Enriching the Future: Creating Opportunities for Youth in the Middle East

Doha Forum Picture

Through high-level discussions of democracy, development, and free trade, the 2014 Doha Forum held from May 12 to 14 sought to find solutions to key economic challenges facing the Middle East through international collaboration and entrepreneurship. Among those key challenges is job creation.

Co-hosted by Qatar and UCLA’s Center for Middle East Development, the theme of this year’s forum was “Enriching the Middle East’s Economic Future.” CIPE’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Abdulwahab Alkebsi and a group of CIPE’s partners participated in the forum.

With 30 percent of the Middle East’s population between the ages of 15 and 29, creating employment opportunities for young people remains a top economic priority for the region. CIPE and its partner organizations highlighted the many ways in which the private sector can address this challenge and enrich the Middle East’s economic future.

CIPE staff and partners have variously organized, moderated, and spoken on panels for each of the past four years. This year, Alkebsi moderated a panel on “Entrepreneurship Ecosystems in the Arab World.” Speakers included representatives of four CIPE partner organizations, each of whom described how new CIPE-supported initiatives in their countries offer innovative approaches to job creation.

Sami Atallah, Director of the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies (LCPS), described the LCPS-led dialogue process between Lebanese industrialists and public sector officials, which aims to create a greater role for the private sector in the policy making process and advance industrial policies in a democratic way.

Rami Shamma, Project Manager for the Development of People and Nature Association (DPNA), described DPNA’s success in institutionalizing the democratic concepts of civic responsibility and entrepreneurship in educational curricula for Lebanese youth.

The founder and CEO of Qotuf Al Riyadh Company, Tuba Ozlem Terekli, discussed Qotuf’s program to build sustainable entrepreneurship incubators, accelerators, and mentorship systems throughout the Gulf.

Finally, Chairman of the Syrian Economic Forum (SEF) Ayman Tabbaa, highlighted SEF’s efforts to create a free economic zone on the Syrian-Turkish border—an initiative that would provide investment opportunities for Syrian businesses and job opportunities for Syrian citizens, while alleviating burdens on Turkish society from Syrian refugees.

Bijan Khajehpour, Managing Partner of Atieh International, also spoke on the panel about the role of education in supporting entrepreneurship.

The discussions that took place at the Doha Forum evidenced a growing realization throughout the Middle East that the way to create jobs for young men and women is through the private sector. The old social contract whereby the government provided jobs for every citizen has proved unsustainable, and filling the void requires harnessing the vast potential of private enterprise throughout the region.

However, private sector initiatives alone will not suffice. The private sector must be supported with a legal and regulatory environment conducive to business development and investment. Business-friendly policies that encourage entrepreneurship include streamlined registration and licensing procedures, strong enforcement of contracts and property rights, access to finance, efficient bankruptcy procedures, access to information, and reduced barriers to competition and trade. These policies must be supported by an administrative system based on the rule of law and equal opportunity—not plagued by corruption and cronyism.

Of course, implementing these policies is no simple task. Successful policy reform requires tailoring solutions to local conditions and responding to the needs of the local population.

The private sector has a crucial role to play in this process. By engaging the business community in the policymaking process, government officials in the Middle East can work with the private sector to craft solutions that create jobs and open up economic opportunities for their citizens.

CIPE supports its local partners in the Middle East to have a voice in this process, and the Doha Forum offers an important annual opportunity for them to be heard by key decision-makers in the region.

Peako Jenkins is a Program Assistant for the Middle East & North Africa at CIPE.

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