On December 6, the Program on Arab Reform and Democracy at the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law together with the Safadi Foundation USA inaugurated the Safadi-Stanford Initiative for Policy Innovation (SSIPI) at a conference hosted by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC and supported by the Center for International Private Enterprise. This gathering convened an upwards of 100 guests to explore the conference's theme of economic reform and development in the Arab world.
The keynote addresses were delivered by IMF Head Christine Lagarde who commented on the economic landscape in the region and suggested methods to stimulate growth for emerging Arab economics, and Lebanese Finance Minister Mohammad Safadi who stressed the importance of institution building and transparent accountable governance practices for development in the region, particularly in relation to how Arab governments handle international aid.
Safadi Scholar of the Year Katarina Uherova Hasbani presented the findings of a research study she authored on electricity sector reform in Lebanon while in residence at CDDRL this fall. The SSIPI research partnership was initiated to promote policy-relevant research on Lebanon and supported Hasbani's visiting fellowship at Stanford. Hasbani, an energy policy expert, presented her findings to the policy- making community, arguing that reliable and stable electricity supplies are a pre-condition for economic development. Hasbani cautioned that the failing electricity sector in Lebanon threatens the country's progress diverting resources from social development and education.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Tamara Wittes and Mara Rudman, Assistant Administrator for the bureau for Middle East at USAID, both commented on the development challenges and opportunities that lie in the wake of the Arab Spring. "What is happening in the region is about the people writing their own story," said Wittes. "The United States has to approach this with a sense of humility but we have a role to play because we are a major presence in the region." Rudman added that USAID is reaching out to new audience and partners in Egypt, many of whom are outside Cairo, to engage new actors after the January 25 revolution.
Miriam Allam, an economist with the OECD and Safadi Scholar first runner-up stressed the importance of public consultation and good regulation as best practices for cultivating active and democratic citizenship. Undersecretary of State for Economic, Energy, and Agricultural Affairs Robert D. Hormats, underscored the fact that economic reform must match social and political change in the region to create diverse economies that support growth, investment, and trade.
Inger Anderson, Vice-President for MENA at the World Bank, commented on the funding shortages from European countries that are resulting in decreased investment in the Arab world, when they need it the most. Both Anderson and Lagarde advocated for the reform of government subsidies, according to Lagarde, "governments need sustainable fiscal policies, including better targeted subsidies to help low-income groups."
Lagarde added that a key way forward is encouraging private sector investment to spur job creation but stressed that this requires predictability, a stable legal and tax environment, absence of corruption, and the elimination of regulatory loopholes.
Through this conference and ongoing research, the Safadi-Stanford Initiative for Policy Innovation seeks to offer new approaches and recommendations to advance development and governance practices in the region.
Transcript and video of event:
Speech by IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde: