ICT is an important growth industry for many countries in the Middle East and North Africa. An educated multilingual workforce, rising demand for Arabic content, and increasingly globalized economies have generated dynamic ICT sectors around the Middle East and North Africa.
Recognizing the opportunities that exist for cooperation, the pooling of resources, and the sharing of best practices, an alliance was formed linking the preeminent ICT industry associations from the region’s key ICT producing countries. This alliance – the Arab ICT Organizatio, its Arabic name, IJMA3 (Al Mounazama Al Arabiya Lil Maaloumatiya wal Etisalat) also meaning “to calculate” – was formed during a regional ICT conference at the Dead Sea in Jordan in March 2004. Founding members include the ICT associations of: Morocco, Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, and Lebanon. Syria, Bahrain, Tunisia, Algeria, Iraq, Kuweit, Saudi Arabia and Sudan have subsequently joined the organization, bringing the total number of members to thirteen.
IJMA3 was formed with the belief and determination that it will accelerate the process of development in the Arab countries since it links the most prominent ICT associations of the region together. As a uniting platform of the Arabic ICT private sector, IJMA3, through establishing a clear vision of IT in the region, overcoming barriers, initiating projects and events, and providing coordination and cooperation between the different country members, will help the Arab world grab its endless ICT opportunities to improve development whether social, economic, political, or other in the very near future.
IJMA3 is a leader in harnessing ICT toward the broad-based development needs of local communities. ICT has a wide-ranging role to play in the development arena, and IJMA3 has been a leader at harnessing ICT toward results. Some of the areas in which we have been active are summarized below:
• Workforce development: Ensuring that the workforce in the MENA region has the requisite skills and job training to be able to take advantage of existing and emerging job opportunities in their home communities. Our work in this sector is not simply reactive to existing employment opportunities. Rather, we have been able to take a proactive approach, preparing job applicants, particularly youth and fresh graduates, for opportunities that have a likelihood of emerging in the future. An example of our work in this sector is the IJMA3 Rebuilding Economic Development (IRED) program currently active in Afghanistan.
• Educational services: One of the areas in which ICT can have the most dramatic impact is in upgrading the capacities of schools to undertake their educational missions. We have been very involved, in numerous locations around the region, in upgrading the ICT capacities of schools, both in the hardware available in the schools, and in the ICT skills of school teachers, administrators, and students. As such, we are preparing the next generation of ICT-entrepreneurs throughout the region, allowing ICT to become a universal operating platform, rather than simply a niche industry. An example of our work in this area is the Learning Enhances Awareness (LEA) project currently active in Lebanon.
• Business incubation: ICT has an important role to play in incubating small and medium size enterprises (SMEs), both in the ICT sector, and in other industries whose operations are facilitated by an ICT strategy. ICT is an important growth industry in many of the countries around the region, and growth is largely being driven by the SME sector. Often, the difference between a successful and a failed entrepreneurial venture is the availability of the correct support at the appropriate time in a company’s life-cycle. IJMA3 has been able to provide this boost in numerous arenas around the region. An example of our work in this area is the Platform project currently active in Lebanon, and the ICT Incubator currently proposed at a prominent Kabul, Afghanistan university.
• Professional training: Many of the countries in which we are active are in, or are emerging from, conflict situations. One of the most effective ways of ensuring that a population moves successfully out of a conflict environment is to maintain a forward-looking outlook, focused on the opportunity of the future rather than the problems of the past. Training for on-the-job skills is a key way of achieving this. Training gives communities a profitable way to spend their time, and allows for a focus on the future to rise out of an otherwise bleak landscape. However, training is not limited to post-conflict areas; all dynamic economies have a need for job skills training, as well as in other areas like language acquisition. IJMA3 has played a lead role in harnessing ICT toward training objectives around the region. An example of our work in this area is the Basra International Training Academy in Basra, Iraq.
• Community ICT centers: with the profusion of services and networks available via an ICT-enabled environment, IJMA3 has developed around the region a range of community centers with ICT applications at their core. These centers provide ICT-related services like network access, training, and business support services; but the also provide much more, providing a community access point around which communities can gather. Examples of our work in this area are the PIPOP and PICTA centers in Lebanon.
• Civil Society capacity building: Governance and civic participation in governance is a key development challenge, and ICT is uniquely well positioned to engage citizens in governance, and allow citizen voices to coalesce in effective units. IJMA3 has been active in harnessing ICT toward supporting community voices around the region, particularly in supporting capacity building efforts for NGOs. An example of our work in this area is the proposed support of governmental-service kiosks in Egypt.
• Harness ICT as development engine: ICT also plays an important role in supporting development projects beyond the specific ICT arena. ICT can support the objectives of projects in other sectors, including community development, administrative reform, and economic development. Projects in which we are involved in harnessing ICT toward the fulfillment of development objectives outside of our particular ICT mandate include the Helmand province agricultural services program in Afghanistan, the Connected Communities project in Lebanon, and the Localizing Institutional Capacity project in Sudan.
• Conflict Resolution: IJMA3’s innovative “Consensus Hunt” methodology has been employed successfully in numerous locations around the MENA region in assisting societies emerge from conflict situations. The Consensus Hunt methodology creates dialogue teams who cooperatively think through a series of actions related to a conflict situation. By navigating the process successfully, these teams learn team-building strategies, and are empowered to think through conflict situations in ways that can benefit their own lives and home communities. An online database allows the results of the activities to be broadcast beyond the participant communities. The methodology has been delivered in partnership with Roger Fisher, author of “Getting to Yes,” and has been administered or planned in Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, among others.
• ICT Camps: Camps, particularly summer camps for youth, are an effective way of exposing youth to ICT issues, giving youth an enjoyable diversion, and building linkages among youth gathered from different backgrounds and regions. IJMA3 has developed proven methodologies for organizing camps built around an ICT theme. During these camps, youth are given an opportunity to develop skills, gain practical ICT experience, receive certificates and accreditation, and have fun. An online alumni database helps youth remain in touch after the camp has finished.
• Association Building: IJMA3, in close consultation with its partner the World IT Services Alliance (WITSA) has developed tremendous experience in assisting sector associations become effective advocates for their communities. IJMA3 has a proven methodology in helping to train associations in advocacy, membership activities, and business development, and has also provided high-level strategic consulting services helping to improve association performance. To date, IJMA3 has been active building association capabilities, and starting associations from scratch, in Algeria, Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, Tunisia, Bahrain, Morocco, Iraq, Yemen, Sudan, and India, among others.