Like most of the MENA region non-hydrocarbon producing countries, Lebanon faces an exodus of its most educated citizens. This Financial Times article is about those reasons prevailing in this conjecture. It must however be noted that the country where the moving out attitude is known to be millennia old, is perhaps going through a first in terms of a democratic claim by its people.
Many doubt their future prospects as country sinks into economic meltdown
Lana Noura is only 18 and a first-year computer science student at the prestigious American University in Beirut. But like many of her classmates, she already knows she wants to leave Lebanon once she has finished her course.
“I will leave for work and hopefully take my parents with me,” she said. “Anywhere would be fine, but I would prefer somewhere in the Middle East. It’s for a good life. Here it’s not stable and you never know what will happen next.”
Jad Masry, a fifth-year medical student, also plans to leave, either for Germany or America. “It will be a better income, better education and better lifestyle,” he said. “The politicians in Lebanon cannot bring us a good future because they are corrupt.”
Lebanon has always had a huge diaspora after waves of emigration over the past two centuries, particularly as a result of the 15-year civil war that ended in 1990. Now, once again, as the country sinks deeper into economic meltdown, it faces a new exodus of its brightest and best-educated citizens.
Forced to grapple daily with hyperinflation, power cuts and shortages, many Lebanese have little confidence in the future. They have lost hope their fractious leaders will take action to reverse the country’s catastrophic financial collapse. Two years after the onset of a fiscal and banking crisis, little has been done to salvage the sinking economy in what the World Bank has called a “deliberate depression . . . orchestrated by an elite that has captured the state”.
“Lebanon has yet to identify, least of all embark upon, a credible path toward economic and financial recovery,” said the World Bank in December. “In consequence, highly skilled labour is increasingly likely to take up potential opportunities abroad, constituting a permanent social and economic loss for the country.”
Lebanese people seeking jobs abroad include formerly well-paid professionals whose dollar accounts are blocked by the banks and young people who see no future in their home country. About 40 per cent of the population of almost 7m is considering emigrating, according to a recent survey commissioned by Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, a German think-tank.
About 40 per cent of Lebanon’s doctors have already left for the Gulf or the west, either permanently or temporarily, according to the World Bank. At least 10,000 teachers have also found jobs abroad, according to some estimates, cited by the World Bank. The Lebanese lira has lost more than 95 per cent of its value against the dollar over the past two years, rendering teachers’ salaries almost worthless.
The German survey found that 40 per cent of Lebanese have had to cut down on food and a third are unable to afford their medication. Three-quarters of the population has been plunged into what the UN terms “multidimensional poverty” — a measure that includes access to health, education and public utilities in addition to income poverty.
The debilitating impact of the brain drain is already being felt in the health sector. Charaf Abou Charaf, head of the doctors’ union, said the main university hospitals in Beirut, which employed highly skilled specialists, had each lost between 100 and 150 doctors. “It means some specialised procedures cannot be carried out,” he added. “And it is not just a question of doctors, there is also a shortage of supplies and medicines. If the political and financial situation are not quickly rectified, the health situation will be in danger.”
At the American University of Beirut Medical Center, Mona Nasrallah, an endocrinologist, said three out of the 10 doctors in her department had gone abroad. “The clinical, teaching and administrative load has increased, taking time away from my research,” she added. “It is also more complicated now because you can’t refer patients to certain specialists if they are no longer there. You have to work to find suitable replacements.”
Nasrallah said the government had made no effort to retain doctors, but individual hospitals were trying to find ways to keep them by paying a proportion of their salaries in “fresh dollars” — a term that refers to money transferred into the country from abroad or to new cash that enters the system that is exempt from restrictions on bank accounts. “It’s not a lot of money, but enough to get by on,” she added. “If you have already made up your mind to go, it won’t make you stay. But if you want to stay, it will keep you afloat.”
Experts warn of the long-term impact of the mass emigration of the skilled. Saroj Kumar Jha, World Bank Mashreq regional director, said that the quality of education in Lebanon had been declining even before the crisis and the departure of highly skilled doctors and teachers meant there was not the flow of “human capital” to replace them.
“The Lebanese children born in today’s times when they become 18 years old, their productivity will be only 48 per cent of their potential, which means that there is structurally something wrong with the quality of learning in the schools.”
Nasser Saidi, a Lebanese economist and former minister, also warned of the dangers of the depletion of Lebanon’s “stock of human capital”.
“When you have skilled people working alongside unskilled people, they help them improve because they teach them,” he said. “If the skilled people and the educated people are not there, then we just have misery.”
Such long-term considerations, however, are not a priority for those grappling with the everyday realities of a worthless currency, lengthy power cuts and expensive food and fuel. “If I knew it was going to be like this, I would have left a long time ago,” said Zaher Nashabe, a fourth-year chemistry student who plans to go to the US. “I will work there for a few years, get some financial stability and maybe return. But if my family come too and I find work, I will stay there.”
Academic and policy-based research demonstrates that women and youth in most Middle East and North Africa (MENA) countries face legal, regulatory, and socio-cultural barriers to entering the formal labor market and generating income. The economic role of MENA women and youth is vital, as they represent the demographic majority and are highly educated. Nonetheless, they control fewer assets than men.1
Entrepreneurship can be a viable alternative for MENA women and youth because of its prestige in the region and its ability to catalyze inclusive growth.2 Women and youth, however, are less likely to own small businesses and experience greater difficulty in starting and sustaining them. MENA women have lower entrepreneurship rates than men and this has been trending downward over the past decade despite increases in overall entrepreneurship rates. This brief draws on research and evidence to formulate policy advice on how support for entrepreneurship can enhance the economic security of women and youth in what will be a slow and painful post-pandemic recovery.
Prior to the pandemic, extreme poverty was trending downward globally, except in MENA. Extreme poverty in general is likely to worsen as the COVID-19 pandemic persists. The pandemic has compounded the pre-existing economic hardship of both women and youth (age 15-24) in MENA, although individuals in some countries are faring better than others. The MENA region faces rising unemployment, declining household incomes, and deteriorating livelihoods. Furthermore, countries like Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon are hosting millions of refugees, and Syria and Yemen have a significant portion of their population internally displaced. The prospects of a very uneven two-speed global economic recovery and rapidly rising public debt will limit MENA governments’ spending on social protection for their citizens and refugees alike. As a recent World Bank report notes, the MENA region is expected to face rising poverty, exclusion, inequality, food insecurity, and growing gender divides.
The Political Economy of Protest, Violence, and Extremism
A decade on, the drivers of the Arab Spring, such as youth unemployment, worsening socioeconomic conditions, and dim future prospects, have not been addressed. As noted, the pandemic has only worsened these regional trends. Considering that life satisfaction in MENA was falling over the past decade while the global average was rising prior to the pandemic, the prognosis for MENA’s current political instability must be considered as part of recovery support efforts. It is notable that a majority of MENA academic experts (76% of 1,293) believe that the region is still in a state of protest or will experience another mass wave of protests within the next 10 years. Indeed, many young people recently surveyed by Arab Barometer have continued to say they have lost trust and confidence in their governments.
Research suggests a correlation between higher economic security and lower rates of conflict. Moreover, inclusive governance that promotes transparency and accountability demonstrably improves economic performance. Inversely, corruption and loss of public trust in governments exacerbate political instability and economic stagnation. Hence, regional specialists concur that the Arab Spring was an expression of discontent with governments’ economic policies, which led to unequitable wealth distribution, stagnant social mobility, and the ascent of oligarchic crony capitalists. In essence, a strong and widespread societal perception of economic and political exclusion can contribute to conflict and unrest; when people perceive their prospects of economic security to be deteriorating and they lack hope that things will improve, they are prone to unrest, violent conflict, and protest. This was a contributing factor to the Arab Spring.
While academic studies show that economic insecurity can lead to youth (and wider social) protest, it rarely explains radicalization and violent extremism. Nonetheless, youth perceptions of governments being unjust and corrupt can partly explain radicalization; for example, many ISIS members were attracted by its perceived moral clarity and commitments to economic justice. Disaffected youth who blame the state for their economic insecurity are a powder keg and need more attention from global and regional actors. Improving the livelihood and economic security of women and youth can mitigate civil disorder and stem irregular migrant flows. Moreover, women’s economic empowerment improves their agency and advances women’s rights, promoting economic growth and inclusive governance.
Entrepreneurship among women and youth can be a pathway to the prevention of conflict and inclusive growth. Entrepreneurship can help improve inclusive governance by disrupting rent-seeking crony capitalism whereby economic elites have been protected by political authorities.3 Entrepreneurs push for liberalizing the regulatory environment and removing rent-seeking advantages that insulate crony capitalists from free-market forces. Enhancing inclusive governance can mitigate against political instability and radicalization by promoting transparency, reducing corruption, and raising people’s hope for a better future. As the joint U.N. and World Bank Pathways to Peace report aptly notes, preventing conflict and instability is not only a moral responsibility, it is also far more cost-effective than responding to violence and instability after the fact. The report notes, prevention is best realized through “investment in inclusive and sustainable development. For all countries, addressing inequalities and exclusion, making institutions more inclusive, and ensuring that development strategies are risk-informed are central to preventing the fraying of the social fabric that could erupt into crisis.”
With this appreciation of the political and economic forces currently at work in the MENA, this policy brief draws on academic research and related literature and includes input from internal consultations with Global Affairs Canada (GAC) officials on the challenges of women and youth in advancing their economic security through meaningful employment and income generation. This brief also argues that success on this front can help to address the main drivers of political instability across many countries in this diverse region. This brief identifies avenues for supporting entrepreneurship to advance both inclusive growth for everyone and gender equality and empowerment. In MENA, attention to these opportunities can catalyze a more inclusive recovery from the pandemic while also demonstrating the wider economic benefits for society from progressive reforms and shifts in gender norms.
To this end, development assistance policies, as well as trade promotion and diplomatic engagement, must consider MENA’s social and cultural norms. Both family honor and social respectability are highly valued, and entrepreneurship has a positive socio-cultural connotation in many MENA societies. Supporting MENA women and youth entrepreneurship provides a niche for Canada and other Western countries’ international assistance and related policies in the region and this brief demonstrates the ways in which it can catalyze economic security more broadly.
While women in MENA surpass men in post-secondary education, their labor force participation is the lowest globally and these figures have barely budged in a decade. While more men than women work in the informal sector — which in MENA accounts for 68% of total employment and is predominantly in the agricultural sector — these vulnerable workers may be unreported and undercounted. Similarly, MENA youth are far more educated than previous generations, but their unemployment rates are often double their countries’ national averages and double the world average (13.6%) with an unemployment rate of 28.1% in 2018. Until the post-COVID recovery becomes firmly entrenched, labor market participation rates of women and youth will certainly worsen before they improve.
Why are women and youth under/unemployment rates so high? There are socio-cultural barriers that prompt women and youth to choose not to work. For example, the phenomenon of “reservation wages,” or the lowest wage one is willing to accept, can be relatively high in the region, distorting incentives in the labor market. They are higher for relatively wealthier MENA women and youth such that they are voluntarily unemployed. Reservation wages are often higher for young MENA women than for young men; reservation wages are also higher for married MENA women than for unmarried women. Moreover, MENA women with post-secondary education are more likely to be unemployed than women without post-secondary education. Women who obtain post-secondary education thus represent a significant underutilized knowledge and skills resource. Moreover, this also suggests that reservation wages are higher for middle-class MENA women than for poor, rural women. Consequently, introducing more MENA women and youth into the labor market requires an understanding of intersectional and demographic identities; there is no one-size-fits-all approach.
Another factor in MENA women and youth unemployment is their common preference for working in the public sector, which is bloated and unable to absorb additional labor. Often MENA women prefer to work in the lower-paid public sector (although Gulf countries’ public sector wages are higher than the private sector) because of shorter workdays for those with care responsibilities. Similarly, MENA youth have historically preferred to work in the public sector for its perceived security. That said, these attitudes are rapidly changing, particularly outside of the Arab Gulf countries.
Despite high reservation wages and preferences for public sector jobs, there are very strong favorable socio-cultural attitudes toward entrepreneurship in MENA.4 Notably, the region is second only to sub-Saharan Africa in the favorability of public attitudes toward entrepreneurship: 73.4% of the surveyed MENA public believed that “starting a business is considered a good career choice” and 77.8% believed that “persons growing a successful new business receive high status.” Youth in MENA have high aspirations to start a business; 84% want to be entrepreneurs. A persistent challenge, however, is involving MENA women and youth in entrepreneurial activity; while aspirations and respect for starting a business are high, actual entrepreneurship rates are relatively low compared to other developing regions. Identifying and addressing the impediments is an urgent priority for economic security and for an inclusive and sustainable recovery.
Many entrepreneurs gain valuable employment experience before starting their own businesses. Yet, for both women and youth, there are socio-cultural, legal, and regulatory barriers to participating in the labor market. Moreover, these barriers are often worse for women in MENA than in any other region of the world. Persistent legal and regulatory barriers across MENA that disadvantage women include low public sector retirement ages (50 to 55 years), which can impede women from entering the labor force after rearing children, inadequate childcare benefits and maternity leave, and the absence of legislation (in 70% of MENA countries) protecting women from workplace harassment. In a survey of young MENA women, they noted that flexible working hours (part-time and home-based work), nursery and daycare facilities, soft skills training, and on-the-job training would help them to enter and stay in the workforce
The absence of safe public transportation in MENA is a notable impediment to women’s full labor force participation in two respects. First, women are in general subject to physical and verbal harassment by men when riding buses and minibuses. Second, safe public transport is often unavailable into the evening hours when private sector owners expect their employees to continue working. Notably, in 55% of MENA countries, women are legally restricted from working night hours. Certainly, gender norms remain conservative throughout the MENA: Women experience the “double burden” of trying to balance paid employment and unpaid domestic work, and find childcare challenging. Women’s income is perceived as disposable rather than necessary, as men are still perceived as responsible for providing for their families. Successful entrepreneurship by women can help shift these norms in a more progressive and inclusive direction.
Policy research suggests that when entrepreneurs take off, they can be valuable sources of new job creation. Indeed, early-stage entrepreneurs in MENA noted that they expect to employ 45 individuals in the first five years of their operations. Research finds that women-led micro, small, and midsized enterprises (MSMEs) can improve household welfare more than men-led businesses, provide women the flexibility to work from home, and enhance their empowerment and stature in households and society. Increasing rates of entrepreneurship among women and youth in MENA requires a multifaceted approach that includes promoting business development literacy, providing mentorship programs for less experienced entrepreneurs, and encouraging incubator-like programs in both the public and private sectors.
Many MENA countries have improved considerably in the World Bank’s Doing Business indices in the past decade, particularly in the Gulf. Nevertheless, there remain many gendered impediments: 13 MENA countries have regulations for women entrepreneurs that men do not face. In a survey of 1,210 MENA women entrepreneurs in select countries, they noted that their most significant barriers were accessing financing, lack of personal business or other work experience, and absence of networks and contacts. This ease of doing business, from business registration to obtaining financing, can facilitate or hinder entrepreneurs’ success. Without regulatory reforms, the environment for private sector-led sustainable economic growth remains constrained.
Accessing credit remains more difficult for women and youth in the MENA region than anywhere else in the world. On average, it costs MENA entrepreneurs 26% of income per capita to start a small business compared, for example, to just 3% in OECD countries. MENA youth and women report that financial support, such as accessing microcredit loans in mainstream banks, remains the greatest impediment to starting and expanding a business. MENA women’s MSMEs have the second highest financing gap after East Asia and the Pacific region: 29% of total finance gap amounting to an estimated $ 16 billion compared to 37% of $103 billion. MENA’s women entrepreneurs concentrate in personal services, creative sectors, and health care. Venture capitalist rarely invest in these areas, but banking loans are difficult to access due to high interest rates and requirements for collateral assets against potential insolvency. These requirements are known to disadvantage women and young clients, particularly because of wide and persistent gender gaps in asset ownership. Only 38% of MENA women have bank accounts, and gender discrimination in both investment and inheritance laws hinder potential women entrepreneurs from accessing the resources their businesses need to take off.
While most entrepreneurial activity is currently in wholesale and retail, followed by professional and other services, communications, financial services, and information technology are growing rapidly. Nearly 37% of MENA entrepreneurial businesses are deploying new technologies and 25% are offering new services or products to the market. When compared to other regions, the MENA has a far higher technology orientation. Most of the region is online, yet digitized services remain untapped, including e-commerce.
This policy brief provides a review of entrepreneurship in the MENA region as a promising entry point for policy dialogue, programs, and trade and investment promotion. As labor market participation of youth and women in MENA remains stagnant, entrepreneurship can be a viable alternative and catalyst to the promotion of economic security among these groups. Policy options should be tailored to reflect the size and scale of firms and consider the intersectionality of entrepreneurs. Foreign countries have an important role to play in fostering entrepreneurship for women and youth in MENA. Canada has programming experience in this space, such as the Launching Economic Achievement Program for Women in Jordan (LEAP), that can inform its policy toward the region. As MENA faces a tough recovery from the pandemic, preventing conflict and instability are cost-effective and smart. International assistance entails programs that can give people in the region hope that their livelihoods will improve. There is still much to do to provide a positive ecosystem for entrepreneurs in MENA countries, and Canada and other Western nations can convene donors to share best entrepreneurial practices that can assist MENA’s economic and socio-political development. The MENA region needs specialized tools for women and youth to enhance their financial inclusion, break down regulatory barriers, access microfinance, and acquire valuable skills. Western countries can deploy their international and regional leverage in this crucial policy area.
Dr. Bessma Momani is Full Professor in the Department of Political Science and Assistant Vice-President, Research and International in the Office of Research at the University of Waterloo. She is a senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, a non-resident fellow at the Arab Gulf States’ Institute in Washington, DC, a Fulbright Scholar, and a member of the Advisory Council for MEI’s Program on Economics and Energy. Dr. Momani was the second Global Affairs Canada International Assistance Visiting Scholar in 2021 and Global Affairs Canada provided financial support for this brief. The views expressed in it are her own and the content is the sole responsibility of the author.
Photo by Morteza Nikoubazl/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Women and youth have some shared realities as demographic groups that have least access to formal economic labor markets, but there is great variation between them, and this brief acknowledges that the intersectionality of both groups is important to devising better policies.
National and regional data shows strong support and respect for entrepreneurship; however, this varies between countries and within countries.
Disrupting rent-seeking is more difficult for microenterprises than it is for medium-sized enterprises, nevertheless over time when successful firms scale up, rent-seeking is challenged, and this may lead to a disruption of crony-capitalism. This linear argument is not a guaranteed outcome but is a theoretical proposition. There is, perhaps then, a positive role for donors to assist microenterprises and small enterprises to scale up.
Regarding the scale and size of entrepreneurs, it is important to note that entrepreneurs are likely to start and remain micro-sized and small, and few grow to become medium-sized enterprises (MSE). Self-employed businesses or microenterprises may generally be home-based or solo-operated businesses with lower income to supplement paid work, while SMEs can have substantial revenues. Microenterprises and SMEs have been labeled MSMEs. Starting an MSME is usually done by an entrepreneur, and hence the interchangeable use of the terms. This policy briefing will use the term entrepreneur to mean MSMEs. Generally, the MENA region defines MSMEs based on the number of employees in an enterprise. These numbers can vary across the region, but generally micro implies fewer than 10 employees, small implies fewer than 50, and medium implies fewer than 200. Large companies often have 200 employees or more. MENA countries have more microenterprises than SMEs, and even fewer large companies. Policy interventions to assist these entrepreneurs need to be tailored to take size and scale into consideration.
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.”
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.
INJAZ Al-Arab and JA Africa have partnered with global consulting firm Oliver Wyman to explore labour market skills gap in the MENA Region and Sub-Saharan Africa in an effort to tackle the unemployment challenge.
The “Youth Employment Perception” survey was conducted in response to the realization that these incremental unemployment figures cannot solely be attributed to lack of opportunities in the formal labor market.
The study took place across thirteen countries, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Qatar and the UAE in the MENA region, along with six countries in Sub-Saharan Africa i(Eswatini, Gabon, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe).
The study looked at markets across four key areas to provide a dual-perspective from both youth and employers which included sectoral opportunities and challenges, qualifying the skills gap, bridging the gap, and the impact of COVID-19 on the labour market. Interestingly around 60% of youth are unable to secure employment due to lack of relevant work experience, while 70% believe they need updated education and upskilling to find employment, showing just how much a problem the skills gap currently is.
The study surveyed more than 350 employers across the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa, and over 2,000 youths across both regions. The employer respondents were selected from various industries to get a broad view, including education, public sector and nonprofit organizations, financial services, manufacturing, engineering, and professional services. The insights from the study will be used to influence the private sector and public policy in addressing these challenges.
AkefAqrabawi, President &CEO of INJAZ Al-Arab, said: “In keeping with our commitment to inspire and prepare a generation of Arab youth to become the leaders of tomorrow, we were pleased to collaborate with Oliver Wyman on a project that has the potential to support the MENA region and Sub-Saharan Africain tackling the unemployment challenge. The survey sheds awareness on the disparity between the skills that youth are currently being equipped with, and the requirements requested by today’s employers. We will continue our work at INJAZ-Al Arab by leveraging the insights garnered from this study to provide the necessary programs and mentorship opportunities to students to close this gap.”
Continuing to discuss the power of the partnership, Pierre Romagny, Partner at Oliver Wyman, said: “We were pleased to partner once again with INJAZ Al-Arab and JA Africa on such a pivotal project to deepen our common understanding of the skills gaps and youth-employer disconnects on the labor market. These insights are critical to point the private and public sectors alike in the right direction to start addressing these challenges. We are proud to have collaborated withINJAZ Al-Arab and JA Africa on this study: 13 program facilitators and 18 friends of the work-readiness programs (employers) across MENA and SSA have provided valuable insights on challenges and opportunities in their market. We look forward to leveraging this report to create awareness with employers and drive opportunities for youth across markets.”
JA Africa’s CEO, Simi Nwogugu, said,”Parts of Sub-Saharan Africa has some of the highest rates of youth unemployment in the world and the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the situation, making it increasingly important that we develop solutions quickly as the region also has the largest and fastest growing youth population in the world. We are grateful for this partnership with Oliver Wyman which will inform the work we do at JA Africa over the next few years to equip youth with requisite skills for productive employment and entrepreneurship.”
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