Fostering Digital Capacities for Decent Life in the MENA region  

Workshop information

Title: WS 165: Fostering Digital Capacities for Decent Life in the MENA region

Date: Thursday, 8 December 2016 (Day 3)

Time: 3:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Where: Workshop Room 2, PALCCO, Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico

Session link: http://sched.co/8hu7

Session video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d4Qqt-8m3o0
 
Geneva Internet Platform report link: http://digitalwatch.giplatform.org/sessions/fostering-digital-capacities-decent-life-mena-region-ws165

Session reporter: Michael Oghia, communications manager, iGmena (Hivos)
 
Session organizers:
  • Nadira Al-Araj (vice chair, Internet Society - Palestine)
  • Hafedh Yahmadi (independent ICT strategist and engineer)

Session moderator: Walid Al-Saqaf (Internet Society trustee)
 
Session speakers:
  • Nadira Al-Araj 
  • Hafedh Yahmadi 
  • Nibal Idlebi (chief of Innovation, UNESCWA)
  • Hisham Aboulyazed (senior manager, National Telecom Regulatory Authority of Egypt)
  • Noha Fathy (Internet Legislation Atlas project manager, iGmena)
  • Mohit Saraswat (founding Member, Internet Society - United Arab Emirates)
  • Cherkaoui Leghris (professor, Hassan II University)

Session summary:

The session focused on exploring ways to raise the level of information and communications technology (ICT) penetration in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) by discussing challenges, weaknesses, strengths, and opportunities in three areas: 

1. Capacity building in the education and vocational sectors; 
2. Global and regional partnerships for development of the Internet economy; and
3. Internet governance and implementation issues in the region.

It was moderated by Mr. Walid Al-Saqaf, Internet Society (ISOC) trustee, who began the session with a brief description of the workshop and format, and by introducing the speakers. He also explained how the workshop was divided into two parts: strengths and challenges in relation to the Internet in the MENA region, and recommendations for Internet governance and development.

Ms. Nibal Idlebi, chief of innovation, UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), joined remotely and discussed the development of the ICT sector. She specifically addressed the positive role of technology zones and business incubators in the region, as well as Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are investing abroad in ICT, especially infrastructure and services. She highlighted that a significant challenge in the region is the weak efficiency of the ICT sector, as well as limited research, development, and innovation.

Mr. Hafedh Yahmadi, independent ICT strategist and engineer, addressed the role of ICT for education in the MENA region. He stressed that an underutilized strength of the region is its young population with a common culture and language. Yet, the region also faces the challenge of connecting schools to the Internet and developing quality online content. He added that educational reform and the respect for intellectual property are two of the most important issues in the region. 

Mr. Hisham Aboulyazed, senior manager, National Telecom Regulatory Authority of Egypt, discussed development of the Internet ecosystem in the MENA region, which features a strong movement of Internet-based entrepreneurship across the region lead by young entrepreneurs. A challenge to the Internet ecosystem in the region, however, regards it still being underdeveloped in terms of stakeholder involvement and engagement – making multistakeholder effective interaction more challenging. He also stressed that academia in the region is not very organized in terms of academic networks.

Ms. Noha Fathy, Internet Legislation Atlas (ILA) project manager (iGmena), shared the iGmena program’s experiences with capacity building. The program focuses on empowering individuals from the region, especially women, to take part in the Internet policy dialogue, but recognized that key stakeholders are still not involved in the process.

Mr. Mohit Saraswat, founding Member, ISOC United Arab Emirates, discussed ICT infrastructure in the region, and highlighted multiple opportunities for the region, including increased investment in infrastructure both from the government and from private entities. He also described a challenge for the region, including not enough Internet exchange points (IXPs).

Ms. Nadira Al-Araj, vice chair, ISOC Palestine, joined remotely and discussed the role of women in the regional economy and vis-à-vis ICTs. She said that women in the MENA region are unexploited human capital; however, it is difficult to bring MENA women into the labor force.

Mr. Cherkaoui Leghris, professor, Hassan II University, highlighted the impact that ICT Infrastructure has on the MENA region, including that the region is willing to roll out ICT infrastructure. However, he also added that it is difficult to measure the impact of this infrastructure on sustainable development. 

The session concluded with various recommendations offered by the panelists, including:
  • Developing the ICT sector as a key tool for moving towards a knowledge-based society;
  • Creating policies for educational reforms and the respect for Intellectual property;
  • Expanding institutional capacity building;
  • Improving capacity building within government and the private sector;
  • Deregulating regional telecom services in the region;
  • Gender balance in the economy and greater economic inclusion of women; and
  • Developing local Internet content and fostering its usage.