A young developer participating in a Google training event in Gaza. Photo: Mohammed El Baba for Mercy CorpsA young developer participating in a Google training event in Gaza. Photo: Mohammed El Baba for Mercy Corps

Entrepreneurs and young workers in the Middle East and North Africa have a golden opportunity as local demand rises for the Internet and U.S.-based web services.

Unemployment in MENA is 10.3 percent, according to the International Labor Organization, the highest anywhere in the world. That rate grows to 23.8 percent for those between the ages of 15 and 25.

Over the past 20 months, we witnessed the conflicts and tragedies that result when social unrest occurs in a society where mass unemployment has left youth frustrated and without hope. But as millions used social media to organize movements for social change over the last year, we also witnessed the power of the region’s youth in harnessing technology for good.

“Olumide Taiwo, an Africa research fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, calls high youth unemployment a ‘time bomb’ in Africa and ‘a primary contributory factor’ in Tunisia’s revolution,” reported the International Business Times.

But where should youth turn to look for meaningful jobs? Maybe the same place they turned to stage protests against their governments: online. An underdeveloped business sector in these regions’ economies, information communications technology (ICT) has become entwined in people’s daily lives.

Yet the infrastructure needed to sustain this trend does not yet exist, as evidenced by the lack of venture funding, legal advice, mentoring, networking opportunities and, at the most basic level, the low number of Internet service providers in the region.

The Arab Media Society has found that most countries have one or two dominating providers, with some having at most four. The United States has over 120 major providers. The study ultimately determined that “contextualized to the Arab World, the significance of understanding media ownership can be summarized in one word: potential; the potential for control, for setting/perpetuating specific agendas, for new and expanded revenues, and for infrastructure development.”

Discover Digital Arabia, a digital research non-profit, has been keeping tabs on the demand for Internet and technology use in the region and they see major growth. The number of Facebook users in the majority of the region has increased by over 50 percent in the last six months. Internet now reaches 70 percent of all communities, where just a year ago it only reached 63 percent. Eighty-seven percent of the population now has a cell phone, compared with 79 last year.

 Arab youth have a golden opportunity to make their own technology sector. <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/fn-goa/196934531/in/photostream/”> fredericknoronha (Flickr)</a>
Arab youth have a golden opportunity to make their own technology sector.fredericknoronha (Flickr)

Companies are starting to notice. For example, when the revolts started in Egypt, Facebook’s terms of service were not yet translated into Arabic. This quickly changed as Facebook was used as a tool for organization and information dissemination in the uprising, but overallonly one percent of Internet pages are translated into Arabic, according to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. Few are owned or operated locally.

Youth in the MENA region are energized, socially aware, not afraid of failing and innovative, making them perfect entrepreneurs, says John Koa of the Daily Beast. He characterizes youth as “radicalized by recent events and exposed to the power of new technologies,” so they can “quickly find ways to adopt them in every niche of a newly fluid society.”

Friedman interviewed Fadi Ghandour, a founder of the first Arab-based company listed on the Nasdaq, who believes youth tech start-ups will pave the regions’ path forward:

Taking ownership of your future, and giving the skills and tools to these young aspiring entrepreneurs, means they are less dependent on the state and become job creators rather than only job seekers, creating value for themselves, their employees and the community at large.

If only infrastructure would catch up, the potential for a hugely profitable entrepreneurial sector—led by youth—could be realized.

RELATED: Google and Mercy Corps Help Palestinian Youth Reach the Technological Promised Land

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Originally Published: http://www.globalenvision.org/2012/07/18/how-arab-world-can-build-tech-sector-its-own

Lindiwe Sibanda, CEO of the Food, Agriculture and National Resources Policy Analysis Network, speaks at a South Africa conference in 2011. <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/cgiarclimate/6465833441/lightbox/">CGIAR climate(Flickr)</a>
Lindiwe Sibanda, CEO of the Food, Agriculture and National Resources Policy Analysis Network, speaks at a South Africa conference in 2011. CGIAR climate(Flickr)

As Africa claims the world’s fastest growing GDP, its economy and businesses are growing, but they need managers.

This is good news for youth, who are eager to find jobs. The median age of the population in Africa is 20, seven years younger than anywhere else in the world, and the UN does not expect this gap to narrow until at least 2060. Youth employment solutions are necessary.

The need: one million managers.  <a href="http://www.africanmanagers.org/custom/report/summary.pdf">African Management Initiative</a>
The need: one million managers. African Management Initiative

Startups, innovation and investment in Africa have created a need for highly qualified managers. Currently the continent has over one million vacancies in management, and as growth continues this number is expected to increase. But few African youth study management in school, which causes companies to look for foreign workers. Good, low-cost business education is needed in Africa. Of 90 business schools on the continent, only nine are accredited with international standards. Management is a field of opportunities in Africa—both for African youth and businesses looking to train them.


Originally published in Global Envision: http://www.globalenvision.org/

Youth protest unemployment. Photo: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/jpazkual/7363953310/"> jpazkual (Flickr)</a>.

Youth protest unemployment. Photo: jpazkual (Flickr).

As youth unemployment drives a global protest movement, part of the problem is that the costs of starting a business impacts economic growth.

“It takes an entrepreneur 28 days to start a business in Spain but only 1 day to do so in New Zealand,” writes Jamal Haidar in a new World Bank research paper.

Haidar demonstrates that the harder it is to start a business the more economic growth suffers in a country. In Yemen it takes 12 days to start a business but it takes 84 % of the average person’s income to finance the process. In Germany it takes 15 days, but only 4.6% of the average person’s income.

As youth look for jobs, it may be in countries’ best interest to lower costs by reforming regulations. Haidar has found that “each business regulatory reform is associated with a 0.15 percent increase in growth rate of GDP.” More jobs and increased GDP would be helpful for all parties involved.

Explore the full report by Haidar.


Originally Published: http://www.globalenvision.org/2012/06/20/want-calm-protests-and-raise-gdp-make-starting-business-easier