Some of the world's top leaders in government and business convened this week, calling for educational reform in the Middle East and North Africa to help tackle rampant joblessness in the region.
At the annual meeting for the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), which brings together leaders in businesses, non-profits and politics to address pressing social challenges, former President Bill Clinton, alongside executives from The World Bank, Walmart and the United Nations, discussed ways to assist struggling Arab Spring economies.
But Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan, who also joined the panel, took charge of the discussion by advocating for more vocational and technical skills training in the region to spur job creation.
"We need another revolution in the Arab world. We need an education revolution," said Rania.
"If there's one thing we need to focus on, it's redesigning our educational systems," she added. "At the moment, we're teaching yesterday's skills. There's a big gap between what the market demands and the kinds of skills we're teaching in our schools."
Around 15% of youth in the Arab world have said they want to start their own business and become self-employed next year, compared with just 4% in the United States and Europe, according to data discussed at CGI.
But double-digit unemployment rates have plagued the region since the unrest began last year, with Jordan's jobless rate topping an average of 13% during 2011. Moreover, too many young Arabs are graduating without the adequate education to run their own firm, let alone fill a role in the private sector, some of the panelists argued.
"You look all around the world, what people really want is a job or a business," said Clinton.
"Everywhere around the world there's shortage [including when] you go to Tahrir Square and talk to a country where they have 4,000 university graduates a year and nowhere near 4,000 university-level jobs being created every year."
In the past, countries in the developed world that once struggled economically, such as South Korea, invested heavily in their education sector to provide people with adequate training development schemes needed to spur business innovation. While similar investments are being made in parts of the Gulf, these funds are not always trickling down to youth throughout the Arab region, and they are sometimes heavily focused on developing people for jobs in the public instead of private sector.
Most jobs around the world, however - about 90% in total - are created within private enterprises, warned Jim Yong Kim, president of The World Bank.
"The challenge in the Arab Spring states is really critical," said Kim. "If you have economic growth and it's not inclusive, especially of young people, you're building instability potentially."
The panelists also argued there are growing opportunities for private sector businesses looking to expand into countries where governments have been overturned by revolutions, along with the potential for these companies to help create new job skills training schemes and lower unemployment levels.
Still, when Clinton asked Michael Duke, the president and chief executive of Walmart, whether he would open a new shop in Tripoli if requested by the new government of Libya, Duke sidestepped answering the question directly.
"Certainly, we evaluate risk," said Duke. He then noted that his company has opened in high-risk markets before and is now providing skills training to workers in India, while opening new shops that are helping ease unemployment in sub-Saharan Africa.
Kim followed up the remarks by requesting CGI attendees to consider investing in emerging markets despite the recent unrest in some areas.
"I think some of the highest-growth areas in the future could be places like Africa, in fact, and in the Arab world," said Kim. "You can't be a responsible investor without looking at those opportunities."
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