The Technology industry has been growing by leaps and bounds in the past few years, and it does not simply involve mobiles, tablets, laptops and other devices. Equally important, and perhaps less expected, is that social media networks allow for unprecedented connectivity and transparency and create a leveled playing field for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and young job seekers to pursue their aspirations.
Tremendous economic and social changes are underfoot, and social media is one of the most important leaps forward. Employment, entrepreneurship and SMEs in many regions are significantly influenced by internet connectivity and social media.
Social media consumption is voracious in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and the benefits of more connectivity and transparency are arguably even higher there than in Western Europe and the US. According to a study revealed by Deloitte in 2014, extending internet access in developing countries to levels seen in developed countries today means that long-run productivity could be enhanced by as much as 25%.
Entrepreneurship and SMEs have increasingly become a priority for governments in the region, who see these enterprises as key to solving the challenge of improving competitiveness, raising incomes, and generating employment.
This is where the social media platforms step in as enablers for SMEs to grow their businesses. Not only do platforms like Facebook and others help SMEs and startups to reach the people that really matter to them through sophisticated targeting; these platforms also enable SMEs to expand regionally and globally in a way that used to be reserved only to big corporations.
A success story that always comes to my mind when we talk about SMEs is Just Falafel, one of the most prominent franchisers of traditional Arab food in the region. Just Falafel fueled their international expansion through social media and ensured a return of 18 to 19 times their initial investment on Facebook. This region is a land of opportunities, if marketers can customize their communication to target the right people anytime and anywhere on all types of devices.
Those with more advanced Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) skills can also tap into the growth of the mobile "app-economy." Although people in the Arab world are spending more and more time on mobile apps, hardly any apps are relevant when it comes to both local languages and content. The mobile gaming industry in China and Turkey provide good examples of how a few small startups can grow into a multi-billion dollar industry by focusing on locally relevant games
One of the few countries in the MENA region that promoted the development of apps is Egypt, where the Egyptian Ministry of Information and Telecommunication hosts an annual competition to develop apps for people with disabilities.
Giving young people the skills to develop mobile apps will help curb youth unemployment in the Middle East, expected to reach 29 per cent by 2016, a United Nations study showed. ITC literacy not only qualifies people for employment in conventional job sectors, but also produces opportunities for them to participate in rapidly growing markets.
Similarly, social networks can play a pivotal role in exposing youth to career opportunities across the region and the globe that they simply would not have had access to in the past. With the traditional pathways to the workforce leaving more than one in four Arab youth unemployed, many young people are finding that social media is the best place to locate information and opportunities. In a survey of job seekers in the region conducted by the Dubai School of Government, 71% of respondents indicated that they would rely on social media to find their next job.
Ahmed Sakr, a former street peddler in Egypt, illustrates the doors that social media can open for youth locked out of the labor market. He used Facebook Groups to search for work, and found groups that shared information on companies in Egypt. He found the Facebook page for a training organization Education For Employment | Egypt (EFE|Egypt), which linked him to skills training and a job at one of the leading e-commerce enterprises in the region. For him, social media was the best reference and resource he could find to make a change in his life.
When one is connected to the Internet, the opportunities are endless and the impact will be immense -- this is the message that over 1.3 billion people active monthly on Facebook are telling us. The 71 million of them are in the MENA region, and they have a greater opportunity nowadays to explore economic and educational growth prospects. More than ever before, they are contributing to the changing dynamics of the region in a positive and sustainable manner.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and Education For Employment (EFE), a non-profit focused on creating job opportunities for unemployed youth in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Conflict and upheaval have dominated the news on MENA in 2014, and some see a region spiraling into chaos. But beneath the alarm bells, some digital pioneers are doubling down on their bets that the region's next generation could have a brighter future tied to technology and skills. For more information on EFE, read here.