Vision behind the Global Commission on the Future of Work

It is our belief that work is the foundation for people and societies to grow. With a decent income, work can pave the way for broader social and economic advancement, strengthening individuals, their families and communities.

Yet technology, demography, climate change and globalisation are transforming work more quickly, more profoundly and on a greater scale than ever before. These changes have great potential, but we also face many uncertainties about the future of work. The fear that while some may benefit greatly from these sweeping changes, many will not, has become a major concern – not least at a time when so many countries are facing high unemployment.

And if too many people worry that they are being left behind and that our societies are no longer capable of delivering positive change, there is a strong chance that disruptive forces will undermine growth and destabilise social and political harmony. Indeed, the tendency that we are witnessing a shift towards populist thinking is one of the key challenges of our time.

Therefore, we need to support the job-creating potential of the shift to environmental sustainability and a fair and open world trading system, founded on strong values of rights, freedom and solidarity. Globalisation must benefit all. Only people who feel safe in the present can welcome an uncertain future.

Rather than adopting a wait-and-see approach, we must think seriously about the future of work that we want and how to get there. The future is not pre-determined and can be influenced by the societal choices and policies that we make today.

To generate ideas and solutions for addressing these fundamental work-related challenges, we have agreed to co-chair the new Global Commission on the Future of Work launched today by the International Labour Organisation (ILO). This Commission, which is part of the ILO’s Future of Work initiative, brings together eminent thinkers and practitioners from around the world. It will report to the ILO’s member states in 2019.

This initiative is, indeed, a truly global effort – more than 100 countries have held national dialogues, with governments, employers and workers, to elaborate on approaches to meet the future challenges in the labour market. The contribution of the Commission will also be an important part of the follow-up to the landmark 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development. Goal eight, in particular, entails promoting inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all.

For almost a century, the ILO has made a significant contribution to making the world of work a much better place. It has done this by bringing together representatives of governments, workers and employers to promote social justice.

By recognising that the future of work is ours to create, rather than one imposed by forces which we are powerless to control, we are convinced that the future holds a powerful message of hope. We are committed to leading this Global Commission in that spirit, and to focus on concrete solutions, policy advice and best practices, with the goal of making the future of work, a future that includes everyone.

*President of Mauritius
*Prime Minister of Sweden

How to Beat the Robots

Robots

Maybe the automation of jobs will eventually create new, better jobs. Maybe it will put us all out of work. But as we argue about this, work is changing.

Today’s jobs — white collar, blue collar or no collar — require more education and interpersonal skills than those in the past. And many of the people whose jobs have already been automated can’t find new ones. Technology leads to economic growth, but the benefits aren’t being parceled out equally. Policy makers have the challenge of helping workers share the gains.

That will take at least some government effort, just as it did when the United States moved from an agricultural economy to an industrial one, with policies like high school for all or workers’ rights.

Whether there’s political will for big changes remains to be seen, but here are some policies that economists and policy experts think could help now.

More Education, and Different Kinds

A broad area of agreement: People need to learn new skills to work in the new economy. “The best response is to increase the skills of the labor force,” said Gregory Mankiw, an economist at Harvard.

The most valuable thing could be to increase college enrollment and graduation rates. A growing number of jobs require a degree; the unemployment rate among people 25 to 34 with college degrees is just 2 percent, versus 8 percent for those who stopped their education after high school.

But that goal seems far-fetched at a time when only about one-third of Americans have bachelor’s degrees. For many more who lack the time, money or drive, what’s already happening is more vocational training, at community colleges or through apprenticeships. This provides a way for people to learn on the job, but the problem is that many of those jobs are probably next in line to be automated.

People who lose their job midcareer don’t necessarily have the skills to do another one. But government retraining programs are confusing and often ineffective, and many companies aren’t willing to invest in training workers only to have them poached by a rival. “It’s bipartisan judgment that it doesn’t work,” said Tyler Cowen, an economist at George Mason University. “People are not that malleable.”

More successful, he said, is training that workers seek themselves. One idea from Third Way, a policy think tank, is free online prep courses for people who have been out of school too long to remember high school basics. Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson, founders of M.I.T.’s Initiative on the Digital Economy, suggest federally guaranteed student loans for nontraditional programs like online certificates or coding boot camps.

Perhaps most effective is reaching students as early as elementary school. Educators should focus on teaching technical skills, like coding and statistics, and skills that still give humans an edge over machines, like creativity and collaboration, experts say. And since no one knows which jobs will be automated later, it may be most important to learn flexibility and how to learn new things.

Create New and Better Jobs

The problem, at least for now, is not that there isn’t enough work — there is, but it is very different from the kind of work technology is displacing. Manufacturing and warehousing jobs are shrinking, while jobs that provide services (health care, child care, elder care, education, food) are growing. “We are far from the end of work, but face a big challenge redeploying people toward addressing our society’s very real needs,” Mr. Brynjolfsson said.

One idea is for the government to subsidize private employment or even volunteer jobs. “If the private market isn’t creating the jobs people need, then the public sector should engage in direct job creation,” said Jared Bernstein, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, who was chief economist for Vice President Joe Biden. He said the technique “has a better track record than people think.” A recent study by the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality examined 40 programs over 40 years, and found they were successful at things like improving workers’ skills and reducing their dependence on public benefits.

President Trump and many others have proposed putting people to work building and repairing bridges, roads and other infrastructure. He has said he wants to do it in part by offering tax credits to private companies.

Construction jobs are being automated, though, and not everyone has the skills to do advanced building. A less discussed option is make-work, like government-funded jobs gardening in parks or reading to older people.

More people would do caregiving jobs if they paid better, said Lawrence Katz, a Harvard labor economist: “Nothing says home health aide has to be a minimum wage job.” That seems unlikely anytime soon, especially without strengthening labor unions.

Economists largely agree that manufacturing jobs aren’t coming back, but the United States could slow the losses by attracting more advanced manufacturing, especially in green energy, Mr. Bernstein said. “Some smart country is going to dominate the market for battery storage, for example,” he said. “That should be us.”

People who lose their jobs often don’t have the money to pick up and move to where jobs and training are, so he suggests the government help people move. But it’s not just about money — many people don’t want to upend their lives.

Bolster the Safety Net

There seems to be bipartisan support for expanding the earned-income tax credit, which rewards low-income people for working.

Much more fanciful, at least in the United States, is a universal basic income, in which the government gives everyone a guaranteed amount of money. But that idea is gaining with thinkers across the ideological spectrum. Critics say it would discourage people from working; proponents say it would free them to go back to school or to do work they’re passionate about.

“The key response must initially be to expand the earned-income tax credit and then ultimately have a universal basic income ensuring at least subsistence,” said Robert Reich, public policy professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who was labor secretary under President Clinton.

More realistically, the Obama administration proposed wage insurance to make up the difference for people who move to lower-paying jobs. For instance, machinists, in a shrinking occupation, earn a median hourly wage of $19.50, while home health care aides, in a growing occupation, earn $10.50.

Change the Way Work Is Done

Most people have skills to earn money, so why not make it easier to do so without an employer? Freelance and contract workers could get portable benefits. They wouldn’t have to be tied to a job to get health insurance, for example, (though the drama over health care makes the expansion of other benefits seem unlikely). Similar and more feasible ideas include easing regulations for companies to hire contract workers (which is happening more, though not necessarily to the benefit of workers), and building co-working spaces so that people get the camaraderie of an office.

Governments could also make it easier to start small businesses. Third Way proposes borrowing an idea from Silicon Valley and creating venture capital funds, seeded by the federal government, for states to invest in local entrepreneurs. “People in the rest of the country have good jobs-producing ideas, too,” said Jim Kessler, senior vice president for policy at Third Way.

There’s bipartisan support for a policy that would surely help: reducing licensing requirements for many kinds of work. Thirty percent of jobs in the United States require some sort of license, according to one estimate. Sometimes it’s for safety reasons, as with doctors or electricians. But in some places, hair shampooers, makeup artists and florists need licenses.

Machines may take so many jobs that there aren’t enough left for humans. That would suggest policies like cutting hours instead of employees. The United States has had a 40-hour workweek only since 1940. Why not shorten the workweek to three or four days, or institute job sharing, which has been successful in Germany? “That’s the realm of science fiction,” Mr. Cowen said. “It’s not an America we would recognize.”

The New York Times

In the Middle of a Career, and Finding a New One

Laura Callens, 52, at home in Rochester. After her husband died, she left a job as a school admissions director and chose to become a nurse. She will soon work in the same hospital unit that treated her husband.

After her husband, Eddy, died in 2011, Laura Callens found that her life was in limbo. Her work as a school admissions director wasn’t fulfilling. And she lived in Rochester, where companies like Eastman Kodak and Xerox have shed thousands of well-paying jobs.

But after quitting her job and spending time in Mexico, Ms. Callens had a career epiphany.

She heard about a nursing program and realized that she had honed relevant traits and skills like compassion and deep listening while caring for her husband, who had brain cancer. Though hesitant to become a student again, she applied to the nursing school at the University of Rochester, now one of the city’s biggest employers.

“My college degree was also in hospitality,” said Ms. Callens, 52. “And nursing is hospitality with sharp objects.”
Ms. Callens happily graduated last December and will soon be a neurological nurse. She will work in the Rochester hospital unit where her husband was treated.

Reinventing a career is always a nerve-racking journey. But for people who, like Ms. Callens, are in their 40s and 50s, making a change, especially in the Rust Belt, can be daunting. Assessing job opportunities, doing some smart skill-matching and getting technical training can help speed the process, experts said.

It is also worth noting that Rust Belt cities like Rochester and Cleveland are rapidly reinventing themselves as health care hubs, creating new kinds of work.

So sizing up the current job market is essential, said Jean Setzfand, senior vice president for programs at AARP. “Then look at the skill sets you’ve gained and do a matching game.”

After helping pilot a crumbling business in the Cleveland area for years, Toby Coss, 45, needed a change. He had spent 16 years working at a manufacturing company. Though he liked being a manager, declining profits meant that he was continually laying off workers, a process that was taking a psychological toll.

The low point came when he had to close a plant in Mississippi, discharging 170 employees.

“I didn’t want to do that ever again,” said Mr. Coss, a trained quality engineer. “It was disheartening.”

He knew that he didn’t want to move or return to being a quality engineer. But Mr. Coss did like running plants. Then he saw a Fastsigns franchise, which makes signs and graphics, for sale in 2014. That was a fit. “I had some familiarity with graphics,” he said, and his management experience would prove especially useful.

That is another key to successful reinvention, Ms. Setzfand said: leaning on hard-won skills.

“Start with a cleareyed analysis,” said Dorie Clark, author of “Reinventing You.” “Include what you’re good at, care about and can make money in.”

Trends can change fast and unpredictably when chasing hot careers, she added, so it is important to show that “you’re adaptable to the times.” Use every available resource — including social media like Twitter and LinkedIn — to signal your technology expertise to hiring managers.

This is not to underplay how valuable in-person connections are.

“One guy built a brand by starting a local meet-up,” she said. “If you’re that person in Gary, Ind., creating your own meet-up groups, you’ll get credit and respect.”

But digital skill gaps are creating lots of work opportunities, Ms. Setzfand said. According to IDC, a market research analyst, digital inefficiencies in the American workplace cause a 20 percent loss in worker productivity and cost the economy $1.3 trillion a year.

So free programs like TechHire, a federal initiative that helps retrain people for technology careers, are stepping into the skills gap. Big companies like Salesforce.com also offer online training though sites such as Trailhead.com.

“Even if you’re not in a smart hub,” Ms. Setzfand said, “every company has a need for technology employees.” One example, she said, is Quicken Loans in Detroit, which has a great appetite for coders and others with tech skills.

Take Philipp Blume, 44, who decided to reinvent himself as a web developer after he lost his job as a visiting professor of music at the University of Illinois in 2013. He signed up for a 19-week course at Dev Bootcamp.

“It was a great opportunity to make a career switch,” said Mr. Blume, who lives in Champaign, Ill., with his wife and son. “And music and algorithms aren’t that far apart.”

Switching to technology, he said, also gave him greater financial stability, higher pay and more job opportunities.
“When I was in music, a day’s work was never enough,” he said. “I needed to do more to stay ahead.” Now, he works 40 hours a week. “When I’m done with my workday, I can think about music again.”

Going back to school, Mr. Blume said, was the hardest part. He was older than the instructor and most students, which required some adjusting. Ms. Callens, who also took classes with younger students, had the same experience. “They all called me Mom,” she said.

Ms. Callens was challenged by learning to use technology like PowerPoint, rather than a paper notebook, and spending every spare moment on schoolwork. “There was no social life,” she said.

But she believes that she has a gift for comforting people at the end of their lives, a desired quality in her profession.

“I’m aligned now with my career,” she said. “And I feel complete. When I’m on the right path, obstacles disappear.”

(The New York Times)

EU Hits Highest Employment Level Ever Recorded

Logo of Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union

Brussels-In the third quarter of 2016, 232.5 million men and women were employed in the EU28, which is the highest level recorded ever, according to national accounts estimates published by Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union.

The statistics showed that 153.4 million were in the euro area, scoring the highest level since the fourth quarter of 2008.

In the second quarter of 2016, employment rose by 0.4% in the euro area and by 0.3% in the EU28.

The number of persons employed increased by 0.2% in both the euro area (EA19) and the EU28 in the third quarter of 2016 compared with the previous quarter.

The report showed that compared with the same quarter of the previous year, employment increased by 1.2% in the euro area and by 1.1% in the EU28 in the third quarter of 2016 (after +1.3% and +1.4% respectively in the second quarter of 2016).

Among Member States for which data are available, Portugal (+1.3%), Spain (+0.8%), Luxembourg (+0.7%) as well as Ireland, Cyprus and Slovakia (all +0.6%) recorded the highest increases in the third quarter of 2016 compared with the previous quarter.

In contrast, the highest decreases in employment were observed in Latvia (-1.5%), Estonia (-1.0%) and Bulgaria (-0.7%).

Saudi Arabia Labor Ministry: We Receive an Annual 1.5 Mln Expatriate Employees

Saudi Arabia Labor Ministry: We Receive an Annual 1.5 Mln Expatriate Employees

Riyadh- Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Labor and Social Development official revealed that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia receives approximately million and a half in foreign labor workers annually.

The official highlighted that the Saudi market does not suffer from unemployment; alternatively it struggles with the offered employment posts and the competitive feature of employment featuring local employment vs. foreign employment.

Saudi Deputy Labor and Social Development Minister Ahmed Al-Humaidan told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that the Ministry implements standards targeted at lowering the Kingdom’s unemployment rates, among which is stepping up competition between foreign and national employees.

He added that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia experiences an evident issue with employment hierarchy and proportionality of posts. Higher posts are found to be over dominated by expatriates.

A new (Mawzoon) Nitaqat system, which comes into effect on Dec. 11, 2016, will put an end to the dominance of expatriate workers in critical jobs and bring down the unemployment rate, said Deputy Labor and Social Development Minister Ahmed Al-Humaidan.

The new system is anticipated to eventually balance the labor market.

Addressing a press conference, Al-Humaidan said that the revised system will also improve the job market situation, raise the quality of employment, generate suitable jobs for Saudi men and women, create a secured and an inviting working environment and end unproductive Saudization.

The new Saudization system comes in line with the Kingdom’s reform Vision “2030”. It will realize the objectives of the National Transformation Program.

Al- Humaidan also highlighted that the initiative and procedures put in effect will increase the demand on Saudi labor, in addition to protecting its presence in the labor market.

The ministry had recently introduced Mawzoon as part of its efforts to encourage private firms to employ more Saudis and bring about reform in the job market, keeping in line with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030.

Twitter Doles out Stock, Cash Bonuses up to $200,000 to Retain Talent

The Twitter logo is shown at its corporate headquarters  in San Francisco, California April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith
The Twitter logo is shown at its corporate headquarters in San Francisco, California April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

Twitter Inc has decided to win their employees over by granting varying amounts of restricted stock depending on when the employees started working, in order to make up for the value they lost since joining the company, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

In a pressing move intended to reign in talent flight for another six months to a year, the company is offering compensation packages in addition to cash bonuses to some employees ranging from $50,000 to $200,000, the Journal reported on Wednesday.

“Competitive compensation, strong leadership, and a confidence in the direction of the company are all key elements to having top talent,” a Twitter spokeswoman said in an e-mail.

“We are investing in all three areas to ensure we maintain these employees.” she said, without giving further details.

Twitter has been struggling to keep talent at the company as stagnant growth and a dipping stock price have stirred concerns about the company’s future.

Four top executives left the company in January, the biggest leadership changes since co-founder Jack Dorsey returned as chief executive last year.

After returning to the company he founded, Dorsey said in October he is giving a third of his stock in the company, about 1 percent, to the employee equity pool.

Later that month, Dorsey spoke about “hiring and investing in talent” and the need for “bold rethinking.”

Tunisian Police Protest Over Pay in New Test for Government

Tunisia

Several thousand Tunisian police marched to the presidential palace on Monday to demand more pay in the latest challenge to Prime Minister Habib Essid’s government after a week of protests and riots over jobs.

Tunisia’s security forces are at the forefront of the country’s war with Islamist militants, who have attacked army checkpoints and patrols and launched major assaults on a tourist hotel a museum and the presidential guard last year.
Chanting “Wages still in the red” and “We defend the nation, we want our rights,” police in civilian clothes marched to the presidential palace in Carthage on the outskirts of the capital Tunis.

Job seekers also staged a fresh protest in the central town of Sidi Bouzid, cradle of the “Arab Spring” uprisings, and were dispersed by police using tear gas, witnesses said.

Unemployed youths were also holding a sit-in at a government building in the city of Kasserine, and a similar protests were held in the southern city of Gafsa and the northern town of Beja.

Tunisia’s government is facing increasing challenges including a split in the ruling party Nidaa Tounes, a stubborn Islamist militant insurgency, a weak economy and the explosion last week of social tensions over jobs and opportunities.

Thousands of young men took to the streets in Kasserine last week after an unemployed man committed suicide when he was refused a job. That sparked protest and riots across the country until the government declared a nationwide curfew.

The protests were the worst since the uprising that toppled autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali five years ago and underscored how vulnerable the North African country remains to social unrest.

“We are looking to improve our situation like other sectors, especially as we are the frontline in defending the country,” Chokri Hamada, a police union spokesman at the protest in Tunis told Reuters. “We don’t have any trust in the government after all their promises.”

Presidential guards blocked the road near the palace where around 3,000 police gathered in peaceful protest.
The government is already under pressure from international lenders to cut public spending and trim its budget deficit as part of economic reforms meant to bolster growth and jobs.

France, Tunisia’s former colonial ruler, last week pledged 1 billion euros over five years to help Tunisia deal with its transition to democracy.

Lebanese economy minister proposes measures to regulate employment of Syrians

People walk past empty restaurants in downtown Beirut, Lebanon on November 20, 2012. (Reuters/Mohamed Azakir)
People walk past empty restaurants in downtown Beirut, Lebanon on November 20, 2012. (Reuters/Mohamed Azakir)

Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—Lebanese authorities are considering a number of measures to regulate the employment of Syrian refugees in Lebanon on Thursday, in an attempt to address the strain caused by more than 1 million Syrians currently in Lebanon on the country’s economy.

Announcing the measures, economy minister Alain Hakim warned of an “economic and social catastrophe” that the presence of so many refugees in a country of just over 4 million people could cause. In May he said Lebanon’s unemployment rate had reached 20 percent, and that this was largely because of cheap Syrian labor.

On Wednesday, Hakim told Asharq Al-Awsat the proposed measures aimed to regulate the employment of Syrian refugees in all sectors in the Lebanese labor market by applying a quota system “to determine the number of Syrian workers allowed to be employed according to the needs of each sector.”

He said he would be presenting the proposals to the Council of Ministers on Thursday, and that he hoped they would be approved and put into effect within a matter of weeks.

The proposals call for the establishment of a legal framework for the employment of Syrian refugee workers in Lebanon, while also supporting those who fail to satisfy legal employment conditions. They also aim to reduce the hiring of low-paid workers and to effect strict measures and fines, to be overseen by the Finance Ministry, on those companies violating the country’s employment law.

This comes as tensions rise in Lebanon over the influx of refugees fleeing the conflict currently raging in neighboring Syria.

Prime Minister Tammam Salam said last month that Lebanon was struggling to deal with the strain on its economy caused by the influx of Syrian refugees. The latest figures by the UNHCR estimate that there are currently some 1.08 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, with projections suggesting that number could top 1.5 million by the end of the year.

The participation of Syrians in the Lebanese labor market has become an increasingly fraught issue as their numbers have increased. On Wednesday, labor minister Sejaan Qazzi told Bloomberg that Syrians coming into Lebanon were doing so to take advantage of the humanitarian aid and jobs available in the country, and should not be considered refugees. He claimed that 47 percent of what he estimated were 1.6 million Syrian refugees in the country were actually workers coming into the country to compete directly with their Lebanese counterparts.

But Hakim believed Lebanon could benefit from Syrian refugees, who could help address labor shortages. He said the country’s agricultural sector, for example, was currently suffering from a lack of workers, while at the same time Lebanon had a surplus in a number of fields such as medicine and engineering, “to the point that Lebanese graduates [from these fields] are unable to find jobs in either of these sectors.”

UfM Secretary-General: The View from the Mediterranean

Fathallah Sijilmassi. (Courtesy of the Union for the Mediterranean)

Fathallah Sijilmassi. (Courtesy of the Union for the Mediterranean)
Fathallah Sijilmassi. (Courtesy of the Union for the Mediterranean)
Tunis, Asharq Al-Awsat—Policy-makers from the Mediterranean region have been busy over the past few weeks, first attending a Paris conference on strengthening the role of women in society before heading to Tunis for the Mediterranean Economic Conference.

Amid that flurry of activity, Fathallah Sijilmassi, the secretary-general of the Union for the Mediterranean, which organized both the Paris and Tunis conferences, spoke with Asharq Al-Awsat about his vision for the organization at a time when many of its members are experiencing political and economic crises.

While the Union is not primarily focused on resolving domestic political issues, the events of the past few years—notably the Arab Spring and the European economic crises—have forced its members to reimagine the Union and its function.

In the Southern Mediterranean in particular, the Arab Spring created unprecedented instability in countries like Egypt, creating obstacles to the economic development projects the Union is focused on implementing. Originally from Morocco, Sijilmassi stressed the need to create flexible programs that promote both infrastructure and social development, which have been his key interests since he became the head of the organization in 2012.

Asharq Al-Awsat: Given how many conferences and forums focus on employment, what new things has the Tunisian conference offered?

Fathallah Sijilmassi: The Tunisian conference offered an opportunity to launch the Mediterranean Initiative for Jobs, which the Union of the Mediterranean is sponsoring in order to create employment opportunities for youth and women, to bridge the existing gap between supply and demand, and to promote a culture of initiative and private-sector development. The initiative focuses on three essential points. The first is addressing training, meaning supplying the necessary knowledge and skills to those joining the job market, preparing them to meet the needs of the job market in the Mediterranean region.

The second essential point is benefiting from successful initiatives and experiences in the employment sector and reproducing and applying them to countries that could benefit from the exchange of expertise and programs. Most importantly, the agencies associated with the job market will have to adapt to playing an intermediary role between institutions and companies on the one hand, and those looking for work on the other. It should be noted that many companies are unaware of the potential available in the employment sector, while those looking for employment are unaware of available opportunities and assistance agencies.

The third essential point addresses how to help innovative youths achieve their goals. We didn’t want to address the issue from a theoretical perspective alone, so we launched a project we named “Injaz al-Arab.” Though headquartered in Jordan, it will cover all of the Arab Mediterranean nations: there is Injaz Morocco and Injaz Algeria. Soraya Salti runs the program from Amman.

Injaz al-Arab is an NGO working to create a relationship between heads of companies and institutions and young people looking to start their projects after graduating from college. Master’s students will receive special, practical training allowing them to start their projects once they have finished their studies.

Q: What agencies will be funding this project?

Through the conference, we completed a contract between Injaz and an Egyptian investment fund in order to help fund the project and move it forward. We at the Union for the Mediterranean hope to share expertise and provide funding. Today, we have a number of projects that have made considerable progress with agencies in Jordan, Egypt and elsewhere. We want to take the opportunity to call on the youth in Arab Mediterranean nations to submit their projects. If the projects meet specific criteria, they may be selected and put under the banner of the Union for the Mediterranean, which will enable them to get the necessary funding.

Through these initiatives, we hope to make the Union an agency for development in the Mediterranean. Our goal is to track economic and social development in the various countries with a focus on regional cooperation, promulgating successful initiatives, and setting goals. Of course, our role is to facilitate shared initiatives.

Q: Does this conference represent a new philosophy for the Union for the Mediterranean after the goals of the first phase proved difficult to achieve, given the political difficulties and unrest the Arab world is facing? Have massive infrastructure projects been abandoned in favor of a focus on social and humanitarian aspects?

Correct. There is a new direction reflecting both a political desire and the need to be more pragmatic. In the face of the undeniable obstacles and huge political difficulties in the region, we only have two choices. Either we can throw our hands up and do nothing, or we can be determined to continue and accomplish something. We must be pragmatic. Forty-three members decided to continue with the work the Union for the Mediterranean was doing. We were able to hold a ministers’ conference in Paris a few days ago on strengthening the role of women in Mediterranean societies. Then we held a conference in Tunisia on employment, and we will hold a ministers’ conference in Brussels on November 14 regarding transportation issues. Before the end of the year, on December 11, we will also hold a ministers’ conference in Brussels on energy, where we hope to adopt the Mediterranean Solar Plan. All of these conferences are a political indication of the collective desire to maintain the framework of regional cooperation in the Mediterranean.

What is meant by the pragmatic approach? How is it being practically applied?

The pragmatic approach is focused on three basic tenets. First is the focus on social, economic and humanitarian growth in order to advance as far as possible for the future. Second, we depend on the principle of “dynamic geography” in executing our projects in that we work in specific regions—Morocco, the Balkans. . . This important principle means that we don’t have to get all 43 nations together every time we want to launch a project, but all of the work is still done in the framework of the Union. The third tenet is making the Union for the Mediterranean the collective base for all institutions that want to work in the Mediterranean region, a framework for establishing what we call ‘building Mediterranean consensus.’ The Union has responded to the reality of the times with this new approach, which we hope to maintain and adapt.

Q: Is there a consensus regarding this approach?

Of course. I want to say that these principles enjoy complete support from the 43 member nations because they, in my opinion, have realized a number of valuable projects and prepared other programs. I can say that in 2012 and 2013, it was necessary to work under this model and put things on track. And 2014 will see larger projects to enrich the Union’s contribution in two sectors. First, in the heavy infrastructure sector—airports, ports, maritime routes—we are working on a number of projects like the desalination plant in Gaza, Morocco’s highways, and solar power. These projects need three factors to be realized: political desire, technical expertise for execution, and appropriate funding. This sector the base that I want the Union to stand upon.

The second sector involves the humanitarian interests that we hope to develop, which give priority to women and youth in civil society and students. In this sector we have projects that cost less than the infrastructure projects, but which are more pressing, have a real impact, and require less time to implement. I want to add that in the framework of my current job, I hope to focus on the second sector, as I think that the region is particularly in need of this type of work. This can increase the value of the Union without forsaking the infrastructure sector.

Q: How can the Union avoid the difficulties stemming from all the unrest seen in the south and east of the region and the economic crises in Europe?

We are an organization that, by its nature, deals primarily with governments, whatever they are. We are also a base for connecting the private and public sectors and civil society and NGOs. We are reasonable about what we hope to accomplish. Naturally, we are aware of the current developments in the region, but we are active in sectors that are not in dispute where solutions can be agreed upon by all. When we launch initiatives for the youth, employment, and helping create projects, I don’t see who has an interest in opposing that. We strive to achieve results, and therefore work with everyone and welcome anyone who wants to add his brick to the building. I think that we can make progress and help lighten the burden of the problems that the region is suffering from.

Q: Can those associated with the Union for the Mediterranean be certain that it will continue its work?

I think that this is the situation. I don’t want to speak for the 43 member nations, but my personal impression is that the Union for the Mediterranean is an important player in regional cooperation in the Mediterranean. This is the role it was created for.

Q: Do you have the means to continue playing this role?

Our means aren’t limitless, but I can say that we have the means to enable us to continue this work. My goal for the end of 2015 is to have strengthened the Union politically and financially. The Union deserves it. It can be a powerful force for development and growth in the region.

Opinion: The Culture of Work and the Construction of Hope

The Riyadh skyline. Asharq Al-Awsat file photo.

I could not believe my eyes as I read a trending news item. I read it again and still could not believe what I was reading. The General Manager of the Express Mail Service (EMS) in Saudi Arabia Hamad Al-Bakr “reacted” emphatically to a post on Twitter that carried a simple but distressing question: “Do you accept the Saudi post services ruining a bride’s wedding day?” immediately followed by a “no”. The date of the wedding was on a Friday—the Saudi weekend—and that the wedding dress, meant to be delivered by EMS, hadn’t arrived. Mr. Al-Bakr responded to this by requesting the parcel code and finding out that the dress was sent from Jeddah on Tuesday, arrived in Riyadh on Thursday, but hadn’t yet arrived to Huraymala’a, the bride’s hometown. The general manager immediately ordered that the post office be opened and the parcel be retrieved. He then personally delivered the dress in his own private car to the family who received him with overwhelming joy.

Having heard of this noble deed, the highly experienced president of Saudi post Dr. Mohammed Saleh bin Taher Benten hastened to honor Hamad Al-Bakr in a public gathering.

The news item, in its entirety, seems to be an ideal one incorporating no mistakes or failures or bad news, but rather suspense, excitement, and a happy ending.

Thanks to his “wonderful and exceedingly rare behavior”—since he would not received such praise had he acted habitually—Hamad Al-Bakr revived the notions of optimism, commitment, and responsibility. He also encouraged attributes like enthusiasm and work outside of working hours and raised awareness about the value of work. It is also important to acknowledge Hamad Al-Bakr’s boss for bringing his unique behavior into view and honoring him elegantly.

In view of the Saudi government’s intensive campaign to nationalize jobs in the Kingdom, it is important to portray the positive achievements of Saudi employees rather than accusing them of negatively impacting and undermining the economy with their low productivity.

The tale of the wedding dress parcel provides many lessons to be learnt and wonderful attributes to adopt. It is important that this kind of act not be an “exception,” but rather a customary attitude and work style. In keeping with this, the EMS’s initiative to award employees doing an exceptional job should be adopted by all other public and private institutions to motivate employees and bring their accomplishments into view. This way, exceptional stories can gradually become “ordinary” and society will expect nothing less. This is how a work culture is established and how it can be maintained and respected by future generations with a sense of honesty and bravery.