Welcome to Foresight For Development

Ahmed Salim

Futurist Profile

 

Ahmed Salim

Program Manager: The Society for International Development (SID)

Education:

Bachelor of Arts degree - Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

Masters degree - Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs



Ahmed answered a few questions about his perspective and on being a futures thinker.

ABOUT YOU AS A FUTURES THINKER / PRACTITIONER

You identify yourself as an African futures thinker or practitioner. How would you describe to the woman or man on the street what it is that you do in this regard?

Perhaps the best way to explain the policy world and what an African futurist does is to explain to people that you try to anticipate problems and challenges before they happen. Taking this further, the real value is to create the necessary solutions to future problems. Through my work with experienced futurists at the Society for International Development, I try to analyze interesting trends that are shaping and influencing the lives of Africans. I try to examine trends that will be impactful, perhaps not in 10 years, but in 20 years and anticipate how they will affect the lives of the people. Are we asking the right questions? Can we convince decision-makers that planning ahead is essential to their respective country's sustained development or are they only concerned with what will happen next week and consequently the next election?

How many years have you worked as an African futures thinker / practitioner?

I am still very fresh, I would say four years, with the Society for International Development providing the hands on and practitioners aspect; while the two years at Columbia taught me the theoretical side to futurist thinking and scenario planning under the guise of political risk analysis.

In which countries or places have you had working experience as an African futures thinker / practitioner?

Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and the United States

In what languages have you undertaken futures / foresight related work or research?

English

What is it that motivates you to work or participate in the foresight / future studies / related field

There is never a dull moment and really pushes you to get your creative juices flowing. It is always simple to understand and read about the past, but being able to understand the past, contextualize the present and provide scenarios and solutions for the future is a thrilling exercise. In addition to this, working with creative thinkers on a consistent basis is rewarding.

What goal/s would you most like to reach with your work as an African futures thinker / practitioner?

I would like to demonstrate and showcase to key stakeholders in Africa's development and public discourse that we can shape our future and we can anticipate future challenges if we just sit down and read the writings on the wall. There is nothing wrong with planning ahead. I would feel a significant satisfaction if people begin to understand that the most developed and sustainable countries in the world are ones that have a 50-100 year plans, not 10-20 year plans.

Who or what most influenced your thinking as a futures thinker / practitioner, and how?

I would have to say my first encounter with futurist thinking has to be what influenced me the most. This would be taking a political risk class at Columbia with well known futurist in the US, Ian Bremmer who is President of the Eurasia Group. Getting the theoretical exposure of the world of political risk, anticipating events and trying to explain how future events can impact a country and a people today as well as tomorrow socially, politically and economically demonstrated to me how valuable this type of thinking can be.

What is your main disciplinary background? (i.e. your primary training / qualification)

Political and Policy Analysis; International Affairs; Political Risk

How do other people describe you and how do you describe yourself?

Others describe me as… intellectual

I describe myself as… ambitious

 

YOUR PERSPECTIVE

What is one of your favourite quotes about the future?

"The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails." - William Arthur Ward

How would you describe the state of African futures thinking right now?

It is still in the fringes and outskirts in the sense that it hasn't fully been appreciated by those it could help the most, namely practitioners and policymakers. It hasn't mainstreamed its way to the decision making process.

What is, in your opinion, the main barrier to uptake of futures knowledge by African institutions and organisations?

The arrogance of not accepting that sometimes things need to change. The status quo thinking can be very comfortable, why should they start dealing with challenges in the future when they are only concerned with the challenges they are facing at the moment? This type of approach is what circumvents the uptake of futures knowledge and appreciation.

If you were to give advice to someone who wants a career in African foresight / future studies, what would you say to him or her?

Think bold, think unconventional and be prepared to be constantly referred to as debbie downers because some of the future challenges we will face as a continent will not be easy to bear, however your task is to convince them that addressing those future challenges today will provide a solid foundation for future prosperity that is sustainable.

What are your recommended readings for every African futures thinker / practitioner?

My new favorite: Nassem Taleb's Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder.

When you read, always try to connect the dots.

 

Share your Profile

 

Foresight For Development - Funding for this uniquely African foresight site was generously provided by Rockefeller Foundation. Email Us | Creative Commons Deed | Terms of Conditions

Top Desktop version