January 26th, 2010
03:54 PM GMT
We were taken around for our television shoot today by a communications executive who works with a global public relations firm out of Riyadh. While awaiting clearance, he asked about my shuttle journalism between my London base and the Middle East, which this week will include Davos. That discussion led to analysis of “Davos Man” as depicted by historian Samuel Huntington.
The premise is that about 2000 people belong to a global village and they gather at meetings such as the Global Competitiveness Forum in Riyadh where I am now. “Why Riyadh?” you may ask. It is a new destination for Davos Man because the government is spending about a half trillion dollars over the next five years to rebuild its economy. Chief Executives like those sort of numbers no doubt.
The problem according to Huntington is that it is difficult for new ideas to emerge because this club of people is sharing the same information. While it is partly true, the other side to that premise is that one gathers a lot of intelligence in the field.
A top tier Davos Man is Tony Blair, as a member of the World Economic Forum Foundation Board. The former British Prime Minister gave a thoughtful hour long speech here in Riyadh, especially impressive since he will be facing a tough grilling Friday before the Iraq enquiry Friday in London. He seemed pretty “zen-like” during our interview yesterday.
Since Blair is in the air a great deal, as Middle East envoy and business consultant to an array of companies and governments, he does have his finger on the global pulse. Blair talked about the seven lessons for developing countries eager to participate in the global economy.
At the forefront of this effort says Blair is that the attitude of mind has to be opened not closed. This is especially intriguing in Saudi Arabia. The ruler, King Abudullah, is introducing quite radical change in the country, but he continues to meet resistance from religious conservatives. They see globalization as a threat not an opportunity. Blair talked of bringing in new ideas. The government is doing so, but will they filter out beyond the major economic hubs of Riyadh and Jeddah? That is still to be determined.
Blair also noted that it is not a race. One needs to learn before they teach others how to open up. He points to the Singapore model of development where they adopted the best global practices. It did not happen overnight but over a three decade span. Singapore now has a great deal to share with others – although it only had a small population to turn around.
Blair spoke of the changing paradigm in the world, that the shift to the East is both economic and geo-political. On our program we often look at what I like to call The New Silk Route, the rebuilding of business ties between the Middle East and Asia. You can feel the rebuilding of that route in Riyadh, as the Kingdom looks to become a much more influential player as it uses its role as the number one oil exporter to diversify and open up.
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