Professional Development (VIP Interview) Dr. Jamal Sanad Al-Suwaidi
- 2 April 2014
TBY talks to Dr. Jamal Sanad Al-Suwaidi, Director General of the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR), on improving educational methods, sustainable access to food and water, and opportunities in the energy sector.
THE BUSINESS YEAR How has the ECSSR evolved since its establishment?
JAMAL SANAD AL SUWAIDI: The ECSSR has undergone many changes since it was established in 1994; we have had 20 years to develop our organization. The most significant changes have occurred in our research department, largely through the development of the new processes we now employ. We began with a handful of people working here, and now we have almost 300 employees ranging from fresh graduates to experts in relevant fields. The ECSSR is very different to how it was when we started, especially in terms of our research methods. In the early years we expected everyone to be familiar with the methodologies; now, we are teaching them, offering three diploma programs for staff in our various departments. Everybody may undertake the diploma, whether they have a degree or not, so everybody has the opportunity for professional development.
One of the biggest issues facing education in the region is the emphasis on memorization and not critical thinking. How can education be improved?
That is a big question. The right programs need to be put in place today, and only after 20 years will they be successful. It is important that we start today because it will take those 20 years to realize generational change. That is the only way to improve education. The desired outcome of that education will not be achieved overnight; it will require time. Critical thinking is very difficult. Although we have teachers, they are very traditional in their methods. These teachers began in the 1950s, and so reflect traditions built over many years. We want to change this, but it is very difficult. Presently, critical thinking equates to about 30% of teaching. We understand it is very important, but it will grow over time not overnight.
What affect is ICT having on society?
Technology is crucial in many aspects of national life, particularly education and the military; it is changing the world. Social media is changing everything. We are not dependent on TVs, newspapers, or journals anymore. Through Facebook and Google+ everything has changed. Technology here needs to be improved and people need to be allowed to accept it. There is hope that people under the age of 40 can become technologically educated, but it is more of a challenge for those over 40.
Like many other countries, the UAE encourages nationals to enter the private and public workforce. What are the challenges of this policy?
It is a good concept, but you are limited because Emiratis make up just 16% of the population. Much of that 16% is needed in the military, the police, the municipalities, and the energy sector. It is a good idea, but it is limited because of the size of the Emirati population. The private sector can be improved by becoming more national; however, it is a very difficult concept to achieve. A private sector firm, whether it is an international or national company, has to answer this question. I think it is a very difficult process for the private sector to become more Emirati than international. The private sector is bound by certain profit expectations, and so how they employ Emiratis can be problematic.
Food and water security has become a growing issue in the region. How can the UAE ensure sustainable access to food and water?
Food and water security in the UAE is a huge problem. The food problem can be tackled internally. However, water is a regional problem, not just for the GCC but also for the Arab world as a whole. The water shortage is universal and we need a solution to the question of water security. You cannot rely on desalination forever. This is a huge challenge for the UAE, as it is for every Gulf country. The GCC member states must cooperate because they all share the same problem. We have to work on this together to ensure not only water security, but also the security of the region itself. We have to address it together because the issues of security and water supply are of paramount importance to all GCC countries.
What opportunities do you see in Abu Dhabi?
There are big opportunities for oil, gas, and alternative energy. The energy sector is very important for the world, not just for Abu Dhabi. The 2030 goal for economic diversification is vital in improving the quality of life for the people here. They are used to the oil boom. Most of the people living today have not experienced life before oil. They can’t go back, because it was a very difficult time. Energy alternatives are needed, and so far the UAE has contributed more to the development of alternative energy than many other countries. We can become a renewable energy hub through cooperation with the US, Germany, South Korea, China, and other countries, as energy is important not just for the UAE.
Each year Abu Dhabi hosts the International Defense Exhibition and Conference (IDEX). How important is this event on the international calendar?
It is becoming increasingly important because the fields of technology and the military are becoming more interconnected. If the military seeks to face change effectively, it must involve the technological factor; it can’t just bear arms. The technological factor is very important to the military and must be a focus area. Germany is working to change its constitution, which will give it the opportunity to export military equipment. Technology will change the market for weapons. It used to be just the US, Russia, and China—but now everybody can produce it.
What opportunities do you see from the Arab Spring?
The Muslim Brotherhood is creating a major disturbance because it is not up to the standard of change. It faces many problems because of what it is preaching—aims that are very difficult to achieve. The Brotherhood wants things to be the same as they were 1,000 years ago—they can’t be. People are changing, and I think it is very important to pay attention to this generation. Indeed, people are changing globally, and you have to pay attention to the people. What you learn is modernity. People want change. Whether the change is actually happening is another question, because I think the Muslim Brotherhood is counterproductive. In the Arab world, it is a contest between political Islam and the military. But still, the people want change; even if they remain silent about what has happened. They gave into political Islam because they had no alternative. But this revolution is not limited to the Middle East. It will happen worldwide because this generation wants change and they want it now. I think that change is coming.
What opportunities do you see in the UAE?
There are future opportunities in industrial and technological production, as well as in energy and trade. If the UAE wants to become an ICT hub, it must produce technology. You can’t just consume a product, it’s important to produce it and export it too. That will make Abu Dhabi a future hub for technology. It is very important to us.
This interview was published in 'The Business Year: Abu Dhabu 2014'.