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WEF can ‘turn youth aspirations into reality’

By Dana Al Emam - May 20,2017 - Last updated at May 20,2017

DEAD SEA — The World Economic Forum (WEF) on the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) 2017 is a platform with the potential to make the long-desired aspirations of youth for economic reform a living reality, WEF co-chairs agreed on Saturday. 

The WEF meeting, which is witnessing the participation of over 1,100 business and political leaders and representatives from civil society, international and youth organisations and the media from over 50 countries, can bring about changes that can improve the lives of young people in the region, particularly by improving their socioeconomic conditions, they said.

Speaking at a session for WEF co-chairs, CEO of Crescent Petroleum Majid Jafar said the meeting is a chance to emphasise opportunities and highlight positive stories from the region, in spite of all the political and economic challenges.

 He said the private sector has a substantial role in honing the skills of young people and enhancing their employability, adding that the MENA Regional Business Council has been working on tackling youth unemployment by upscaling the skills of 100,000 young people from the region and is committed to including 200,000 more young people.

Jafar also cited a need for top-to-bottom reforms, including enhancing the efficiency of the job market, modernising bankruptcy laws, simplifying the process of opening businesses and promoting good governance.

Chairman and CEO of Publicis Groupe Maurice Levy said the region, which has been witnessing an "evolution" of constructive energy and initiatives over the past 10 years, is "as energetic" as the West and is not short of talent, entrepreneurs or ideas.

However, the region is short of enabling environments for startups to take off, he said, highlighting innovation and entrepreneurship as key solutions for the "disease" of unemployment in the MENA region.

From Morocco, Khadija Idrissi Janati, founder and CEO of the KMK Groupe, agreed, adding that the young people want to be part of the decision-making process, not discussions only. She noted that young people in the region demand true opportunities that show that they are trusted, not marginalised or frustrated.

The second important part of the equation, according to her, is the empowerment of women in the job market, adding that supportive regulations alone do not help if not accompanied by efforts to change a spreading culture that women are complementary to men.

Arif M. Naqvi, founder and group chief executive of Abraaj Group, underlined the “great” economic potential in the region, which is home to a very diverse group of nearly 350 million people, adding that 180 million of the region’s inhabitants live in cities and that six cities in the region contribute to half of the region's gross domestic product.

"The region is at the edge of a very tangible change that is about to happen," he said, highlighting the need to "unleash" innovation and develop soft and hard infrastructure in order for the change to achieve the best results.

 

For his part, Dominic Batron, global managing partner at McKinsey & Company in the United Kingdom, said that there are “phenomenal”, talented people in the region, while many of them have been working outside of the MENA region, stressing a need for these talents to develop their home region too.

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