The convergence of developmental strands – say the convergence of technology, business, medicine, and culture – is a tide that waits for no woman in Lebanon. The simple logic that demands of Lebanese to prepare for the future even in the midst of an epochal disaster is that the race to the future is progressing globally even as the world’s attention in the summer of 2021 has been preoccupied with downside trends such as terrorism, aggressive political fundamentalism, and war risk.
Education and entrepreneurship are perennially and rightly touted as Lebanese predilections. Actually, humans of any culture appear predisposed to seek knowledge and pursue enterprise with different degrees of intensity that are determined both individually and on the level of group and civilization. Work is a universal human need, and more so than ever in the age of digitization, automation, artificial intelligence, and the internet of things.
Convergences of global importance will also not be deterred by climate risk and other “green swans,” or predictable global calamities where only the day and magnitude of the next catastrophe are uncertain. One convergence of great interest for Lebanon’s future is the changing and intensifying interconnectedness of education, entrepreneurship, and human work.
Considering what we humans know and aspire to today, the future of work and entrepreneurship and education from the 2021 vantage point looks like one that will include convergences of digital, virtual, social, and human creativity components. If enlightened and responsible capitalism proves to be a sustainable trend that continues similarly to the trend that has led from the industrial to the knowledge economies, humanity will see further reductions of the barriers between work and play, entrepreneurship and economically meaningful education, purpose of the whole and individual interest.
Among the helpful outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic and the unending chain of coronavirus scares that have traveled the world in the past 19 months (and counting) was to alert the world to the imbalances between overpaid extractive financial work done by the top crop of credentialed graduates on one hand and frontline service jobs and humanitarian work on the other.
In slightly simpler terms, the importance of jobs from driving buses to supporting the infirm and sweeping the streets, and the dignity and worth of the people who do them, has been illuminated and highlighted relative to the importance of those who juggle numbers and ratios, words and phrases, or cast memes by any other art.
Reconsiderations under a digital filter
Education and labor training in the emergent digital age appear to be closer aligned than in many ages, perhaps as integrated as in the times when parents were the main conveyor of simple trades like hunting, farming, carpentry, building, etc., to their offspring, usually in the socially prescribed form of father-son transmission of skills, experiences, and rituals.
While this simple mold has been unsuited for the complexity of lives from the early industrial ages onward, the question if we work to live or live to work has been a false dichotomy of industrial and post-industrial economies. The contradiction was imposed on man because of badly judged and wrongly assessed externalities and oppressive behaviors, including (usually male) human managerial behaviors and exploitative attitudes of the industrial capitalist ages. In the digital age, neither externalities nor oppressive behaviors can by any rational expectation be erased from the human race, but they might diminish.
But with all convergence of entrepreneurship and productive education in a context of meaningful work, there always will be the necessity to develop higher balances. On one side of the scale of education, good impulses of playful learning and universality of knowledge today fulfill an age-old dream of empowering people to seek a life of opportunities through better education. On the other side of the scale, challenges pile up: knowledge is not the key for a good life and mature behavior.
Commodification of knowledge raises the question if there is too much of it, if a whole society can be impaired by too much information (TMI) and knowledge over-accumulation, more detrimental than obesity from habitual overeating. Education plays a huge role in the observation that societies have over the past 50 years become increasingly trapped in dichotomies of winners and losers where over-dependence on the ideology and rhetoric of rising has paved the road to the tyranny of merit, American thinker Michael Sandel tells us.
Scratching the surface of great ambitions
All this goes beyond the scope of a simple magazine, print or online. It is a no-brainer that Executive can only scratch at the links between entrepreneurship, education, work, and public goods in the Lebanese society at a moment when work is scarcer than ever, education is a luxury that gets unaffordable, and entrepreneurship is besieged by erosion of critical hard and soft infrastructures.
Not to mention public goods. Public goods have been eviscerated in corruption and self-interest from the level of the government minister and politician in power to the every-man hoarders or gasoline and medicines.
All troubles of Lebanon and inequities of our magazine notwithstanding, Executive has researched the relationship of entrepreneurship, education, and labor in this issue and found laudable initiatives. And for being highly commendable, it does not matter if all these initiatives in the adjacent fields of labor education and entrepreneurship will be successful (discussing the likelihood is moot), or created under the entrepreneurial dictate of trying to do something, anything productive at all, in the middle of the worst economic draught of history in order to be prepared for a better future.
Undertaking our – impeded by circumstances – research into these subjects of entrepreneurship and labor education, we have taken to heart the underlying thought which Jerome, the patron saint of translators, has penned in late antiquity and which just might be the definition of true resilience: facis de necessitate virtutem (you make a virtue of necessity). This meme can be expressed in many idioms. A German proverb calls it Aus der Not eine Tugend machen. Colloquial American might call it making lemonade when being handed lemons. For the online reality, one could describe it as looking for the meaning of friendship on Facebook, or using this generation’s widespread addiction to social media to make people receive a constructive moral message. It all is the same: turn something bad into something good.
This means Lebanon, for improving its preparedness for the dawning age of digital equity, ought to invest in unceasing efforts to rewrite the national relationship of entrepreneurship, technology, education, and work. Or, in an adaptation of Sandel, now is the right time to agree and act upon the insight that “to renew the dignity of wok, we must repair the social bonds the age of merit has undone.”
There is one final aspect to all possible futures that matters perhaps more than even the quality or the ease of education, the usefulness of what we learn for our work lives and careers, and the fact that learning is the opposite of credentialism: the question of character and heart.
In Lebanon today, this character question compels itself as proposition of total disgust with the system and its private and public institutions and entities. Can one invest herself or himself into a country that is perceived to be a total turn-off by its citizens of all ages, hedonic orientations, personal beliefs and organized faiths?
Education that is better integrated with entrepreneurship and work, has immense benefits. However, up to now neither the dissemination of more knowledge and labor education nor the successful pursuits of tech entrepreneurs have brought Lebanon inclusiveness and tolerance in such a self-perpetuating cycle where tolerance promotes inclusiveness and inclusiveness enhances tolerance. The country is yet plagued with juxtaposed and equally corruptible concepts of rule by ambiguous technocrats versus rule by self-proclaimed populists. As a sage of the knowledge age once said, we should set the center of our character not in a truth but in the heart.