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Working better together

Article - September 17, 2013
Through economic cooperation and the OIC’s many great initiatives, the Islamic world has been aspiring to regain its lost stature and striving to catch up with the progress achieved by the international community through solving its contemporary problems in all walks of life
A long standing issue for the collective Muslim community is that having suffered from years upon years of underdevelopment and frequent political instability (often due to numerous underlying historical reasons), socio-economic problems have spiraled and – as a result of the crippling effects of being caught in such a cruel cycle – many Islamic countries have found financial empowerment continually out of reach.
To realize this you only have to look at the fact that – prior to 2005 – from the 1 billion people estimated to be living in absolute poverty, 400 million of them lived in 31 out of the 57 OIC member states. In simpler terms, this research showed that 40% of the world’s poor live in Muslim countries, making the incidence of poverty in OIC member states twice the average of the rest of the developing world as a whole.
In light of this astonishingly harsh truth, when the Muslim world’s politicians and scholars got together to formulate the OIC’s Ten Year Program of Action (TYPOA) in 2005, it is no wonder that the idea of combining resources to spur economic growth and wealth generation became top of the agenda. While the promotion of economic cooperation among member states has been one of the main objectives of the OIC since its establishment, the mainstreaming of this cooperation became profoundly more pronounced upon the implementation of the TYPOA. 
Indeed, just a glance at the impressive improvement in financial collaboration indicates how much good progress has been made by the organization in the last eight years or so. Intra-trade among the 57 OIC states made up 14.5% of total worldwide trade in 2004, however, this total trade value had grown by 262% by 2012, escalating at an average of 18.21% annually – double the global average. This really emphasises the solid advancements made in reaching the ambitious objective set out under the TYPOA to increase OIC intra-trade to 20% of worldwide total trade by 2015. 
And while there is no doubt such development has had and will continue to have great benefits for the poorer members of the OIC, financial figures alone do not tell the whole story.  Along with the expanding of intra-OIC trade; increasing the competitiveness of OIC products and further economic cooperation towards combating poverty and food security have remained the major areas of impact in the realm of OIC activities.
Poverty alleviation
The elaboration of a common legislative framework for harmonization of tariffs, the creation of poverty alleviation funds and similar projects in the domain of agriculture, tourism and infrastructure have remained prominent among the major achievements of the OIC in recent years.
United with the global efforts to reduce world poverty (in line with the UN’s Millennium Development Goals in particular), through its specialized organ the Islamic Development Bank, the OIC has implemented a number of innovative projects offering greater opportunities to poor Muslims. The establishment of the Islamic Solidarity Fund for Development (ISFD) in May 2007 as a “Waqf” (a charitable Islamic endowment) with a capital of $10 billion has greatly assisted OIC member states in addressing the developmental problems associated with the dearth of finance for Small-Medium Enterprises (SMEs), absence of social security nets and inadequate agricultural productivity to support food security.
Up until now, the fund has extended funding to 29 projects in various countries, amounting to over $1 billion. Meanwhile, through its separate initiative called the ‘Special Program for the Development of Africa’ (SPDA), the five-year $12 billion megaproject has also helped target interventions in such areas as human and agricultural development, social infrastructure, energy and transportation, financing a total of 428 development schemes in African member states.

With follow-up plans for both the ISFD and SPDA now being implemented towards further addressing the poverty and unemployment problems in the Muslim world, aside to intensified efforts in improving healthcare systems and environmental sustainability, in the meantime the OIC continues to help its members countries in the critical area of education.
The reinvigorated funding mechanisms under the ISFD have created the desired impact in the educational sector in particular. In addition to the funding of vocational education under the OIC Poverty Alleviation Program, the Statistical, Economic and Social Research and Training Centre for Islamic Countries (SESRIC) has a robust Vocational Education Training (VET) program, which is targeted at improving youth employment and skills acquisition.  
And in terms of higher education, the number of universities of the OIC member states ranked among the top universities of the world is also increasing. Overall, 18 universities from the OIC member states are now included in the QS Top 400 World University Rankings Supplement for 2012. On top of this, the OIC Educational Exchange Program was launched last year to extend scholarships, especially at post-grad and post-doctoral levels in the fields of science, engineering, IT, pharmacy and medicine.
In unison with this great push to lift the developing Muslim world out of a cycle of poverty – Islamic countries both collaborating with and inspiring each other to become more economically empowered and creating the opportunities for better education – the OIC is now also encouraging its member states to make a contribution to international innovation.
In its TYPOA, the OIC identified science and technology as priority areas for improvement. Thanks to organization-wide programs along with national level actions and strategies, notable gains have already been made, and once again, a glance at the statistics indicates remarkable progress. Before the TYPOA, OIC states spent on average just 0.2% of GDP on R&D. By 2011, this figure had reached 0.81%. 
Also, scientists and engineers of OIC member countries now contribute to international scientific journals considerably more than before; whereas in 2000 they published 18,391 articles, 11 years later, the number rose to 92,503. With so many member countries, following up on advancements and shifting statistics is no easy task. However, one OIC landmark project called the Atlas of Islamic World Science and Innovation (AIWSI), has set out to map key trends in science and technology-based innovation across the Islamic world, while also exploring new opportunities for partnerships and exchanges with the rest of the world. 
The gains being made in the area of high technology shows just how far the OIC and its member countries have come in such a short space of time. With many more initiatives aimed at stimulating cooperation in all walks of life, the rocketing progress of the Muslim world shows no signs of slowing.