IJMA3, The Arab ICT Organization: SECRETARY-GENERAL’S REPORT
Information and communication technologies (ICT) continue to play a dynamic and essential role in the ongoing economic and social development around the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. ICT is powering economic growth, helping to focus development efforts within needy communities, and engaging citizens in governance in new and exciting ways. The The Arab ICT Organization (IJMA3) is playing a dynamic and proactive role at all stages of this process. In the following sections, the role that IJMA3 can and will play in this process will be mapped out in greater detail. First, some time will be spent examining IJMA3’s organizational structure, and plans for the future.
IJMA3, standing on the shoulders of its member associations, the national ICT associations of the countries of the MENA region, acts as an umbrella organization providing an integral structure under which a variety of different pursuits can operate. To date, IJMA3’s major activities have focused around ICT for development (“ICT4D”) purposes, and IJMA3’s role in advocacy and sector representation. These two areas will be reported on in the following pages.
But it lies within the vision for IJMA3 to promote the interests of ICT around the region, and to harness ICT towards the objectives of MENA region countries, by taking on additional activity, pulling additional stakeholders into the ongoing dialogue. In particular, nascent activities that IJMA3 has begun to take on, or will be taking on in the future, include the following:
• Regional representation for ISP associations: IJMA3 plans to gather national associations representing the important and fast-growing ISP industry into the IJMA3 community, and represent the interests of this industry on a regional level.
• Community of ICT professionals: IJMA3 is currently working on identifying a structure for interested individuals working or otherwise engaged in the ICT industry to become engaged with IJMA3 activities.
• Community of involved stakeholders: IJMA3 currently includes other organizational stakeholders, organizations, associations or other entities whose work overlaps with that of IJMA3 but who do not immediately qualify for membership under one of our existing membership areas, as guest members. We believe that the interests of the ICT community in the region will be best served by included the greatest number of interested stakeholders, and we believe in involving these groups and communities wherever possible. We will work diligently in the coming years to continue to involve their opinions and interests under the IJMA3 umbrella.
Three sections follow this overview: first, an overview of IJMA3 activities in the ICT for development (ICT4D) arena; second, an overview of IJJMA3’s advocacy and sector representation activities; and third, a final work from IJMA3’s Secretary-General.
2. IJMA3 ICT4D:
2007 has been another good year for IJMA3 in the community development sector. The commitment of the international community to meeting the development needs of the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region is strong, and has been confirmed in response to regional developments. IJMA3 is uniquely well positioned to serve as a key implementing partner on many such activities throughout the region. As a result, our positioning at the junction of ICT, development, and the Middle East North Africa region has brought tremendous opportunity to the region.
Six key focus areas have emerged in our development work around the region, including:
• Workforce development: Ensuring that the workforce in the MENA region has the requisite skills and job training to be able to take advantage of existing and emerging job opportunities in their home communities. Our work in this sector is not simply reactive to existing employment opportunities. Rather, we have been able to take a proactive approach, preparing job applicants, particularly youth and fresh graduates, for opportunities that have a likelihood of emerging in the future. An example of our work in this sector is the IJMA3 Rebuilding Economic Development (IRED) program currently active in Afghanistan.
• Educational services: One of the areas in which ICT can have the most dramatic impact is in upgrading the capacities of schools to undertake their educational missions. We have been very involved, in numerous locations around the region, in upgrading the ICT capacities of schools, both in the hardware available in the schools, and in the ICT skills of school teachers, administrators, and students. As such, we are preparing the next generation of ICT-entrepreneurs throughout the region, allowing ICT to become a universal operating platform, rather than simply a niche industry. An example of our work in this area is the Learning Enhances Awareness (LEA) project currently active in Lebanon.
• Business incubation: ICT has an important role to play in incubating small and medium size enterprises (SMEs), both in the ICT sector, and in other industries whose operations are facilitated by an ICT strategy. ICT is an important growth industry in many of the countries around the region, and growth is largely being driven by the SME sector. Often, the difference between a successful and a failed entrepreneurial venture is the availability of the correct support at the appropriate time in a company’s life-cycle. IJMA3 has been able to provide this boost in numerous arenas around the region. An example of our work in this area is the Platform project currently active in Lebanon, and the ICT Incubator currently proposed at a prominent Kabul, Afghanistan university.
• Professional training: Many of the countries in which we are active are in, or are emerging from, conflict situations. One of the most effective ways of ensuring that a population moves successfully out of a conflict environment is to maintain a forward-looking outlook, focused on the opportunity of the future rather than the problems of the past. Training for on-the-job skills is a key way of achieving this. Training gives communities a profitable way to spend their time, and allows for a focus on the future to rise out of an otherwise bleak landscape. However, training is not limited to post-conflict areas; all dynamic economies have a need for job skills training, as well as in other areas like language acquisition. IJMA3 has played a lead role in harnessing ICT toward training objectives around the region. An example of our work in this area is the Basra International Training Academy in Basra, Iraq.
• Community ICT centers: with the profusion of services and networks available via an ICT-enabled environment, IJMA3 has developed around the region a range of community centers with ICT applications at their core. These centers provide ICT-related services like network access, training, and business support services; but the also provide much more, providing a community access point around which communities can gather. Examples of our work in this area are the PIPOP and PICTA centers in Lebanon.
• Civil Society capacity building: Governance and civic participation in governance is a key development challenge, and ICT is uniquely well positioned to engage citizens in governance, and allow citizen voices to coalesce in effective units. IJMA3 has been active in harnessing ICT toward supporting community voices around the region, particularly in supporting capacity building efforts for NGOs. An example of our work in this area is the proposed support of governmental-service kiosks in Egypt.
• Harness ICT as development engine: ICT also plays an important role in supporting development projects beyond the specific ICT arena. ICT can support the objectives of projects in other sectors, including community development, administrative reform, and economic development. Projects in which we are involved in harnessing ICT toward the fulfillment of development objectives outside of our particular ICT mandate include the Helmand province agricultural services program in Afghanistan, the Connected Communities project in Lebanon, and the Localizing Institutional Capacity project in Sudan.
These activities have been undertaken for a range of bilateral and multilateral donor organizations, including USAID, DfID, the EU and others. In spite of this diversity, a particularly strong implementing partnership has emerged with the international NGO Mercy Corps. Based in Oregon, USA, Mercy Corps is a global leader in community mobilization and disaster relief. The merger of Mercy Corps’ community mobilization expertise with IJMA3’s expertise in ICT development and promotion has proved to be the exact mix required by numerous development challenges around the region. Our partnership throughout the MENA region is strong, and there is the potential for further cooperation globally. Projects have already been undertaken in countries including Pakistan and Sudan, and the opportunity exists for broadening this cooperation to other areas.
In recent years, the lessening commitment of traditional donor agencies away from traditional development approaches, toward straightforward cash-transfers to governments in exchange for policy reform milestones, threatened organizations with a stake in the development agenda. This year, however, saw the return of a renewed commitment to traditional development project style assistance, on the ground projects led by technical experts focusing on the fulfillment of local development agendas. ICT is an important development field in the MENA region, as it is around the globe, and IJMA3 is well positioned to continue to play an key enabling role in this field well into the future.
3. IJMA3 ADVOCACY AND SECTOR REPRESENTATION:
ICT continues to play an important role in the growth of national economies throughout the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. As the ICT sector continues to grow and mature, the ability of the ICT industry to be able to advocate for enabling regulatory and legislative environments, make connections with international ICT stakeholders, and to assert the importance of ICT on the national and regional agenda becomes ever more important. More and more, it is the industry associations representing national ICT interests in each country that are driving this agenda.
IJMA3 was formed in 2004 to support the interests of these national ICT associations, and to help these associations take advantage of opportunities for cooperation and cooperative development. IJMA3 continues to advocate effectively on behalf of our member associations, the national ICT associations of 13 countries throughout the MENA region, including Morocco, Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Bahrain, Tunisia, Algeria, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Sudan.
Our activities as the regional representative of national ICT associations take on several main components, including:
• Advocacy: Issue advocacy on behalf of member associations, in particular lobbying key decision makers for enabling regulatory and legislative agendas, and creating a “buzz” around the ICT sector that emphasizes ICT in local economic development. Effective advocacy relies on the effective mobilizing of coalitions, and IJMA3 has proved effective in mobilizing the domestic and regional will to promote the interests of ICT enterprises throughout the region. Furthermore, IJMA3 has been very effective at ensuring that the voice of the regional ICT sector is on an international level. Our membership in the World IT and Services Alliance (WITSA), the global representative of the ICT industry, ahs been an effective way of accomplishing this.
• Commercial promotion: Commercial enterprises are at the heart of our national member associations, and IJMA3 has served as an effective champion for their interests. We support regional businesses through a variety of mechanisms, including arranging for business delegations, providing business-to-business matching services, and arranging for participation in key regional trade fairs such as GITEX and Termium.
• Research and documentation: Accurate and well-synthesized information and documentation plays a key role in realizing the ambitions of our member associations, as well as their member companies. IJMA3 plays a central role in the development and sharing of key information services, both in providing a virtual library for the publications of our regional members, and in developing our own research and commentaries. As an information clearing house of the regional ICT sector, IJMA3 allows for the cross-fertilization of ideas to take place for key ICT stakeholders around the region. In addition, our regular newsletters play an important role in keeping all members of the regional ICT sector well informed.
ICT has a unique role to play in allowing for the countries of the MENA region to achieve and exceed their economic, social, and development goals. Major challenges continue to exist. We need to ensure that our workforce continues to be able to adapt to shifting market conditions, and embrace current and future market opportunities, as they arise. We need to ensure that governments understand the unique and dynamic ways in which the ICT industry operates, and the importance of providing enabling regulatory conditions. We need to guard against the threat of e-migration, whereby the best and the brightest ICT talents migrate out of the region toward more rewarding opportunities. We need to ensure that the current deficiency of Arabic language internet content continues to be urgently addressed. And we need to ensure that ICT continues to be leveraged toward the fulfillment of the critical development challenges facing the region.
These are real challenges, requiring real work and real solutions. IJMA3 continues to be uniquely well positioned to be able to take on these challenges, and the challenges of the next generation.
4. FINAL WORD:
IJMA3 was founded in 2004 to:
“Achieve dialogue, to encourage the development and sharing of knowledge, to develop the computer industry and related service industries, to boost the role that technology and communications can play in other fields and specializations, and to bridge the digital divide existing between the Arab countries, the countries of the Middle East and North Africa and the entire world.”
These challenges are just as critical today as they were then, and the importance of IJMA3’s role in bringing about these developments cannot be understated. In the past pages, we have described some of the important and ongoing work with which we are engaged. We look forward to continuing to work with all of our partners, and to always add new partners and stakeholders in the ongoing dialogue, in fulfilling and exceeding the potential role that ICT can play around the region.