Here is Gilgamesh Nabeel in MENA Region Digital Transformation Can Create More Jobs as per a recent report that says so.
Over 230 students attend a workshop held by the Elaf Center and the Earthlink Telecommunications at Diyala University, northeast of Baghdad, to be better prepared for the labour market. (Photo Courtesy: Elaf Center for Media Training, 2021).
Lack of digital infrastructure contributes to high rates of youth unemployment in the MENA region, a new report says.
The report, “COVID-19 and Internet Accessibility in the MENA Region”, was published in mid-December by the U.S.-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. It assesses the readiness of the MENA region countries to shift employment online, both in terms of Internet availability and digital literacy among the populace.
Its authors, Alexander Farley and Manuel Langendorf, argue that increasing internet accessibility and investing in digital infrastructure development can help governments’ efforts to form a digitally-enabled economic recovery strategy.
While the MENA region is projected to have 160 million potential digital users by 2025, the paper draws a bleak image of its internet infrastructure and accessibility.
Last year, 34 percent of the population in Arab states was not using the Internet, according to ITU data. In 2019, the GSMA, which represent the interests of mobile network operators worldwide, found that almost half the people in countries such as Egypt and Lebanon, which have a mobile broadband network, are not using the Internet. Around 60 million people in the MENA region were not covered by a mobile network.
“Studies have shown that broadband development leads to increased GDP and has a positive impact on employment in the short term – part of the picture are newly created jobs to build new digital infrastructure,”
Manuel Langendorf A researcher focusing on digital transformation in the MENA region and co-author of the report
Furthermore, with the exception of the UAE and Qatar, which cover about 80 percent of households directly with fiber, only nine out of 100 inhabitants in Arab states used fixed broadband subscriptions, the second-lowest rate of all world regions, after Africa.
The paper says the development of digital infrastructure overall continues to lag behind the rest of the world. This holds back the region’s digital transformation and deprives it of the benefits of investment in improving national core networks.
Digital Infrastructure Development Boosts Jobs
Overall, unemployment in the MENA region stood at 11.6 percent with the “the low-skilled, the young, women, and migrant workers were affected the most” by the pandemic, the report says. In 2019, youth unemployment was over 25 percent, with further decline in youth employment by an additional 10 percent in 2020.
Manuel Langendorf, a researcher focusing on digital transformation in the MENA region and co-author of the report, argued that proper investment in digital infrastructure can help government confront unemployment.
“Digital transformation is not a silver bullet to solve the MENA region’s protracted unemployment problem, but it can create new job opportunities, especially for the large young and relatively tech-savvy population,” Langendorf told Al-Fanar Media.
“Studies have shown that broadband development leads to increased GDP and has a positive impact on employment in the short term – part of the picture are newly created jobs to build new digital infrastructure,” he added.
While the longer term effects seem less clear, Langendorf thinks a country-wide improvement to digital infrastructure can bring new economic opportunities, including for disadvantaged populations and rural areas.
“These include the expansion of remote working, as an employee or freelance worker, and also allows workers to search for employment opportunities more widely,” he added. “An improved digital infrastructure also opens up new job opportunities in online education.”
Citing the installation of ten submarine internet cables between Europe and Africa, he said: “We found a significant and large relative increase in the employment rate in connected areas when fast internet becomes available.”
Do We Need More IT Graduates?
In the Internet era, when many traditional jobs might disappear, students see IT-related courses as a route to secure jobs.
However, the report highlighted that some countries, like Jordan, graduate around 5,000 students in IT-related fields each year, yet less than 2,000 are hired. Still, some see an opportunity for ICT graduates from the region to fill the shortage of skilled IT workers in Western countries.
“University curricula in most MENA countries are slow to update, thus creating a situation where many fresh graduates hold a diploma but are not ready to start working in the IT sector as their knowledge is outdated,” he wrote to Al-Fanar Media.
“Nevertheless, many MENA startups have had great success in the past years. In 2021, MENA-based startups raised close to $3 billion, a new record for the region.”
He called on the education and the private sectors to collaborate to improve the university-job pipeline and close the skills gap. “Both sides should make sure that the latest IT knowledge is integrated into curricula and set up internship opportunities for students and graduates,” he said. “Beyond universities, the private sector and educational institutions can hold more workshops to bring people up to speed.”
The report also identified management skills as one of the biggest challenges to expanding potential of IT in the MENA region. “The lack of management skills affects the scalability of projects and businesses that can make use of the surplus of advanced IT skills,” said Farley.
Moreover, the authors said the MENA region lacks truly innovative IT ventures, and is focused instead on adapting ideas created elsewhere.
“In this context, the region is often described as a consumer rather than a creator of technology,” said Farley. “Nevertheless, many MENA startups have had great success in the past years. In 2021, MENA-based startups raised close to $3 billion, a new record for the region.”
Fruitful Digital Transformation Tips
Governments and other stakeholders need to ensure that the expansion of digital infrastructure focuses not just on connectivity (areas covered by Internet), but accessibility, the authors went on.
“Is using the Internet affordable? Do people have access to devices to use the Internet?” wondered Langendorf. “Mobile industry body GSMA estimated those living in areas with a mobile broadband network but not using mobile internet increased from 41 percent to 48 percent between 2014 and 2020.”
To enable investments in digital infrastructure to tackle unemployment, Langendorf calls on governments to support entrepreneurship. “They need to facilitate starting a business and obtaining loans, and decriminalizing bankruptcy,” he said.
“Besides, they should enable cross-border trade and the movement of skilled people between countries.”
Modern Diplomacy advises that in Iraq: an Urgent Call for Education Reforms to Ensure Learning for All Children is nowadays a requirement that is not only to prepare people for life, with all knowledge and skills to contribute to a thriving society. It is to be noted that Iraq historically witnessed writing in its earliest form as a means of communication and education, etc.
Learning levels in Iraq are among the lowest in the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) region and are likely to decline even further because of the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on education service delivery, including prolonged school closures.
These low learning levels are putting the future of Iraqi children and the country at risk. A new World Bank report says that while, now more than ever, investments are needed in education to recover lost learning and turn crisis into opportunity, these investments must be accompanied by a comprehensive reform agenda that focuses the system on learning outcomes and builds a more resilient education system for all children.
Human capital is essential to achieve sustainable and inclusive economic growth. However, according to the World Bank’s 2020 Human Capital Index (HCI), a child born in Iraq today will reach, on average, only 41% of their potential productivity when they grow up.
At the heart of Iraq’s human capital crisis is a learning crisis, with far-reaching implications. Iraq’s poor performance on the HCI is largely attributed to its low learning levels. COVID-19 has led to intermittent school closures across Iraq, impacting more than 11 million Iraqi students since February 2020. This report highlights that, with schools closed over 75% of the time and opportunities for remote learning limited and unequal, Iraqi children are facing another reduction of learning‑adjusted years of schooling. Effectively, students in Iraq are facing more than a “lost year” of learning.
“Iraq can use lessons learned from the current health crisis, turn recovery into opportunity, and “build forward better,” to ensure it provides learning opportunities for all Iraqi children especially its poorest and most vulnerable children” said Saroj Kumar Jha, World Bank Mashreq Regional Director. “The World Bank is ready to support Iraq in building a more equitable and resilient post-COVID-19 education system that ensures learning for all children and generates the dividends for faster and more inclusive growth”.
The report Building Forward Better to Ensure Learning for All Children in Iraq: An Education Reform Path puts forward for discussion sector-wide reform recommendations, focusing on immediate crisis response as well as medium and long-term needs across six key strategic areas:
1. Engaging in an Emergency Crisis response through the mitigation of immediate learning loss and prevention of further dropouts.
2. Improving foundational skills to set a trajectory for learning through improved learning & teaching materials and strengthened teacher practices with a focus on learning for all children.
3. Focusing on the most urgently needed investments, while ensuring better utilization of resources.
4. Improving the governance of the education sector and promoting evidence‑based decision‑making.
5. Developing and implementing an education sector strategy that focuses on learning and “building forward better”.
6. Aligning skills with labor market needs through targeted programs and reforms.
Dezeen reports that in the United Kingdom architectural professions top the list of all elite occupations. For millennia, humans make and build the most things in the world, but also contaminate it the most, as it is getting more and more obvious these latter days. Would this impact this article’s assertion if generalised to the rest of the world, mean that those privileged society elites are responsible for what we got now?
This means architectural careers such as architects, town planning officers and technicians rank as number one in the study’s list of the 25 most elite occupations in the UK.
The report also found that class-based exclusion is more prominent in the creative industries than in other sectors of the economy, with other creative occupations ranking in the top 25 including artists, journalists and musicians.
Architecture sector “dominated by the privileged”
“Creative occupations such as architects; journalists and editors; musicians; artists; and producers and directors are, in fact, as dominated by the privileged as doctors, dentists, lawyers and judges,” the report states.
“They are even more elite than management consultants and stockbrokers.”
The report also found that in 2020, those from privileged backgrounds were twice as likely to be employed in the creative industries as those from working-class backgrounds (9.8 per cent and 4.9 per cent respectively.)
The Social Mobility in the Creative Economy report was carried out by Heather Carey, Dave O’Brien and Olivia Gable as part of a three-year programme led by the Policy and Evidence Centre (PEC) exploring class in the creative industries.
In the report, privilege is defined as people who had at least one parent who worked in a “higher or lower managerial, administrative or professional occupation” when they were 14 years old.
This references the National Statistics Socio-Economic Classification (NS-SEC), which clusters various occupations together into eight groups. The report considers those who belong to groups I or II, which includes doctors, CEOs and lawyers, to be privileged.
One in four creative roles filled by working class people
The report also states that in 2020 just one in four people working in the creative industries sector were from lower socio-economic backgrounds and this has remained largely unchanged since 2014.
This means that the UK’s creative industries would need to employ 250,000 more working-class people to become as socio-economically diverse as the rest of the economy.
“To put this figure in perspective, this deficit is greater in scale than the size of the creative workforce in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland combined,” the report states.
As such, the authors of the report have also called on the government and industry to adopt a 10-point plan to establish a socially inclusive creative economy.
Recommendations include prioritising creating fair foundations for success and widening access to higher education, eliminating unpaid internships and accelerating the progression of diverse talent.
EGYPTIAN STREETS in its ARTS & CULTURE posted a commemorative article on how Hassan Fathy, the Egyptian ‘Architect of the Poor’ developed against the then ongoing trends of modernism. Did he contribute in his own specific way to the birth of the Post-Modern movement? One wonders but lets us first have a look at this story.
“[Some] saw him as a lonely guru, reminiscent of Old Testament prophets, promising that the world would reap misery for not listening to the truth of his message.”
These words, written in a study dedicated to Hassan Fathy’s legacy, paint a mysterious picture of the life and work of the controversial, yet highly celebrated, Egyptian architect. But who was he, and what makes him stand out until today as one of the most unique, timeless, and internationally recognized Egyptian architects of all time?
Born in 1900 in Alexandria to an upper-middle class family, one notable peculiarity in Fathy’s six-decade career is that much of his work – including New Gourna, the village that became his best-known project – was neither urban nor for the well-to-do.
Located in Luxor, New Gourna was a prime example of the philosophy ingrained in Fathy’s designs. Architecture, he believed, was for human beings. At the core of his concepts were the needs of those who would use his buildings. In the case of New Gourna and many of his other projects, those who used his buildings were Egypt’s rural poor, whom he centred in most of his work.
“We need a system that allows the traditional way of cooperation to work in our society. We must subject technology and science to the economy of the poor and penniless,” said Fathy, who became known as ‘the architect of the poor’.
His work also rejected many elements of internationalist modernism and embraced traditional styles, approaches, and materials, believing that they were best suited for the environment. He valued indigenous insights on architecture and believed that they were there for a reason; a direct result of indigenous needs.
While building New Gourna, for example, he championed cultural authenticity by using mud bricks as his main building material and designing domed ceilings as is common in Upper Egypt.
Fathy, whose work focused on developing countries, the Arab and Muslim world, and particularly Egypt, believed that straying too far from traditional concepts and instead opting for culturally alien designs and materials, would with time encroach on the indigenous cultural identity.
These beliefs marginalised Fathy for some time within the Egyptian community of architects, which initially did not fully accept his rejection of modernism, but Fathy was immovable. Eventually, still within his lifetime, he was vindicated.
Gradually, more and more people in Egypt and the rest of the world began to see that what he was proposing was a different, more locally-centred form of modernism, which is far more sustainable and likely to preserve unique cultural identities.
Fathy was honoured many times for his work and architectural philosophy, receiving awards such as the first Aga Khan Chairman’s Award ever given, as well as the Right Livelihood Award in the first year of its inception, both in 1980. His book, Architecture for the Poor: An Experiment in Rural Egypt, in which he evaluates and discusses his project at New Gourna years after it was built, has become a staple for architecture students around the world.
Today, over three decades after Fathy’s death, his ideas are still proving to be relevant and insightful, perhaps even more than in his own day: for all the excitement about Egypt’s current construction boom, with developments in new urban centers such as the New Administrative Capital or New Alamein City, some are voicing concerns very similar to the core of Fathy’s message of humanism, cultural authenticity, and sustainability.
With expensive, modernist designs that do not tie in local designs or materials, Fathy’s words from 1969 are recalled:
“In modern Egypt, there is no indigenous style. The signature is missing; the houses of rich and poor alike are without character, without an Egyptian accent,” he writes in his book Architecture for the Poor: An Experiment in Rural Egypt. “The tradition is lost, and we have been cut off from our past ever since Mohammed Ali cut the throat of the last Mamluk.
A Qatar based media The Peninsula dwelt on how a local institution Qatar Foundation aka QF is stemming the brain drain meaning of earlier times. Qatar representing 0.10% of the total MENA region land area could perhaps be only doing that to the same proportion. Is it still worth it? Another hiccup would be that of the increasingly divested from and diminishing fossil fuels export-related revenues; could these be that helpful at the same rate in the future, be it near or far? In any case, let us see what it is all about.
The image above is for illustration only and is of the Qatar Foundation headquarters in Doha, Qatar.
QF stemming the brain drain
Doha: In the past decades, many of the MENA region’s best Arab scientists, inventors, engineers, designers, and innovators left their home countries for better opportunities in the West.
While the reasons for the “brain drain” in this part of the world have been varied, many of these talented youth cite a lack of support and resources as their reason for leaving. However, the situation is evolving – for the better.
For more than a decade, Qatar has become a confluence for science and innovation in the MENA region. It is home to Qatar Foundation’s (QF) edutainment show Stars of Science, and it hosts Qatar Science & Technology Park (QSTP).
The show falls under QSTP’s umbrella of programmes that support incubation and start-ups, enhancing capacity to further develop the Qatar Foundation Research, Development and Innovation (QF RDI) ecosystem. The area is fast becoming recognised as the epicentre for technological, engineering, and scientific innovation.
This ecosystem supports and nurtures home-grown innovations from some of the region’s brightest young Arab minds with a view to stemming the tide of MENA innovators seeking resources, support, and mentorship elsewhere. It provides inventors with a nurturing environment where they can refine their inventions, gain guidance, confidence, and mentorship, with the aim to retain promising talent. And with numerous alumni creating innovations that are being used globally, the program also helps to showcase Arab talent to the wider world.
While Stars of Science helps shape the region’s future through revealing the potential of innovators, QSTP promotes one of QF’s key objectives; empowering the innovator behind the idea.
Contestants are automatically enrolled into the flagship accelerator programme, XLR8, where they can continue working on their projects with QF’s support. This unique innovation hub assists inventive entrepreneurs with successful startups, helping them bring their creations to the market within the region, but also internationally.
One such innovator is Dr. Nour Majbour, former researcher at Qatar Biomedical Research Institute, part of QF’s Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU), who took her fascination with the human brain and created a laboratory kit designed to diagnose Parkinson’s disease in its early stages through antibodies. After the show, Dr. Majbour went on to further develop her Stars of Science project, named QABY, within Qatar’s supportive technological ecosystem and officially registered it as a trademark with QF.
Another alumnus from the show is veterinarian Dr. Mohammed Doumir from Algeria – his ingenious project addresses the issue of limping in racing camels. Post Stars of Science, Qatar’s unique collaborative ecosystem appealed to Dr. Doumir, and he stayed in the country pushing for technological advancement and promoting innovation. With the support of the QSTP Product Development Fund – which incubated and funded his idea – he opened his own company named Vetosis, and is now the director for veterinary research and innovation at QSTP. He is currently adding new applications to his device for camel training and fitness promotion.
In Stars of Science Season 11, Abdulrahman Saleh Khamis, from Qatar, took inspiration from his Islamic faith to develop Sajdah, the unique Smart Educational Prayer Rug. Targeted at young and newly converted Muslims, the rug teaches the user the correct way to pray — and more.
After Stars of Science, he started his own company, Thakaa Technologies currently incubated at QSTP where he received funding through the QSTP Product Development Fund. He also successfully completed a pre-order crowdfunding campaign on Launchgood, a platform co-founded by another Stars of Science alumnus, Omar Hamid.
These projects serve as prime examples of incredible collaborations with Qatar’s technological ecosystem, and are a testament to successfully promoting Arab innovators. They highlight Qatar’s unique atmosphere of innovation and support, to the benefit of the Arab region – and beyond – transforming ideas into inventions that positively impact local and international communities.
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