Literacy has and will always be a key indicator of progress for nations around the world. It impacts the quality of labour, and therefore the quality of the economy and its resilience as well improving gender equality and industry, innovation, and infrastructure, all of which are Sustainable Development Goals agreed upon by global nations in the UN.
Quality education is not just about schools and formal education, nations strive to make education more accessible, entertaining, and sought after by youth and adults alike. We now live in a world where education is a constant requirement for professionals to stay competitive and keep their skills sharp for a fast-evolving job market too.
Efforts to increase the adoption of long-life learning as a lifestyle has been ongoing across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region, with efforts such as the Knowledge 4 All by United Nations Development Programme & Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Knowledge Foundation, focused on publishing reports on the status of the knowledge and readiness for the future by nations, as well as encouraging reading through competitions like the Arab Reading Challenge.
A key challenge we hear in our community is reading and learning can be hard to fit into a busy day with responsibilities, it can also feel like a chore. It is no secret that education and publishing still lag behind in technology adoption and maximisation in the region, however, this is exactly where the opportunity lies.
Physical books still represent 60 per cent of all publications sold globally, and while e-books have gained significant market share, it is the audiobook category that witnessed consistent growing quarter-on-quarter since 2012.
Today, there are more than 500 million audiobook consumers around the world according to Deloitte, which predicts that the global audiobooks market will be valued at $3.3 billion by the end of 2020 at its current annual growth rate of 25 per cent.
It, therefore, is no surprise that major publishers are investing heavily in increasing production. More than 60,300 new titles were produced in 2019, an 18 per cent increase from the previous year according to the Good e-Reader Global Audiobook Report 2019. This has already translated into an increase in ad-spend for mobile audio-platforms of 25.3 per cent last year according to iAB’s Annual Internet Advertising Revenue Report.
Dominating the space is Amazon and its subsidiary Audible, the latter captures 27.8 per cent of the global audiobook market, while the former has 16.73 per cent of the market. That’s almost 45 per cent of the global audiobook market controlled by one company.
The global audiobook platforms are still busy capturing and nurturing the market in their key territories, Arabic is not considered a key language, nor are many Asian and African languages, and there lies the opportunity.
EMERGING MARKETS OPPORTUNITY
While the market numbers are all focused and available for developed markets, the opportunity in emerging markets is massive. Here are a few reasons why:
Audiobooks are much lighter on internet bandwidth and usually do not require continuous streaming, therefore they are very compatible for low bandwidth communities.
Audiobooks provide a friendly reading experience for individuals with learning disabilities or deficiencies, allowing them to access knowledge without the limitations of literacy.
Audiobooks are digital products and can reach the most rural areas without being stifled by last-mile delivery limitations or by being exposed to vulnerable supply chains.
Audio content statistics show that consumption is higher in countries with longer commute hours like Egypt and the UAE; a blessing in disguise.
This verifies our mission and excites our team at Kitab Sawti. Archaic copyright & publishing laws are in favour of localisation and segmentation, which is an advantage to emerging markets. We have over the past few years developed, and now host the biggest library of Arabic audiobooks globally.
DOES MENA READ?
According to the Arab Reading Index in 2016, adults in Mena read 17 books a year, lower than their counterparts in emerging markets, but a significant number nonetheless.
While we do not have a recent index to compare, we may consider book fair footfall as an indicator: Riyadh’s International book fair attracted over 1 million visitors in December 2019, while Jeddah’s attracted over 400,000 visitors. Muscat hosted its last book fair just before the global lockdowns in March 2020 and attracted over 770,000 visitors.
Given the impact of the pandemic, it is unlikely that fairs of such a scale will be held in the near future, and so digital and audiobooks are ideally fitted for the “new normal”. The Mena region stands in good stead to take advantage of this with a 64 per cent mobile penetration rate and 57 per cent smartphone penetration rate.
If podcasts can be a precedent or parallel for audiobook consumption in Mena, the future is very bright. According to markettiers Mena 2019 survey, there are approximately 1.3 million regular podcast listeners in the UAE alone.
Online (and mobile) payment is now the last piece of the puzzle to be solved for frictionless conversion. That is a challenge the region has long struggled with but is today the key focus of the public and private sectors in light of recent events.
PANDEMIC, DISRUPTION, ADOPTION
As the world started shutting down due to Covid-19 it became evident that access to the internet is crucial for our survival both in connecting us while physically separated, helping us access information and keeping businesses running.
Online media consumption is up, and so is consumer confidence in digital products and payments. At Kitab Sawti, we have seen the impact of these changes in consumer behaviour first-hand. Our paid subscribers increased by 204 per cent between February and May 2020.
With the efforts of the governments to empower youth, reskill and upskill talent, and improve financial technology adoption, the question is not “will audiobooks grow in Mena”, but “when consumers come asking for it, will you be ready?”.
The mission’s journey to its launch date has arguably been at least as remarkable as the launch itself. With no previous domestic space exploration experience, planetary science capacity or suitable infrastructure, the nation managed to put together a delivery team of 100% local, Emirati staff with an average age of under 35. And setting a deadline of six years rather than ten, as most comparable missions do, it pulled the launch off on time and within budget – now proudly joining the small cadre of nations who have launched a mission to reach Mars.
But given these odds and the fact that Mars missions are notorious for their high failure rates (about 30% since the early 2000s), why did the UAE aim for the red planet in the first place? Space programmes have historically been used as catalysts for geopolitical influence. What’s more, we often think of them as costly endeavours of scientific curiosity, with few immediate and tangible benefits here on planet Earth. Does this reflect the UAE journey?
Space missions typically depart trying to answer scientific questions, before they ask how their value can extend to the society behind it. The Hope mission, however, has inverted this traditional logic. Instead, its conception arose from a quest to fundamentally redirect a nation’s trajectory.
The UAE’s mission has been timed to coincide Hope’s arrival into Martian orbit with the nation’s 50th anniversary as an independent country. Through its design and execution, the mission aims to diversify UAE’s economy from traditional activity, including oil and finance. Instead, it wants to inspire a young Arab generation towards scientific and entrepreneurial careers – and away from other, less societally beneficial pathways.
Hope will also study the Martian atmosphere and gather data to generate the first truly holistic model of the planet’s weather system. The analysis and insights generated will help us better understand the atmospheric composition and ongoing climate change of our neighbour planet.
Lessons for aspiring nations
What could other nations learn from this distinctive approach to space exploration? Can a space mission really transform a national economy? These are the questions at the heart of an external review of the Emirates Mars mission undertaken by a group of researchers at the Department for Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy at University College London.
Over the course of five months, we undertook a comprehensive evaluation of the impact and value generated by the mission less than five years after its inception. What we found was that there’s already evidence that the mission is having the intended impact. The country has massively boosted its science capacity with over 50 peer-reviewed contributions to international space science research. The forthcoming open sharing of Hope’s atmospheric data measurements is likely to amplify this contribution.
The nation has also generated significant additional value in logistics by creating new manufacturing capacities and know-how. There are already multiple businesses outside the realm of the space industry that have benefited from knowledge transfer. These are all typical impacts of a space mission.
But while that is where most studies of the value of space missions stop looking for impact, for the UAE this would miss a huge part of the picture. Ultimately, its Mars mission has generated transformative value in building capacity for a fundamentally different future national economy – one with a much stronger role for science and innovation.
Through a broad portfolio of programmes and initiatives, in just a few years the Hope mission has boosted the number of students enrolling in science degrees and helped create new graduate science degree pathways. It has also opened up new sources of funding for research and made science an attractive career.
One of the lessons is therefore that when embedded within a long-term, national strategic vision, space exploration can in the short term generate major benefits close to home. While space may appear to primarily be about missions for science, when designed in this way, they can be missions for national development.
Hope will reach Martian orbit in February 2021. Only then will its scientific mission truly take off. But its message of Hope has already been broadcast.
Space is rapidly becoming a new domain for Middle Eastern states to project their power and vie for leadership in the region. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a case in point, with a mission to Mars to be launched this week. A national countdown to July 15 is meant to excite Emiratis and Arabs in general, for it marks the first time an Arab state launches a mission into outer space.
The Emirati government has named its Mars Mission Hope Probe, coloring it with a pan-Arab sentiment. The mission invokes past Arab Islamic achievements in the sciences and incites Arabs to maintain that spirit. There is no shortage of nationalist fervor, either. The UAE has timed the completion of its mission before the 50th anniversary of the federation’s founding in December 2021. It has also tied it to its 100-year goal of establishing a human colony on Mars by 2117.
The UAE has been marketing this science-driven apolitical Arab narrative of hope, but its space policy is more than that. It aims to reinforce its newfound regional power status and align the Middle East’s geopolitical order to its advantage. It has also, by default, ushered in a regional space race, something relatively novel in the Middle East. The UAE’s ability to complete its Mars Mission, and how this factors into its activist foreign policy, will determine the degree to which the UAE transforms itself and the region in the process.
Though the Israeli space program is the oldest in the region, it has not been a priority for Israel. That is not the case with Dubai, which founded the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center in 2006. The center was expanded by the federal government in 2014 with the creation of the UAE Space Agency. Knowing that it does not have the expertise, the UAE partnered with three U.S. academic institutions to jointly design and build its mission to Mars. The Emiratis assembled a team to support their effort, with an average age of below 35, a third of whom are women, headed by a young female minister tasked with advancing science. These steps reflected the UAE’s branding of itself as a champion of youth and women, while marketing this enterprise as an international collaboration that included manufacturing in the United States and a launch from Japan.
Other than Israel, Iran has also been active regionally in space. Its international collaboration has not been as intense as the UAE’s. Yet Iran has been producing satellites since establishing the Iran Space Agency in 2004, making it the second space state in the region. It has also sent animals into space, and launched a military satellite last April. Tehran’s early collaboration with Russia and China paid off with its first locally built satellite in 2009, which it named Omid, or Hope, the same name the Emiratis chose for their Mars mission.
The UAE is not the first Arab state to show an interest in space. Saudi Arabia led a pan-Arab effort in 1976 to establish the satellite operator Arabsat. The Saudis also produced the first Arab astronaut, Prince Sultan bin Salman. His participation in a mission of the space shuttle Discovery in 1985 was to be followed by a Saudi space policy, but this was put on hold after the crash of the Challenger.
By venturing into this domain, the UAE wants to position itself in a field long occupied by regional adversaries such as Israel and Iran. Emirati thinking is focused on differentiating the UAE from others and advancing its own agenda despite challenges. The UAE has much to gain if its mission to Mars succeeds—a feat only accomplished by the United States, the former Soviet Union, India, and the European Space Agency. Space is the Emiratis’ next convenient card to raise their country’s standing. Doing this would allow the UAE to bolster its post-2011 rise as a middle power in a region whose traditional centers—Egypt, Iraq, and Syria—have waned. This would grant the UAE an increasing say on thorny regional issues, such as peace with Israel, a nuclear deal with Iran, the Yemen conflict, and the dispute within the Gulf Cooperation Council.
The UAE’s actions in space have not gone unnoticed in the region. Saudi Arabia and Turkey created space agencies days apart in December 2018. Egypt joined the club soon thereafter in August 2019. Not wanting to allow this moment of regional attention to space to go to waste, the UAE established the first pan-Arab Space Coordination Group in 2019. It brought together eleven Arab states whose first goal is to develop “813,” a satellite to monitor earth named after the year in which the famed Arab House of Knowledge reached its peak upon Al-Ma’mun’s ascension to the caliphate. However, paying homage to Arab history did not mean the UAE would avoid standing out. It left for itself the more high-profile feat of a Mars exploration mission, while leaving the less ambitious goal of building a satellite to the Arab conglomerate.
Arabs and their neighbors have historically set their sights on the sea and land for sustenance. Now, space offers a new arena for potential development, competition, and conflict. For the UAE, its ability to shape regional geopolitics to its advantage is filled with hazards, especially with its risky foreign interventions. If successful, its space program can offset some of these risks and provide a chance for a UAE-centric worldview to prevail in an ever-changing Middle East.More on:
I love Qatar tells us about how and why Qatar National Library (QNL) hosts discussion on illegal trafficking of manuscripts across MENA region.
Qatar National Library brought together experts from the Arab region to discuss the fight against the illegal trafficking and smuggling of manuscripts heritage items across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
Qatar National Library is the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) Preservation and Conservation Center (PAC) Regional Center for Arab countries in the Middle East, the opening speech at the event was given by Dr. Hamda Al-Sulaiti, Secretary General of the Qatari National Committee for Education, Culture and Science.
Director of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) Preservation and Conservation Center (PAC) Regional Center at Qatar National Library, Stephane Ipert, said “Documentary heritage is particularly at risk for trafficking, as its less likely to be protected by national legislation than other artefacts, and is easier to move illegally.
“For several years, trafficking and smuggling of heritage items from libraries and archives have been rising. In the MENA region in particular, this phenomenon is greater due to the number of nations suffering from conflict, upheaval and impoverishment.”
General Director of the National Library of Tunisia Dr. Rajaa Ben Salamah said “Libraries play such important roles in the preservation and restoration of documentary heritage and forgotten treasure. We can help by building a network and raising awareness of the pricelessness and cultural value of artifacts, and making them available to all through digitalization and publishing, as well as preserving the originals.”
General Director of the National Library of Tunisia, and Dr. Alsharqi Dahmali Member of the Advisory Council of the International Council of Museums in Morocco also participated in the event. The event was moderated by Maxim Nasra, Coordinator of IFLA PAC Regional Center at the Library.
As a PAC Regional Center, Qatar National Library aims to create a professional network of collaborative assistance to exchange knowledge and share successful experiences toward the preservation of documentary heritage throughout the region.
Arab women outnumber men in pursuing university degrees, but since it seems there is still a lot to do, this initiative is more than welcome. It is the New U.S.- Middle East Partnership Initiative in Lebanon that could help to redress the worldwide exclusion of women from participation in peace negotiations and related political processes in particular in the Levant region of the MENA.
To this end, a sizable grant from The U.S.- Middle East Partnership Initiative will cover a full semester for up to 900 students per an article of Zawya of July 8, 2020, elaborates on how Students to profit from new U.S.-Middle East partnership initiative tomorrow’s leaders’ program.
The U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) has awarded LAU MEPI-Tomorrow’s Leaders (LAU MEPI-TL) a grant of $10 million for a new Tomorrow’s Leaders Gender Scholars (TLS) Program to strengthen undergraduate student awareness, preparedness, and skills in gender education and activism. For the last 12 years, MEPI has been providing scholarships to promising students from across the MENA region to study at either the Lebanese American University or the American University of Beirut.
The grant aims to redress the worldwide exclusion of women from participation in peace negotiations and related political processes because of discriminatory laws, social stereotypes, institutional obstacles, and in particular, to promote inclusiveness at a time when women’s active involvement is pivotal during the current crises across the MENA region.
By supporting pedagogic interventions in higher education and endorsing the delivery of gender studies courses to increase the awareness of university students on gender disparities, MEPI’s objective is to build a culture of inclusiveness and foster an environment for women’s success in the workforce, leadership positions, and policymaking arenas.
This substantial grant covers up to two academic years starting in the Fall 2020 and it targets students who have demonstrated strong academic performance and a need for support towards their tuition fees.
Up to 900 students will benefit from full tuition for at least one semester provided they enroll in and complete a gender course, as well as engage in a relevant conference where they present their subject-related papers, and publish on their scholarly achievements in academic journals such as LAU’s own Arab Institute for Women’s flagship journal Al-Raida. To this end, the School of Arts and Sciences at LAU has designed a bespoke program, a Gender Series of courses, that consists of multidisciplinary sets of problems relating to national, regional and global issues around Gender and its manifestations in the social, economic, political and cultural lives.
The grant is extended to students from the School of Arts & Sciences, Adnan Kassar School of Business, the School of Engineering and the Alice Ramez Chagoury School of Nursing.
“We are proud of our affiliation with world-renowned academic institutions like LAU,” said US Ambassador Dorothy C. Shea. “You are recognized around the globe for the top-tier education you provide. That is a source of pride to the Lebanese people, and to us at the US Embassy. We are your partner, and we welcome this opportunity to strengthen our partnership and, fundamentally, to help Lebanese students.”
Thanking Ambassador Shea and the American people LAU President Joseph G. Jabbra said: “Your continued generosity and support of students in the Arab world gives them hope to attain their aspirations to improve their lives, and the lives of their loved ones and their community. The belief that education is the only answer to the ills that afflict society in Lebanon and the Arab world remains at the heart of our mission.”
The news comes at a crucial time as the university and the country wrestle with the growing needs of families in dire financial distress, as a result of the deepening economic crisis.
“At a time when Lebanon is undergoing such acute social and political change, coupled with economic distress and a pandemic to boot, it is heartening to receive such substantial support from MEPI to promote gender equity in the region,” said Vice President for Student Development and Enrollment Management Elise Salem. “The grant will make a big difference in raising awareness and instituting policy change to achieve gender equality, while encouraging female leadership amongst students.”
In its twelfth year, the LAU MEPI-TL Program in AY 2019-2020 welcomed 36 new scholars from seven different countries. Earlier this year, the program celebrated 13 TL students who presented capstone projects focused on pressing social, economic, and cultural issues in their home countries.
“Indeed, MEPI continues to give hope to the youth of Lebanon and the MENA region,” commented Director of International Services and MEPI-TL Program Director Dina Abdul Rahman. “I dare to say that the Tomorrow’s Leaders Program is ‘lifesaving!’ It transformed the lives of hundreds of underprivileged talented young women and men for over a decade and continues to open up new horizons for our youth into a world of opportunity, prosperity, and success.”
The grant falls within LAU’s drive to alleviate the financial burden placed on students and their parents by Lebanon’s economic crisis. To that end, the university last year implemented a set of measures which included a yearly financial aid budget in excess of $50 million, and the launch of the Emergency Financial Fund last October.
The COVID-19 pandemic will accelerate the rise of industrial automation and enable manufacturers in developed countries to compete with low-cost labour in the developing world. As such, developing countries must respond by developing local industrial capabilities with new technologies and skills that will allow them to become more integrated into world trade. As per the AMEinfo published on 3 July 2020, this interesting essay is worth reading, especially since it might affect the MENA region countries.
Developing countries could lose out as automation competes with low-cost labour
WTO: Future of global value chains depends on China’s industrial strategy and the global adoption of 4IR technologies
UNIDO: Developing countries must bolster local capabilities with new technologies and skills to become more integrated into global value chains
mPedigree: African SMEs enter global value chains as virtual technologies lower business costs
The COVID-19 pandemic will accelerate the rise of industrial automation and enable manufacturers in developed countries to compete with low-cost labour in the developing world; multinational corporations are already considering repatriating some manufacturing production as a result of the unprecedented disruption the pandemic has caused to global value chains; developing countries must respond by developing local industrial capabilities with new technologies and skills that will allow them to become more integrated into world trade.
Xiaozhun Yi, Deputy Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), highlighted that more than a third of the predicted decline in world trade brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic was caused by a rise in trade costs and temporary disruptions to transport and logistics.
He stressed that the future structure of global supply chains depends on whether the pandemic accelerates two key trends that have been underway for several years. These include China moving up the value chain due to its industrial strategies or rising labour costs, and the increasing adoption of labour-saving technologies in modern manufacturing. “We believe that this pandemic may accelerate the trend of production automation and we know that this trend may reduce some opportunities in low skilled manufacturing,” Yi said.
However, he added that governments of developing countries can still attract multinational companies by introducing measures to limit trade costs, such as lifting tariffs and minimising travel restrictions and border controls.
Cecilia Ugaz Estrada, Special Advisor, Directorate of Corporate Management and Operations, United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), agreed that automation erodes the comparative advantage that low-cost labour gives developing countries over developed countries and this could lead to production being brought closer to the headquarters of transnational corporations that are at the head of global value chains. In response to this shift, developing countries should accelerate efforts towards more regional integration, allowing them to expand markets and trade more with their neighbours, said Ugaz Estrada.
However, Bright Simons, Founder and President of Africa-based technology company mPedigree, said COVID-19 has affected regional trade in Africa as much as global trade and that in some cases regional trade is more impacted. He cited a number of barriers to expanding regional trade within the continent, including high transportation costs, which can make it more expensive to trade within Africa than to trade internationally. “It’s not that easy, even if you wanted to, to maintain a sourcing regime that involves cutting yourself off from global value chains,” he said.
Simons added that the capacity of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Africa to export had been constrained for many years by stringent standards requirements and supplier certification programmes in developed countries, particularly in Europe. However, he added that technologies are now emerging that can streamline these processes and reduce the cost for all businesses.
“What virtual capabilities now enable is to reduce the cost of skills importation, so we have had situations where certification bodies are now able to conduct end-to-end audits online,” he said. “That cuts costs by as much as 95% and this for the first time makes it possible for some SMEs to meet these demands and be able to export overseas.”
Under the theme – Glocalisation:Towards Sustainable and Inclusive Global Value Chains, the third edition of the internationally recognised Global Manufacturing and Industrialisation Summit will virtually, for the very first time, bring together high-profile thought-leaders and business pioneers from around the world to shape the future of manufacturing, discuss the impact of pandemics on global value chains, and highlight the role of fourth industrial revolution (4IR) technologies in restoring economic and social activities. At the top of the #GMIS2020 virtual edition agenda will be the topic of digital restoration – how 4IR technologies are helping to restore the global economy and overcome unprecedented challenges.
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