A knowledge economy is the main driver for a modern and developed society. However, the concept goes beyond pure economics. Knowledge economy rests on the foundations of acknowledging the importance of education and supporting research for innovations. It encourages freedom of expression, interactions with global cultures and respect for pluralism.
A growing number of initiatives indicate that Lebanon is on a steady path towards embracing such principles. Notable initiatives include the launch of Beirut Digital District in 2012, BDL financial Circular 331 in 2013 and UK Tech Hub in 2015.
Other accelerator, incubator, mentoring and international funding programs are also emerging to encourage the start-up ecosystem, provide employment opportunities and ultimately reinforce Lebanon’s position as a technology hub in the MENA region.
Another important aspect in this context is that Lebanon has a well-educated base, most university students speak fluently Arabic, English and French, and Lebanese in general can relate to both oriental and western cultures. This makes Lebanon well positioned to adopt new technologies and facilitate the transfer of know-how.
From that angle, if we align the educational system with a modern vision of the future, and if the government extends its support to the technology industry through grants, subsidies and legislation, a sustainable ecosystem of technology companies can thrive on the national human capital and generate incremental value by serving international markets.
In fact, by embracing knowledge as the primary driver of economic growth, a flow of continuous developments is created in all aspects. These include stronger R&D, innovations, employment across industries, a more prosperous and wealthier society, and a better positioning of the country on the global market.
In a recent Government report “Lebanon Economic Vision, Aims for 2025”, knowledge economy is listed among five sectors that present the highest economic potential for the country, with the aspiration “to become a knowledge-driven digital nation, at the forefront of innovation, acting as a talent hub for technology, outsourcing, creative industries and education.” Beirut knowledge hub-park is listed in the report among priority projects in the infrastructure agenda.
In the short term, such initiatives arising from the highest authorities together with the deployment of fiber optics on a national scale, will facilitate access to new technologies, open new business opportunities and inspire optimism to achieve digital transformation in Lebanon.
Nevertheless, the advancement is not hassle-free, and considerable effort still needs to be made. One of the areas that require more endeavor is the education sector. Our students leave universities and professional institutes insufficiently prepared for the real needs of the labor market. Thus, after welcoming recruits, companies need to invest in their training to make them more efficient in the business world. Closer cooperation between universities and the private sector is necessary to fix this gap.
Moreover, the current discrepancies between laws in effect and their implementation pose an impediment to efficiency and growth. Practical use of laws on ownership, structures, and shares needs to evolve if we want to see the enterprise ecosystem flourish. Along this line, we should strengthen international collaborations. International recognition can only be achieved by identifying Lebanon as a trusted partner in terms of delivering high-quality, innovative solutions and efficient operations alongside international bodies.
Furthermore, R&D associated costs are still high relative to the quality of service, especially with regard to electricity, rent, internet, and communications. Such impediments may discourage entrepreneurs to venture in Lebanon and need to be addressed.
That said, the foundation of the knowledge economy has been laid. Capitalizing on technology and human talent for value creation will constitute a fundamental boost for both the Lebanese economy and overall society. At this stage, it is up to all stakeholders to support and drive emerging initiatives towards strengthening and embracing this foundation across the Lebanese society.
Hisham Itani is the Chairman and CEO of Resource Group, an investment group with a portfolio of diversified businesses that capitalize on technology and human talent for value creation. Itani’s focus on technology has had a constructive and tangible impact on government automation and citizen experience in Lebanon. His career path brings a fresh perspective to entrepreneurship. The portfolio of companies he has established is serving over 50 countries today in more than ten industries.