Egypt: How Does Foresight Make a Difference on the Ground?

BY Simone Karlstetter | January 23, 2019|Comments 0

When I last blogged in this space in November 2018, I wrote about our plans to use foresight dialogues as a vehicle to create images and narratives of alternative futures for Egypt in the year 2050.

One of the purposes of these “Alexandria Dialogues” is to use foresight to help us build integrated and innovative policy responses that are in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. We believe that foresight, which takes uncertainty, unpredictability, and interdependency as a given to explore alternative futures, is the best approach to identify emerging development opportunities and risks in the different scenarios that Egypt is facing.

Let’s take the rapid population growth in Egypt, for example. Population growth is still perceived as the most pressing development priority. It will determine the effectiveness of other priorities, e.g. poverty reduction. From what we perceived, many Egyptians have a certain “doom perspective” when it comes to population growth. If we flip the coin, we could turn this issue into an unexpected advantage in the new emerging development realities in Egypt. How? Through foresight. Foresight enables decision-makers and the population as a whole to take better informed decisions which help them navigate the future from tomorrow onwards and respond to the aspirations set forth by Member States in the 2030 Agenda.

The Alexandria Dialogues on foresight

We kicked off the Alexandria Dialogues, a series of foresight dialogues that aim to identify the outlines of new sustainable development opportunities to realize Egypt’s significant potential, with the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the major center of learning and understanding in Egypt.  For each dialogue, we invite between 20 to 30 distinguished thematic experts. Over the course of the dialogues, Egyptian thought leaders from the economic; scientific; technological; environmental; agricultural; academic and government sector come together. Each dialogue consists of two full working days, with an introduction to foresight, plenary discussions, and the core: foresight exercises in groups to imagine and build possible future scenarios and narratives. So far, we’ve carried out three out of six foresight dialogues. The topics include:  

An inclusive society in Egypt in 2050. This dialogue included access to the 21st century social and economic order; new concepts of social justice, welfare, equality, inclusiveness; job and the labour market; technological innovation; spatial development, in urban as well as rural areas; old cities, new cities; gaps/divisions between regions/governorates/Upper & Lower Egypt; mental dispositions and health; the nature of resilience; the changed relationship between local, national, regional and global; intergenerational justice and dialogue. In the scenarios we built, governance played a key role in the direction of change. Laws, regulations and policies would determine, to a high degree, whether demographic, technological, economic and environmental change will have a positive or negative impact in Egypt’s society in 2050 and whether that society will be inclusive or not.

An educated person in Egypt in 2050. This dialogue covered the nature, nuts and bolts of education; future educational infrastructure; social, economic and political participation; the citizen of the 21st century; technological innovation; state-citizen relationship; type of social contract; international labour market; and economic growth sectors. The transformative change for these scenarios would take place in the pedagogy, emphasizing learner-based and collective learning, bringing it more in line with the creative, innovative and problem-solving needs of the 21st century.

Sustainable life in Egypt in 2050. This dialogue covered the direct and indirect impact of climate change; the importance of water in all its dimensions; energy sources; resilience; consumption patterns; technological innovation; spatial development and urbanization; rural development; emerging population and health risks and opportunities; food production and security; etc.

Halftime lessons

Having applied foresight to three dialogues, and with three more to go, it is time to draw some “halftime” lessons from our observations thus far:

Youth participation is crucial – but how?

As we move forward with the dialogues, we realize that it’s imperative to include an equal share of youth voices. They are the owners of our future after all. Some of the questions that came up during the dialogues are: what is the best way to ensure that youth voices are heard? Could culture traditions hinder young participants from expressing their opinions when senior figures are in the same room?

We explored including voices of youth through video statements but these did not actively feed into the scenario building and narratives. To ensure that we hear what youth have to say, we have decided to hold one of the remaining three dialogues exclusively with young students, entrepreneurs, and professionals to capture what they consider sustainable development in 2050 will look like.

National capacity building

Foresight is an important tool to build future scenarios. To make sure that we continue to inject foresight into the work that we do, we’ve built a new cadre of foresight experts. We trained co-facilitators from the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in-person on how to conduct each foresight exercise, and how to watch out for the usual trial and errors of each exercise. They then applied their new skills during two of the dialogues so far.

Continuing the Dialogues…

Since this is the first foresight exercise in Egypt in about 20 years, we’ve received very positive feedback as different Government entities expressed an interest in our work and in foresight beyond our dialogues. We will continue to organize the remaining three dialogues in addition to a one-day conference that brings together all participants from the six events in June 2019.

Have you had any experiences with foresight and how it makes a difference on the ground? We would love to hear from you in the comments section.

 

Photo: Evan Kirby/Unsplash

Authors


Simone Karlstetter Simone is Coordination Specialist at the UN Resident Coordinator Office in Egypt. You can follow her on Linkedin.

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