WEF Blogging | Arab Youth Revisted

السبت 19 أيار 2007

So is the Arab world betraying its youth? A lot was said during the Al Arabyieh debate here at the WEF, in an attempt to discuss the issues that have adversely affected our youth.

The center of it revolved around why young Arabs are trying to leave their countries. Unemployment seems to top the list of reasons. There was plenty of exchanges over who is to blame and who should take responsibility. Fadi Ghandour boldly said that if the public sector do not want the private sector to sit down with them and let them play an active role in creating an effective education system; one that creates employable students, then the public sector can “keep them”. Mr. Ghandour was not putting all the blame or responsibility on Arab governments but rather saying the only way out of the unemployment rut is to bring in the private sector to help in create the curriculum; something he clarified to me after the debate.

He has a valid point. Education, our primary solution, has become our primary problem. Not to be a complete cynic I have to say that the private and public sector partnership seems to have started in the Arab world, but slowly. It usually comes in the shape and form of NGO heavily funded and/or partly operated by private sector companies. INJAZ has been one and Maharat has been another, to name just a few of the rising stars in Jordan.

Meanwhile, wasta, best translated as nepotism, was another huge issue. Some students in the audience argued that wasta is everywhere and has positioned them to be at a disadvantage when opportunities such as education and work arise.

What was also touched on was the fact that while some job opportunities are available they are often refused. Students in the audience however countered this by brining up the issue of restoring a sense of “dignity” to these jobs. Mohammad, a political science student from Lebanon, suggested he would (in a hypothetical situation) work in a restaurant if he had to but pointed out that where an American might make $600 a month, he as a Lebanese would only make $300. “In any case, open our restaurants back up!”, he said.

It was kind of ironic because as the debate finished and I left the hall, they were serving lunch. Grabbing a plate of food and eating at a stand-up table, I asked a 20 year-old who works for the working crew of the King Hussein Convention Center that is hosting the WEF, if he could get me a cup of coffee. When he came back I thought I would share with him some of what was said in the debate and ask him for his thoughts.

This is a 20 year-old Jordanian who live with his family in Zarqa. He takes several buses everyday to get to the Dead Sea, which for those who have never seen it, is somewhat remote and sidelined by public buses. He makes roughly 180 JDs ($254 USD). He got the job through a friend. He wanted to go to university to study agricultural engineering; mostly because it was the ‘best’ thing his tawjihi average could get him into. For him, wasta is the only way to survive in an environment where he is already disadvantaged for being born into a social strata that is not financially well off. He blames both the public and private sector for the inability to accommodate him and the many Jordanians like him. To integrate him and give him the same opportunities others received.

And while he talked quickly before rushing back to work, I was thinking to myself that if this wasn’t a man that represented the condition of the average Jordanian then I don’t know who is. The debate may have been entertaining for me, but I think my lunch chat was even more enjoyable.

The next session was on diversifying the Arab economies to become less dependent on oil. While a lot of it was pretty generic (except for Najeeb Sawiris providing some light entertainment when he called Libya a retarded government), there was one moment that put a big smile on my face:

Towards the end of the session a lot of the participants talked about the future of the Arab world and the lack of new and fresh entrepreneurs. At this point Soraya Salti, the head of INJAZ Al Arab, stood up and pointed to a group of students sitting next to her and said “this is the future”. One of the students took the microphone; watch what she had to say:

Youth and education has been an important topic here at the WEF and while it may seem like a redundant topic I noticed that the tone of many people here has changed from the old “this is what should happen” and “what Arab government should be doing” towards a more “this is what we need to happen, and it needs to happen now”. Demands from the private sector have change, hopefully they’ll be met with an adequate and much need supply of enthusiasm.


Soraya Salti and INJAZ students at the WEF

Soraya Salti may be the most enthusiastic person I’ve met when it comes to pushing for an initiative like INJAZ to really take a hold of the Arab world and shape the next generation of students. You can read more about INJAZ in an article I wrote in this month’s Jordan Business entitled Seeds of Change.

p.s. Her Majesty Queen Rania just passed me by on her way to participating in a session on Arab philanthropy. She was wearing a red-campaign t-shirt; the same campaign started by Bono.

  • Nas and 7iber, great job. Just what I was hoping to hear.

  • Nas and 7iber, great job. Just what I was hoping to hear.

  • Ola

    Interesting in deed! I think the private sector is no less responsible than the public sector, and it’s not only about creating work opportunities, but also about providing work circumstnaces that would compete opportunities found in other countries. When weighing their options, many youth find it more feasible to work abroad: twice as lucrative, half as tiresome. They think of it as a shortcut: why spend 6 or 7 years to build myself while I can do it in 2 or 3 years? Life in Jordan has become very expensive, constant raise in prices with no substantial raise in salaries. You can’t blame someone for seeking a better future, but you sure can give them a good reason to seek it here, because this is the real investment, not only for yourself, but for the generations to come.

  • Ola

    Interesting in deed! I think the private sector is no less responsible than the public sector, and it’s not only about creating work opportunities, but also about providing work circumstnaces that would compete opportunities found in other countries. When weighing their options, many youth find it more feasible to work abroad: twice as lucrative, half as tiresome. They think of it as a shortcut: why spend 6 or 7 years to build myself while I can do it in 2 or 3 years? Life in Jordan has become very expensive, constant raise in prices with no substantial raise in salaries. You can’t blame someone for seeking a better future, but you sure can give them a good reason to seek it here, because this is the real investment, not only for yourself, but for the generations to come.

  • fad

    Hay Nas. GREAT JOB! very hands on.

  • fad

    Hay Nas. GREAT JOB! very hands on.