Al-Sabah Foundation VP Speaks on Projects in the Developing World - 13/10/2003
The Abdullah Al-Mubarak Al-Sabah Foundation last month organised a seminar on the topic " Economic Liberalisation and the Developing World " in Paris ahead of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Ministerial Conference in Cancun on September 11. The Vice President of the Foundation Sheik Abdullah Al-Mubarak Al-Sabah who delivered the introductory remarks at the seminar gave this exclusive interview to Ibrahim Seaga Shaw, publisher and Editor in Chief, Expo Times.
Interview by Ibrahim Seaga Shaw
EXPO TIMES : It's interesting to have your foundation organising such a big seminar in
SHEIKH AL-SABAH : First let me give you a brief run down of the origins of the foundation. The Abdullah Al-Mubarak Al-Sabah Foundation was established on the will of my late father Sheikh Abdullah Al-Mubarak Al-Sabah in 1992 with empahisis on social, education and health programmes within the arab world, islamic world and the developing world. We have had generally more than 105 programmes undertaken over the last ten years : community centres which include mosques, schools, social centres from the Maghreab to
EXPO TIMES : What about in the field of eduction ? Considering the fact that low literacy rates have been behind the slow pace of development in most developing countries, what concrete programmes have your foundation undertaken to promote education in general in this part of the world?
SHEIKH AL-SABAH : We 've been helping in this area in many ways : by giving scholarships to the youths in the Arab world and by sending some good students for further studies in Universities in America, Europe, Jordan, Egypt and elsewhere to have professional and technical degrees. We are laying particular emphasis on education because we believe in the investment in human capital. It is not only raw materials that should count in developing countries. There is also the need for developing countries to become more competitive and efficient in participating in the global economic system.
EXPO TIMES : Apart from
SHEIKH AL-SABAH : Yes of course. We do that in Egypt and other parts of Africa as well as in Jordan. We also build schools and educational centres. We also link up with centres of educational excellence. For example in the United Kingdom we undertake the sponsoring of social academic chairs and fellowships in key universities such as Oxford, School of Oriental and African Studies and Surrey University for Oil Studies. We try to promote more of research and education towards issues which touch on the lives of all regions. We've been doing this for the past ten years and we still have on going fellowships on islamic, research and development issues.
EXPO TIMES : What criteria do you consider in giving out these scholarships, fellowships and funds for specific projects. Do you have a committee with well defined structures taking care of this ?
SHEIKH AL-SABAH : Yes, we have a Board of Trustees ; and we have a structure looking at what projects deserve funding based on our criteria. We tend to try to spread ourselves geographically. We are not bound by region or by country. We are trying to do as much as we can, of course within our modest means (laughs). As you know we cannot do everything at the same time. With education, what we are also trying to do is building on cultural bondings. For example being part of the British-Kuwaiti Friendship Society, Dr. Souad Al-Sabah, my mother and chairman of the foundation, who is also a well known arab poet, writer in economics and female activist in the arab world, we provide funding for this society by sponsoring hosting of the annual book prize. We sponsor a book prize every year for the best book written on the Middle East to enhance more bridging between the two cultures. The book prize is mainly created to build foundations and , especially after September 11, it is important to show the Western world that the Arab world-the
EXPO TIMES : What type of book prizes do you offer ?
SHEIKH AL-SABAH : Prize is awarded to the best book published out of British publishers or from English language publishers from
EXPO TIMES : Is the publishing house a kind of profit making enterprise ? If so where do you put the money accruing from this venture ?
SHEIKH AL-SABAH : No the publishing house is not a profit making endeavour but tries to back the young arab writers and scholars in the arab world to produce more literature because there is less literature read in the arab world than any where in the world. That is too bad ; illiteracy rates are still high in the arab world. The Publishing house has four categories of book prizes per annum for the arts and sciences. The publishing house's activities also include holding ceremonies in gratitude of the efforts of very distinguished arab scholars. For example the famous poet Nazab Albani is one of our prize holders ; he died two years (may the peace of Allah be upon his soul). Other winners of prizes include activists and writers from Maghreab to
EXPO TIMES : What about the health sector ; the building of hospitals and providing essential drugs for people in need in developing countries.
SHEIKH AL-SABAH : Yes we are also actively involved in the health sector. In fact we are at the moment building a health clinic in Almahara in
EXPO TIMES : And do you also support projects such as conferences and seminars on health and development issues ?
SHEIKH AL-SABAH : I've now expanded the scope to cover issues of political, economic and social concerns to the
EXPO TIMES : So since that conference this is the second big meeting of this nature you have organised ?
SHEIKH AL-SABAH : No, we 've done many conferences and seminars of this nature, but much less so in the West, mainly in the Arab World…in
EXPO TIMES : Coming back to this seminar in
SHEIKH AL-SABAH : We are not organising a function perse on WTO. We are looking at economic liberalisation in the developing world. WTO is not the issue we are discussing perse although as a multi-lateral organisation, it is a means to an end. But because of the critical timing of the conference just before the Cancun Ministerial Summit; hence the WTO signifies. Economic liberalisation can be done in two or three different ways : Either unilateral, bi-lateral, regional trading agencies or multi-lateral endeavours. If you look at the regional trading organisations in the Maghreab, the EEC or the EU in
EXPO TIMES : So you think trade is important to help countries of the developing world solve their problems ?
SHEIKH AL-SABAH : Of course trade is important as it impinges on the lives of every one, especially those in the developing world. We believe that if one can discuss such a central issue as trade, one can relieve our populations, or at least attempt to discuss important matters like trade which can potentially, with the right framework, with the right consensus, lead to the alleviation of poverty, the increase of living standards in the developing world. So that is the aim of the foundation-through backing issues related to trade and creating a forum of discussion between policy makers, between academics, between journalists, between politicians and diplomats, who can together discuss and find solutions to the problems of the global economy. In this way, elements of distrust, either south-south or north-south, would be minimised, if not completely eliminated to make way for greater co-operation. We should stop putting all the blame on external factors to our problems start to take care of our backyards. You have countries like South Africa for instance where they dont have capital ristrictions but you have others in Africa which have capital ristrictions, which is not good for business because I cannot invest my money as I am not free to take it out afterwards. You can not say Africa, because Africa is not monolithic. Take the cases of Libya, Egypt and Tunisia in the Maghreab. Egypt is different from Libya because Libya has no foreign direct investment because of sanctions. But Tunisia is a very good example of an economically liberalised country which has its social values and at the same time has driven itself towards economic growth in a very sustainable manner, with a proficient work force, and also with an efficient economy.
EXPO TIMES : You think trade liberalisation is the only way out for developing countries ?
SHEIKH AL-SABAH : Pragmatic trade liberalisation because we cannot say about one side suits all policy because they are different from trade liberalisation. China for example remains a socialist country but embraces capitalist issues ; Japan is a developmental state, the country backs the big business through the bureaucracy, throught the ministries and also protects these businesses by restricting imports-hence Japan's big trade surplus in the 80s. One cannot look at Singapore's difference from Malaysia, which is an islamic country and also a country which is export-driven. So every country is unique…So our foundation is aimed at sponsoring and organising seminars and conferences to debate these issues central to the fight against poverty, illiteracy and economic stagnation.
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