Apr 15, 2011
My last post described a terrifying scenario that could result if we do not help to overcome job creation problems in the Middle East, specifically Saudi Arabia. If the unrest in Libya were to be replicated in Saudi Arabia, 10 million barrels a day of oil exports would be at risk – plus equally importantly, the world’s 3 million barrel buffer. Now I would like to propose three steps toward a solution.
1. Admit How Severe the Problem Is.
We need to be intellectually honest and develop a concrete plan in order to realize a long-term, sustainable solution. Rather than getting bogged down in the whole “we need to make the world democratic” debate, let’s find an important area for agreement – it is in our interest for Saudi Arabians to have good, sustainable jobs.
2. Create a New Marshall Plan to Enshrine Entrepreneurship in the Middle East.
Obama’s Summit of Entrepreneurship in Muslim countries was right on, but we need to do much more. Let’s make a major push to export to these nations one of our core competencies: innovation-based entrepreneurship. Imagine a Peace Corps for Entrepreneurship with real entrepreneurs, not government employees lacking entrepreneurial experience.
What would happen if we really got serious about training Saudi Arabian women in entrepreneurship? I bet that would get significant traction. Many times in our country, immigrants or people with “less prestige” (I hate writing that and I wish I could think of a better way to phrase it, but please forgive me for my indelicacy here) have had the strongest entrepreneurial tendencies and success. We would have to work closely with the Saudis and be mindful of cultural sensitivities, but we cannot stand back and do nothing.
Fostering entrepreneurship will not be easy and will take time and patience, but the only sustainable solution is job creation, and that is done by innovation-based entrepreneurship. If ever there was a time that the Saudis would be open to such a Marshall Plan of Talent and Knowledge Transfer, this is it.
3. Reduce Our Dependence on Foreign Oil.
Our dependence on foreign oil is at the root of this problem, so we must be much more serious about cutting our demand. President Obama set a goal this month to reduce our demand for foreign oil by one-third by 2020, a benchmark all Americans should support, regardless of their personal opinions of the president.
But Obama’s goal is not particularly hard to achieve. I don’t believe it is what we used to call a BHAG – a Big Hairy Audacious Goal. The achievements Denmark has made on alternative energy were made possible by setting a BHAG to eliminate dependence on foreign oil, motivating the entire country.
We have far more resources than Denmark to implement alternative energy, and an unrivaled capacity to learn from other countries’ examples. Once we get serious and admit how severe the problem is (see Step 1), we can set a BHAG and rally the strong bipartisan support necessary to carry out alternative energy plans, some of which already exist, waiting in the wings for support.
I have heard people tell me that these solutions are not possible, but I beg to differ. Young people can and have changed the world – see Tunisia and Egypt, for example. Everyone wants a better life, especially for their children, and young people now see their world on an international scale. I have spent a reasonable amount of time with young people in the Middle East – they are no different than their counterparts elsewhere in the world. They are intrigued with entrepreneurship but just don’t know how to get started. They need a supportive system to help them.
We helped Europe with a Marshall Plan of money after World War II because it was in our own interests. Today, we need a Marshall Plan of knowledge and training for entrepreneurship in the Middle East because it is in our own interests. The stakes are as high today as they were in the 1940s. Our current direction is unacceptable.