Lebanon still has people, right? While this may sound like a dumb question, it was the only thing running through my mind after a 90 minute meeting with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri on February 23. We were talking about Lebanon’s economic opportunities, but the speaker had a singular focus: natural resources. He talked about oil. He talked about gas. He even talked about exporting water. What he ignored was our most valuable asset: human capital.
Female Lebanese, for example, are being underutilized as agents of economic growth. Empowering them would boost both productivity and GDP. We know Lebanese women are well educated, so we simply must ensure they are better represented in the workforce for the benefit of the entire country. We have proof that, despite all the obstacles they face today, women can and do succeed in the Lebanese workplace. We need to help more women join the workforce by both offering them more legal protections such as laws against sexual harassment, in particular, and creating more job opportunities in the country, in general.
We’re a nation of creative minds and entrepreneurial spirits. We should have a larger and more dynamic knowledge economy in which both our men and women can prosper. Instead, we have an $80 million fiber optic backbone for internet traffic sitting unused. Simply turning on what we already have can spur innovation, growth and job creation. And it can be done quicker than waiting for politicians to agree on exploiting what may or may not be buried beneath the seafloor.
More than oil, gas or convoluted schemes to sell water we don’t even capture in a large enough quantity to meet our own demand, Lebanon needs hope and more investments in its human capital — things not even our politicians can steal.
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared under the title “It’s the people, stupid”.