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Paul coller alexander betts
Paul Collier and Alexander Betts

Each year, Foreign Policy editors recognize 100 people as Leading Global Thinkers – those whose ideas have translated into action over the past year, changing and shaping the world in which we live. Honorees include a wide range of leaders, advocates, innovators, artists, government officials, and visionaries from around the world.

This year Professor Alexander Betts (RSC Director) and Professor Sir Paul Collier (Blavatnik School of Government) have been selected as 2016 Global Thinkers. Scholars previously on the list from the University of Oxford include Professor Sabina Alkire, Professor David Stuckler and Professor Sir Paul Collier.

In October 2015, Foreign Affairs published an article in which Betts and Collier proposed a new approach to the Syrian refugee crisis: the establishment of special economic zones (SEZs) in countries such as Jordan where displaced Syrians could work. This approach, they argued, could provide Syrians with jobs, education and autonomy while also advancing host-country development.

Jordan has long wanted to make the transition to a manufacturing economy and has already established several SEZs in the same areas inundated with refugees. For example, the King Hussein Bin Talal Development Area (KHBTDA) lies around 10 miles from Zaatari refugee camp, but lacks labour and business investment. This, Betts and Collier argued, would be an ideal location to launch a development-based approach to the Syrian refugee crisis.

In a follow-up article published by Foreign Affairs in April 2016, Betts and Collier described how this idea had ‘gained political traction’. Developments involving Jordanian King Abdullah, British Prime Minister David Cameron, and World Bank President Jim Young Kim had led to a pilot program being developed for likely implementation in Jordan in the summer.

In July 2016, a deal was finalised between the EU and Jordan granting trade concessions in exchange for work opportunities for refugees. Described by Refugees Deeply as ‘one of the most important economic experiments in the world today’, this deal will apply to 52 product groups manufactured in SEZs on the condition that producers employ more Syrian refugees – at least 15% of the workforce now, rising to 25% after 3 years.

Some political negotiating will be required in Jordan, but business leaders have welcomed the deal and are hopeful that the deal will stimulate new investors into zones such as the KHBTDA. And there is optimism that SEZs will be able to provide legal work for Syrians in Jordan.

See the full list of Foreign Policy’s 100 Leading Global Thinkers here >>

On Betts and Collier: The Challengers: Alexander Betts and Paul Collier - For zoning Syrian dignity

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