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Global Crisis Blog 

Is the Arab “Spring” Headed for a Fall?  Why Political Democracy Needs Money

By Shlomo Maital

  A lot of romantic ink has been spilled on the Arab Spring, the incredible outpouring of popular democracy in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Libya and elsewhere, that has toppled or will topple despots, led by idealistic non-violent young people using social networks.  Here in Israel, there are deep fears that this process will destabilize the whole Mideast and lead to consequences no-one can predict.  But in general, over the long run, the culture of democracy, if it takes root in Arab nations, will be a far more fertile seedbed for peace than despotism and dictators, who use Israel as a distraction for the ruinous way they run their economies, or Islamic fundamentalism, which substitutes religious fanaticism for modern technology and progress. 

   However, there is reason for concern that the Arab Spring may be headed for a fall.  Speaking on BBC, a young Egyptian woman who helped lead the Tahrir Square uprising said forcefully, we do not want American money or interference of any kind.  I’m afraid she reflects general thinking of these young revolutionaries.  They do not understand that in order for political democracy to survive, it will have to be supported by large amounts of foreign investment, to create dynamic growing economies with jobs for educated young people.  Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Libya, Yemen, these countries cannot even begin to fund the huge infrastructure investments that they need. The World Bank has promised some aid, but it is hugely inadequate.  The G8 leaders meeting in Deauville, France, make promises, but they are usually empty and hollow. 

     The best-case scenario is that the new Arab political democracy will be supported by savvy businesspersons, who will find ways to attract foreign investment.  In Egypt this is unlikely, because the oligarch businesspersons were in bed with Mubarak and have been discredited.  In Yemen it is possible – the main opposition to Yemen’s dictator is its wealthiest businessman.  In Libya, Gaddafi has stowed away billions, which could be used to rebuild the country, but will the Libyan reformers manage to get their hands on them? 

     Somehow, the West must find a way to tell the young Arab revolutionaries that it is time to come down from the clouds, to earth, and find practical ways to build new modern economies.  This will take enormous amounts of money. Where will it come from?

   And by the way – don’t count on the oil-soaked Saudis, Qataris, Bahreinis and other oil-rich nations.  They’re too busy buying English Premier League teams and building useless skyscrapers and artificial islands.   Why would the rich Arab nations even think of investing their huge resources into building new lives for the poorer Arab nations?     


Innovation Management

Are We Crippling Our Kids’ Creativity?  The Dilemma and a Solution

By Shlomo Maital

  Everybody knows the most creative nation in the world is the nation of five-year-olds.  Small children have not yet learned the ‘rules’, what is possible and real, and what is not. So in their world, everything is real, everything is possible. As a result, their imaginations run wild.  Then we send them to Grade One – and methodically we stamp out their imaginative powers. And we buy them games and toys and show them TV shows and movies where everything is incredibly real, in each detail, leaving no room for the imagination.

    Here is what one of my blog readers, Anne Marie, from Singapore, notes about her own childhood:

    I actually grew up in the Philippines, and growing up with just the basics, as a child I didn’t have the privilege to have so many toys and technology before in a third world country is not even starting. But I am glad I did (and not even spoiled by my parents with all these toys) – it is because, I could clearly recall that I was only given a ball, a stick and some elastic bands, and from these three I was able to create hundreds of games with my   playmates. I remember my childhood was so much fun. Now, I can see my nieces and nephews stuck in their computers, playing in a virtual world, but not an ounce of creativity at all! I sometimes shut their computers to test, and give them the basics… but how very minimum is the number of games that they can think of! But I am not giving up. A young mind is easier to train, so we will wait and see….

Thanks Anne Marie! There is a solution.  Purposefully choose your children’s toys and games and spare-time
activities, to foster imagination.  There are still many such games available.  If you wish, make your own toys, out of cardboard and paper and sticks.  Challenge them to create things, rather than prefer things that are already created.  And when your child comes home and says he or she solves an arithmetic problem in an unusual way, and got a big red X on it from a rigid teacher – tear a strip off the teacher and the teacher’s principal, and tell them about why you think children should be encouraged to be creative, rather than have their creativity doused by thoughtless in-the-box taskmasters.

    It is not inevitable that kids should lose their creativity in school.  This process can be stopped. But to do so it not easy.  Take up your responsibility as a parent, and spring into action, before it is too late. 

Innovation Blog

Rewarding Entrepreneurs Who Leave School:  Why “Stopping Out” Beats “Dropping Out”

By Shlomo Maital



 Goethe:  ..but doing is best of all

 College student:  Do you have a business idea that can change the world?  Want to get to work and tackle it?  But, wait, you have a pressing exam in Medieval Shoelaces 101 and then another in Philosophy of
Navel-Staring in Ming Dynasty China?   Oh well…you’ll have your degree in another two years of desperate boredom.

   But wait!  There is a solution.  Facebook investor Peter Thiel has a foundation that gives grants of $100,000 to innovators – provided they leave school!   Well, not exactly ‘leave school’ – that’s not a great idea.  But ‘stop out’,
leave temporarily, for two years, to build a business idea, rather than ‘drop out’, forever.    The story about Thiel
appears in Douglas  MacMillan’s ‘top story’ in Bloomberg Business Week, May 25 issue. 

Last fall, Princeton University sophomore Eden Full began to consider taking a break from school to turn her side project—a solar panel that rotates without using electricity—into a business.  In April, Full got all the motivation she needed when she was told she had won a $100,000 grant. The catch: She has to leave school for at least two years. “It’s time for me to go out and try things in the real world and make mistakes and learn from those mistakes,” says 19-year-old Full.  Full is one of two dozen young entrepreneurs named today to the 20 Under 20 Fellowship. 

Naturally, educators hate the idea.  Says Brian Rosenberg, President of Macalester College in Minnesota,  “Mr. Thiel’s program seems not unlike luring college athletes out of degree completion with the promise of a career
in the NFL or NBA.”     Ever heard of Lebron James, Mr. Rosenberg? 

   Among the grant recipients: 

  • Eden Full,   “who will use her grant money to move to SanFrancisco in August and speed up the process of patenting and licensing her solar panel technology. Years of tinkering in science had led her to come up with a contraption for increasing solar panel energy collection by up to 40 percent, partly by removing the electricity commonly used to rotate panels toward the sun.”
  • Gary Kurek, “a 19-year-old in Alberta, Canada, who was awarded a Thiel Foundation grant. “After
    graduating from high school last year, Kurek was offered a full engineeringscholarship at the University of Calgary. Instead, he decided to take a year off and build his business, a maker of motorized walkers for the elderly called GET Mobility Solutions.   Kurek plans to move to San Francisco in September and invest some of the $100,000 in testing and refining his walker product. Then he hopes to begin selling models to hospitals and assisted-care facilities.”

 I like to think of Thiel’s program not as ‘stopping out’ but enrolling in Innovation University, a school where you learn hands-on, by doing innovation, where the lessons are sometimes tough and bitter, the rewards huge, and the learning?  Well, which is a richer learning environment, a classroom, or the real world?  Which is better, thinking, memorizing, or doing?  As Goethe said:  Thinking is  better than knowing – but doing is best of all.

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital
May 2011
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