Private firms urged to help tackle Arab youth unemployment

Around 60 per cent of the Middle East's population is under 25 and overall unemployment rates range from 11 per cent in Kuwait to over 30 per cent in Morocco

Job creation to address the Arab world’s soaring youth unemployment is the region’s most pressing problem and private firms should do more to help, according to the head of a Saudi-based non-profit.

“The first challenge on which we [should] focus is the unemployment issue,” said Ibrahim Mohammed Badawood, managing director, Abdul Latif Jameel Community Initiatives International (ALJCI). “We believed this 11 years ago and today. How can we find job opportunities for the young generation?”

Unemployment was seen as one of the main drivers of the so-called Arab Spring, which shook much of the region, but largely bypassed the oil-exporting Gulf states. Saudi Arabia, the GCC’s most populous economy, announced a $100bn package of benefits in the wake of the unrest, partly aimed at generating jobs for the kingdom’s large, young population.

Around 60 per cent of the region’s population is under 25 and overall unemployment rates range from 11 per cent in Kuwait to over 30 per cent in Morocco, according to United Nations data.

ALJCI was established in 2003 as a charitable arm of the Saudi conglomerate Abdul Latif Jameel Group. Its job creation initiative – Bab Rizq Jameel – is one of its largest programmes.

Creating job opportunities for young people is imperative for businesses in the region as much as governments, according to Badawood and should be part of businesses giving back to the communities in which they operate.

“We set a target for creating job opportunities for the unemployed and we increase this target year by year,” said Badawood. “We started in 2003 with a target of [reaching] 2,000 people. Today, our target is around 70,000 jobs. The strategy is to increase the target by 10 per cent each year.”

In the decade since its launch, ALJCI has created more than 465,000 job opportunities in Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Egypt and Turkey, according to its 2013 annual report. The initiative includes programmes to help women from low-income families start home-based businesses and a service to match job seekers with appropriate openings.

The Middle East must create 75 million jobs by 2020 if it is to keep pace with its growing population, the consultancy Booz Allen Hamilton said in a recent report.

“This part of the world has a very young population that is on the precipice of entering the labour force,” said Ramez Shehadi, international managing director for Middle East and North Africa, BAH, and author of the report. “A disruption in terms of the supply side is needed to balance things out.”  

Photo credit: ALJCI