World Links Arab RegionMaximizing the potential of Arab youth [Archives:2004/778/Culture]

October 4 2004

Interviewed by Fahmia AL-Fotih
For the Yemen Times

With the majority of its population under the age of 20, the Arab Region stands at a crossroads. Proper investment in education, knowledge, technology and the empowerment of all its citizens will lead to economic and human development in the region. Neglect will lead to unemployment, and social frustration. The Arab Human Development Report 2002, published by UNDP and the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development, made this all too clear. UNICEF's 2002 State of the Arab Child, reinforced these findings. World Links is a positive, proven and professional response to the challenges and opportunities facing youth in the Arab Region.
Ms. Sama Danyal, World Links Arab Region Program Coordinator, has been in Yemen and the Yemen Times has seized the chance to run the following interview.

Q: Can you give a brief account on the World Links Arab Region?
A: The vision for World Links Arab Region is to dramatically expand the reach and impact of the program, in order to reach millions of Arab youth. The goal is to improve education, enhance employment opportunities, and build a global understanding among Arab youth themselves and with non-Arab youth around the world. In turn, this will promote regional economic and social development.
The mission of World Links Arab Region is to improve educational outcomes, economic opportunities and a global understanding for youth in developing Arab countries, through the use of technology and the Internet. World Links Arab Region connects youth in a global learning network, allowing them to share their knowledge, perspectives, hopes and dreams with their peers. Through this network, youth develop skills in technology, entrepreneurship and collaboration. Teachers learn to integrate technology into learning for improved educational results. These skills enable youth to participate successfully in the global knowledge-based economy when they leave school. The program is particularly beneficial for girls, who demonstrate improved academic results, school attendance and communication skills, along with increased confidence and self-esteem.
World Links began in 1997 as an initiative of Mr. James D. Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank. In 1999 World Links spun off from the World Bank as an independent non-profit organization based in Washington, DC. Since its inception, World Links has expanded to over thirty five developing countries in Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Africa, reaching hundreds of thousands of youth in thousands schools and community tele-centers. Approximately US$25 million has been mobilized in this effort, with another US$10 million raised in in-kind donations. Today World Links is recognized as one of the most innovative and successful global educational programs. World Links was voted by the World Economic Forum's membership as the #1 educational program bridging the global digital divide, through more than 75 programs.

Q: What has World Links Arab Region have achieved so far?
A: World Links Arab Region operates in the Arab Region as the Arab holding of World Links. From its initial hub in Jordan, World Links is already operating in 120 schools in Jordan, reaching over 100,000 students in five years. WLAR is also currently launching a nation-wide pilot program in Lebanon and about to expand into Syria with a program that will cover about 80 schools and about 300 teachers, reaching about 50,000 students in over 5 years. With hopes of further expansion in the Arab Region, WLAR has picked up subcontracts to use its growing influence and developing partnerships in the Arab Region to benefit the lives of even more children. Working closely with ministries of education and strategic partners, these schools have received computer labs, Internet connectivity, and teacher training (in Arabic and English) better preparing students for the global information economy.
World Links Arab Region has assembled an Advisory Council of the highest caliber. The Advisory Council is composed of Queen Rania of Jordan (President the Jordan River Foundation), the First Lady of Syria, Asma Assad (President of FIRDOS, a Syrian NGO), Bahia Hariri (Member of Parliament, Chair of the Education Committee and Director of the Hariri Foundation), Lubna Olayan (CEO of Olayan Financing Company) and Elaine Wolfensohn (international education advocate and spouse of the President of the World Bank). The Advisory Council will guide and facilitate the work of the World Links Arab Region. It will meet annually, and oversee fundraising events. It will also serve as an additional contact point for interested government agencies and/or prominent private sector individuals who might wish to support World Links.

Q: What are World Links Arab Region's future plans?
A: World Links Arab Region will serve the needs of Arab youth, teachers and ministries. This office is staffed by Arab nationals, experts in educational technology and entrepreneurship training. World Links Arab Region will offer educational technology services in English, Arabic and French, and be a critical “knowledge bridge” for Arab youth to the rest of the world.
All funds raised from the Arab Region will stay in the Arab Region. One million students will have been empowered by the end of 2006. With $250,000 per country per year, World Links Arab Region can reach 120 schools, 500 teachers and 100,000 students over five years. With this reach, World Links Arab Region will set in motion a process by 2006 that will enrich the lives of 1 million students and by 2008, 2 million students.
World Links Arab Region will also mobilize funds generated by World Links at the global level. WLAR has raised over $1.6 million in less than one year with $100,000 from World Links donated in July 2003 as start up capital, $250,000 from each Pepsi, Hewlett Packard, and Arab Construction Company CCC. For the Yemen Hadhramout project, over $200,000 has been donated from SEDCO. Further, our esteemed Advisory Council members Mrs. Assad and Mrs. Hariri have each contributed $160,000 for programs in Syria and Lebanon with matching funds from FIRDOS, and $25,000 from the Wolfensohn Family Foundation. A good part of this funding can be expected on an annual basis. Strategic Partnerships with institutions and individuals can be developed at all times.

Q: Do you have any final words?
A: Arab youths deserve the same educational and economic opportunities as their peers around the world. Furthermore, improved learning, communication skills (Arabic, English and French), technological skills, access to the best global knowledge, and opportunities to express their own views and dreams, are critical to the successful economic and human development of the Arab region. World Links has proven its ability to deliver sustainable, high-impact results, and stands ready to assist Arab countries to succeed in the 21st century global knowledge-based economy. Individual and organizational leadership from the Arab region is required to turn this potential into reality.