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Dr. Fahads Keynote Address at the Digital Global Solutions Summit 2020

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Transcript to Speech

Your excellency Fahad Almubarak, honorable ministers, distinguished colleagues, ladies and gentlemen… good morning.

First of all, my thoughts go out to the victims of the COVID-19 pandemic, those who have lost parents or friends, and those who are suffering other impacts of the current crisis. Our prayers are with you. We come together at a unique moment in human history, with unexpected challenges emerging almost daily. The need for evidence-based research is perhaps now more important than ever in guiding policy, and the value of the T20 in this process should not be underestimated.

I met many of you in Riyadh in January, a mere three months ago, for the T20 Inception Conference. It is great to (virtually) see each of you again! To those I have not yet had the privilege of meeting, please accept my greetings on behalf of T20 Saudi Arabia. I am delighted to have this opportunity to share some important messages from the T20.

T20 Saudi Arabia is co-led by two of the Kingdom’s leading think tanks, KAPSARC and KFCRIS. It is also supported by several Saudi universities and research centers. Consistent with the traditions established by past T20 presidencies, we are committed to bringing evidence-based policy recommendations to the attention of the G20 leaders on timely and relevant issues for G20 and non-G20 countries. The 10 task forces that you are all aware of focus on important topics, which are in some ways now more critical than ever. We have also established a task force to address the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. We aim to remain relevant and useful to policymakers in a rapidly-changing world.

However, I want to emphasize that, while we want to be agile, responsive, and adaptive to the changing world around us, we must also ensure that the T20’s output meets the highest standards of integrity, objectivity, and inclusiveness. As such, I want to emphasize that all researchers wishing to contribute policy briefs will need to adhere to the same submission, peer review, revision, and publication process as would be the case for any highly-regarded academic journal. These policy briefs will form part of our collective research effort that will be channeled to the G20. It is important that all policy briefs follow this process and are not published or disseminated through unofficial channels, as this would dilute the rigor of the process.

The T20 is formally nested within the G20 framework, and we recognize that the issues we consider are of concern to the entire world. With that in mind, we have tried to ensure that our output gives a voice to think tanks from around the globe, and more specifically from the developing world and the MENA region. The themes we selected for our task forces, the authors and the participants we invited, and our vision “Striving for a future of prosperity, sustainability and inclusion,” all underscore the importance of this objective for T20 Saudi Arabia. Even when framing the notions of prosperity, sustainability and inclusion, we must remember that developing and emerging economies face different concerns, priorities, and challenges than more developed economies. The T20 platform gives us the opportunity to present many perspectives, and we respect the views of all. I would like to reiterate that the T20 has always valued an inclusive, democratic and open process of collating ideas, which is what makes it credible and legitimate. We hope you will always support us in ensuring that these values are not diluted or derailed by parallel processes and vested interests.

Many of you have been involved with the T20 for years—you are an important part of the community and critical to maintaining its momentum each year the presidency rotates to a new country. For those of you who are contributing to T20 Saudi Arabia as authors of policy briefs, I thank you for your contributions and your consistent engagement with us. Despite the current global challenges, we continue to make great progress. We have received over 120 policy briefs, which have already been reviewed by the co-chairs of the respective task forces. The submissions are currently going through our peer review process to ensure that their quality meets the highest standards of academic rigor and integrity, and that they make the T20 network proud. Many of the policy briefs combine the work of multiple authors from around the world, some of whom have not previously worked together. This inclusiveness and cooperation among think tanks helps bring diverse ideas and research into the discussion and strengthens the policy recommendations generated.

As I mentioned briefly before, T20 Saudi Arabia has responded to the crisis precipitated by this ongoing pandemic by creating a special task force that will investigate the impact of COVID 19. I thank you all for your overwhelming response to our special call for policy briefs – we received over 65 submissions in just two weeks! We are now consolidating policy briefs that discuss the social, economic, financial and environmental impacts of the pandemic, and the role of multilateral institutions and global policies in addressing the challenges presented by COVID-19. We will be organizing a webinar on May 5 that will give further details about this special task force, and I invite you all to participate in the discussion.

How do we as a community move forward? We are adapting to virtual meetings, and we plan to hold our T20 task force workshop virtually from June 15-17 as scheduled. Because of the many time zones that must be accommodated, the workshop will be held over three days, for three hours each day. It will have breakout sessions for each of the 11 task forces to allow task force members to deliberate and discuss the key messages that need to be reflected in the T20 Communiqué. The Communiqué summarizes our key findings, and we will present it to the G20 in advance of the final Leaders’ Summit. The workshop is an important step in the formal development and finalization of the official T20 policy briefs. It is also a key step in the T20 Secretariat’s consolidation of its recommendations. I urge you all to actively participate so that your voice can be incorporated into the Communiqué.

And of course, we look forward to welcoming all of you to our Summit to be held from October 31 – November 1 this year. Hopefully we will be able to meet again in person at that point. We are aware of the evolving economic and travel upheaval and will try to ensure the participation of everybody, whether in person or virtually.