Introduction by Interviewer: I shall discuss the risks, fears, and pessimism that we raised with my guest, who is a source of optimism; my guest is a young man who managed, through his energy and hard work, to be amongst the most successful businessmen in the Middle East.
Mr. Hasan Ismaik, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees at STRATEGIECS Research Center is joining me today via Skype:
Interviewer: Mr. Hasan, welcome to the show! You are an inspiration to youth, providing optimism and assuring them that everything is possible and can be achieved. Youth fear the consequences of the Coronavirus, like increasing unemployment and other issues. How do you assess these risks, Mr. Hasan?
Mr. Ismaik: Good evening, Dr. Mahmoud, and good evening to your kind colleagues and audience at Al Hadath. First, let me emphasize youth is representative of our vitality, our activity, and the promise of renewal. It is the criterion by which we can measure society’s energy – no matter the age of that society. It is imperative that we care for the youth because this is what will ensure not only our present but our future. I do not say this out of sentimentality or emotion: the incontrovertible truth is that protection of the future demands protection of the present. Young people provide us with an endless reservoir of energy which must be carefully nurtured and directed, lest it this energy stray down the wrong path. The energy of youth can never be neutral. Neutrality is mythical: the inaction of any individual speaks as loudly as the actions of other individuals. Youthful bodies fill demonstration squares and providing youth with the necessary care and help is imperative. Indeed, Arab countries are markedly characterized by the energy found within their youthful population. 67% of Saudi Arabia’s population – around two-thirds of its citizens – are under the age of 35, and this holds true throughout most of the Arab countries. Failure to harness the energy of these people productively and effectively will result in societal instability.
Interviewer: There are about 8 million Arabs at risk of going below poverty lines, with another 2 million threatened to lose their jobs. Having said that, in order to prevent unemployment and job losses, what is the role of the private sector, from your perspective as a young successful businessman in the Middle East and the Arab world? Also, what is the role of the public sector? and what should governments do to avoid such consequences?
Mr. Ismaik: This is a topic I am passionate about and have discussed several times in articles I have written. While it is true Coronavirus has brought severe distress, it is my belief we should utilize it as a gift, as a chance to effect change, particularly when it comes to mistakes we have made in the past. In these mistakes, I include the absence of job security and the dearth of active special programs. While this crisis has affected our region badly, it would be wrong not to acknowledge the shocking negligence our youth were suffering before the crisis began. The youth have long faced a lack of clear vision and opportunities. Certain individuals express a great deal of pessimism in this area, but I want to stress the importance of planting and, indeed, cultivating hope in the lives of youth which will ultimately enable them to succeed and have a positive impact on the future. Arab youth cannot wait for a job in the public sector; they must have clearly defined goals that will help them to avoid the destruction of their thoughts and ambitions. If you look at the youth in the first world, they can express their future goals and the impact they want to have on society – they cannot afford to wait for the perfect job to be handed to them. Our youth cannot afford this either. They must be the movers and shakers of society, to push for innovation in their respective sectors and commit to moving beyond the status quo. The private sector benefits from a safe and healthy society, and I believe the private sector has a social responsibility to invest in the very society which has allowed it to succeed.
Interviewer: There is actually an important point here: a businessman once told me that he has put up a job posting advertisement, to which thousands applied, yet, he did not find what he was looking for because there is a lack of competency. Is it true that our current educational systems and projects graduate incompetent and unqualified candidates? Is there a gap between education and the work environment?
Mr. Ismaik: This question is essential, and to answer it in a single word: yes. Universities and other educational institutions currently exist in isolation. Primary and Secondary institutions must provide an authentic, hands-on education that prepares their students for the demands of a rigorous University program. They must bear the burden of preparing their students to enter the workforce. These institutions thrive in a world of theory, but this practice is both constraining and damaging. They must build a bridge across the fantastical gorge which separates them from reality. Only then is embarking on the difficult journey of integrating the real-world needs of the market and society into the core of their educational practices possible. Reconciliation between theory and practice is, in short, imperative, and yet only the first step we must take. The next step, which is as equally imperative, is the investment of employers and venture capitalists in a variety of education and international programs which can forge a path between education and the market. The private sector must embrace the challenge of providing educational grants, hosting international projects, and provide financial backing for research and studies which will ultimately benefit the market, educational institutions, and students in a symbiotic manner. However, this second step will be in vain if universities do not embrace these investments as partnerships. Universities must modify their programs and establish educational objectives which are formed by continual, rigorous analysis of market demands in terms of educational specialties. This approach would pave the way for students to enter the workforce ready to assume specialized jobs, thereby reducing youthful unemployment rates. Additionally, programs, plans and incentives for both teachers and students such as prizes, bonuses, scientific exhibitions, symposiums, as well a myriad of other activities could be developed. So, yes, a large segment of our youth currently lacks sufficient qualifications. However, the youth are not to blame; it is our responsibility to provide them with the tools necessary to succeed and in this arena it is our education system which has failed them. The subjects students have studied are far behind in terms of scientific development. Despite these setbacks, despite the tremendous uphill battle they have faced, I do believe most of the Arab youth are qualified to join the job market alongside the rest of the youth of the world.
Interviewer: You are amongst these youths, Mr. Hasan, who graduated from an Arab university and suffered the same problems Arab young people face, yet, you are a successful businessman. What advice can you give to the youth? Give us some hope and optimism.
Mr. Ismaik: Our youth already possess the vitality, the enthusiasm to achieve great things – they simply need more support. With that support, I have no doubt they will carry us into a future which is brighter than we can currently imagine. The youth today need to build up a bank of experiences and skills which will allow them not only to join the job market, but to be competitive within the market. This bank must include personal skills, communication means, and a range of skills in technology alongside specialized skills needed by youth across the various sectors. These experiences and skills are widely lacking, but this is again due to our need to further develop and invest in our educational systems. I find it remarkable that, despite these setbacks our youth face, their energy and indeed their bravery continues to propel them – and us – into the future.
Interviewer: Your talk has caught my attention to the fact that youth issues cannot be solved unless we advance with the larger concern, which is the Arab world. I have also noted in your latest article where you discuss a "third way", that if Arabs follow, it could be their salvation; so, what is the "third way" that can lead to the rise of the Arab nation and its youth?
Mr. Ismaik: The “third way” refers to a middle pathway which connects the countries of our region. It would hold us together and prevent further fragmentation and seemingly endless conflicts. The “third way” is not a new idea; it was introduced 2 or 3 decades ago, just after the collapse of the Soviet Union, by a Swedish writer. It is a concept which encourages both social and political development – a project which requires contributions from every corner of society. From a personal level to a societal level, everyone must contribute to the best of their ability. Using this method, we could not only make great achievements, but also protect the highest levels of our mutual interests. Imagine achieving the lasting peace for which Arabs are longing. We are deeply pained by the ongoing violence and wars which currently plague many Arab countries. Perhaps it could even pave the way for a peaceful resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. This continued conflict has not deprived the Middle East of stability and development for decades, but it has also caused us, as Arabs, a great deal. I am suggesting we use the “third way” to build bridges, to set our disagreements aside in an effort to rethink these issues and find sustainable solutions. We have already lost Iraq and Lebanon and today Libya and Yemen teeter on that same precipice. Our unification is our only hope of retrieving these great nations. As Arabs, we have a long history of forging new pathways, of innovation and discovery. If we embrace the “third way,” if we embrace both its possibilities and its challenges, we could conceivably unite the Arab world and renew dreams of development, peace, and prosperity. The “third way” is not exclusive of any component. It would require doing the work necessary to bring about real peace, including an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict. I am calling on our Palestinian brothers to think about a political solution for the cause both rationally and pragmatically. It is absolutely possible to use the “third way” to bring about not only peace, but also to put an end to wealth depletion, effectively combat chaos and terrorism. We must move beyond this habit of seeking to only better ourselves, of every man fending only for himself. Instead, we must move towards a vision of a new “Arab Era,” through which we can achieve lasting stability and comprehensive development across economic, social, and scientific sectors.
Interviewer: I really hope so, Mr. Hasan. During this interview, we attempted to show the youth that nothing is impossible and that everyone can find their own opportunities and shape their future. Thank you very much Mr. Hasan Ismaik, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees at STRATEGIECS Research Center, a key research center.