The First Virtual Diplomatic Reception

February 25, 2013

Earlier this month I posted some futuristic thoughts on what Lebanon could be in 2020.

Much more interesting than the speculation in the post was the response. The almost 300 comments so far give a good sense of current debate in Lebanon: idealism, cynicism, fatalism, frustration. Some seek to apportion blame, many to identify practical solutions.

I’m with the second group. As I’ve argued in responses to some of those who have commented, if we spend another decade arguing over who is responsible, we cannot hope to move forward. It is right to identify the blockages to positive change, but in order to get around them rather than to make them bigger than they are.

Charting a course to the kind of Lebanon that many people so clearly yearn for must be a Lebanese project. As our contribution, we simply want to trigger some debates, and provide a neutral space for discussion. I hope that we’ll see stronger coalitions emerge around the key issues, and more practical responses.

As a first step, we’re getting groups together to tackle some of the ten key questions in this post

Our first event is a virtual dinner, on 25 February, at my place (though, given it is virtual, the venue is not that important). We want to discuss how Lebanon can make the best use of new technology to get over its infrastructure weaknesses. There are great examples to draw on. I worked on a project in Kenya through which farmers were able to get weather and market conditions to their smartphones, bypassing middle men. Engineers in India used wireless networks to link up rural health centres with hospitals up to fifty miles away for video conferencing between doctors and patients. Maybe Lebanon should jump straight to wireless?

Joining us in person will be a number of Lebanon’s top tech innovators in this field, including Kamal Hayek (Director General of EdL), Raymond Ghajar (Ministry of Energy’s Senior Adviser),  Salah Tabbarah (wind energy pioneer) Albert Khoury (Director of energy company Aley), Suheil Abboud (V4 Ltd), Vahakn Kabakian (on how we transform transport systems) and Habib Torbey (head of Global Com and the 460 Multimedia Store).

Joining us virtually will be many more, we hope – the experts, the curious, the realists. We may even get some of the more social media savvy Ministers involved. We hope it will be a genuinely open discussion, across government and civil society.

We aim to live stream the exchange, but I expect infrastructure weaknesses will get in our way. So you can join in on the hashtag Leb2020, and by following @hmatomfletcher and @ukinlebanon, or by commenting below this post. Between 2000 and 2230 we’ll live tweet the discussion, and ask the experts to respond to your questions and ideas.

This should be quite an interesting social media experiment, and may even generate some practical ideas. So please stock up on tabbouleh and Ferrero Rocher, and join us tomorrow. Ahlan wasahlan.

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