Imagining the Future Anew at Prince Mohammad Bin Fahd University, a Key Participant in UNESCO's Futures Literacy Summit

In the same way that humanity has the ability to foresee great challenges, we as a species can also foresee futures where these challenges have been innovatively and imaginatively met. A rich field of thought, called futures studies, has emerged around this concept of how an expansive envisioning of the future that emphasizes novel perspectives could prove instrumental in effecting positive change right here in the present.      

To foster the knowledge, development, and reach of futures studies, Prince Mohammad Bin Fahd University (PMU) is proudly participating in the High-Level Futures Literacy Summit, held by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) from 8 to 12 December 2020. PMU, which has entered into a partnership with UNESCO, will contribute in multiple ways to the virtual summit.

Dr. Issa Al Ansari, President of PMU, will first deliver an opening speech on the university's involvement in the enrichment of future studies. The university will further present and participate in workshops, announce research grants, and offer a virtual exhibition.

"The purpose of the UNESCO 2020 Summit is to amplify the role of futures studies in influencing people's perceptions and actions related to the present and the future as well, as to empower all people, without exception, to use future thinking efficiently and effectively in order to create changes that benefit societies," said Dr. Issa Al Ansari, President of PMU. "Futures studies are a very important element of the educational mission of PMU and we hope to encourage this kind of forward-looking thinking and rethinking around the world."

The university has accordingly established the Prince Mohammad Bin Fahd Center for Futuristic Studies (PMFCFS), a multidisciplinary institute. On its campus in Al-Khobar, and for the whole of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, the institute has opened a chapter of the World Futures Studies Federation (WFSF), a global non-governmental organization that is a consultative partner with UNESCO and the UN and with members in over 60 countries. The university has also launched an academic course, "Introduction to Future Studies," in the 2020/2021 academic year. PMU and UNESCO are also currently developing a Master's program in Futures Studies, to be launched in 2023, and PMU is seeking to establish a UNESCO Chair in Futures Literacy entitled "Transitional and Inter-Generational Anticipation."

In these and other ways through futures literacy, Prince Mohammad Bin Fahd University is contributing to Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030. This strategic framework is built on the three pillars of a vibrant society, a thriving economy, and an ambitious nation, with goals of diversifying the economy and enhancing health, education, infrastructure, tourism, and other public service sectors.

"At home and abroad, futures thinking—through futures literacy translating into futures studies—can provide vital new perspectives on how to imaginatively solve the world's most pressing problems and looming challenges, helping to ensure prosperity for the entirety of humanity," said Dr. Al Ansari.

Bringing the world together to look ahead

The UNESCO summit will bring together participants from many different sectors and fields to discuss major climatic, social, and economic challenges. These issues will be viewed through the lens of the enabling and innovative strategies offered by futures thinking, where today's conventional wisdom will not simply be applied prospectively, but be reapproached from newly imagined perspectives. More than 70 exhibitions will be presented at the summit from universities, centers, and UNESCO Chairs for Futures Studies.

PMFCFS will be stationed as the first and largest booth in the virtual arena, presenting an exhibition entitled "Future Studies in Intergenerational Learning." PMFCFS representatives manning the booth will be able to communicate with summit attendees in multiple languages including Arabic, English, French, and German to help boost futures literacy globally.

During the summit, PMFCFS will hold a workshop on the future of education and youth in Saudi Arabia. Facilitated by a representative from UNESCO, the workshop will feature representatives from Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Culture, as well as a participant from the United States of America.

An additional workshop in which PMFCFS intends to participate has the future of corporate governance as its focus. The university's College of Business Administration will engage in this workshop's discussions about social responsibility and sustainability.

To further develop PMU's futures literacy, the university has entered into a collaborative agreement with WFSF. At the summit's virtual exhibition, PMFCFS and WFSF will announce a new set of research grants offered for the years 2020 and 2021. More news will be made with the planned announcement of an international conference to be organized by PMFCFS and held next year.

Considering challenges anew

Overall, PMU intends to reach a broad audience at the summit, consulting with organizations likewise interested in promulgating the creative problem-solving and -mitigation strategies that futures literacy and thinking promotes. The many immediate and long-term challenges the world faces, from the current coronavirus pandemic to future pandemics, to the increasing impacts of climate change, will all demand this sort of fresh thinking.

"Through our participation in the UNESCO futures literacy summit, Prince Mohammad Bin Fahd University is helping in the overall effort to avoid reliance on one narrow perspective of the distant future," said Dr. Al Ansari. "Shedding light on the field of futures-thinking studies aims to highlight the individual's knowledge on the importance of future thinking, as well as realizing future thinking's role in shaping a prosperous future for all generations to come."