Dr Sulaiman Al Hattlan, Arab Strategy Forum CEO Image Credit: KAREN DIAS/ Gulf News

Youth unemployment is one of the biggest challenges facing the Arab world today said business leaders at the Fifth Annual Young Arab Leaders (YAL) Regional Entrepreneurship Summit which closed in Dubai yesterday.

The current unemployment rate in the Arab world stands at 16 per cent, 80 per cent of that figure is made up of a youth population of 130 million.

"The biggest challenge we have in the region at the moment is unemployment," said Dr Sulaiman Al Hattlan, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Arab Strategy Forum.

"A 2007 report shows that most young Arabs want to emigrate outside the region; and 70 per cent say it's to seek employment opportunities in search of a better income," he added.

Al Hattlan added that according to a recent World Bank report, the region must create six million annual jobs to address the youth unemployment problem of the region.

"To face this challenge we have to look to the private sector in order to create jobs," he said. "[Because] if we look at an overview of the Arab world it's a dim and frightening picture," said Al Hattlan.

Society's responsibility

Business leaders focused on the idea of encouraging entrepreneurship amongst the youth as a way to combat unemployment. However, they emphasised that cooperation at all levels of society are necessary to stimulate and foster entrepreneurial tendencies amongst the Arab world's young.

"Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs) usually contributes to 60 per cent of the economy in developing countries," said Mustafa Abdul Wadood, CEO of Abraaj Investment Management and Member of the Board of Directors for the YAL. "[However for this to happen] all Arab governments need to create the culture of entrepreneurship among their youth and one way to do this is through the media," he added.

However, the consensus among business leaders was that regional education reform is essential to foster entrepreneurial thinking among youth.

"We are looking for the next Facebook or Google in the Arab world but our current education system doesn't give us [as a society] the tools to do this," said Abdul Basit Al Janahi, CEO of the Mohammad Bin Rashid Establishment for Young Business Leaders. "We need to change young people's perspective on entrepreneurship…and go back to find the reasons that prevent young people from entering the private sector," he added.

Al Janahi said the make up of Arab societies and their subsequent environments do not stand to encourage independent thinking and autonomous decision making amongst the youth. These are all qualities that are essential for young entrepreneurs and future business leaders.

"Changing education in schools is a big long-term process," said Al Janahi.

"We have to find a way to reach them as youngsters in schools, because once they've reached the university level it may be too late," he added.

Tackling dire unemployment figures

  • 16% is the unemployment rate in the Arab world
  • 80% of the number on the left comprises a youth population of 130 million
  • 70% of young Arabs want to emigrate outside the region to seek better employment opportunities