By Minji Hong
The distribution of population in the Middle East and the greater MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region is said to be characterized by a “youth bulge,” stimulated by a significant decrease in infant mortality met with a high fertility rate. However, recent trends show that these young adults are failing to find jobs and earn a decent income, thus becoming a “demographic bomb,” according to an average youth unemployment rate of more than 20 percent. There are many causes that can explain the aggravating situation, including an over-dependence on public-sector jobs to private-sector jobs as well as decreasing returns on education propelled by a discrepancy between the skills and education the youth receives and those needed in the job market. Here are 4 startups that strive to facilitate youth development, some through education, some through harnessing creativity, and others through the support of youth entrepreneurship, all ultimately geared towards combating high levels of youth unemployment in the region by tapping into their potentials.
TalentS (Saudi Arabia), Website, Facebook, Twitter
Since its inception in 2007, National TalentS Company for Training and Education “TalentS,” by co-founders Amr Saleh Al Madani, has quickly garnered recognition in the region for its innovative approach to nurturing a passion for science, technology, math and engineering (STEM) in young Saudis, by designing and operating various educational programs, competitions, camps, and exhibitions with a particular focus on empirical, hands-on experiences to engage the youth in enhancing their competency in the field. The company is equipped with a team of 85 young professionals and educators. Built upon Amr’s strong belief that “empowering the youth of Saudi Arabia in the fields of STEM is an essential step to reignite the engines of productivity and creativity” for the nation, TalentS was awarded as one of the Saudi Fast Growth Startup companies in 2009, and in 2014, Amr was granted the Eisenhower Fellowship for innovation.
Holom, directly translated as “dreams” in Arabic, is a non-profit organization founded by three young Jordanians in early 2015, with an aim to empower the youth in marginalized communities within Jordan through creativity, to ultimately help them to realize their life goals. Their operations include conducting research on the access to creative learning outlets across Jordan, as well as launching creative-learning workshops in Amman and refugee camps. Artistic activities and social awareness are merged to increase the youth’s engagement in social issues whilst using the arts as a means to not only increase self-confidence but also to help them earlier on to understand the potential role of the arts to provide solutions to the various challenges of the 21st century. The founders’ backgrounds in the arts and the non-governmental sector are instrumental in strengthening the Jordanian economy by providing innovative and creative opportunities to build a stronger MENA region.
A youth-run social enterprise based in Qatar, The Youth Company was established in December 2010 in order to provide a comprehensive platform for the empowerment and development of the youth in the MENA region. Today, it operates based on more than 200 projects, training workshops, festivals and conferences. Statistically, the company has engaged more than 250 thousand young adults within the 5 years of its inception. The startup hosts a few events every year, notably, the MENA region’s first ever Parkour competition, the Arab Hip-Hop Festival, and Run The World Festival 2015, the largest youth festival in the Middle East connecting the youth from more than 50 different cultures through sports, food, and music.
This app-developing company based in Saudi Arabia, was founded by Majed Al Thagafi, based on his conviction that “corporates have a responsibility to help qualified students and fresh graduates with the right skill sets to reach their potential.” His efforts to empower the youth by facilitating their professional growth, particularly in the app-developing and software sectors, culminated with his partnership with a number of universities in the MENA region to provide computer science students with internship opportunities at the company. Moreover, Ibtikar offers job openings to outstanding interns after graduation as well as training programs for its employees. Majed Al Thagafi’s dedication to developing the pool of technical talents and skills in the nation has earned him world-wide recognition, for instance, by being a nominee for Ernst and Young entrepreneurship award.