2009 Silatech Summit introduces new strategies to empower Arab youth

A 2-day summit last week in Doha brought together regional and international experts on youth policy, organizations, thought leaders, policy makers and young people to discuss how to move forward for young people in the Arab world under the current dire economic circumstances. Participants included Martthi Ahtisaari, former president of Finland and the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Ehaab Abdou, Ashoka Fellow and Founder of Nahdet el Mahrousa, and Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, Emir of Qatar. 50 Young business leaders representing 14 countries across the MENA region had also been selected to share their views on the obstacles that are prohibiting young people in the region from more active social and economic participation. Unemployment can be a multi-year problem here, one that is hard to overcome due to lack of opportunities, little social mobility, little access to suitable training, and structural patterns of inequality. The Middle East and North Africa experiences the highest rate of youth unemployment globally, higher even than that of Sub-Saharan Africa. Archaic education curricula throughout the region stifle independence and creativity, and lead to young people graduating without the necessary technical and interpersonal skills to compete on the international labour market.

The Doha Summit on Young People, Enterprise and Employment was organized by Silatech; a non-profit initiative founded by Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al-Missned which aims to find bold new solutions to economic hardships young people throughout the region are facing. In addition to bringing together leading opinion and business leaders, Silatech also unleashed a number of innovative partnerships through which they will address the problem of youth unemployment on a comprehensive, regional scale. Through partnerships with key actors that share their vision and have the power to revolutionize patterns across societies – such as multinational telecommunication corporation Cisco, the International Labour Organization, and the World Bank Global Partnership for Youth Investment – Silatech will implement a series of programs in countries across the region to improve the employment and economic opportunities of youth.

One of these is a regional technology platform sponsored by Cisco which will connect youth to entrepreneurs and businesses across the region. Silatech will also partner with the Mohamed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation to build the capacity of the region’s youth by offering incentives to support small and medium sized enterprises. Another outcome is the launch of Taqeem, a new program that will evaluate existing local and region-wide policies and programs targeting youth, in order to distill best practices and give support to ‘hidden’ innovative approaches that have the potential to scale-up. These programs could provide the crucial technical and financial resources that would enable the success of Ashoka’s Youth Venture. Once it is launched, Youth Venture will invest in and inspire groups of young people in the Arab region to start their own social ventures. An article in the Financial Times states that “the region needs to look beyond broad growth-generating strategies to tackle the unemployment problem, combining efforts to create greater competitiveness, more flexibility in labour markets and in access to credit, and training schemes that can compensate for weak education systems.” Region-wide and multi-dimensional social ventures like those of Silatech and their partners and Ashoka’s Youth Venture could be the most viable solution to helping Arab youth fulfill their potential.

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