability and congruence of skills formation systems and constituent actors in response to factors such as economic development, skill demands of employers, technological progress and industrial strengthening, and macroeconomic trends is critical to knowledge-based development in the Arab World. Thus, the movement of many Arab countries towards knowledge- based economic development inevitably requires the transition to more effective skills formation systems.

Our research on the region has shown four primary requirements to develop skills formation systems for knowledge economy:

Governments must link economic development with education and training

Key roles

  • Coordination: Ensuring effective institutions to prevent market failure, underinvestment in skills, provide adequate regulation, and coordinate stakeholders
  • Aligning macroeconomic policy with skills formation: Educational and industrial policy interventions must be set in place so that education and training systems co-evolve with industry development.
  • Broad-based, inclusive skills formation: National skills formation systems must support the workforce presently employed in or entering the formal sector as well as individuals who are self-employed, working in informal sectors, or unemployed.

Education and training systems must produce human capital in the quantity and quality required by the labor market

Key roles

  • Ensuring relevancy and employability: Governance, policy, and coordination mechanisms that link educational systems to specific labor market outcomes avoid supply-demand informational gaps regarding skills trends and ensure skill alignment with the needs of employers
  • Quality Assurance: Adoption of performance-oriented, rather than expansion focused, approaches to improving quality, increasing performance, and assuring student marketability
  • Expanding Access: Programs to develop skills amongst those disadvantaged by inadequate investment

Employers need to take a longer term approach to skills formation for knowledge-based development

Key roles

  • Workforce Investment: Employers must be committed to continuous, regular on the job training and knowledge transfer in response to high-performance workplace organization and skills relevancy but also remediating inadequate pre-employment general skills
  • Workforce Development: Cooperation of education and training institutions, the business community, and governments to provide individuals with gainful, rewarding employment as well as firms obtaining the skills in the quantity and quality required

Individuals must be able to make informed choices about their investments in particular skills sets and continuously upgrade their skills

Key roles

  • Investment optimization: Individuals must seek out information on the future trajectory of industries and emergent skills needs, the returns to investing in particular skills sets, returns of education and training investments when calibrating their education and training decisions
  • Lifelong-learning: Individuals must be committed to continuous learning throughout all stages of life for the purposes of community engagement, the workplace, development, and well-being
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The embrace of the Smart City concept is a key cornerstone of the UAE’s national development policy. Strong government commitment has been made to the use of Information and communications technology (ICT) to transform life and work in the UAE in fundamental ways. These investments in human capital and ICT infrastructure are expected to generate sustainable economic growth as well as lead to a higher quality of life.

Developing an affordable, high-speed communications network as an infrastructure backbone to enable smart cities has long been an objective of the UAE government. In 2006, the General Policy for the Telecommunications Sector in the State of the United Arab Emirates set out the goal of providing universal, affordable access to ICT services. Though the UAE has not set specific targets for ICT access and use at the national level or specific targets for gender equity, evidence suggests that the UAE is targeting 100% access for all individuals. Based on a recent household survey conducted by the UAE Telecom Regulatory Authority, 99% of UAE nationals have mobile phones, 95% of households have computers, and 84% of households have an internet connection. These statistics point towards a universally high level of ICT access and use in the UAE with sufficient resources and will to achieve full national ICT penetration.

Broadband Affordability is An Emerging Policy Imperative

While nearly universal internet access has been achieved, an additional imperative for public leaders remains ensuring affordability. This challenge is particularly critical in enabling entrepreneurship and ensuring the global competitiveness of the nation’s small and medium-sized businesses. In a global comparison of the prices of entry-level fiber broadband packages for small and medium-sized businesses, Tahseen Consulting’s analysis shows that UAE businesses are being charged significantly more than small and medium-sized businesses globally.

Global Comparison of Entry-level Fiber Broadband Packages for Small and Medium-Sized Businesses

Doing Business RankingCountryCompanyPackageDownload SpeedCost per monthData Limit
1SingaporeSingteleVolve for SMEs30 Mbps$69.70Unlimited
2New ZealandSparkBasic Business12 Mbps$52.11200 GB
3DenmarkTDCTDC BizBase15 Mbps$43.06Unlimited
4KoreaSK BroadbandOptical LAN100 Mbps$28.62Unlimited
5Hong KongHong Kong Telecom@Work Broadband30 Mbps$38.45100 GB
6UKBritish TelecomBT Infinity Unlimited38 Mbps$48.16Unlimited
7United StatesComcastStarter16 Mbps$69.95Unlimited
8SwedenTeliaTelia Office10 Mbps$57.21Unlimited
9NorwayTelenorBroadband Enterprise6 Mbps$40.27Unlimited
10FinlandSoneraSmall BusinessUp to 200 Mbps$37.60Unlimited

An analysis of entry-level fiber broadband packages for small and medium-sized businesses in the top 10 highest ranking countries on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Ranking shows that the average price per megabyte of download speed is $3.61 (excluding Korea and Finland which have national broadband policies that have promoted extremely fast broadband access at prices that are far cheaper than global comparators). At an average price per megabyte of download speed of approximately $18, the common entry-level fiber broadband packages offered in the UAE to small and medium-sized businesses cost 5 times more than similar packages offered in the leading countries in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Ranking. Businesses in the UAE also pay up to 2 times more than similar broadband packages offered to residential consumers.

Making Broadband More Affordable for Small and Medium-Sized Businesses

The price of broadband access for small and medium-sized businesses is critical to realizing the UAE’s smart city ambitions as well as enabling the nation’s entrepreneurs to compete effectively on a global scale. According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), increased competition is an effective mechanism to lower prices. ITU research shows that   duopolies lead to limited price competition which can reduce prices, but markets with more than three licensed operators experience the greatest falls in prices. Policy makers can also address affordability by regular monitoring, price regulation, and tiered services that ensure the revenue maximization objectives of telecom operators are aligned with broader national development strategies. Based on an international benchmark average price per megabyte of download speed of $3.61, implied monthly fees for entry-level broadband services for small and medium-sized businesses which would align the UAE with the most business friendly countries globally are shown below.

Implied Monthly Fee Schedule for Entry-Level Broadband Packages for Small and Medium-sized Businesses Based on International Benchmarks

Download/Upload SpeedImplied Monthly Fee (AED)
10Mbps/2MbpsAED 132.49
12 Mbps/3 MbpsAED 158.98
20Mbps/5MbpsAED 264.97
24 Mbps/6 MbpsAED 317.97
40Mbps/10MbpsAED 529.95
50 Mbps/12 MbpsAED 662.44
60Mbps/15MbpsAED 794.92
72 Mbps/20 MbpsAED 953.91
100 Mbps/25 MbpsAED 1,324.87

What’s At Stake

There are a growing number of SMEs using ICT to establish and grow their businesses. The UAE is the home to several ICT-based startups in the fields of internet search, employment, group buying, payment gateways, online retail, and real estate. While national studies such as the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor have quantified the approximate rate of entrepreneurship and employment impact in the UAE, they have not focused specifically on the additionally of ICT-based businesses on economic growth and employment generation.

The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor shows that the UAE has one of the lowest rates of total entrepreneurship activity of innovation-driven economies, and only 2.3% of new ventures are medium-tech or high technology ventures. Only 14% of entrepreneurial ventures created more than 20 jobs. These rather incomplete statistics suggest that the majority of firms in the UAE do not leverage ICT as the basis for their businesses, and the low number of such technology-driven ventures may not have a significant impact on employment creation without more focused government support. A good place to start is increasing affordability of entry level broadband packages to support the nation’s emerging entrepreneurship ecosystem.

Sources for Pricing Information
Singtel (Singapore): https://smemobile.bizportal.singtel.com/business/broadband/index.jsf
Spark (New Zealand): http://www.spark.co.nz/business/shop/internet/plans-and-pricing.html
TDC (Denmark): https://erhverv.tdc.dk/loesninger/internetabonnementer
Comcast (United States): http://business.comcast.com/internet/business-internet/plans-pricing
SK Telecom (South Korea): https://biz.skbroadband.com/data/data/Page.do?retUrl=/data/data/OpticLan
Hong Kong (Hong Kong Telecom): http://www.biz.netvigator.com/eng/bc_at_work_broadband_services.php
United Kingdom (British Telecom): http://business.bt.com/broadband-and-internet/fibre-broadband/
Sweden (Telia): http://www.telia.se/foretag/losningar/produkter/telia-kontor?intcmp=foretag-telia-kontor-host2015
Norway (Telenor): http://www.telenor.no/bedrift/bredband/
Finland (Sonera): https://www.sonera.fi/yrityksille/tuotteet+ja+palvelut/internetyhteys+toimistoon/yritysinternet/
UAE (DU): http://www.du.ae/smallbusiness/fixed/broadband/broadband-professionals
UAE (Etisalat): http://www.etisalat.ae/en/business/products-and-services/products/internetdata/business-super-overview.jsp

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When it comes to news on socio-economic trends in the Arab World, government and business leaders turn to Trends Magazine. Tahseen Consulting is honored to have its insights on emerging trends in Arab philanthropy featured in the publication’s September issue.

Tahseen Consulting’s Chief Operating Officer, Wes Schwalje, spoke with Nikhil Inamdar, a leading voice on key business trends in the region, regarding the region’s transition from charity to strategic philanthropy. In a wide-ranging discussion, Schwalje discusses recently launched large scale philanthropic initiatives, emerging trends in strategic philanthropy, and what the future holds for Arab philanthropy.

Tahseen Consulting's insights on emerging trends in Arab philanthropy are featured in Trends Magazine's September issue

Tahseen Consulting’s insights on emerging trends in Arab philanthropy are featured in Trends Magazine’s September issue.

Nikhil Inamdar: What are the latest trends being witnessed in Arab philanthropy?

Schwalje: The three most transformative trends I see now are as follows:

High Net Worth Individuals Are Playing an Increasing Role: In 2010, Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffet and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates established the Giving Pledge to persuade American billionaires to donate at least half their wealth to philanthropy or charitable causes either during their lifetime or after their death. This initiative has since been broadened to include philanthropists globally. In 2012, Tahseen Consulting conducted a study in which we looked at the potential impact of Arab billionaires signing the giving pledge. At the time, we estimated that $24 billion could be mobilized if Arab billionaires signed a pledge to donate their wealth to philanthropy. While many high net worth individuals have a strong tradition of giving informally, we are witnessing more wealthy Arab individuals making large scale philanthropic contributions transparently and publicly. Their motivations are no different from philanthropists in other parts of the world – wanting to give back to those less fortunate, gaining public recognition and social capital, establishing a legacy, and playing a greater role in shaping their country’s or region’s future. The $1.1 billion donation of Abdullah Ahmad Al Ghurair to capitalize a private foundation and Prince Al Waleed bin Talal’s pledge to direct most of his $32 billion in wealth to philanthropy, we are potentially witnessing a new phase of Arab philanthropy. We are likely to see several more of the Arab World’s approximately 36 or so billionaires making sizable pledge to philanthropic initiatives to strategically manage their wealth for the greater good.

The Transition from Charity to Strategic Philanthropy: In the past, charity in the Arab World was motivated by individual, unpublicized initiatives to give back to local communities. Giving was often focused on societal issues affecting local communities like poverty, housing, and heath care. Arab philanthropy historically has been individually motivated acts of kindness that did not typically address the root cause of societal issues. In the late 2000s, we witnessed a significant push in the region to institutionalize charity, philanthropy, and corporate social responsibility to make philanthropic efforts more strategic. This push towards philanthropic investment and strategic philanthropy remains rooted in the region’s religious traditions of Zakat and Waqf. In the early 2000s, many philanthropic efforts could still be characterized as donations to fund program execution by nonprofits. Philanthropists were primarily concerned about programmatic execution commensurate with the size of their donation with little regard for measuring impact and enhancing institutional capacity. A pivotal watershed occurred in 2007 when Sheikh Mohammed donated $10 billion to endow his namesake foundation the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation. The scope of this philanthropic gesture catalyzed a number of dialogues in the region about strategic philanthropy. The late 2000s saw the emergence of a number of endowed foundations in the region that began investing resources into nonprofit enterprises in order to increase their capacity to address the root causes of regional development challenges. By 2015, a number of the initiatives launched in the early 2000s and earlier have adopted strategic approaches to philanthropy which involve building internal capacities to deliver programs, developing the institutional capacities of nonprofit partners and grant recipients, pursuing programs with well thought out approaches that address the root causes of development issues, and strong systems of monitoring and evaluation to measure impact and value for money.

Arab Philanthropy is Playing an Increasingly Important Role in Global Development: Many of the region’s philanthropic institutions have become involved in international development and engage regularly with multilateral institutions and bilateral donors. Increasingly large Arab philanthropic initiatives have been able to shape the policies of multilaterals and bilateral institutions through their funding, provide input on program design and development, and contribute funding for scaling up successful initiatives.

Nikhil Inamdar: What distinguishes Arab philanthropy from global philanthropy?

Schwalje: In addition to the relationship between philanthropic giving and religious traditions, a unique aspect of philanthropy in some of the Arab countries is the emergence of hybrid foundations which are funded by government or quasi-governmental funds and private donors. In other regions, public charities generally receive their funding from the public through grants from individuals, government, and private foundations, while private foundation generally receive funds from a single source, such as an individual, family, or corporation. In this respect, the definition of what constitutes a charitable organization and to whom it should be held accountable is not as clear cut as elsewhere. Adding to this confusion is the fact that many of the region’s philanthropists wear multiple hats in business and government.

Nikhil Inamdar: What will need to happen in terms of regulation etc. for this segment to mature like the way it has in Western economies like the US?

Schwalje: In many Arab countries, civil society laws make the registering of philanthropic organizations immensely difficult and can preclude fund raising. Such laws have the potential to negatively influence the development of civil society. Laws which might also serve to motivate individual giving and corporate philanthropy, such as tax deductible charitable giving, are also lacking. Emerging forms of philanthropy, such as venture philanthropy and crowdfunding, currently exist in regulatory grey areas which require regulation to ensure they can thrive in the region.

Nikhil Inamdar: Does philanthropy need to become more organized in terms of impact assessment, audit etc. so as to give the sector a more formal structure?

Schwalje: Several elements are required to Advance Arab Philanthropy:

Mapping Giving Patterns: More effort is needed to map philanthropic giving to determine what entities are giving and to whom in order to identify unmet needs. An interesting initial attempt to map private philanthropic contributions is the UAE’s Annual Foreign Aid Reports which included information on giving by many of the UAE’s philanthropic organizations. More information on giving patterns with promote coordination and reduce overlap of efforts.

A Focus on Improving Delivery Capabilities of Beneficiaries Linked to Funding: In many cases, regional nonprofits lack the capabilities and internal controls to absorb and manage large-scale donor contributions. This has promoted a tendency of Arab philanthropists to work with international organizations over home-grown Arab institutions. Capacity strengthening of Arab donor recipients linked to philanthropic contributions will be required to strengthen the region’s civils society institutions to deliver more effectively on large-scale initiatives and attract larger philanthropic donations.

Improved Capabilities to Analyze Value for Money: Because of the youth of strategic philanthropy in the region, there are several organizational capabilities that philanthropic organizations need to improve. This includes identifying program objectives to determine the strategic intent and envisioned impact of initiatives, examining the ongoing relevance and validity of programs, ensuring efficiency and economy of activities, and assessing the impact of programming.

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While Saudi Arabia’s publishing industry faces challenges, there are significant opportunities to revitalize the sector for socio-economic development says a new study by Tahseen Consulting

If Saudi Arabia addresses key industry challenges, the publishing, media, and digital content industries could generate $3.6 billion and create 9,800 additional jobs by 2017, says a new study from Tahseen Consulting.

The study, which is being released today, was conducted to support the Saudi Publishers Association’s recent successful bid to gain full membership in the International Publishers Association. Saudi Arabia is the fourth country in the Arab World to achieve full membership in this prestigious international organization which represents publishers’ interests globally. The report comes as Saudi publishers are preparing to attend the 34th Sharjah International Book Fair starting on November 4th.

“Since 1990, Saudi Arabia’s publishing industry has changed dramatically. In the early to mid -Nineties, the industry was dominated by small, fragmented publishers and specialized retailers,” says Wes Schwalje, Chief Operating Officer of Tahseen Consulting and author of the study. “By the mid-Nineties, we began to observe the emergence of integrated companies specialized in publishing and retail. There was a large shift from small bookshops to major super-stores with national coverage and the initial emergence of online retail channels that cater to emerging preferences for e-books and digital content. Today, we are witnessing the further growth of large, integrated companies with publishing and distribution capabilities, increased consumption of digital content due to high levels of mobile device penetration, and the embrace of e-commerce by Saudi publishers and consumers.”

The Saudi Publishing Industry Will Need to Address Several Challenges

Tahseen Consulting’s study shows that the publishing, media, and digital content industries will need to address a number of challenges to unlock growth. While the Saudi publishing industry currently contributes less than 1% of GDP, international evidence suggests that cultural industries can contribute up to 2-3% of GDP. If the publishing media, and digital content industries can reach this international benchmark, the cultural industries in Saudi Arabia could contribute significantly to economic diversification and employment generation.

The study identifies the need for a government-led national publishing strategy that prioritizes needs and challenges, identifies strategies for advancing the industry, assigns responsibilities, defines performance metrics, and establishes an implementation timeline. Several specific recommendations for policymakers are made by the authors to enable industry growth:

  • Stimulating private investment in the publishing, media, and content industries
  • Increasing exports of publishing, media, and digital content regionally
  • Increasing education and training programs to developing creative industry skills
  • Encouraging publishers to embrace digital publishing and online sales
  • Improving industry data collection and analysis
  • Making major book fairs more appealing to families
  • Developing more targeted reading promotion programs
  • Increasing early positive reading habits
  • Developing a strategy to transform libraries
  • Simplifying the licensing and regulatory regime for publishers
  • Improving copyright protection and enforcement

“While a number of institutions, awards, and festivals seek to build literary culture in Saudi Arabia, there are no specific polices for the development of the publishing industry. To succeed in the evolving global publishing market, Saudi publishers will need to be supported to become more open to change, adapt to evolving digital formats, and embrace online distribution strategies,” says Walid Aradi, Chief Executive Officer of Tahseen Consulting and a coauthor of the study.

Increasing Internationalization of the Saudi Publishing Industry

As a full member of the International Publishing Association, the Saudi government and industry bodies now have a much larger responsibility to publishers and the global community to address industry challenges and to unlock opportunities presented by industry internationalization and growth. If industry challenges are addressed proactively by key stakeholders, the publishing, media, and digital content industries hold great potential in contributing to Saudi and regional intellectual life, enhancing social and cultural development, and providing economic opportunity.

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Founded as a news weekly magazine in 1933, U.S. News and World Report is well known for its analysis of educational institutions in its annual college rankings. Tahseen Consulting is honored to have its work on Arab women studying and working STEM fields in the Arab World featured in two recent article in the U.S. News and World Report.

The State of Higher Education in the Middle East article references a Tahseen Consulting study in which we explored the barriers facing women in entering science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields in the GCC in an article in Forbes Middle East. The original article is available at http://tahseen.ae/blog/?p=980.

U.S. News’ article More Arab Women Studying STEM features comments by Tahseen Consulting’s Wes Schwalje on competitions as a mechanism of exposing female students to STEM fields.

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When it comes to news on economic trends and policies in the UAE, government and business leaders turn to the Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development’s Economic Review. Tahseen Consulting is honored to have its work on building sustainable economies in the Arab World highlighted in the publication’s April issue. We have posted the full article below.

Tahseen Consulting’s Chief operating Officer, Wes Schwalje, spoke with representatives from the Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development regarding his thoughts on the how the concepts of sustainability and knowledge-based economy are evolving into economic policies in the UAE. In a wide-ranging discussion, Schwalje discusses the UAE’s aspirations, its achievements thus far, and potential barriers to progress.

Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development: What are the key factors to consider when creating a ‘sustainable economy’ that will support many generations to come?

Schwalje: The concept of sustainability as a policy goal is attractive to countries precisely because the concept lacks specificity and means different things to different stakeholders. As it applies to economic development, many countries have further equated the concept of sustainability with the equally imprecise concept of knowledge-based economy. The ambiguity of such terms have been used globally by governments to gain political consensus on large-scale economic reforms. In the Arab countries such concepts have become integrated into national visions and development strategies, such as the UAE’s Vision 2021, National Agenda, and Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030, to provide a shared overarching vision for economic development. Debates surrounding such policy objectives have highlighted and promoted policy dialogue on key development challenges that the Arab World faces and brought coherence to a variety of socioeconomic development discourses.

Because concepts such as sustainability and knowledge-based economy have become gradually contextualized to the case of the Arab World, the region has converged on several consistent themes that are closely associated with the term “sustainable economy.” While there is some country to country variation in the region, generally, sustainable economic development in the GCC countries concerns a variety of socio-economic factors: economic diversification to reduce dependence on commodities through entry into new and complementary industries; private sector development to improve the performance of small and medium sized businesses and encourage entrepreneurship; integration of nationals into the private sector workforce; strengthening the link between education systems and the labor market to reduce youth unemployment; increasing female labor market participation; strengthening innovation systems; attracting foreign direct investment; integration into the global economy; addressing national development imbalances and income disparities; environmental sustainability, protection of identity and language; and increasingly political participation and democratic reform.

Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development: How far do you feel Abu Dhabi has come in this respect to date?

Schwalje: After a country has defined what they mean by sustainable economic development, the next challenge a country like the UAE faces in determining progress is devising appropriate indicators to measure progress. In advancing a set of National Key Performance Indicators associated with the National Agenda, the UAE has made an initial attempt at assessing progress towards sustainable economic development. National key performance indicators related to economic progress track measures such as non-oil GDP growth, GNI per capita, FDI inflows, global competiveness, national labor market participation and Emiratization rates, ease of doing business, SME contribution to GDP, entrepreneurship levels, innovation, R&D expenditure, and employment in knowledge-based industries. A key challenge remains whether a disparate range of objective measures can really provide a coherent overall picture of national well-being and progress. It will be essential for the UAE to increasingly complement outcome-based objective indicators of national progress with subjective well-being data that measure well-being across a variety of other dimensions such as education, health, income and wealth, and the environment. This will require the regular collection of nationwide data from large and representative samples to provide a coherent overall picture of well-being.

Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development: What pitfalls must Abu Dhabi avoid when attempting to build a sustainable economy?

Schwalje: Many of the countries from which normative economic policy guidance has come from surrounding knowledge-based economic development now face unforeseen economic challenges. In many of the countries which the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030 benchmarked, more education, more innovation, and policy and institutional reform have not necessarily led to higher levels of national well-being. For example, economic policy in Ireland has not ultimately produced high skills, high wage jobs for youth or adequately addressed socioeconomic development challenges. In fact, Ireland’s economic policies have led to record high youth unemployment and numerous social challenges for the country’s youth. Cases like Ireland suggest that a regional discussion on whether the economic prescription of the transition to knowledge-based economies remains the right course.

A key question is whether Arab economic development strategies based on the transition to knowledge economies have sufficiently taken into account the changing economic environment where knowledge is becoming cheaper and commoditized by emerging economies. Decreasing pressure on wages due the globalization of knowledge industries and growth in high skill, low cost talent in emerging countries challenges the assumption that more education, higher levels of skills, and national labor markets can provide prosperity to nations. Because competition for dominance in knowledge-based industries is now global and emerging countries are moving up the value chain to perform increasingly more sophisticated activities, plans to enter knowledge-based industries are susceptible to the globalization of low cost, high skill competition from beyond the region’s borders. What may look like a sector that can generate high skill, high wage jobs today may tomorrow be an industry that can be outsourced and performed by high skill, low cost knowledge workers elsewhere.

Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development: How can Abu Dhabi encourage more entrepreneurship?

Schwalje: Many countries have geared their entrepreneurship policy interventions around international studies such as the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, Ease of Doing Business Index, and Global Entrepreneurship and Development Index. However, while these frameworks are useful, they may not adequately capture the difficulties faced in the UAE. Much more qualitative research of existing entrepreneurs is required to advance this dialogue further. This dialogue must not be confined to emirate-level challenges but be broadened to involve country level policy interventions. The focus must be on UAE-wide policy interventions that are consistent across all emirates rather than emirate-level interventions that create a different playing field across the country.

Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development: Which sectors do you feel offer the most potential for economic diversification in Abu Dhabi? And how can Abu Dhabi fast-track these?

Schwalje: The Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030’s focus on horizontal and vertical diversification into capital-intensive, export-oriented sectors sufficiently balances risk with the uncertainty created by globalization of knowledge industries. Recent declines in global commodity prices further support this relatively cautious approach to diversification and industrial development.

Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development: Which countries might Abu Dhabi try to emulate when pursuing its ambitious economic sustainability program?

Schwalje: Abu Dhabi would be wise to broaden its current benchmarking strategy to define its economic sustainability program to include two types of countries: countries which generate a significant portion of their GDP from oil exports and countries which have economies that are reliant upon workforces imported from abroad. Normative economic policy should not just be drawn from rich, developed countries which have purportedly transitioned to knowledge-based economies but also incorporate developing country peer benchmarks in South America, Asia, and Africa. Non OECD peer benchmark countries may provide successful practices of economic development strategies that have focused on the export of low-cost, high-end knowledge-based services or the more traditional low-cost export-oriented manufacturing strategies while making incremental, evolutionary advances up the value chain. The experiences of countries such as Brunei, Equatorial Guinea, Trinidad and Tobago, Russia, Venezuela, Gabon, Kazakhstan, and Mexico could provide a more well-rounded rounded set of benchmarks of oil exporting countries from which to derive learnings. Looking at practices from labor importing countries such as Hong Kong, Switzerland, and Australia could also expand upon the analysis in the Economic Vision 2030.

Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development: Is two decades enough time to build a fully diversified economy? If yes, why?.. and if no, why not?

Schwalje: It is difficult to establish what the end goal should be. In the GCC, economic diversification means reducing heavy dependence on the oil sector by developing a non-oil economy, non-oil exports, and non-oil revenue sources. It will also require reducing the role of the public sector by promoting private sector development. Based on rather sparse evidence, it seems likely that GCC economies will have significant difficulties in their diversification efforts. In the Arab World the gross value added of knowledge-based industries is the lowest in the world making up 39% of regional gross domestic product as compared to 74% in OECD countries. The contribution of value added to regional gross domestic product from knowledge-based industries has remained virtually constant over the last decade. From 2000 to 2009, the percentage share of employees in knowledge-based industries in the Arab World has increased by a compound annual growth rate of .8% in OECD countries with knowledge-based industries employing 77% of workers. Based on sparse data from 2000 to 2009 from 14 countries in the Arab World representing 70% of the region’s population, 61% of the population is employed in knowledge-based industries. Employment in knowledge-based industries has increased only negligibly over the last decade. These few crude measures provide evidence that economic diversification efforts have not necessarily produced meaningful sectoral shifts in gross domestic product attributed to knowledge-based industries or led to employment in knowledge-based sectors.

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Beginning in the late Nineties, Qatar launched a comprehensive set of education reforms to more effectively align its education and training system with its macroeconomic policies aimed at advancing towards a knowledge-based economy. However, technical vocational education and training (TVET) has not been a significant focus of educational reforms.

Though the need for more effective TVET systems emerged as early as the 1940s when Qatar started producing and exporting oil, the government has primarily focused on supply side, expansionary educational policies aimed at establishing new TVET institutions. However, many of the TVET governance institutions that prevent underinvestment in skills, provide adequate regulation, and coordinate stakeholders are still in a nascent state.

TVET policies in Qatar have largely proceeded without a clear conceptualization of the scope of TVET and which types of institutions should be included in the TVET policy and which ones should be excluded. TVET faces an identity crisis in which people are unhappy with the name, the image, and reputation. It remains unclear how technological TVET can be, what fields it encompasses, and whether TVET leads to jobs which are considered acceptable to Qataris.

In the presentation below, we highlight some of the issues Qatar will need to address to develop a national TVET strategy which overcomes existing gender issues.

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In his recent paper Open Data: A Paradigm Shift in the Heart of Government Ali M. Al-Khouri, Director General of the Emirates Identity Authority, cited Tahseen Consulting’s work on how social media technologies can be used to increase transparency and openness of Arab governments.

Al-Khouri cites Tahseen Consulting’s white paper An Arab Open Government Maturity Model for Social Media Engagement in explaining the need for governments to reflect joined up policy by reducing data silos. Tahseen Consulting’s social media maturity model challenges previous models of e-government and open government maturity based on the experiences of Western countries by offering region-specific guidance that accounts for the unique governance tradition of Arab public sector entities.

Our Arab government social media maturity model has been cited as a potential model for Korean public sector entities, highlighted by the World Bank as a valuable approach in communicating with Arab youth, and referenced in the World Wide Web Foundation’s Open Data Barometer.

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Schwalje outlines 5 key challenges that GCC countries must overcome to keep women in the labor force

One of the most widely reported challenges that GCC countries and companies now face is the retention of highly qualified female employees. Retention can be particularly problematic as women try to strike a balance between familial responsibilities and succeeding in the workplace. Schwalje asked the panel to reflect on five key challenges: overcoming social perceptions about occupations traditionally dominated by males, implementing female-friendly workplace policies, enabling work-life balance, developing family-friendly facilities, and articulating clear career trajectories for women.

Panel members included Khawla Al Mehairi, Vice President of Marketing and Corporate Communication, Dubai Electricity and Water Authority, Khaled Al Khudair, Founder, Glowork, and Deborah Gills, Chief Executive Officer, Catalyst.

A copy of Tahseen Consulting’s analysis supporting the importance of addressing the five panel focus themes is below along a with video that captures Schwalje’s thoughts on the way forward.


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Walid Aradi discusses why Dubai is well positioned to as a financial hub for international Islamic finance

Recently, Tahseen Consulting’s Chief Executive Officer, Walid Aradi, spoke with Philip Moore from Emerging Markets regarding his views on the emergence of Dubai as a global Islamic finance center. In a wide-ranging discussion, Aradi explained the competitive factors that Dubai has going for it as well as highlights the negative impact skills shortages and gaps may have on the evolution of the industry in the UAE.

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