Speeches & Transcripts

World Bank Group President Robert B. Zoellick Opening Remarks At Arab Voices and Views Conference

March 21, 2011

President Robert B. Zoellick. The World Bank Group.


MR. ZOELLICK: Well, thank you all very much for joining us this morning in what I hope will be a very fresh discussion about the historical events taking place throughout the Middle East and North Africa. I would like specifically to thank the panelists who have accepted the invitation to join us today here in Washington, but also from the region via videoconferencing on such short notice.

I also want to thank the distinguished guests from the academic and think tank communities that are joining us today, and I especially want to thank my colleagues from across the World Bank Group who organized this special and most timely event.

Last but perhaps most important, I want to welcome all those from the region and around the world who are watching and participating in this event online in a simultaneous English-Arabic virtual chat and discussion. I look forward to hearing their comments and questions being shared with the panelists during the discussions.

As we have witnessed over the past three months, people across the Middle East and North Africa have taken to the streets to demand and in some cases obtain change. It has been a striking moment, engendering its own momentum.

Many of the underlying grievances and triggers of these unprecedented events are economic and social in nature, though they've taken on a political form.

Lack of access to good jobs - lack of access to economic opportunity, lack of access to good governance, to transparent, accountable, accessible public policy institutions, and a lack of access to credible institutional channels where citizens' voices can be heard and counted.

While many of these issues are complex and will take time to be addressed, they are nevertheless, issues that will not go away just because one government fell or one leader replaced another.

Other regions of the world have gone through major transitions and have gained valuable experience on how to guide such a process. That experience must now be put at the disposal of those in the Middle East and North Africa striving to reshape their futures.

Over the past ten years or so, the World Bank Group's own work on the region has tried to tackle some of these issues. We've produced a number of flagship reports on governance, youth employment, gender inequality, quality of education, special disparities, and the non-competitive nature of the private sector in the region. But the record of action has been spotty. Like others, we also have much to learn.

In order to identify and explore these issues, we need first and foremost to open up a genuine and deep dialogue with and between the different voices in the region. We need the new dynamics of public choice. This could contribute to new social contracts.

This is the intention, and I think, the significance of this event we have today. This is not an event by, nor for, the World Bank - you may have noticed that we have no panelists from the World Bank participating - this is simply a first step at creating the right space for the start of the conversation among those from the region who are recognized for their innovative ideas and work.

We've invited different voices from youth groups, women's groups, think tanks, universities, journalism and public policy - from within the region and those who have devoted much of their lives to studying and working on it. We've asked them today to share ideas on two of the key issues facing the region as it moves forward:

One, how can social accountability be enhanced and how can the new technologies that have driven these events in the region be used to facilitate this advance; and two, how to promote equity of opportunity and access to decent jobs.

Let me also thank and welcome Riz Khan and Hisam Melhem for moderating the two panels.

With that, let me take my seat and we'll start the discussions.

Thank you very much.