Commentary

Capitalizing on our human reserve

Students from American Univeristy of Beirut protest over tuition fees in Beirut, Dec. 29, 2020. (The Daily Star/Mohamad Azakir) Students from American Univeristy of Beirut protest over tuition fees in Beirut

The Lebanese people are trapped in a vicious cycle of daily crises. The unprecedented contraction of the economy, currency rampant inflation, and rocketing poverty rates have pushed people to strive for their basic needs from electricity, water, medication, and food. People are stuck between a political deadlock and the international community that is observing Lebanon’s free fall. All actors are equally intransigent, and only the Lebanese citizen is expected to show pragmatism and flexibility. It is a textbook case of political war of attrition and a zero-sum game where the Lebanese citizen is the only one who’s increasingly becoming worse off.

People are outpouring their grievances in the streets or on social media against the state and political regime in response to the scarcity of the daily basic services necessary for a dignified livelihood. The daily routine of people has changed as they try to cope with the electricity cutoffs and long queues in front of the gasoline stations. Such daily crises can be resolved in a relatively short time if the needed resources and will are available.

However, the most dangerous impact that we are not paying proper attention to is the effect of the current situation on our human capital, which will shape the characteristics of the upcoming generations for many years to come. The World Bank’s latest report “Foundations for Building Forward Better: An Education Reform Path for Lebanon” highlighted the impact of the crisis on the human capital and outlined short-term and medium- to-long-term reform recommendations in the education sector to save the future of generations. The report stated that Lebanon has been facing “a lost year of learning which will have lasting negative effects on learning outcomes”. Citing the Human Capital Index, the report warned that human capital development outcomes are worryingly low and will consequently affect the future productivity of the labor force and the country’s trajectory for equitable growth. The Human Capital Index indicates that “children born in Lebanon today will reach, on average, only 52 percent of their potential productivity when they grow up.”

Brain drain is a historic human capital crisis that will impact the future of the country. Thousands of people are leaving Lebanon from all sectors. However, others are still here struggling for change through various means. There is a margin of youth that are leading innovative solutions in coping with current challenges and investing in new approaches and tools to face the fast-evolving reality. Others are also advocating and putting all their efforts in political activism to cause political change through democratic means.

The Human Capital is the main Lebanese asset that will create order from the current chaos. There shall be immense efforts to save the young generations from lost opportunities of education and prevent other age groups from being drowned in grievances and depression. It is the only capital left that is not confiscated or locked in donors’ Treasury or banks credit books and the only resource that can develop all sectors and revitalize the mission and competitive advantage of this country.

Human capital does not only represent the aggregate potential of growth, impact and personal fulfilment of every individual, it is also indicative of the health and strength of our national social cohesion. Societies, from a network perspective, are molecules of micro interactions between individuals. Human capital speaks of the health of these interactions and positively correlates with how much of a public value is our society capable of producing. Researchers in economic sociology have found out that the depth of civic traditions and strength of social networks among individuals could lead to faster reforms and solid policy implementation. In that sense, our human capital conversation should also take place as part of the reform discussions.

Hiba Huneini is manager of Youth and Civic Engagement Program at the Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development. hiba.h@hariri-foundation.org

 

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