His Highness Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Mohamed Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, signalled the start of the eighth edition of the International Government Communication Forum (IGCF 2019) in Sharjah today (Wednesday), saying that despite the nation’s recent achievements in applying best-in-class technology and processes to deliver policy and communicate with citizens, more efforts need to be exerted in training government employees and role models to emerge from within the leadership ranks.

“Other countries have already deployed state-of-the-art communication systems. When these were brought to our country, we started facing problems in implementation because we didn’t properly qualify our government cadres on how these can be used to streamline activities and achieve better results. This also caused ambiguity in the relation between government and community members. They were in a fix; taking a step forward and another step backward. So, we introduced specialisations in our universities, and today our government communicators are bringing international best practices to their respective departments,” said His Highness the Ruler of Sharjah to the hundreds in attendance, including 70 leading communication experts who are speaking at the two-day Forum.

His Highness added: “In the different government departments in Sharjah, there was some resistance to change initially, but we pushed forward to influence positive change and cadre training, introducing new leadership, processes and structures. Today, we are seeing positive results across departments. In January 2018, for instance, Sharjah Electricity and Water Authority (SEWA) began implementing several new communication processes, which initially posed challenges, especially when it came to public acceptance. The community needed to be inducted into these new changes, which SEWA has done very successfully. We hope that, going forward, other departments will also do the same.”

Sheikh Sultan bin Ahmed Al Qasimi: If you are planning for a year, sow rice. If you are planning for a lifetime, educate people

With the mention of this famous Chinese proverb, Sheikh Sultan bin Ahmed Al Qasimi, Chairman of Sharjah Media Council (SMC) continued the theme of importance of educating citizenry through human-centric government communications to enable successful participatory governance, in his opening address.

“Human advancement can be successfully achieved only when strong partnerships are forged between governments and community members. The growing global interest in government communication inspires and encourages us, here in Sharjah, to move forward and make every possible effort to develop this vital field and advance our human capital.

“Not only is behavioural change an important aspect of government communication, but more importantly, government communication is at the heart of successful governance. We are on the threshold of fundamental changes in our lives, and navigating these shifts requires a change in behaviours and mindsets,” said the Chairman of Sharjah Media Council, asserting that such a change requires us to ask a number of questions. ”Do people realise that governments alone cannot prepare for the future without their active contribution? Do we have the ability to prompt our children to take up non-traditional education? Should we reduce the burden on public healthcare systems by adopting more healthy lifestyles?,” were some of the questions Sheikh Sultan bin Ahmed left the audience with.      

Larry King: Fake news is here to stay

Due to recent health issues, the American TV Veteran has not been able to honour his scheduled engagement at the forum. He sent a recorded message for the IGCF attendees, which was played to fill his absence. He said: “I am very sorry and disappointed for not being able to join you today at this most important International Government Communication Forum in Sharjah. My wife and I were looking forward to this for a long time, but I fell ill unexpectedly.”

He added: “Governments around the world are scrambling to find the best ways to communicate with their people. Social media and other technologies have given the public an outlet for their opinions. It has also given them a platform for misinformation and rumours, and fake news – and that is sad. This is why it is important for governments to strengthen their communication capacities to be transparent and closer to their people.

“I was particularly pleased to learn that your Forum’s theme is based on human behaviour change. Now more than ever, each member of society can make a difference and play an important role to influence a group of citizens through social media. This means governments need to do more to motivate their people to do the right things for themselves and for society.

Now I was invited to speak on the important topic of fake news, which is not new to human society. It has mocked the Cold War era too, but today, it exists and affects us on a much larger scale due to advent of new technologies. On the brightside, governments can use the same technologies to strengthen communication channels with their people, build partnerships and trust. So, be ready, train your teams and keep the conversations going between the governments and the people.”

The 85-year-old TV celebrity asserted that government communication is going to play an increasingly important role in good governance, and must be seen and shaped from the participatory governance angle in future.

Richard Williams ‘Prince Ea’: If you teach today as you taught us yesterday, then you are going to rob us of our tomorrow

American spoken word artist Richard Williams, aka ‘Prince Ea’, offered a critical review of current education systems saying they are based on memorisation and supress true individual potential. “First, make education available to everyone, and second, educate the youth in a way that brings out the best in them, not prepare them to compete with artificial intelligence.”

“Repetitive knowledge-based we must leave behind. We see a lot of young people graduating from schools and heading straight to join the unemployment line. Companies today don’t even look at grades, and Google has said that GPA is a worthless criterion for hiring. If you teach today as you taught us yesterday, then you are going to rob us of our tomorrow. Teachers and governments are doing a lot, but they need to bring joy back into our classrooms.

Williams left the audience with the following message: “How do we prepare our children for a future that doesn’t yet exist? The answer lies in enthusing them with more passion and compassion. If the future generations of the UAE and everywhere else in the world were to succeed, we need behaviour change on all fronts.”

Should we build everything for humans and forget to build humans themselves?

The second panel discussion of IGCF 2019, titled, ‘Responsible Individuals: A Key Solution For Future Challenges’ followed the opening remarks, and heard from panellists, Sheikh Sultan bin Sooud Al-Qassemi, a lecturer and researcher on social, political and cultural affairs in the GCC; Dr Nabeel Al-Khatib, General Manager, Al Arabiya and Al Hadath TV Channels; Rene Carayol, Global Speaker on Inspirational Leadership and Culture from the UK; and Rabee Zureikat, Founder of the “Zikra” Initiative, one of the most important initiatives in Communities Exchange Programmes in Jordan, and global awards winner. The session was moderated by Arab media personality, Zeina Yazigi.  

Yazigi began discussions with the pressing question about the Arab person’s renewed identity, shaped not by changing their skin, but developing their performance. “How can they ‘re-belong to success’,” she asked the panellists.

Sheikh Sultan bin Sooud Al-Qassemi highlighted the UAE’s successful experience, saying: “As a matter of fact, we are lucky because our founding father, late Sheikh Zayed, instilled a love of society in the citizens, a quality seen especially here in Sharjah, promoted by His Highness Sheikh Dr Sultan Al Qasimi. An optimistic view of the future has taken decades to build in our people, which our leadership has done. Today, the UAE ranks eighth in the world for positivity.

He added: “We are talking about changing behaviours of our people, but in reality we need to see the behaviour of people when they are not on social media. Are they committed to the environment? Are they responsible towards themselves? Are they charitable when the world is not watching? I am more interested in delving deeper into more personal aspects of individual behaviour.”

Speaking about the role of media in building responsible humans, Dr Nabeel Al-Khatib, remarked: “I prefer to consider media as a vital meeting space or a forum where different parties interact to reach common goals. What is problematic sometimes is that many media outlets want to teach people what they should be, which is why they have reached out to other platforms like social media to have a ‘horizontal dialogue’ as they are not feeling accepted or invited by existing government or media mechanisms. We need to stop this alienation; have a dialogue rather than broadcast/impose our views.

He added: “It is most important to remember which part of our message is actually being delivered or being picked up by the recipients. There are specific tools and mechanisms to ensure more effective delivery of a national campaign. Finally, building trust is paramount.” 

Rabee Zureikat introduced an important angle to the discussions, turning the audience’s attention to the basics of community life practiced in villages and non-urban communities.

“Within six months of starting Zikra, I learnt that all solutions to challenges lie in the self-sustained communities and villages that know their social responsibility because they are linked directly to the resources they use. And that generates understanding and respect for them. These people did not go to international universities to learn about social entrepreneurship. They have gotten these skills through life experiences. Reconnecting with our heritage and with the core values of our past is paramount. But our heritage now belongs to museums.”

“Take the palm tree for instance. From toys for children to construction materials, it has contributed to life. No household in rural Arabia threw away trash. They recycled everything. That’s social responsibility,” he noted.

Zureikat emphasised that while he is not against openness to the world, he personally feels that the Arab world needs to undergo a shift from being just consumers to active contributors to global achievements. 

“How can we become successful Arabs?,” Yazigi asked the panellists.

Optimism and self-confidence in the Arab identity, and more active use of the Arabic language were suggested. “We need to be confident in our culture and vigorously defend our identity. We need to be proud of our heritage and have confidence, love and passion about showcasing our innovations art and culture to the world. The youth must take lead in this. They need collective will, added Sheikh Sultan bin Sooud Al Qasimi.

Nabeel recommended that individuals be empowered by broadcasting achievements of the Arab world, and reiterated that education systems need to change. “We are still looking at classical pedagogy in Arabic taught at universities. How will they learn modern concepts in a 1,400-year-old language? Modern Arabic must be implemented in media studies and others,” he emphasised.

Organised by the International Government Communication Centre (IGCC), IGCF 2019 is held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Mohamed Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah. The 2-day event, held at Expo Centre Sharjah runs under the theme ‘Behavioural Change Towards Human Development’, and has brought together prominent figures, top officials, thought leaders and government communication experts from around the world to discuss and explore international best practices.

 

Source: National Network Communications (NNC)