Syria, my country, and the cradle of some of the world’s oldest civilizations, has become a byword for despair to most people. The political stalemate, coupled with images of desperate human suffering, and the international community’s disunity and indecision, induces a sense of helplessness and hopelessness. Conflict aside, though, my compatriots’ courageous dream of change lives on. With all the rich history and contributions that Syria has made to humanity, I’ve always thought of it as an inspiring host for a meeting like the one taking place in Davos this week. My hopes are high that before too long I will be able to welcome participants in my country.
While a new beginning cannot be envisaged before local, regional, and international dynamics converge to bring about a resolution in Syria, there are several ways in which we can invest in the country’s future. As the Syrian case snowballed into one of the greatest human catastrophes in modern times, a group of Young Global Leaders came together to look at the projects needed to support Syria’s future. We focused on the three E’s: education, entrepreneurship, and enrichment.
The extreme circumstances that millions of Syrians have gone through mean many of the young generation are out of school. While conventional schooling is simply impossible for a displaced population, more unconventional ways are a viable option. That includes computer labs in refugee camps, access to educational content, online curriculum, and sourcing the crowd for teaching volunteers. Special modules on community-building, problem-solving, and leadership could be incorporated.
More conventionally, Syrian students could benefit from the experience and knowledge of a campus education abroad. This could be made possible through scholarship programs aimed at Syrian refugees. While a limited number of scholarships have been offered through NGOs and governments, visionary institutions of higher learning could turn this opportunity into a movement that enlists colleges and universities in North America, Europe, and Asia.
Syria’s mercantile community, of which I claim membership, is long known for its entrepreneurial acumen. However, entrepreneurs are moving out of their embattled motherland as the outlook for their businesses looks bleak. The longer the current situation drags on, the more dispersed Syria’s entrepreneurs become, and the more difficult it will be for Syria to recover the intellectual and financial capital of this community in the future.
It is crucial to preserve the entrepreneurial class, as a key ingredient to growth, job creation, and expanding both civic participation and economic opportunity. Integrating young Syrian entrepreneurs in the ecosystems of their host countries will allow them to become more independent, and to help the Syrian economy in the future. I’m part of a group that just launched an initiative to streamline these activities. Incubators, accelerators, and funds could work with entrepreneurship organizations in Syria to recruit Syrian entrepreneurs. Governments could ease the entry of entrepreneurs who have the potential to add value through their innovation, initiative, and collaboration.
Millions of Syrian children and adults still face the lasting harm of poverty, fear, and disease. The help they need goes beyond funding. The incredible amount of good will for Syria could be organized and channeled to bring more respect, dignity, and hope in their lives. Engaging refugees in community development projects and training activities will boost their ability to help themselves. Introducing cultural events, entertainment, and sports in the camps will bring a glimpse of long missing normality back into their lives. Listening to their personal stories will help them restore their individualism and with that their pride and sense of purpose. The needs are massive, and the ways to make a difference are endless. The magnitude of the challenge is intimidating, but we can rescue refugees from their isolation, one refugee at a time. To see what it is like to be a refugee, I encourage you to explore the powerful “Refugee Run” simulation that the World Economic Forum has made available
The flipside of the threat of a lost generation is a constituency of moderate, forward looking, open minded, highly qualified, and change-making Syrian leaders. They will find a common purpose in the values of democracy, transparency, and partnership. It’s through helping such a constituency emerge that we can break the impasse and effectively support Syrians in their march to achieve their dreams and their rights. Several individuals and organizations are already working on the areas above, and they will benefit immensely from the insight, wisdom, and resourcefulness of the Annual Meeting’s participants. The leaders congregating in Davos this year have a unique opportunity to unite for Syria and say no to the dangerous notions of hopelessness and helplessness. If not us, who?
Abdulsalam Haykal is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Haykal Media and a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader. Find out more about Syria-related events at Davos here.
Image: A Syrian refugee at the Al Zaatri refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed.