Reflections: Day 2 World Government Summit



The second day had the same punch as the first day. I attended panels on Arab Public Administration, tech – (metaverse, space exploration, and mitigating crises), and gender (female empowerment, of course).


Lessons For Governments

1. Public Sector Skills are critical for Future Governments

2. Context and Reframing are critical for public value problems

3. Avoid over-estimating short-term effects and under-estimating long-term ones

4. Innovation needs to be harnessed for good by intent, design, collaboration, and transparency.

5. Education is key to the development of a country


Public Sector Skills

In the discussion on Arab Public Administration, HE Dr. Nasser Al Hatlan Al Qahtani, General Director of the Arab Organisation for Public Development, explained why he felt a skills gap existed in the public sector. First, we tended to adopt experiences from different contexts, like the west, when we needed to look nearer, such as neighboring countries or South Korea. Hence these solutions were bound to fail as these solutions neither took into consideration the context (resources, tech, data availability, culture, geopolitics) nor the local skills!


This point resonates with me as, for years, I have been working with students representing large organizations who were given consultancy strategic briefs that have been paid for (costing millions) but which were non-implementable. The UK had a similar issue, but even if they wanted to change, the public sector did not have the skills of looking at a broader scale or “thinking out of the box.”


The second reason for the skills gap is a mindset problem; as HE Al Qahtani said, - “Public sector employment is to serve the people and not your own interest .” This gap can be closed with strong #leadership, #training, #impact measurement, and asking the #beneficiary (long after the project completion) whether they were still satisfied with project deliverables (we do not do this often).


HE Ohood Al Roumi, Minister of State for Government development and Co-Chair WGS, highlighted that it was time for Arab Public Administration to shine and learn from each other. The role of the public sector is no longer confined to local or national geographies – so skills must reflect this. In addition, we need to redesign hiring, training, evaluation, and people need to have the right mindset (this seems to be a global problem as the public sector becomes too political, focussing on individual agendas rather than public value).


Global Challenges

At the global level, H.E. António Guterres, Secretary-General, United Nations, reminded us that we still needed to work together to achieve the SDGs. The message was clear - We need to work together to stop killing the planet, killing the people, and killing the opportunity.” The President of Seychelles, HE Wavel Ramkalawan, spoke about the country's challenges with climate change. Over 99% of the country is water, and they only have 98000 people scattered over 115 islands. The temperature spike in 1998 had killed many of the corals. With most of the population living by the coast and sinking islands – this problem is urgent. Wealthy countries had pledged $100 billion a year to help such countries adapt to climate change. This support has not happened, and the urgency is great as the pandemic shifted focus to health and the current crisis has shifted focus to energy and food. Of course, there are 17 SDGs we need to focus on achieving by 2030.


Another global challenge was gender equity and equality. HE Mari Pangestu, World Bank Managing Director of Development Policy and Partnerships, reminded us that gender equality is smart economics. According to a recent World Bank study, the gender dividend over the lifetime of a woman is 172 trillion. And yet women often lacked confidence! She reiterated that women suffered disproportionately during the pandemic, and with encouraging gender representation and equality, financing alone was not enough but needed to be bundled with capacity building.




HE Mari Pangestu highlighted the inequality in access to health, education, nutrition, and work for women. It was heartwarming to see Her Excellency Sheikha Lubna – the first female Minister of UAE, in conversation with the youngest female Minister of UAE. Sheikha Lubna was a champion, and I had the honor to call her my mentor!


Mr. Ferid Belhaj, World Bank VP Mena, recounted a story about why we should never take for granted all that we achieved in gender equality. He spoke of how Tunisia had adopted the code for equality (Code of Personal Status) in 1956. But in 2011-12, this was under threat. It was due to the strength of the women Tunisia held steadfastly.


Innovative Thinking and Technologies

On a positive note, the ability of the government to use innovations for the good of humankind needs to be noted. In the case of Seychelles, where they were limited by land and people, they turned their focus to #sustainability and #service. They innovatively protect a seagrass meadow bigger than Switzerland (which removes more carbon than trees). In carbon offsetting and net-zero, this also needs to be considered. Personally, I would love for carbon producers and large tech companies to sponsor bio-diversity! I think this also highlights a crucial point; countries cannot wait for help; we need to be creative, which means our human capital (local and the ones we can attract) is vital. Education is key to the development of a country! South Korea did just this in the span of one generation, as did Singapore and UAE!


H.E. Jeon Hae-cheol, Minister of Interior and Safety, South Korea, spoke about how they weathered the pandemic through a combination of open government (giving data and tech, accessible to the private sector), digital government, decentralized government, and being an inclusive government (private sector, local government, and people. But technology always raises red flags if the governance systems are not strong enough. Yesterday we heard the same from IBM, and it was a question I had on the focus on net neutrality and carbon. Parag Khanna reiterated that 90+% of money (research and investment) is going on climate mitigation; about 5% is going on adaptation needed for the resilience of cities - if we have ten years, there is something wrong with this dialogue. Only governments can put this conversation back on track.


Virtual Futures: Are we there yet? Should we be?


Metaverse as a concept was a discussion point. On one hand was the competitive side (who or which country and company will "win") and how much money would it make. But on the other side of the discussion was the unknown, the cautions and the reality of the situation.


Prof. Charlie Fink was clear – the metaverse is a hypothetical state – we are not there yet. For various reasons, interoperability, hardware, and software. He stressed that the metaverse (a concept explored in 1992) is device agnostic. Evo Heyning, Creative Executive Producer, Open Metaverse Interoperability Group, said that we need interoperability and programmability (open source technology like code, open commons (public partnerships, not private), and open spaces to have those dialogues. Though much research is being conducted - it is not in a shared open space.


Glen Weyl, Political Economist and Social Technologist, Microsoft, stressed that most business models operating on the virtual reality platforms (which metaverse is an extension of) are subscription-based or advertising-based. This fact means that the focus is on the needs of the companies operating these business models and not the individual needs of the people. Therefore, governments must be careful to decide the intent of such systems. Historically, the digital participation of virtual worlds is used for escapism, but if we manage it properly, it can be for us to learn empathy or for collaboration. Joel Dietz, Founder, and CEO, Metaverse, talked about the potential of governance through DAO or decentralized autonomous organization. But we are talking of the top 10% owning these technologies, so there is a worry that web 3.0 (the decentralized web), like its predecessors - Web 1 (the static web 1995-2011) and Web 2 (the social networking- user-generated content web, 2001-2022) will NEVER live up to its promises.


Education and Leveraging Human Capital

So should governments set up robust governance systems for this evolving concept? Yes, according to Will.i.Am, who worried about the lack of education for such systems. He spoke, for example, of the need for empathy which is not practiced in schools. He stressed that we undervalue arts… like music. Music is dynamic and goes everywhere, even where politicians cannot go. Music appreciates other cultures. He said that creativity is a currency – and the ability to express yourself, whether it is depression or business, is critical and the arts allow that. By the way, this is something the late Sir Ken Robinson, who I resonate with, was passionate about and I agree! We cannot STEM our way into the world – we need STEAM!!! Public sector skills need this kind of boundary-spanning thinking. It is vital for us to reframe problems and adapt solutions to our context. I loved what Siemens AG Board member Mattias Rebellius reminded us – when deploying technologies like smart cities – we want to capture what is unique of the city, its culture, its vibrancy and it people. We want people to always have a choice – so technology must be deployed and curated carefully if we do not want to lose our humanness!


We need to be careful to avoid overestimating short-term effects and under-estimating long-term ones! Some effects in the public value and public policy space take a generation for us to see the impact. Innovations need to be harnessed for good by intent, design, collaboration and transparency. I loved meeting the team at the Emirates Lunar Mission. Their passion for space is palpable! Those of you who know me know it is my passion too! It was amazing to see the TIME 100 Impact Award go to HE Sarah Al Ameri, UAE Minister of State for Advanced Technology, Chairwoman of the UAE Space Agency and the UAE Council of Scientists. Prof. Sir Dr, Magdi Yacoub, who performed UK's first combined heart and lung transplant in 1983 spoke about his pioneering work in paediatric heart surgery. He is solving one wicked problem - 10 million children every year are born with a congenital heart defect – yet 75% of them, mostly in developing countries, will not have the care they need to survive and thrive into adulthood. This cause is personal to me too. He is trying to bring equity in healthcare. This raises questions – for governments is it about equity or equality? How can we tap into the passion of our people and leverage it for good?


As you can see it was an exciting day. Congratulations to the WGS team that organized the event!


Do reach out if you have any questions or want to chat about innovation and the future of the public sector at ProfmelodenaStephens@gmail.com or Melodena.stephensb@mbrsg.ac.ae