A prevalent culture of innovation within society can potentially lead to sustained economic growth, greater global competitiveness, enhanced employment and entrepreneurship opportunities, and a more inclusive society for youth. Information and communication technologies (ICT) have been repeatedly identified as a key driver for promoting innovation among youth and cultivating an innovative society as a whole, especially in times of global economic crisis when it promises to facilitate the recovery of national economies (UNDESA 2010, World Economic Forum 2010b). Some of the factors repeatedly referred to as barriers to unleashing the potential power of ICTs for creating a culture of innovation within the Arab region, include: access to and utilization of ICT tools; Internet censorship; creating the appropriate legal and regulatory ICT frameworks; and the lack of taught innovation and entrepreneurship skills in educational institutions.
This paper explores these factors and their implications for the creation of a culture of innovation and youth empowerment across the Arab region, with a focus on the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) specifically. Based on the findings of a series of a policy workshop and interviews with senior UAE and GCC policy makers, we conclude that to address existing barriers to fostering a culture of innovation, several policies should be developed. These include enhancing universal access to ICTs through upgrading infrastructure, supporting and promoting the digital Arabic content industry; reforming educational methods by facilitating the integration of ICT tools and innovation skills in the classroom; enhancing career options for youth by teaching entrepreneurial skills at an early stage; creating an enabling environment - through the enforcement of international standards and treaties on intellectual property rights (IPR) and online transactions; revising Internet censorship laws to better balance society’s cultural sensitivities and online flow of information, knowledge and technologies through better awareness and wider involvement of society; and developing frameworks for measurement and evaluation of innovation across the region to ensure sustainability.