BEIRUT: Though facing many challenges, the Lebanese economy 10 years from now could be very different, depending on some key factors — the end of the Syrian war, developing the Levantine gas and oil basin, improving foreign investment, reviving tourism, but perhaps most of all, in finding a shared vision and renewing national pride.
Taking a hard look at this was a Friday conference, “Rethinking the Lebanese Economy 2025,” which was a gathering of experts and professionals from the local and international level.
“‘Rethinking the Lebanese Economy 2025’ goal is to discuss the most significant challenges the Lebanese economy and society might encounter over the next ten years and to promote collaboration among the government, education sector, and various industries for capitalizing on current and potential resources, thus creating a common vision that might lead to a new competitive economy,” said Jihad El Hokayem, CEO of JHC financial consultancy and the key organizer of the event.
Main sections of the day’s program included: Monetary and Public Policies, Redesigning Economic Sectors, Knowledge Economy and Innovation, and Capital Markets and Security Risk.
“I hope a road map for our economy resulting from the conference is going to be communicated in a book and an e-book so that Lebanese throughout the world can contribute to implementing this plan,” Hokayem told Annahar.
During what was a busy week of various conferences and coming on the eve of Ramadan, the conference nevertheless managed to attract over 500 attendees throughout the day-long event at the Habtoor Hilton.
An early speaker of the day, Tim Jones, founder of London-based Future Agenda company, spoke of macro-changes facing the world, challenges facing the Middle East, and of some of the positive possibilities for Lebanon amid the global transformations.
Saying that “organization increasingly want to identify and understand both the anticipated and unexpected changes so that they can be better prepared,” Jones cautioned the audience of private sector attendees and academics, that some of the big challenges facing the world included: unbalanced population growth in some regions where aging citizens would outnumber the old; reversely of regions such as MENA where growing youth populations faced high percentages of unemployment; and added that unpredictable tectonic shifts in the world economy would catch small and large nations by surprise.
Other macro-problems facing the planet were universal access to health care, food waste, and pollution.
Changes for the good on a global scale were such things as growing political engagement and an education revolution, both facilitated by the rapid changes of information technology.
On the Middle East front, Jones noted the problems of oil-economy dependency, US withdrawal as a regional player, and such geo-political changes as the growth of Turkey as a regional super-power.
For Lebanon, Jones pointed to such positive possibilities as the continued growth of the financial services sector, saying, “Lebanon can grow its banking sector ..to become a center of services in an increasingly connected, global marketplace.”
He also noted the country’s status as an education place, adding, “Lebanon can build on its existing reputation to become a 21st century center of learning for the Middle East.”
Speaking during the Knowledge Economy and Innovation section of the presentations, Omar Nasreddine, VP and regional director of the Grey Group, a global communications company, stressed the concept of national pride.
“How do we come up with an idea for the economy,” challenged Nasreddine of the need for making Lebanon a sellable brand. “Let’s find a story for Lebanon.” But he warned, “We don’t have a lot of time.”
Nasreddine noted the sense of pride of small countries like Bhutan, that though having distinct economic difficulties – not unlike Lebanon – advertised internationally and on signs entering the country, “Welcome to our home.”
“It’s a fantastic idea,” he said of the concept. “National pride.”
Though there are many challenges, Nasreddine noted, Lebanon still recently rated in the UN-sponsored “World Happiness Report” as a happy place to live, he said. The communications executive emphasized, along with other conference speakers, that many positive possibilities remained ahead, but only with hard work and pride in the country.
With astute changes, Nasreddine said, “Lebanon could not only be good but great.”