Oman’s Blueprint for 21st Century Success: Lessons from Dr. Ali Qassim Jawad

ali qassim jawad
June 27, 2024   |   , Articles
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As the 4th Industrial Revolution rewrites the rules of competitiveness, Oman is experimenting with a new model of agile, ecosystem-minded government that could be a template for 21st century statecraft.

Imagine a country where the government operates with the agility of a startup, where public and private sectors collaborate seamlessly, and where strategic foresight is woven into every policy decision. This is the future that Dr. Ali Qassim Jawad envisions for Oman – and he believes it could be a model for countries worldwide as they navigate the uncharted waters of the 4th Industrial Revolution.

Dr. Jawad is a world-renowned expert in Middle East public sector transformation, serving as the President of the Royal Academy of Management in Oman and an Executive in Residence at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford. With over 30 years of experience leading policies and strategic programs at institutional and national levels, he is a key architect behind Oman’s strategy to thrive in the 4th Industrial Revolution, and the author of influential books on government transformation and leadership.

In this forward-looking interview, Dr. Jawad shared his insights on how Oman is rethinking government, collaborating with the private sector, and working to future-proof its economy, to win in the 21st century.

Q: How is Oman approaching the transformational changes of the 4th Industrial Revolution?

Dr. Jawad: The world is entering a new reality characterized by rapid technological, economic, societal, climatic, and geopolitical change. Initially dubbed the “4th Industrial revolution,” it quickly became evident that this revolution was far more encompassing than just industrial: at its core, it is a technologically driven societal revolution. Japan was one of the first countries to recognize this and act upon it. It developed its “Society 5.0” concept, which aims to harness the technological advances to achieve a human-centered society in which high integration of cyberspace and physical space make economic development and social development go hand in hand.

Historically, governments have tended to lag behind industry and society when such technological disruptions occur, leading to a disconnect with society and with the private sector, which in turn erodes mutual trust among all three actors. Now, given the fundamental nature of the ongoing changes and the fact that they are happening on so many fronts at the same time, governments are trying to keep pace with, and ideally lead, the transformation by devising plans formulated as National Visions. The success rate of such plans, however, according to a McKinsey Center of Government report, is very low: 80% of government transformations fail to meet their objectives. To find out what it actually takes to achieve success, we conducted a ten-year study covering scores of nations. What we found, as I explain in my book Government Reimagined, is that three core principles are crucial to turn visions into reality.

First, no government can accomplish the necessary transformation alone. No private sector can do so either, and the citizens can only move so much on their own. All three parties need each other. Like in a three-legged table, stability can only be achieved when all three legs are equally strong and in harmony. To get there, each of the three actors must move from ego to eco, i.e., from go-it-alone action to an ecosystem mindset.

Second, public-sector institutions must become more entrepreneurial in the way they operate, growing more responsive, more solution-oriented, and more focused on their ultimate stakeholders: the private sector and citizens.

Third, the right type of leadership. Leaders who have mastered successful transformations all share certain attributes, a combination of steadfastness of vision with adaptability of response arising from the judicious use of different kinds of intelligence.

What Oman is doing in this regard, in addition to the goals formulated in its Vision 2040, includes the establishment of an implementation unit to ensure that the Vision’s goals are pursued to completion; a strengthened partnership between the government and the private sector; and a sweeping drive for diversification. Crucially, it also includes the creation of the Royal Academy of Management. which not only is a forge for future-ready cadres of CEOs, mid-tier government officials, top-level leaders, and youth talent through bespoke, integrated programs for both the public and private sectors, but also provides foresight through its Future Readiness Centre and thought leadership on a range of issues critical to the development of the nation and the accomplishment of its Vision’s goals.

Q: Why is national competitiveness so critical, and how is Oman fostering public-private synergy to enhance it?

Dr. Jawad: For small open economies like Oman, preserving competitiveness is a must, since only a growing economy can secure rising standards of living, high levels of employment and, crucially, resilience during lean years. Competitiveness, in particular for resource-based economies like Oman’s, calls for diversifying the economy—and diversification cannot be accomplished simply by government fiat.

The government can define a set of goals for its future development, but it needs the active involvement of the private sector to accomplish them and the buy-in of its citizens. As described above, this requires a shared vision, a collaborative approach, a high level of mutual trust and respect, good communication and a dose of adaptability.

Building this culture of collaboration lays the groundwork for achieving public-private synergy and helps to align misaligned agendas. It leads very quickly to a mutually beneficial three-way partnership.

Both governments and business must start by acknowledging that people, its citizens and customers, respectively, are the reason for their existence, and that they are at their service.

  • Governments are the facilitators, regulators and enablers for both of these stakeholders, not only ensuring fairness, safety, privacy, and environmental sustainability, but also nurturing a favorable business environment and innovation-friendly regulations, providing services and investing in technology and infrastructure.
  • The private sector plays the role of investor, innovator and employer, bringing capital and expertise and thus contributing to economic development and to achieving the national goals.
  • Citizens, the main participants, are the consumers and beneficiaries of the offerings of both the government and the private sector, and through their feedback they influence policy and help to prioritize projects.

All of this can be best accomplished with a solid partnership between the government and the private sector, having their ultimate stakeholders, the citizens, permanently in mind.

One successful example in Oman is the drafting of the Public-Private Partnership law, drawn up by the Sharaka (“Partnership”) Task Force aimed to bring senior government officials and top representatives of the private sector around the same table to discuss matters of vital economic interest, such as this law, or the improvement of the ease of doing business and enhancing competitiveness. This partnership has proved absolutely essential ever since.

Q: How is Oman using foresight to anticipate change and future-proof its development path?

Dr. Jawad: If there is one thing that both the collapse of the oil price in late 2014 and the pandemic have in common—or, for that matter, the energy crisis that befell Europe after February 2022—is the lack of foresight of the countries affected. Being caught unprepared caused much hardship and greater damage than would have otherwise been the case.

We, at Oman’s Royal Academy of Management, established the Future Readiness Centre. Populated by superbly educated young Omanis working with selected international partners, the Centre is developing a Readiness Index based on a readiness framework it designed that tracks 33 indicators for 50 countries that represent nearly 88% of global GDP, paying special attention to those that have achieved successful transitions and that are relevant to the Omani context. It monitors domestic and international developments, technologies, trends and conditions to anticipate possible threats to the nation’s economy, or to detect potentially beneficial developments at an early stage.

The basic premise is that, to future-proof the country’s development, one needs to be constantly aware — and understand the basics and the implications — of any technological advances, geopolitical changes, international trade shifts, social transformations, and even environmental challenges.

Q: What role is the entrepreneurial spirit playing in Oman’s government transformation?

Dr. Jawad: The closer collaboration between government and the private sector has the added effect of fostering the adoption of an entrepreneurial spirit in government operations. We started to introduce what we call “govpreneurship”, a portmanteau of both concepts.

Basically, it not only calls for streamlining operations and shortening response times and being customer-centric, but also for allowing a certain degree of experimentation in the way things are done in government; this, necessarily, requires some tolerance of failure. It also recognizes two often-overlooked facts: that adaptability trumps efficiency, meaning that being flexible and innovative is sometimes better than being too rigidly efficient, and that situational awareness trumps rigid plans that may hinder the capacity to pivot when citizens’ and businesses’ expectations change.

In concrete terms, the will to experiment more translates into things like sandboxing new regulations, in order to test their effectiveness in a controlled environment. And this, once again, calls for the involvement of the private sector and citizens, depending on the regulations in question.

Govpreneurship also involves devolving some responsibilities to mid-level officials and increasing accountability as a way to improve efficiency and effectiveness.

Q: What kind of leadership does this fast-paced transformation require?

Dr. Jawad: The most critical aspect is leadership, one of our main areas of focus. Sound, well-conceived leadership can work wonders, helping to inspire and, at the same time, helping to get the best out of the main resource of any organization, not just government: its people.

For the kind of leader that fast-paced, fundamental transformation requires, our research and analyses show that, far more than skills, attributes prove pivotal. These attributes are shared by all leaders that have steered their nations through successful transformations. They are:

  • Cognitive intelligence (IQ):
    The ability to understand organizational contexts, complex interactions and non-obvious effects
  • Emotional intelligence (EQ):
    Managing one’s own emotions and those of all the parties involved in key endeavors. Frequently overlooked but equally important.
  • Political Intelligence (PQ):
    Possessing the faculty to navigate and align diverse agendas and non-congruent interests
  • Resilience Intelligence (RQ):
    Grit, the ability to deliver under pressure and not buckle when encountering the inevitable setbacks. Long-term visions flounder without this.
  • Moral Intelligence (MQ):
    The ability and steadfastness to maintain a moral compass to guide one’s actions at all times, an invaluable attribute.

In sum, the key to mastering even the most fundamental transformations is a combination of enlightened leadership, a solid three-way partnership between government, business and citizens, strategic foresight, a more entrepreneurial government and good communication and trust among all main stakeholders.


  • Successful national transformation in the face of disruptive change requires a synergistic, three-way partnership between government, the private sector, and citizens, underpinned by a shared vision, mutual trust, and effective communication.
  • Cultivating an entrepreneurial spirit within government – “govpreneurship” – is key to fostering the adaptability, innovation, and responsiveness needed to keep pace with rapid technological and societal shifts.
  • Strategic foresight – the continuous monitoring and understanding of global trends, technologies, and changes – is essential for future-proofing a country’s development path and anticipating both opportunities and threats.
  • The leadership attributes crucial for navigating complex, fast-paced transformation go beyond traditional skills to include cognitive intelligence (IQ), emotional intelligence (EQ), political intelligence (PQ), resilience intelligence (RQ), and moral intelligence (MQ).
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