Mr. Juan-Jose Daboub Managing Director. Joint Conference between the World Bank & The Arab International Women s Forum

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1 Mr. Juan-Jose Daboub Managing Director Joint Conference between the World Bank & The Arab International Women s Forum PARTNERS FOR CHANGE Realizing the Potential of Arab Women in the Private and Public Sectors Dear ladies and gentlemen, June 24, 2008 World Bank Headquarters, Washington DC I would like to express my warmest thanks to the Arab International Women s Forum and Mrs. Haifa al-kailani, the Founder and Chair, for providing me with the opportunity to address this distinguished group of policy makers, business people and civil society. Coming from a Palestinian family that immigrated to El Salvador over a century ago, the Arab World and its future prospects are issues close to my heart. I am very eager to learn about the interesting discussions you have had yesterday and today about realizing the potential of Arab Women in fostering development and creating opportunities. I know that you have already engaged with our President and other distinguished guest speakers and do not want to be repetitive, but the two points made by Bob: (1) investment climate and reform; and (2) the need for women to be treated equally not only in the business environment, but in all other aspects of life, can very well help guide our work going forward. If you allow me, I would like to share with you some broad observations, from my work and recent trips to the MNA region and attempt to intertwine the critical role Arab women play. First of all, it is very encouraging to see that many countries in the Arab World have made significant economic and social progress over the past few years

2 This is often overlooked in a region that tends to get front page headlines for other reasons. Since 2003, economic growth throughout the region has averaged over 6% per year and this has been accompanied by more jobs and better social indicators. Economic performance has been driven in part by high oil prices. But this is only part of the story. Strong growth is also coming from real efforts by governments to improve the business environment and make room for the private sector to generate growth, jobs, and opportunities. The more these efforts can be encouraged, the more opportunities for women, there will be. Many countries in the region have embarked on wide-ranging economic reforms, improving their development prospects. To name only a few Egypt, which was named fastest reformer in 2007 by World Bank s Doing Business indicators, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Morocco and Jordan have shown significant progress. In the Gulf countries, I am impressed with their success in encouraging private investment in different sectors to diversify their economies. Likewise, the dynamism and hard working characteristics of the Arab people are constantly being tested in very difficult circumstances. Palestinians and Lebanese are great examples. Their heroic efforts can t go without recognition. The reforms undertaken to date in many countries provide a platform from which even faster progress can be made

3 It is crucial to continue the reform agenda at the national level, especially in the face of today s unprecedented challenges, including rising food and fuel prices, as well as management of scarce water resources. This is also an imperative given the need to generate 80 million new jobs over the next 15 years for the large numbers of young people in the region that will be entering the workforce. But, as we all know, development is not about throwing MASARI out there; it is about removing obstacles, so that people can take destiny into their own hands. It is not only about aid, it is about investment. A few weeks ago, I was in Bethlehem persuading investors that no matter the obstacles, Palestinians make things happen. Some $500 mn in private sector investments in housing and other sectors were announced. Leaders in the region, like you, have the ability and the responsibility to help. And, knowledge based institutions like the Bank also have a contribution to make in sensitive sectors. Improving the access and quality of education is the corner stone for innovation and to ensure that young people entering the workforce have the skills to compete in a modern economy. In a visit to Oman in February, for instance, it was encouraging to see the unprecedented success in achieving near universal primary education when 30 years ago there were no more than a handful of schools. I was also pleased to read in the news the other day that in Egypt girls dominate the list of students with highest grades nationally in the - 3 -

4 crucial tanawiya ama examinations that form the transition between school and university. It is not surprising to me to see that across the Arab world, girls have proved repeatedly that they have the edge when it comes to scholastic achievement and passing examinations. The next challenge throughout the region, however, is to reinvigorate the quality of education, and to encourage innovation, critical thinking, and to provide relevant skills to young people in a rapidly changing world. This is exactly what I heard from professors, researchers, students, NGOs, and think tanks at Birzeit University in West Bank while discussing the future of the Region. Capitalizing on the opportunities available for private sector led growth and job creation will also require increasingly harnessing the skills and entrepreneurial spirit of the whole population, including women. In visits to Bahrain, Kuwait, and Dubai earlier this year, I met women business leaders having a tremendous impact in their countries creating jobs and generating social benefits for their communities. Last February, for instance, I met with Mrs. Huda Sulaiman Al-Jasem and Ms. All Mulla (who is attending this conference), from the Emirates Business Women Council, who emphasized that women own thousands of businesses in the UAE, worth some $3.4 billion. Dr. Halah El-Sokari also described how the Khalifa Fund is supporting women to develop small and medium sized enterprises in the Gulf states - generating jobs and incomes, and helping these countries to diversify their economies. Building opportunities for even more women to take a leadership role in business is vital to unlock the full potential of all the people of the region and to generate even faster increases in prosperity

5 More broadly, greater economic integration between the countries of the Arab World will be essential to enable the environment for people and for the countries of the region to move ahead cooperatively and address today s challenges. The Arab World is not homogenous, but is a wonderful mosaic of different ethnic and religious communities. At the same time, Arab countries share a common language, history, and civilization. In this environment, all countries could potentially gain from greater regional integration of their markets. There is sufficient diversity to ensure that the comparative advantages of different economies could complement each other, and sufficient shared values to encourage partnership and tolerance. Greater economic integration between the Arab World and the global economy will also be fundamental, in order to achieve diversification and to take advantage of markets in several sectors. The World Bank Group has a long-standing commitment to work with the governments, businesses, and people of the Arab World to encourage economic and social development, and this is one of the six strategic priorities that guide our work today. While recognizing the diversity of the region, the Arab World Initiative provides an opportunity for the Bank Group to scale up its support to address common regional issues, as well as national priorities. Including: Economic reform and greater economic integration; Quality of education to encourage innovation and give young people vital skills; - 5 -

6 Drawing more fully on the talents of the entire population, including women; Management of scarce water resources and overcoming environmental challenges; and Providing opportunities for people that remain in conflict situations. The results so far are encouraging and we are committed to do more. World Bank Group financing and guarantees to both the public and private sectors have gone from $1 bn to $3 bn in the last few years. Most importantly, however, the Bank has been able to share global knowledge and advice, to provide customized solutions for the challenges governments and investors are facing. As a former minister and a businessman myself, I understand the need not to preach one size fits all solutions but to work with clients both public and private - to find pragmatic answers. A key element of such knowledge sharing will also be to take the lessons of success from the Arab region to other developing countries, which I periodically do in the other regions, under my responsibility, EAP & LCR. GUAFI AL JITAM, The Arab region faces a unique set of opportunities and challenges. Recent progress has been encouraging, and should not be overlooked. But there is still a long way to go. The successes of some countries in the region such as the Gulf States, show that rapid progress can be made in the space of a single generation

7 Successes can be emulated by: Sound and open economic policies that promote trade and investment, and which encourage companies to compete globally to become the best at what they do; Also, by grasping opportunities available to become global leaders in areas such as renewable energy, water management, or financial services. Strong public institutions that work as referees and not as orchestra directors make a difference; A commitment to education, to support innovation and new ideas will make progress sustainable; and Drawing on the skills of all people will make it irreversible. Leaders like you are uniquely placed to step up to the challenges, take the opportunities available, and ensure that the recent successes in many parts of the Arab World can be built upon. You have the ability and the responsibility to make it happen. The World Bank Group is here to contribute. SHUKRAN - 7 -

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