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Executive’s roundtable initiative

A gathering of minds

by Thomas Schellen

When darkness and despair are the first two options on the menu for your country, followed by austerity and depression as the plat de jour proposals, nothing is more appropriate than to assemble a crowd of light seekers and path finders. In this sense, it is a testimony to the seriousness of the national economic, financial, and even political situation of Lebanon—and to the immense reservoir of smart and educated brains in the country—that proposals for this country’s betterment have been proliferating not only in form of thawra protests and public sentiments on the street, but also in more structured and tractable outpourings. The drafting of emergency economic rescue plans has become something of a national sport in Beirut intellectual and business circles as of late.

The Economic Roadmap 3.0 at the heart of this issue of Executive is one such effort. However, the Executive economic roadmap project differs from other recent proposals in that, compared to drafts that have entered into circulation in the past two months, the magazine’s project has had a head start of over 18 months from its first written draft, and of exactly one year from publication of its version 1.0 in the 2018 Facts and Forecasts issue.

It is also not a monoculture effort in the sense of representing just one economic school or narrow way of thinking found in many proposals circulated in the fourth quarter of 2019. This is a notable characteristic when one contemplates the current wave of ideologically front-loaded socioeconomic propositions in Lebanon and elsewhere, whether these approaches were voiced in a spirit of globally financialized neoliberalism (that in the past decade has been met with some acerbic assessments and not only among heterodox economists or austerity-regime critics in countries like Greece) or a post-Keynesianism that has been on the rise in some academic circles (and most recently reflected in the developments of labor-oriented political parties in countries like the UK and Germany).

A collaborative effort

But the most important distinction of the Executive Economic Roadmap in the Lebanese context is rooted in the fact that this entire project is designed for and driven by participatory passion and broad consultative collaboration. It is not an exercise that has been undertaken under any external financial dependency or in response to a political commissioning. Moreover, it has not limited its horizon politically or socioeconomically by exclusively pursuing inquiries with presumed elites and narrow
interest groups.

In that vein, when the need to draft version 3.0 became clear—version 2.0 was released in February this year following consultations across the country with civil society stakeholders on the original Economic Roadmap—given the monumental economic and societal shifts that we have witnessed in Lebanon in the final few months of 2019, Executive decided to host a series of roundtable discussions in mid-November. 

These discussions, which in the end comprised six roundtables held over November 18 – 21 at Le Gray, in Downtown Beirut, covered the following topics: corruption, entrepreneurship, education, labor, women’s empowerment, access to information, taxation, fiscal policy, and, arguably most importantly, Lebanon’s current financial reality. 

Executive’s team spent a stressful two weeks trying to turn this last minute roundtable initiative into a reality, contacting over 150 individuals across varied sectors and internally creating the topics and questions to be discussed at each roundtable. In the end, around 50 individuals—economists, academics from private and public institutions, entrepreneurs, and a diverse range of civil society actors—came together to discuss issues vital to the future of the Lebanese political economy. 

Starting points

These roundtable discussions were held under Chatham House rules—meaning that while the individuals present at each roundtable are listed as contributors to our Economic Roadmap 3.0, both the roadmap and our coverage in this issue of Executive refrain from attributing ideas or quotes to any individual persons. 

In conclusion of the November 2019 roundtables, it can be stated with confidence that, although a starting point for any possible journey toward economic rescue and revival from the present and still increasing misery has to be a competent and at least marginally accepted government, the way forward has its brightest outlook in holding recurrent discussions among stakeholders in the economy. Technical knowledge is required as a pillar in any such discussion—with taxation, fiscal, monetary, and political economy deliberations tending to the highest requirement of expertise—but based on the experience of the six Executive roundtables any future discussion rounds would actually be most productive if built on three pillars: the technical knowledge pillar and two equally important non-technical pillars, trust and commitment to Lebanon’s betterment being the first, and wide stakeholder diversity on many axes—meaning not just gender balance, but also age and professional and life experience—being the second. 

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Thomas Schellen

Thomas Schellen is Executive's editor-at-large. He has been reporting on Middle Eastern business and economy for over 20 years. Send mail

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