More than five and a half years deep into the Syrian war, the development aid space is crowded: crowded with emergency relief agencies working to supply besieged communities with critical food supplies and healthcare; crowded with multinational donors working to catalyze economic and political change in the Middle East’s countries of first asylum.
In these countries—namely, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey— many development organizations and practitioners have shifted the focus away from immediate, emergency assistance. Instead, they are opting for initiatives designed to generate longer-term, sustainable solutions for refugees and host communities on everything from livelihoods to mental health.
Participants in the civic education program (photo: SEF)
Women comprise more than half of those displaced by the Syrian civil war, a conflict affecting more than 12 million people. As entire communities’ social services and educational structures have been upended and 3 million children forced to abandon their education, girls and young women have been disproportionately affected by the unrest. Those who would otherwise attend school, complete their educations, and pursue diverse careers are being forced into early marriages and motherhood, sexually exploited, and used as unskilled labor in dangerous working conditions in large urban centers like Amman, Beirut, and Istanbul.
There is a strong correlation between education and positive health and socioeconomic outcomes for women and girls, yet education is often one of the first things to be disrupted when conflicts break out. In areas where traditional educational models become unavailable or unfeasible, civic education courses that nurture cultures of peace, promote dialogue and non-violent conflict resolution, and build the cognitive and participatory skills of participants can help fill a critical gap.
Many say that we are in the midst of a Fourth Industrial Revolution, characterized by rapid and transformative technological advancement on a scale the world has never seen before. This Fourth Industrial Revolution has already radically and fundamentally altered the way we live, work, and interact with one another, and, unlike the ones that preceded it, is evolving at an exponential, rather than a linear, pace. Its possibilities are nearly endless.
And while previous industrial revolutions were slow to spread to certain areas of the world—thus engendering spheres of “industrialized” and “non-industrialized”—the technological nature of the Fourth Industrial Revolution has meant that the playing field has evened somewhat; industry in virtually every country has been disrupted, and transformation of entire systems of production, management, and governance is all but inevitable, if it hasn’t already started.
From cell phones to self-driving cars and artificial intelligence, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is shaking up what we know—or think we know—about almost everything. This presents an opportunity to recalibrate the lens through which we view and approach critical development issues, and provides a challenge to traditional mechanisms for delivering key goods and services.
Syrian Economic Forum students learning civic education in Syria.
Last Thursday marked five years since Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was ousted from power in what has come to be known as the Jasmine Revolution. A well-waged campaign of civil resistance, provoked by the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, ultimately led to the upending of Ben Ali’s autocracy and catalyzed a series of protests across the Middle East and North Africa.
Five years after the first Arab Spring uprising, we have the benefit of hindsight. We can pinpoint, with relative certainty, the various elements that contributed to the revolutions occurring when and where they did. Five years on, and we continue to grapple with both the inspiring and heartbreaking implications of revolutions in Syria, Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia. A critical element that drove the protests, often mentioned in the early days but since relegated to the margins of the conversation, is the youth populations of these countries.