Beirut, 20 September 2011 (UN Information Services) — Against the backdrop of development challenges facing Arab countries and the popular movements sweeping the region, ESCWA today opened an expert group meeting at the UN House in Beirut to discuss recent transformations in the Arab world and develop the Commission’s strategic framework for the 2014-2015 biennium. UN Under-Secretary-General and ESCWA Executive Secretary Rima Khalaf delivered an opening statement where she said the meeting convenes in interesting times for as much as the transitions toward democracy in the Arab region hold great promise they also pose serious, albeit controllable, challenges. “These challenges will invariably impact the way we work…that is why, now more than ever before, a new development paradigm that reaffirms the centrality of human beings and responds to people’s aspirations for human dignity and social justice, has become imperative,” she affirmed. Khalaf noted that ESCWA has revisited its program priorities and directions in preparation for its next biennium work program. “These priorities include equitable and sustainable growth, social justice, equity and good governance, regional integration, knowledge and innovation, and last but not least, resilience and responding to crisis and conflict,” she explained. ESCWA’s chief encouraged participants to focus on identifying key obstacles for these objectives and bottle-necks in advancing them, actions and future initiatives to overcome them and important measures for further implementation. New challenges and emerging issues in the realm of socio-economic development need to be highlighted, she urged. The meeting, which concludes on 21 September, is expected to set blueprints for a more secure and prosperous future for the region by enhancing the capacity of member countries to foster constructive change. Participants will identify key priorities of the region in pursuit of a new development paradigm, which addresses all emerging challenges and examines structural changes. Participants include national, regional and international experts specialized in diverse socio-economic issues, in addition to prominent academics and well-known specialists, as well as representatives from international and regional entities, research centers, non-governmental organizations, civil society and the private sector.