Win-Win: How the Arab Private Sector Helps Itself by Investing in Youth

01 Jan 04:18 AM

Sector : Industry & Mining Country : Qatar

By Dina Sherif

Take a good, long look at any of the powerful photographs that emerged during the Arab Spring and you’ll notice a common theme. Beyond the passion, anxiety, turmoil and pain, the faces that expressed these feelings were not tired, wrinkled or withered. Rather, they were young, vigorous, excited and enterprising youth, desperate for social and economic change. They were the faces of the men and women who sparked one of the most influential movements in recent decades—and very few of them had been alive more than thirty years.

 

With 112 million people between the ages of 15 and 29, the region now contains the highest proportion of youth in its history. In light of the recent turmoil, those youth are currently facing unparalleled challenges while trying to enter the workforce, resulting in high unemployment rates throughout the region.

So with the winds of change still blowing, how can the Arab world effectively move forward into a new era of prosperity, ensuring that those who brought about the changes find social and economic justice, while the youth of tomorrow are properly nurtured and prepared for the future?

One of the Key Elements of a Solution Lies with the Private Sector

While both the public sector and civil society play an important role, it is impossible for them to solve and finance challenges facing youth in our region on their own. The private sector has a lot to bring to the table— both in terms of filling in gaps, and more importantly by building effective partnerships with both the public sector and civil society to identify sustainable and innovative solutions.

What the private sector brings to the table is not just confined to investing philanthropic dollars, but can also include bringing forth expertise, “in kind” contributions and entrepreneurial innovation. While the menu of ways the private sector can engage to support youth is vast, below is a list of four key ways to engage.

1. Socially Invest in Youth Serving Organizations

Organizations who primarily focus on youth-centric programs––such as Qatar-based Silatech––can be a catalyst for both short-term economic prosperity as well as long-term social change. By promoting largescale job creation, entrepreneurship, access to capital and markets, and the participation and engagement of young people in economic and sustainable development, these organisations can address the immediate needs of the region’s current youth demographic and implement policies that effect youth for generations to come. In this regard, the corporate sector should work to increase the resources available to these organizations both by philanthropically investing in them and by working with them to take their initiatives to scale.

2. Be Driven by Needs

If development is to be sustainable, the private sector needs to identify the region’s future economic needs, particularly in the areas of employment and workforce development. From there, the private sector should worth together in partnership with both the public sector and civil society to build up the capacity of our youth to meet those needs.

3. Create Shared Value

By supporting programs that focus on youth advancement and community improvement in the regions in which they do business, the private sector can effectively contribute to its own customer base as well as its workforce. Regional telecommunications provider Zain, for example, extended coverage in the northern and southern areas of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and set up 170 sites to provide coverage to more than 175,000 people. By doing so, they improved the telecommunications infrastructure of the region and simultaneously succeeded in creating nearly 200,000 techsavvy users and potential customers. Additionally, Zain implemented the Shabab Tamouh program, which gives university students a chance to gain job experience by providing them with internship opportunities while still in school. Zain can eventually employ these same students. In this case, not only did Zain build up the capacity of youth, but they also found a way to contribute to the sustainability of their own business. In sum, investing in youth is not just about doing good for society – it is also about doing well for your business.

4. Employ a Multifaceted Approach

Through a strategic and multifaceted approach, the private sector can make investments in programs that meet the immediate needs of its community, as well as those that result in meaningful and lasting changes over many years. It can help address immediate economic needs in a region by partnering with organizations that help job seekers find suitable employment, through career guidance programs which help young people find the right type of career befitting their individual personalities and the practicalities of the job market.

Other programs, such as microfinance, help address intermediate goals within a community by providing necessary capital to entrepreneurial youth who wish to create self-sustaining businesses. Microfinance programs work with banks and other financial institutions to open up much-needed financial opportunities for young entrepreneurs. Importantly, such programs also often provide aspiring businessmen and women with the training and other support they need to help their new businesses succeed.

Supporting the proliferation and growth of smalland medium-sized enterprises is an additional mode of sustainable, youth-oriented social investment. Through partnerships with socially-conscious investment funds, organizations can create sustainable, quality jobs by investing in selected SMEs, supporting them with business development services, and helping to open up new markets for their goods and services.

While the impact of corporate social investing on sustainable development in the Arab world has yet to be effectively measured, it is imperative that the private sector remain one of the key partners in this process. For this symbiotic relationship to work, the public sector, civil society and the private sector must all work handin- hand for the betterment of society. For that – a consistent and open dialogue amongst the three is required.

As with any major historical event—such as wars or revolutions—it will be the programs and procedures that a society puts in place after that event that will determine its long term impact. In order for the changes brought about by the Arab Spring to be effective, the private sector has a significant role to play in helping our youth realize their full potential. They must focus their energy on providing employment opportunities, while supporting and funding the many projects that benefit youth and, ultimately, social advancement.

Sir Winston Churchill said, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” and should the region’s youth slide into social and economic turmoil, the likelihood for further instability is great. However if the region is able to effectively channel the passion and ambition that its young people displayed during the Arab Spring, it may very well experience one of the greatest resurgences in history.

 
 
Dina Sherif
Advisor, Silatech
 
 
Dina Sherif is Senior Advisor for Civic Engagement at Silatech, and Founding Partner of Ahead of the Curve.

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