Q. How do you see your mandate to act practically?
A. It is clear that we have a lot to figure out and during our feasibility work in Jordan we gathered strong local public and private sector support. We think this is an important key to success. The reason we chose Jordan as our beachhead country is because it is a safe place where we can concentrate on economical and sustainability challenges. Our research and networking in Jordan already learned us a lot about the need for local new job creation in specific industries and practical ways to combine attracting impact investment with filling relatively small education gaps. Once we succeed demonstrating the benefits of our approach in Jordan we may repeat lessons learned including added challenges in politically more fragile areas.
Q. This sounds like colonialism to me! This is 2016 not 1816
A. You may have a point and we struggle with this too. It is clear that we lean to improving governance and even intervention in the current conflicts. In some areas, the situation is very dramatic and the consequence of inaction seems to let some regions literally bleed to death. We think this is unacceptable. We prefer to try to apply historic lessons learned in a well-planned and collaborative intervention featuring a longer term perspective. Collaboration with regional leadership is key to our plans and should be at equal terms. A longer term commitment is needed to provide at least two generations of citizens the chance to build the institutions and government needed for lasting prosperity and peace. It is also important that, despite the long term commitment, we do emphasize that the guided build up of the campuses or cities has an end date. Local governance is a ultimately a local responsibility. Therefore we will develop, build and operate these campuses and cities together with local people to make sure the their perspective at the core of what we do.
Q. You don’t have the right to force your thinking upon us. We have our own rules and habits
A. This will always be debatable. Not only do we –in the sense of humanity- have the right to do something about humanitarian crises, we have a moral obligation to do so. Hundreds of thousands of people have died and millions lost their homes and livelihood in Syria alone. Apart from that, this is affecting Europe and the Arab world directly and to an extent that is dangerous for pan-regional political stability. In Europe, it will take an incredibly long time and a lot of effort for newly arriving people to become Europeans in mind and spirit. Secondly, it means a lot of social-economical potential disappears from the (Middle East) conflict zones, making regional recovery more difficult. We are aware of cultural sensitivities and GreenfieldCities does not aim to change local culture or habits. But we do like people to thrive, go to school, the Mosque or buy food without the risk of being killed or arrested. This sometimes requires change.
Q. You underestimate the religious challenges
A. Yes we probably do underestimate those challenges but this is no reason not to act. Most religious people and the governments of the countries they live in will agree that religion is mostly a private matter and that separation between civil government and religion is a good starting point. Most societies with a sustainable and robust social economic structure do not have religion based conflicts. We think that religious fueled issues arise mostly from basic root causes such as being excluded from full citizenship or feeling excluded, oppressed and without real chances to pursue status and prosperity. In a Greenfield city everybody gets a fair chance regardless religious background.
Q. Why would I go back after just having arrived in Europe?
A. We think it is always good to have options and GreenfieldCities hopes to offer additional options to forced migrants. Independent from the choices you make, any new start requires big efforts. If you can stay in Europe, you will notice that Europeans increasingly expect their new citizens to become European and this is not an easy task. Immigrants everywhere in the world have historically always had to work twice as hard to make it, and passive or even active discrimination (unfortunately and unacceptably) is still a fact of life.
Compared to that, starting all over in an area that is more similar to home in terms of culture and language may be an attractive option. We feel (but cannot prove it yet) that you and your family may be able to get much more out of life in a Greenfield city even if it is still not your real home town.
Of course, this will only work if the regional leaders with help of international partners such as the UN or the EU guarantee safety and decent government for a longer period of time and if the global community of people, companies, universities etc. underwrite and commit to these ideas.