Istanbul: World Economic Forum Meetings in Turkey, Council of 100 Meetings

By: Katherine Marshall

November 26, 2006

The World Economic Forum's annual Europe regional meeting was held in Istanbul for two days earlier this week. It was (as appears to be traditional for WEF regional meetings) heavily focused on Turkey, the host country, though ostensibly it covered all Europe. I was there because the Core Group (now renamed Executive Committee) of the WEF's Council of 100 Leaders on West Islamic Dialogue met as part of the meeting. But I was also part of a panel on education challenges for Turkey, and then did a lengthy, live CNN Turkey interview (with the meeting's co-chair Guler Sabaci) on issues for education.

There are no immediate operational issues for the Bank emerging from the discussions, beyond the significant and challenging role we play in engaging in the C100 process. However, I would stress that the WEF regional meetings are interesting fora and Bank participation would seem desirable and useful all around. IFC was represented by Oltmann Siemens, who highlighted also the significance he attaches to the WEF partnership.

This note highlights: (a) the education discussions; (b) some overall impressions from the WEF meeting; and (c) the C100 meetings.

(a) Education: was very much at the center of the discussion in Istanbul, primarily as it linked to Turkey and to its competitive position and links to possible EU membership. The central, priority importance of education was highlighted in many of the plenary sessions as well as the many panels during the meeting. Click here to see the full program. The basic message is that Turkey has impressive achievements but far to go.

I was involved in the session which addressed Turkey's education challenges specifically, which was something of an all-star lineup, including the education minister, academic and business leaders (agenda and participants below). There was, as a thread throughout the discussion, a strong sense of optimism but also a consensus on key issues facing Turkey and the urgency of addressing them. These issues, in turn, echoed in many respects the conclusions of the Bank sector analysis, which was cited several times.

The reason I was involved was that the panel initially was to entail a broader, global discussion with C100 focus, but I was kept on as the agenda turned towards Turkey, to represent both the World Bank perspective and to bring in the "values" perspective from the C100. I was well prepared by the impressive Bank sector study and by Maureen McLaughlin and focused on the team's consistent messages. I did note that the Bank documentation is rather silent on the perspectives of civic education and specifically Turkey's challenges in teaching ABOUT religion and multicultural societies; in an optimal world, Turkey has much to exchange both with Europe and other parts of the Islamic world, and there is interesting, even path-breaking work underway examining curricula in Turkey from the perspective of how other cultures and religions are portrayed.

(b) The WEF Regional Meeting. The meeting was a classic WEF meeting, with plenary sessions and numerous panels, as well, of course, as a raft of private and bilateral sessions. The participation of Young Global Leaders and hence focus on youth was marked. The Turkish government was highly visible throughout, with the Prime Minister leading and closing the meeting.

The meeting was organized around four "pillars" with the centerpiece clearly the issue of accession to the EU. Here, there was a strong current of optimism, at least public. Other "pillars" were Turkey's geopolitical role (and particularly for the Middle East), broader competitiveness issues, and bridging civilizations. The latter took many cues from the launch the week earlier in Istanbul of the UN Alliance of Civilizations report (which I plan to touch on in a separate note), whose co-sponsors were Turkey and Spain. It provided a link to the Council of 100, and the panel which focused on the topic involved several C100 members (Lord Carey, Rabbi David Rosen, Hany el Banna, John Esposito). As an underlying theme, Turkey's economic performance was referred to as "stunning" and the potential for future growth and progress enormous.

Of interest was the meeting's focus on gender issues, which was linked to competitiveness: the WEF's Global Gender Gap Report 2006 places Turkey in the 105th position out of 115 countries surveyed, coming after most emerging economies. Turkey's low gender gap position is reflected in its competitiveness ranking of 59th for 2006, compared to 71st for 2005. Women's empowerment was a strong theme in the panel on this topic.

There was a lively session on the geopolitical issues, involving First VP of Iran, Parviz Dawoodi, the Prime Minister of Egypt, Turkey's Foreign Minister Gul, and Qatar's Minister of Economy. The central focus was the Middle East situation, including Israel Palestine and Iraq, and a very strong and militant statement by the Iranian VP sparked concern and comment (he was strong in his blame of the US as a source of problems, and his lengthy speech and polemical tone prompted WEF Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab to intervene noting that he missed any element of dialogue in the intervention).

(c) The C100 discussions. The C100 had several private meetings (in addition to the public sessions highlighted above), under the leadership of the co-chairs, Lord Carey and Princess Lolwah, with Sherif El Diwany from the WEF coordinating. Those present in Istanbul were most of the 16 member "Executive Committee" of the C100 and the agenda was a broad review of ongoing and planned activities. Principal among these are the plans for an Annual Report on the state of West Islamic Dialogue, with work involving surveys and analysis. The first report is to be ready to launch at the 2008 Davos meeting. The Forum has invited the President of Georgetown University, Dr. DeGoia to be lead author. Also discussed was the program of the Education sub-group, which I head. There was agreement to move forward but parts of that agenda dovetail with the Annual Report work (for example mapping key areas in education systems related to dialogue and understanding) and the work will accordingly be coordinated in the future. The group also discussed the annual C100 award for work on West Islamic dialogue (which is presented at the Davos meeting), work organization, and other issues.

The Executive Group also met with the Prime Minister of Turkey, to explore possible areas of shared agendas, and one outcome is a likely meeting of the Executive Group in Istanbul in the spring. The group met with representatives of the diplomatic corps in Istanbul to explore their possible interest in education work and initiatives.

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Istanbul: World Economic Forum Meetings in Turkey, Council of 100 Meetings