April 13, 2010
 

How Garage-Band Companies Will Rock the Arab World, Part One.

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By Tim McHale, Editor

Remembering the experience of playing in a garage band as a kid in the 1980s, it is another sign of the times that this high school-era right of passage was turned into "GarageBand," a computer game from Apple Computer; the same garage band-born company that was actually created in Steve Jobs's parents' garage.

Garage bands and garage band-born companies like Apple begin with little more than an idea about almost anything, an issue or a group, or some content or new technology; something rich in imagination that with some fine tuning could have an impact on the entire neighborhood. That sense of constructive optimism struck me as I recently attended the Closing Conference of the 2009 Arab and American Business Fellowship (AABF) Program on October 22nd in Washington.

Well-attended, the conference was held to acknowledge over 30 young American and Arab AABF Fellows, between the ages of 25 to 45 who just returned from a trip visiting each other's countries. About 18 AABF Fellow business leaders from the U.S. visited Arab countries at the same time that 18 AABF Fellow business leaders from the Arab World visited the United States.

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Produced by the Business for Diplomatic Action (BDA) and the Young Arab Leaders (YAL) organizations, the purpose of their on-going program is to help the next generation of Arab and American business leaders understand each other's culture, in a way that only living in them can convey. Each group had a busy itinerary as they spent 3 weeks traveling and meeting people, establishing a dialogue and seeing first-hand how each culture lives.

The conference was attended by representatives from the U.S. Department of State and the White House Office of Global Engagement, among others who spoke throughout the day. However even with all the international officialdom in the room, AABF Fellow members of the 2009 program were filled with the art of possibility that was as much about international diplomacy as it was about sharing an experience which each claimed had transformed their lives.

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BDA founder and Chairman Emeritus of DDB Worldwide, Keith Reinhard emceed the day. He introduced the AABF Fellows who made the trip; a mix of men and women from a variety of regions and industries, along with a series of government and business community speakers who spoke passionately about the importance of Entrepreneurship, Education, Leadership and Dialogue Exchange between the two cultures. I don't recall the word "politics" ever mentioned throughout the conference. That said, the word "education" was used frequently.

The first Keynote was titled, "Engagement in the 21st Century" and was given by Farah Pandith, Special Representative to Muslim Communities from the U.S. Department of State. Following Ms. Pandith, the first panel began titled, "Breaking Cultural Stereotypes" which was moderated by Jeff Weintraub of Fleishman-Hillard. The second panel following Mr. Weintraub's was titled, "Enlisting the Private Sector" and was moderated by Stephen Jordan of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

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After lunch Anne-Marie Slaughter, Director of Policy Planning from the State Department gave the second Keynote Address, titled "How the Obama Administration Sees U.S. International Relations," followed by a panel I was most interested in titled, "The Role of the Media," which was moderated by Jon Alterman, Director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

There were numerous other speakers and panelists, each filled with their own insight into the issues that the BDA program was designed to address, which you can learn about by clicking on to the AABF Building Bridges Blog, as well as gain insight into the organization.

Throughout the day I met many business executives from the YAL, including Rami Makhzoumi, CEO and President of Future Pipe Industries Group, LTD from Dubai. Mr. Makhzoumi leads the YAL, a self-funded member organization which seeks to create solutions that will increase and improve the educational institutions in all Arab countries. Made up of 500 executives from the Arab Community, their mission is to create jobs and an economy where their fellow citizens will be able to live productive lives and compete in the 21st century.

In less than 20 years, over 100 million Arabs (most under 30 years of age), will be living in the 22 countries which make up the Arab World. The YAL is about helping future generations get the skilled training they need so that their countries' youth can make a difference at home and abroad; much like many Apple Computer-like companies continue to do. It is part of a larger vision created by Mr. Reinhard to enlist the U.S. business community to improve the standing of America in both the Middle East and other areas around the world.

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Founded in 2001, the BDA organization is leading the private sector effort to provide constructive business solutions for public diplomacy programs and initiatives. It's about transformation. One example of this was a poem, titled "Stereotypes" which was written by Barbara McAllister, from Intel, who was inspired to write it following the experience she had as an AABF Fellow:

Stereotypes

Stereotypes, by definition are fixed assumptions
Others Hold About You and Me.
Often inaccurate, based on exaggerated tv images,
Or passed down by families generationally.

Stereotypes, framed pictures in our minds
Whether seen or unseen.
Constrain opportunities to collaborate or grow
And often demean.

What we've learned during this brilliant BDA* Fellowship,
An accelerated and safe environment to explore.
All is not what it seems; one size doesn't fit all; to every story, there's more.
The key nugget we will all take away from this experience is:
We are all human beings at our core.
We are all human beings at our core.

Whether we choose to wear traditional wrap, uncover or we're louder than the others.
Practice religion strictly or liberally.
We are all fundamentally seeking peace and progress in this world.
We each want our kids to achieve more than we.

So, my sincere thanks to Intel, BDA,*
My caring Arab and American Fellows
My new sisters and brothers.
The dialogue has been opened wide and so have our hearts.
Let's continue breaking down barriers.
Let's chart a fresh new start.

We are the leaders.
We have been chosen to do this work.
The change that comes about, our collective futures,
Will be simply that we never gave up.
Simply because our work never stopped.

Written by Barbara H. McAllister ©
2009 BDA and YAL Conference
Stereotype Panel

BDA-Business for Diplomatic Action
YAL-Young Arab Leaders

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It would be interesting to see how Apple's "GarageBand" computer game program is changing the experience of actually playing in one. Mr. Jobs and company took one of the coolest things to do in high school and transformed it so that the entire world can feel like Bono. It gives users the same thrill that all garage band rock stars get, imagining the sound of their next door neighbor's applause. The BDA is also all about STARS (Sensitize, Transform, Accentuate, Reach, Serve).

How different is that from the hopes and dreams that each AABF member has for their sons and daughters as they return to their daily lives? No difference at all. That said, having played in a few garage bands and garage band-born companies, the politics of deciding which musician gets to play lead guitar or rhythm at the next high school dance may go a lot smoother with some global-level diplomacy :--)

Thanks, Keith.

BDA is a private-sector a-political non-profit directed by preeminent communications, marketing, political science, global development and media professionals. BDA's mission is to enlist the U.S. business community in actions to improve the standing and reputation of America in the world. The organization is leading the private sector effort to provide constructive business solutions for public diplomacy programs and initiatives. For more information please contact Ms. Cari E. Guittard, Executive Director of Business for Diplomatic Action at cari.guittard@sf.ddb.com.

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Please check out "The Last Mad Man", our exclusive 5-part series with Mr. Reinhard which covers his life and times on Madison Avenue and beyond.

Stay turned for Part Two which will cover the discussion on how social media should play a part in the next era of the BDA and YAL's shared objectives.


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