The World Economic Forum held its annual meeting in Jordan last week. While the purpose was to discuss, show and explore opportunities for growth in the Middle East and North Africa during this time of turmoil, a serious underrepresentation of what really matters, and who really matters, is occurring.
With every plenary session discussing the future of the region, and the challenges and obstacles it faces, it is somewhat ironic that those listening are unlikely to be in power when the tides really hit. With youth unemployment averaging 28.3 percent, making it the highest rate in the world, one wonders why the needs of young people are being discussed with only their limited presence or involvement.
Key players sidelined
Key players in the region were at the forum, but they are not part of the category that 30 percent of the region’s population falls into: young people. The region’s 100 million youths should be seen as more of an opportunity than a challenge. Investing in the right socioeconomic policies that motivate young people to achieve can unlock immense human potential. They cannot be reduced to statistics in white papers.
It is saddening that although young people like myself are shaping developments on the ground, we are no longer involved in the conversation.Yara al-Wazir
Education systems are dismal, employment figures are terrible, and corruption is rampant, affecting everything from job prospects to university admissions. My greatest fear is not prolonged political instability, but completing my degree and not being able to find a job, or not being able to offer my children a solid education that prepares them for real-life challenges. After all, if I have a stable job, I will not have time to revolt.
The importance of young people, and their role in the region’s economic and political future, are recognized by many WEF veterans, including Queen Rania of Jordan, who has acknowledged that nothing has changed over the past three years.
The past is in the past
It was not always this way. In 2006, the WEF began inviting young people to their summits, but in Davos in 2011, the session reserved for young panellists, to discuss the role of youths in the future, was scrapped. Instead, a select number were given short speaking slots on various panels.
Although I was fortunate enough to attend the forum in 2010 when I was 18 years old, I represented a drop in the ocean of young people in the region who had stories and ideas worth sharing.
During the four days I spent there, I felt the largest sense of pride in being part of this region. For once, I felt involved, heard and wanted. I felt that the region and the forum believed in my colleagues and I, and wanted us to be part of the movement shaping and guiding the future.
During a session on brain drain, I realized that although life in the West - away from the political instability and insecurity of the Middle East - seemed alluring, it would be a waste not to come home after finishing my degree to rebuild a region that believes in me, where I could hopefully educate my children, rather than send them abroad as my parents had to do.
Two years on, I cannot help but think of the young people who are shaping the region; not just the entrepreneurs and engineers taking day-to-day challenges into their own hands, but those who have lost their lives trying to get a whiff of jasmine blossom in the Arab Spring. It is saddening that although young people like myself are shaping developments on the ground, we are no longer involved in the conversation
Yara al Wazir is a humanitarian activist. She is the founder of The Green Initiative ME and a developing partner of Sharek Stories. She can be followed and contacted on twitter @YaraWazir