As per the World Bank in its latest announcement, “Growth has picked up across the region and is projected to strengthen over the next few years. And almost all MENA countries have moved to reduce or eliminate energy subsidies, identify new sources of non-oil revenues, and expand social safety nets to shield the poor from adverse effects of change.”
Meanwhile the World Economic Forum informs that the MENA region hosts the world’s elite today and tomorrow by the Dead Sea shore, to try and debate some of the region’s current issues. Jordan has already held the WEF’S gathering in the recent past; refer to MENA-Forum.
ByMirek Dusek, Deputy Head of the Centre for Geopolitical and Regional Affairs, Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum
For thousands of years, the Dead Sea has attracted visitors from far and wide, drawn by legends of its power to heal and rejuvenate. On 6-7 April, 1,000 key leaders from government, business and civil society will gather on its shores for the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Over two days they will confront the issues facing more than 400 million people.
A region of two opposing systems
The Arab world is a region of two contrasting systems. One system features a dynamic private sector, digitally native youth and open economies. The other has a bloated public sector and closed, controlled economies.
Most people in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) interact with both systems, facing a mixed reality. Wealth sits side-by-side with poverty; an exciting entrepreneurial culture struggles with leaden bureaucracy; and an insatiable appetite for the new is balanced with a reverence for tradition.
How these two systems interact – and whether the dynamic, forward-looking system can thrive while respecting the traditions of the Arab world – is among the most important issues the region is facing today.
Five key questions
The following five areas will determine whether the Arab world can successfully move towards the system of innovation and competitiveness.
1. Can the Arab world develop a new, sustainable economic and social framework?
The social contract in much of the Arab world has relied on state-provided employment. This is unsustainable. Nearly half the population is under 25, and a quarter of those are unemployed. Add the biggest gender gap in the world, and it’s clear a new framework is needed.
2. Can a mechanism for conflict resolution be developed?
Ongoing humanitarian disasters in Syria, Yemen and Iraq require immediate attention, as do the longer-term projects of rebuilding fully functioning states. The region has been home to long-standing tensions, and unless these are mitigated, a thriving, competitive region will be hard to realise.
3. Can an ecosystem of entrepreneurship and innovation be developed?
The stories of individual success in the region are too often ones of thriving despite the economic framework. An ecosystem that nurtures innovation and encourages firms to flourish and grow is needed.
4. Are countries prepared for the Fourth Industrial Revolution?
Changes in the way we work are happening more quickly than most societies are prepared for. There is a short window for establishing the right regulatory environment, and reskilling people to make sure they – and the larger economies – can capture the opportunities of technology.
5. Will addressing corruption and transparency be a priority?
Governance reform is a “must do” issue in the region and disillusionment caused by perceptions of corruption is particularly strong among young Arabs.
Global questions, Arab answers
While other regions have grappled with similar questions, the Arab world needs Arab solutions, that capitalize on the unique strengths of the area while accounting for its important sensibilities. There are good examples of this starting to happen.
The UAE is playing a leading role in integrating the region into the global economy. The new Emirates Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, run by the Dubai Future Foundation in partnership with the World Economic Forum, is working to shape governance and capacity issues in the MENA, and it could shape data protocols across the world as a whole. Europe is enforcing strict data protections and regulations, while the United States is taking a more liberal approach. The Arab solution being developed may not just be a better fit for the region, but for elsewhere as well.
Saudi Arabia already has an influential voice as part of the G20, and it’s a voice that can grow. In 2020, it will host the Riyadh Summit, presenting an opportunity for greater impact on the regional and global agenda. A forward-looking programme that strengthens the MENA economies and the global economy as a whole will be an important step toward long-term success for the area.
Actions not words
There is a dire need for a new collaborative platform that brings governments together with businesses and other stakeholders in private-public cooperation. This is the aim of the World Economic Forum’s summit in Jordan. By convening members of the public and private sectors, and bringing new voices into the arena, such as the 100 Arab Start-ups, we hope to facilitate forward-leaning dialogue that understands and respects the values and culture of the region.
WASHINGTON D.C., United States of America, March 27, 2019 / APO Group/ —
The Centers of Excellence will align with the current needs of Egypt’s commercial, academic, and public sectors by solving local problems
Today, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Mark Green announced a $90 million investment in three leading universities in Egypt, which will form partnerships with American universities to create Centers of Excellence in energy, water, and agriculture.
The three Centers of Excellence will establish linkages between Egyptian universities and leading counterparts in the United States, help forge relationships between Egyptian and American researchers and experts, and drive research and innovation in sectors that are key to Egypt’s future economic growth. The three partnerships will be the following:
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology will partner with Ain Shams University to establish a Center of Excellence in Energy;
Cornell University in New York will partner with Cairo University to create a Center of Excellence in Agriculture; and
The American University in Cairo will partner with Alexandria University to develop a Center of Excellence in Water.
Through the establishment of the Centers of Excellence, USAID and the Egyptian Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, will increase the capacity of Egypt’s higher-education institutions and create linkages between research and the public and private sectors in the areas of agriculture, water, and energy. Each Center of Excellence will use applied research to drive innovation and competitiveness in the public and private sectors, strengthen Egyptian Government policy to stimulate economic growth, and contribute solutions to Egypt’s development challenges. The three Centers of Excellence are a part of the investment by the American people in Egypt’s human and economic development.
The Centers of Excellence will align with the current needs of Egypt’s commercial, academic, and public sectors by solving local problems, driving innovation, and leading to lower unemployment and improved performance in the private and public sector.
The main activities of the partnership will include the following:
Creating lasting partnerships between Egyptian public universities and U.S. universities;
Updating university curricula and teaching methods to align Egyptian university education with the needs of local industry; and
Establishing undergraduate-and graduate-level scholarships for students with high financial need; and
Implement exchange programs to foster cross-border learning.
Since 1978, the American people have invested $30 billion to further Egypt’s human and economic development based on our shared ideals and interests.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Africa Regional Media Hub.
“Developing an angel investor pool in the Middle East will create more opportunities and will strengthen regional economic growth” said Ramesh Jagannathan, Managing Director of startAD when introducing his article for Arabian Business weekly dated March 16, 2019.
Financing the angel investment market in Africa, Asia, Europe and America is estimated to be worth $50bn
We live in an exciting age for entrepreneurs. Fuelled by governments in the Middle East, the desire of transforming to an entrepreneurial based economy and boosting investment into building a healthy start-up ecosystem is high-up on the agenda. While there are sufficient funds to fuel potential start-ups in the ecosystem, the risk averse nature of venture capital (VC) firms mean they tend to concentrate their investments in later stage start-ups with crisper valuations. In a mature ecosystem, less than 1 percent of start-ups receive VC funding, and in emerging markets, this number drops by a factor of two. As VC investments continue to move towards more mature start-ups, there is a widening void of funding for early stage start-ups. The effect is not as severe in mature ecosystems as in an emerging ecosystem for a number of reasons.
Angel investors have traditionally filled this void. For example, in the US, annual angel investments of $24bn are being made in over 64,000 start-ups. In fact, 74 percent of all Silicon Valley investments are from entrepreneurial angels, who were previously a founder or a CEO of their own start-up. The phenomenon of “founders funding founders” highlights the organic nature of the process, that they are “local” and have a deep understanding of the entrepreneurship ecosystem and play a vital role in building the ecosystem. This deep knowledge helps to mitigate some of the risks that come with ambiguous valuation of early stage start-ups. More than 60 percent of the angels become active mentors of the start-ups they have invested in and generally take a board seat. More than half of them have a technology background.
By 2030, 88 percent of the next billion people joining the middle class will primarily come from India and China
Having the “right” angel investor tends to de-risk the entrepreneurial process and increases the start-ups’ success rate in raising funds in future rounds. Angels generally see 11 percent of their portfolio producing positive returns.
On the other hand, in emerging ecosystems, there is a dearth of previously successful entrepreneurs, thereby creating a “catch 22” situation. The time scale of the process to build a sustainable entrepreneurial ecosystem is made more acute by the fact that 67 percent of start-ups fail at some point in the process due to inability to raise a subsequent round of financing. The paradox is this: to have a healthy, sustainable entrepreneurial ecosystem, one needs a significant pool of high quality start-ups to cater to a large consumer middle-class and angel investors who have been successful entrepreneurs, preferably within the ecosystem. In other words, while having significant individual or group (eg syndicates) wealth is necessary, they are definitely not sufficient to build a robust ecosystem in an emerging economy, if the wealth is not “hard-wired” to local entrepreneurial experience. Ecosystems are organic in nature.
In India and China, this enigma has been resolved. While the pool of technology talent in these two countries has always been immense, due to the absence of middle-class, post WWII saw a significant “brain drain” from India and China to the US and Silicon Valley. The exodus of the “cream of the crop” from India, especially from the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), was unstoppable after the 1970s and from China since 1979, when the Chinese government started to send its best and brightest students and scholars to the US to catch up with western science and technology. By 1990, about 33 percent of all scientists and engineers in Silicon Valley were from India and China. Of these. 71 percent of these Chinese and 87 percent of these Indians arrived after 1970.
Going forward, by 2030, 88 percent of the next billion people joining the middle class will primarily come from India and China. We are now seeing a significant reverse “brain drain” of Indians and Chinese engineers, scientists and investors back to their homelands. About 80 percent of those returning hold graduate degrees in science, technology or business. China now boasts a sound angel investment culture, and while it’s still in its early stages in India it is gaining steam rapidly as the VC infrastructure is getting foundationally strong.
Turning our focus now to the UAE, and the GCC countries, the opportunity to “ride the wave” of India and China’s global tech dominance is crystal clear. But there are still gulfs to cross, such as the absence of a large, local technology talent pool. Without a disciplined and informed state-of-the-art process that dovetails to a VC infrastructure – by leveraging the local societal sensibilities and strategic inter-governmental alliances – the strength of access to large sums of local capital could quickly become our Achilles’ heel.
By all the ingredients for a master recipe to create a dominant UAE digital economy are in place and we need to diligently prepare, suit up and ride the long wave
Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, discussed the role of governments in stimulating entrepreneurial ecosystems and compares the strengths of funding (supply side) versus founding based (demand) policies. Thiele recommended supply side policies as a mechanism to catalyse growth. However, in emerging economies, we could describe it as a “many body problem”.
We need to stimulate the process of accelerating the flow of global start-up talent into the ecosystem through the UAE.
Besides the government, this process should embed the local competency private sector stakeholders, such as in aviation, energy, transportation and logistics and finance industries. The Venture Launchpad programme at startAD is a classic example that shows significant promise.
Simultaneously, we should educate the regional angel investors about the mechanics and rigors of angel investment in digital start-ups and democratise access. The annual Angel Rising Symposium, now in its fifth year, brings the best minds from around the globe to discuss the best practises that are regionally relevant. The third piece of the puzzle is about building local capacity. StartAD and Khalifa Fund are partnering together to build the acceleration ramp to the global digital economic highway through programmes such as Ibtikari and Pitch@Palace.
All the ingredients for a master recipe to create a dominant UAE digital economy are in place and we need to diligently prepare, suit up and ride the long wave, leading the MENA region.
Fourth Industrial Revolution is catapulting us towards a connected society.
Improvements in the availability and delivery of communications services means
there are now more than four billion internet users, over half the world’s
digital literacy and skills aren’t spreading as fast as connectivity. And that
increases cyber-risks, widens the gender divide and creates skills shortages.
For example, children living in countries with low ICT penetration are 1.3
times more likely to be involved with cyber-risks than those in countries with
high ICT penetration. By 2022, only 30% of the digital workforce will be women
and the UK alone will need an additional 500,000 workers in digital industries
by 2022. In the US, of the nearly six million jobs expected to require tech
skills in the future, there’s a projected pool of only 3.2 million candidates.
talk to my peers leading multinational organisations, skills and talent
shortages is one of their top concerns, no matter what industry or region they
are based in. It’s easy to see why. 90% of jobs will need digital skills in the
next three years. And at a time when most of our organisations are undergoing a
digital transformation, the digital skills gap is hampering progress in 54% of
our organisations and is costing our economies billions.
a father, what really brought home to me the challenge we face was that 65% of
children starting school today will hold jobs in the future that don’t yet
are no longer enough
though I find that digital literacy and skills are no longer enough. Young
people grow up surrounded by technology, but too many have no idea how it all
works – and don’t fully appreciate how it will shape their futures. They see it
as being geeky, not relevant, too hard or even a waste of their time. If you
talk to non-users of the internet, they don’t talk about not having the right
skills. They talk about it not being for them.
look at our workforce, competencies like data analytics and coding aren’t
always the initial key to getting an exciting job. One of our most promising
young cyber security apprentices, Rachel, studied music, not coding. The
skills, abilities and attitudes Rachel learnt playing the violin are now
helping her flourish in her role in our security team.
rise of digital intelligence
Coalition for Digital Intelligence calls this new requirement ‘digital
intelligence’ – not only technical skills but also abilities related to
managing screen time, critical thinking and digital empathy. Singapore’s
Digital Readiness Blueprint highlights this with its recommendation of spelling
out a set of basic digital skills for everyday activities. These skills include
searching for information on the Web, making cashless payments, using messaging
and digital government services, and spotting fake news and online scams.
the skills gap forecast to quadruple between 2020 and 2030, as leaders,
businesses and governments, we need to build a culture where young people see
tech know-how as the new way to get ahead and make the most of technology’s
power to shape their lives. A culture of creative problem-solving based on
digital capability. That’s why I’m delighted that BT is supporting the
Coalition for Digital Intelligence.
people get more from technology
why we’re scaling up our drive to help people get more from technology through
enabling, inspiring and equipping. Enabling teachers and parents to show the
way, inspiring young people to find technology relevant and interesting and
equipping schools to use technology effectively.
focussed our initial efforts on supporting primary school teachers because they
play a crucial role in setting children’s attitudes and aspirations. We’ve
already trained 63,000 teachers and two million children as part of our
Barefoot Computing project. Free learning materials and games encourage kids’
computational thinking, helping them understand the building blocks of the
digital world, like logic, sequencing, abstraction and programming. Barefoot
resources also help to develop other important digital intelligence skills like
numeracy, literacy, collaboration and problem-solving.
course, it’s not just young children. Amongst teenagers, much of the focus of
digital skills is on staying safe. That’s vital, but we also need to make the
digital world more transparent and empowering. Our innovation hothousing
techniques helped us come up with new ways to support kids understand the
commercial realities of the internet and navigate the digital world with
confidence, answering questions like how companies and YouTube stars make money
online, why gaming is addictive and why they find it difficult to put their
At a time when Globalisation 4.0 needs global, digital citizens, I believe that a lack of digital intelligence is an obstacle for people and the organisations that employ them. We have to address it now to enable people, and our organisations, to succeed in the future.
The UAE has been ranked as the top country in the
Middle East and North Africa for wage equality, according to a new report
released by the World Economic Forum (WEF).
However, the UAE’s performance on the WEF’s Global
Gender Gap Report 2018’s wage equality indicator saw a slight decrease
compared to last year, a statement said.
The Emirates also topped the region in terms of the
number of women in ministerial positions, with improvements recorded in gender
parity in the legislators, senior officials and managers and healthy life
Overall, the report found that despite the gender
gap across the MENA region closing narrowly in 2018, it remains the world’s
least gender-equal region.
It will take the Middle East and North Africa
economies “153 years to close the gender gap at the current rate of change”, the report stated.
While Tunisia topped the region for gender equality
– ranking 119 globally, the UAE ranked 121 with the gender gap closed at 64.2
per cent. Saudi Arabia, ranked 141 with a 59 per cent gender gap rate, showed
“modest progress”, with improvement in wage equality and women’s labour force
participation, the report stated.
Globally, the report found that the global gender
gap only slightly reduced in 2018, as stagnation in the proportion of women in
the workplace and women’s declining representation in politics, along with
greater inequality in access to health and education, offset improvements in
wage equality and the number of women in professional positions.
According to the report, the world has closed 68
per cent of its gender gap, as measured across four key pillars: economic
opportunity; political empowerment; educational attainment; and health and survival.
Last year was the first since the report began
publishing in 2006 that the gap between men and women widened.
At the current rate of change, the report indicated
that it will take 108 years to close the overall gender gap and 202 years to
bring about parity in the workplace.
Globally, having closed more than 85.8 per cent of
its overall gender gap, Iceland topped the list for the 10th
consecutive year. It was followed by Norway, Sweden, Finland and Nicaragua.
“The economies that will succeed in the Fourth
Industrial Revolution will be those that are best able to harness all their
available talent,” said Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the
“Proactive measures that support gender parity and
social inclusion and address historical imbalances are therefore essential for
the health of the global economy as well as for the good of society as a
The report also found that while the income gap
between men and women has become narrower, fewer women are participating in the
“This a worrisome development for which there are a
number of potential reasons,” the report said.
“One is that automation is having a
disproportionate impact on roles traditionally performed by women. At the same
time, women are under-represented in growing areas of employment that require
STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills and knowledge.
Another potential reason is that the infrastructure needed to help women enter
or re-enter the workforce – such as childcare and eldercare – is
under-developed and unpaid work remains primarily the responsibility of women,”
the report explained.
“The corollary is that the substantial investments
made by many economies to close the education gap are failing to generate
optimal returns in the form of growth.”
According to Saadia Zahidi, head of the Centre for
the New Economy and Society and member of the WEF managing board, industries
must “proactively hardwire gender parity in the future of work through
effective training, reskilling and upskilling interventions and tangible job
“It’s in their long-term interest because diverse
businesses perform better,” she added.
Nader Habibi and Gholamreza Keshavarz Haddad in the University World News of June 8, 2018, Issue No:509 elaborate on the lack of employment for university graduates after completing their degrees in Iran. Unlike all its peer countries in the MENA region, and despite all the difficulties, Iran has managed to sustain as normal a life as it could muster, but being no exception, Iran’s labour market failing to generate adequate employment could be looked from a different angle; that of normality. As a matter of fact, all MENA countries, monarchies and republics alike are to a certain degree, going through the same trauma: that of unemployment. In any case, here is that article.
In recent years Iran’s labour market has failed to generate adequate employment for the growing number of university graduates. As a result, not only has the unemployment rate among university graduates sharply increased, but a growing number of university graduates who have found employment are working in occupations that do not require university skills.
In the past three decades Iran has experienced a sharp increase in the annual enrolment of university students. The annual admission to institutions of higher education rose from 146,115 in the 1991-92 academic year to 1,174,897 in 2015-16, while the total number of students in higher education institutions rose from 588,228 in 1991-92 to 4,348,383 in the 2015-16 academic year.
This sharp increase was a result of a strong social demand for university education. Policy-makers reacted positively to this growing demand by rapidly expanding the admissions capacity of universities. Moreover, the government was able to limit the fiscal burden of this policy by allowing for the creation and expansion of private and non-profit universities such as the Islamic Azad University.
As a result of these developments the number of university graduates has sharply increased, but the quantity of new job vacancies has not kept pace with this growing supply. The impact of this labour market imbalance is visible, reflected in a high unemployment rate for university graduates. While overall unemployment has oscillated between 10% and 12% in the past decade, the unemployment rate for young university graduates has been between 15% and 20%.
This situation has received considerable attention in the domestic media and it is often referred to as a graduate unemployment crisis. The 2016 labour market statistics indicate that there were 1.185 million unemployed university graduates – some 36% of the total number of unemployed people. They included 797,000 graduates with four-year (bachelor) degrees and 224,000 with two-year (associate) degrees. The remaining 163,000 had masters and doctoral degrees.
This condition represents a substantial waste of higher education resources and human capital for the Iranian economy.
The high unemployment rate among university graduates, however, is not the only adverse consequence of the excess supply of university graduates in Iran. A growing number of university graduates who manage to find a job are employed in jobs that do not require university skills or do not match their university skills. As a result they are securing these jobs at the expense of less educated workers. In other words, a growing percentage of employees in low-skilled and semi-skilled jobs are university graduates who are overeducated for these positions.
A domestic online news site attracted attention to the plight of these university graduates by posting several photos in a July 2016 article.
For a more accurate investigation of the growing number of overeducated persons who are active in Iran’s labour market, we have calculated the share of employees in various occupations who hold at least a two-year associate degree from a higher education institution. The data for our analysis comes from the annual Households Income and Expenditure Survey database that is produced by the Statistical Center of Iran.
In this annual survey the level of education and job categories of wage-earning workers and self-employed individuals are available and allow us to calculate the share of overeducated workers in each occupation category. Our findings show that the share of economically active individuals in low- and unskilled jobs who have a university degree is on the rise.
We observe that in all of these occupational categories the share of employees with at least a two-year degree has consistently increased. Occupations in the service and retail sector have experienced the largest replacement of less educated workers with university graduates.
We observe that by 2015 nearly 57% of employees in office work and customer service occupations had at least an associate degree. For sales-related occupations, the share of workers with university degrees grew from 4.3% in 2001 to 17.3% in 2015.
As for lower skill categories, such as vehicle drivers, or unskilled workers, the share of employees with university degrees is relatively small, but an upward trend is noticeable.
Among unskilled service sector workers, for example, the share of university graduates increased from 0.7% in 2001 to 7.1% in 2015. These are mainly manual and routine tasks for which no university degree is required and a university graduate will rarely work in these occupations if a more skilled job is available.
We have calculated that the share of workers with at least an undergraduate degree in semi-skilled and unskilled categories is substantial in several categories, such as office and retail workers.
Furthermore, in all unskilled occupations that do not require even a high school diploma, we observe that the share of workers with undergraduate degrees ranged between 1% and 4% in 2015. While these university graduates must have felt fortunate to be employed, they are clearly not using their university skills in these occupations.
As for the self-employed in semi-skilled and unskilled economic activities, the number who have completed at least a two-year university degree is also rising in Iran. This growth is particularly noticeable in agriculture, industry and construction, rising from under 1% in 2001 to more than 6.5% in 2015. Furthermore, at least 5% of the self-employed working in unskilled industrial and agricultural activities hold four-year degrees.
One of the undesirable consequences of the trends that we have observed is that the trickle down of higher-educated jobseekers into low-skilled jobs is crowding out the less educated workers from low-skilled positions. This process pushes a share of high school graduates from employment in low-skilled jobs into unemployment.
The reduction of job opportunities and the higher risk of unemployment for high school graduates might compel them to enrol in a university degree programme in order to improve their chances of employment, even in occupations that do not require university degrees.
This adverse incentive will lead to a high rate of participation in higher education without any direct connection to a labour market demand for university skills.
The employment data presented in this article are available in this online file.
Nader Habibi is Henry J Leir Professor of Practice in Economics of the Middle East at the Crown Center for Middle East Studies and senior lecturer in the department of economics, Brandeis University, United States. Gholamreza Keshavarz Haddad is visiting faculty at the Crown Center for Middle East Studies at Brandeis University and is associate professor at the Graduate School of Management and Economics, Sharif University of Technology, Iran.