Arab Thought Foundation
Cultural leadership in turbulent time
During my participation in the World Summit on Innovation & Entrepreneurship in New York to speak on Cultural Leadership of The Arab Thought Foundation (ATF), I was struck by the thought that I was in a western city to speak on Cultural Leadership at a time when culture seemed to be the last priority in Arab countries.
Caught in this peculiar situation, ATF finds itself more than ever playing the role of a cultural leader in our complex and rapidly changing Arab societies.† The last two years have profoundly altered existing paradigms of thought†about the ability of Arab people to generate knowledge, creative thinking and other traits of cultural advancement.
However, to make such claim about ATF, we need to define what leadership and culture is. A consensus on a universal definition of leadership is: the ability of individuals to influence, motivate, and enable others to contribute toward the effectiveness and success of the organizations of which they are members. Generally speaking, culture is defined as shared motives, values, beliefs, identities, and interpretations or meanings of significant events that result from common experiences of members of a community and are transmitted across generations.† From the perspective of the two definitions, we can see the role that ATF plays in Cultural Leadership in which we take risks, catalyze change, solve problems, recognize and resolve critical issues facing our society while building and utilizing a diverse network of allies. Cultural Leadership is an investment in leadership development across the creative and cultural sectors, unleashing Arab creative potential and bringing about true social and cultural change.
Despite its relatively young age, ATF has succeeded to be a cultural leader in the Arab nations through various tools and programs. Here are some of them:
*- The Arab Creativity Award granted in seven different fields. It recognizes creative impulses in the Arab World and fosters competition among Arab innovators. ATF also actively works to empower Arab youth by encouraging their drive to innovate, as they work to preserve their traditional identity.
*- The Annual Arab Report on Cultural Development: It identifies the gaps and highlights the success stories and the alarming dangers in the Arab society. The controversial numbers in the report reflect the reality whether good or bad, creates a sort of competition and prods the Arab communities to rethink their strategies.
*- Educational projects and Translation programs from languages of distant countries (China, India, etc), transferring a new knowledge and experiences, sharing new experiences and practices, thus stimulating relationships and partnerships.
*- FIKR annual conference: This is one of ATF's most important platforms that enforce its cultural leadership role. FIKR means Ďthought' or Ďan idea' in the Arabic language. By sharing meaningful ideas, and bringing together varied groups of people from different background, we ask them questions, we inspire interests, we challenge and contribute to the generation of ideas.
ATF has increasingly been playing a prominent leadership role in promoting and introducing incentives to develop the right creative environment and system of innovation. Such an environment disseminates knowledge, stimulates interactive relationships that contribute to the advancement process, supports and expands people's capabilities to make them exponents of innovation. We must create an environment where collaboration is interwoven with culture, and a commitment to innovation is clearly communicated and measured.
How†do we create more meaningful experiences in the cultural field in a competing environment of attractive ideas, technologies and knowledge sources? It is hard to grab the attention of people towards a boring intellectual discussion. Therefore, it is important to be innovative in the communication methods and adopt new ways of delivering the messages to the targeted audience, engaging them in such a way that they become aware of the issues involved. Our main challenge as a cultural organization is how best to leverage all the available information - the audience's likes, tastes and connections to communicate and create a meaningful and innovative thought provoking environment and share our experiences every year. Being unique and sticking to our guidelines and deadlines is vital. At the same time, it is crucial for us to adapt ourselves to the ever developing environment and adopt the latest technology tools and new ways of communication.
As we move forward, our need to achieve satisfactory and meaningful experiences for our audience becomes more and more important. We believe our future does not lie in the fundamentals of new communication tools provided by technology - but rather on the experience and memories that interaction with people grants us.
Behind every successful initiative such as ATF is a vibrant culture that engages and energizes the community.††We believe that Social Leadership must be about capacity-building among organizations, communities, and individuals. Here at the Foundation, we've begun thinking about our own strategy and the role we will play in fostering innovation. Innovation is about changing realities for people, and must be considered in real contexts. Consider what concrete, practical steps you can take to enhance flexibility, redundancy, and resourcefulness in your own organizations or the ones you work with. †
Arab countries must make choices, have the vision and fortitude to guide the process of innovation and connect with the rest of the world. Innovation is more important than ever; it represents our best hope and only chance for prosperity. However as we move forward, ATF is not afraid to experiment, to make strategic bets, and to take chances. We have succeeded but we need to do more to move ahead.
For our communities to thrive in this competitive era there is an unprecedented need to harness the spirit of innovation and its vital role in moving the Arab nations forward.† As the wind of change blows hard on our region, the picture is not all that bleak. There are strong positive initiatives such as ATF that merit attention and raises hopes.
Shaping a culture is a formidable task, since many of the valuable qualities and meaningful ideas are never taught or posted online. They are the result of collective thinking, life experiences and exchange of ideas.
Deputy Secretary General
Arab Thought Foundation