Conference in Amman Inspires Hope in a Turbulent Region: A few reflectionsRead All Posts
This first day of the Youth@Work conference in Amman, Jordan, filled me with excitement and a real sense of hope. In the morning, the hall at the Grand Hyatt was packed with nearly 400 business, government, and NGO leaders from the Middle East and North Africa and around the world who were eager to start the conversation.
They came for one reason: to share their ideas and expertise on how to tackle the youth unemployment crisis.
Every day, we see the consequences across the Middle East and elsewhere of what happens when young people’s dreams are destroyed and their voices are stifled. Those tumultuous events supply an added sense of urgency to what were are trying to accomplish together over the next three days.
The attendance of Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah at the opening ceremonies provided powerful support for our collective efforts to improve the lives and prospects of the region’s youth. That same passionate commitment was reflected by so many over the course of this first day. Municipal leaders from Amman; Cairo; Saudi Arabia; Tripoli, Lebanon; and Mauritania talked with conviction about what they were doing in their cities to expand opportunities for young people. With nearly 70 percent of the region’s citizens living in urban areas, this makes the big cities ground zero for the youth bulge. A World Bank official bemoaned the labor market exclusion of youth, particularly in the formal economy, and shared constructive ideas about what to do about it. An Assistant Secretary General of the Arab League urged more efforts go toward supporting young entrepreneurs—including the urgent need for teaching students about business “know how” early on in school.
What really struck me as I listened to these discussions is how far we’ve come even in the past ten years, in the experience we’ve gained around youth employability issues and in our efforts to elevate young people as key players and problem solvers in society. USAID’s Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Middle East Christopher Crowley announced that his agency will soon launch its new Youth in Development Policy to guide its global work toward positive changes for youth. Ronan Farrow, Special Advisor to the Secretary of State for Global Youth Issues, confirmed the US State Department’s commitment to ensuring all of its activities would support the advancement of young people. The MasterCard Foundation put a spotlight on the growing alliance with the private sector by speaking about its recent four-year partnership with IYF to invest $5 million in reaching 10,000 unemployed youth in Egypt with the skills needed to get a job or start their own business. And in the audience were Jordanian business leaders, entrepreneurs from Palestine, and some large global companies, all interested in being serious players in new “public private partnerships.”
We will never solve these very difficult challenges facing today’s youth if we can’t join forces to create programs that are proven to be effective by rigorous evaluations, and then that can be taken to scale, and made sustainable by both policy frameworks and long term funding. For me, today’s discussions and new resource announcements showed that while there are huge challenges ahead, we’re on the right track. The work of so many is bearing fruit—even at the highest policy levels of government.
I’m looking forward to the next two days of such forward looking discussions. Please join me.