Everyone has heard about the Arab Spring, the wave of popular revolts that swept through countries like Tunisia, Egypt and Libya in 2011, but did you know the Arab world is currently going through a "Startup Spring"?
Queen Rania of Jordan posed that question Thursday in a conversation with The Huffington Post's Editor-In-Chief, Arianna Huffington, at The WorldPost Future of Work Conference. The Jordanian queen told Huffington that technology is providing new opportunities for many young people in the Arab world and can be an important factor in tackling one of the region's most pervasive problems: unemployment.
Sixty percent of the Arab world's population is under the age of 25, but the region has some of the highest unemployment rates in the world. About one youth in four living in the Middle East or North Africa is without a job.
According to Queen Rania, technology and entrepreneurship are key tools to address that unemployment crisis. The queen pointed out that the number of Internet users in the Arab world is growing steadily, and while e-commerce in the region is still limited, the industry is similarly growing fast. She noted that many of the region's online entrepreneurs are female and that technology is thus creating more opportunities for women. "All these indicators are not just indicators of the economy, but I find that they are indicators of hope," Queen Rania said.
The queen admitted there are barriers to cross in order for the region to become an environment where tech startups can truly thrive. "We have an education system that doesn't turn out enough entrepreneurs; there's still quite a bit of red tape and not enough investment in this field," Queen Rania said.
To help solve that, she partnered with EdX last year to launch Edraak, a massive open online course in Arabic offering original Arabic content as well as translated courses from the likes of Harvard, MIT and UC Berkeley. Nine months after launch the platform has grown to 140,000 students worldwide. Queen Rania called the program a "lifeline" for many of its young students.
"We have people in Syria who have subscribed, and I've received personal messages from young people who say that, 'You know, we can't attend university because of the security situation in our country, and we haven't been able to do it for a couple of years, and having access to these courses has really given us a chance at normality in our lives,'" she told Huffington.
Her home country of Jordan is one of the leaders in the Arab world's tech industry. The Economist reported in 2013 that Jordan's King Abdullah and his government have made substantial efforts to support the emerging industry and that those efforts have paid off. The magazine noted that the $175 million sale of the Jordanian Internet portal Maktoob to Yahoo "showed people what is possible."
Queen Rania hopes that similar examples will inspire young people across the region. "Just like extremists can inspire young people with their religious rhetoric, I think successful Arab entrepreneurs can also capture the imagination of youth and really help change the discourse in our region," she concluded.
Watch the full conversation with Queen Rania in the video above.