Where There Are Challenges, There Are Also Opportunities: Lessons From The Arab Youth Forum
H.H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, has long been a vocal advocate of youth inclusion in the affairs of government, society, and the economy of Dubai and the UAE. Just last October, Sheikh Mohammed urged young Emiratis to "dream great endings" at the start of a two-day National Youth Dialogue. However, it is clear that Dubai is not simply seeking to empower youth within its own national borders, but is taking the lead in empowering youth throughout our region.
Nestled within this year’s World Government Summit, an international gathering dedicated to the exchange of cutting-edge ideas and innovations in government, the Arab Youth Forum held in Dubai sought to address and embolden the Arab youth agenda for the region. The Summit’s organizing committee sought to bring new voices alongside global governments’ and international organizations’: the voices of the youth themselves. The message was clear: the youth are needed to carry the mantle in generating their grand vision for the future.
When I received an invitation to take part in the Arab Youth Forum from the UAE’s Youth Minister H.E. Shamma bint Suhail bin Faris Al Mazrui, I knew that this meeting was a break from tradition. Unlike many meetings before, the Forum had a clear commitment to action. Her Excellency, herself a youth, was explicit in her opening speech: actions are more important than words. The importance of the role of youth was equally mirrored by other honored guests of the Summit- for instance, the World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim, upon announcing the launch the Group’s global education platform, pressed that "providing our youth with the right skill set... will enable people to create their own jobs."
Empirical evidence shows this to be true. Unlike any one before us, our generation has the tools to enact the change that will lead us to a prosperous future. Indeed, governments require our energy, creativity, and our so-called “techiness” in creating sustainable and innovative opportunities.
The Arab Youth Forum saw a diverse consortium of representatives from all 22 Arab countries discuss the biggest challenges facing the Arab World, from the high and protracted incidence of unemployment (27% of Arab youth are unemployed), to the acute social and economic obstacles that women face. An overwhelming theme emerged while discussing viable actions for change: the role that entrepreneurship and technology access will play in circumventing these challenges. Not only will these mechanisms create economic and employment opportunities, but tech and startup ecosystems also represent mediums that youth can use as forms of expression.
Our connectivity takes youth beyond the realm of isolated communities and empowers us to engage with issues that matter to us most using the technology to act instantly and globally. It allows us to break the vicious cycle of poverty and expand our exposure to subjects and people that were previously inaccessible. It allows us to scale profitable, formulating products that address the needs and tastes of youth. Women can use technologies to bypass the institutional barriers that may otherwise hinder them from achieving their full potential, as we have seen time and again in places such as Saudi Arabia.
Additionally, there was overwhelming agreement that mindsets need to shift and adapt. For instance, youth should be encouraged to explore trades that they are passionate about, but were previously considered taboo fields, such as culinary and fine arts. Faisal Al Namshi, among one of the first executive Kuwaiti chefs, noted the importance of allowing youth to pursue their passions, no matter the social stigma associated with a “non-traditional” field. Another challenge highlighted was in enhancing accessibility to technologies, particularly for disadvantaged communities. Hind Altantawi, a Jordanian student, noted the intractable challenges faced by refugee youth, and the need to integrate them into the marketplace and make use of their talents.
I believe more than ever that as youth, we have a critical role to play in activating opportunities for ourselves and our communities. We should harness and channel our passion and hunger for change by taking risks. With the support of the government, together, we can work towards a more equitable and sustainable tomorrow. The words of Margaret Mead, a renowned anthropologist and women’s rights activist, ring more true today than ever before: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Tala Al Jabri is an investor in high impact early-stage technology companies in emerging markets. Previously, Tala was a strategy and finance advisor and has worked across the Middle East, Africa and North America. She obtained her MBA from The Wharton School and Master in Public Administration from Harvard University. You can follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.