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Youth Forum - New Jobs for New Generations

Rome, 11/12/2015, Aspen Mediterranean Initiative
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Emerging from discussions during the Med 2015 Youth Forum – devoted to the topic “The challenge: new jobs for new generations” – was the finding that investment in infrastructure, in the Internet of Things, and in renewable energy, along with a shift towards a greater grassroots focus, are the factors that could bring about a decisive breakthrough to the problem of youth employment in the Mediterranean.

Reference was made to a report of the World Bank which indicates that 100 million jobs need to be created in the Arab world by 2020 just to keep unemployment at the same level, without reducing it. Hence, creating new employment presents an all the more ambitious undertaking, and in order to successfully meet this challenge, it will be essential to bridge the infrastructure gap, especially in North Africa.

It was noted that efforts were made in this direction following the Arab Spring, when a stabilization plan was put in place aimed at increasing investment in this sector. However, the ecosystem was not capable of absorbing such resources and exploiting them to best advantage. This situation was seen as highlighting the limitations of a centralized approach in which the state is the main player. One of the suggested solutions was therefore that of examining “grassroots” approaches, where growth is driven from the bottom up, from the local context. The renewable energy sector is undergoing rapid change in this respect, and in the member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and North Africa, this is paying off handsomely. Numerous investments are being poured into small projects, which, for instance, are enabling poor farmers in Egypt to become “utility players“ by converting their farmsteads into solar power projects, generating power that is then sold to the grid.

While it was conceded that it is very difficult to make forecasts in a complex and constantly changing global scenario as currently prevails, what was viewed as beyond question is that an uncertain period like the present is the best time to try out new and radical ideas. It would therefore seem that now is the right time to break with once more adhering to the status quo. Although investment aimed at job creation has always followed a top-down trajectory, it was considered that today this no longer works, and that instead it is necessary to encourage peer or public-private partnership investment, a model that should be more widely adopted.

For that matter, governments are no longer able to create employment and young people must thus invest in education and rely on their own capabilities. It was hence deemed necessary to create a class of self-sufficient entrepreneurs and workers. There must also be a shift in attitude towards business failure, which should no longer be considered a disastrous setback in a young person’s entrepreneurial career, but rather an opportunity from which to learn.

One of the myths it was felt needs to be dispelled is that innovation will reduce employment. On the contrary: innovation today does not kill jobs. Indeed, not only does it create them, but it has led to a global increase in productivity, wellbeing, and GDP, while poverty levels have fallen dramatically.

Another myth it was suggested needs tearing down – one also posing the most difficult challenge – is that of the appeal which Daesh holds for younger generations, against which a truly effective counter-narrative must be constructed. ISIS uses the best technological means available to wage its propaganda, including social networks, videos, and magazines. It is crucial for the West, and particularly the younger generations, to efficiently put together and convey a different narrative, made up of positive and inspiring stories, through, for example, the creation of a permanent forum which includes young leaders from the Mediterranean area. This would be a decisive step towards providing a response to those who believe they have found in Daesh a new outlet for expression with whose values they identify. Indeed, it is a mistake to think that the only hold ISIS exerts is that it provides a monthly salary of 2 thousand dollars and a home to young people who have nothing to lose.

Lastly, it was acknowledged that ideological motivations also account for why young people decide to leave their homes and their country behind to go and fight. On the other hand, the same is true for those who emigrate from their country to work for a large ICT company or a major media group: they do not do it purely for economic reasons, but also because of a willingness to bring innovation to developing countries, reduce the digital divide, and change the world.