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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Addressing the Employment Challenge

World Economic Forum – Dead Sea

Law Breakers

Thank you, John.

This morning I want us to start thinking about breaking some laws.

Now, I don’t mean the laws of our governments, or the laws of linguistics or economics. I mean we need to start breaking the laws of physics.

Let me explain. We all know that, in the Arab world, a quarter of our young people are unemployed; the highest rate in the world. For women, the statistics are even higher. The cost to the region is up to $50 billion a year. Worse, it cripples communities, hinders development, and frustrates an entire generation.

For ten years the unemployment rate has stagnated at these intolerable levels. If we’re going to give our people the peace and prosperity they deserve, we’re going to have to start doing things differently, start challenging the norm, start breaking some laws.

And it’s the laws of physics that we need to overcome, because all too often we seem over-endowed with them here in the Arab world.

Just look at the First Law of Thermodynamics. It tells us that energy and matter cannot be created or destroyed. In other words, you can’t make something out of nothing.

But that is exactly what we need to do. Too many of our young people believe they cannot pull themselves up by their bootstraps… that the best future for them lies in a safe, secure government job. We have to re-engineer the expectations of our children; instill in them the belief that there are no limits to their aspirations.

That will take a quality education. It will take inspiring teachers and modern curricula that teach them the skills of an entrepreneur: critical thinking, team work, problem solving, initiative, communication, and leadership. Because the skills of an entrepreneur are the skills of a 21st century worker.

And the private sector can help. They can get our youth out of classrooms into internships, apprenticeships, training, and summer jobs to learn the principles of an enterprise culture: that anything is possible if you put your mind to it.

Then they can start their own businesses. And when we create one entrepreneur, they create three or four new jobs, sparking a chain reaction that seemingly does the impossible: create something from nothing.

The next law to break is Newton’s First Law of Motion. It states that the velocity of an object remains the same when no external force acts upon it… that without outside help nothing will change.

Around the world today, people too often think that the Arab region cannot alter its destination or destiny without outside help. That, without an external force, we will forever have unemployment and poverty. I fundamentally disagree.

I believe that in every child lies the aspiration of a nation. Partnering with academia, NGOs, and the private sector, we can not only help our children transition from school to work, but reposition our region as a hub of creativity and innovation.

Because we have within our people all the potential and power to change our fate, to improve the lives of our loved ones. We can break this law if we support start ups, clear burdensome regulations and red tape, and unleash the innovation of small businesses as dynamos of employment.

Do not underestimate the entrepreneurial spirit of our young people. In a recent Gallup poll, 15 percent of young Arabs said they wanted to start a business in the next 12 months, compared to just 4 percent of Americans and Europeans. We just have to set them in motion.

To do that, we’ll need to disprove the next law: Hubble’s Law, which says that the further out an object is in the universe, the faster it’s moving away from the Earth… that those out in front make the most rapid progress.

It sometimes seems the Arab world has fallen too far behind, that we’ll never catch up. But we can. I know because others already have. South Korea and Singapore accomplished this feat in the Far East, going from developing to developed nations in a single generation.

We can do the same here in the Middle East, but we have to start pulling in more investments. We have to channel funds to where we need them most: schools, start ups, and soft skills training.

To raise new financing we have to think afresh. We have to leverage the private sector, tap sovereign wealth funds, widen the net of donors, and uncork the $700 billion currently controlled by women in the Middle East. We have to be more effective with our resources, by better coordinating NGOs and paying for what we get out of schools, not what we put in – for results, not promises.

A quality education… An economy based on the private sector…. A culture of entrepreneurship and work experience… A secure stream of innovative funding.

These are just some of the reforms we need to bring down unemployment and raise up our young people.

At the Dead Sea World Economic Forum, across Jordan, and all over the Arab region I’ve seen and heard from young people and so many of them have inspiring ideas and tremendous energy.

Like Yousef Wadi, Hani Abu Huwaij, Monir Abu Hilal, and Mohammad Al Azzam who earned a medal-winning position at Microsoft’s Imagine Cup, the first time an Arab country reached the final.

Or like the ESCO team from Nablus, Palestine, who, just three days ago, won ‘Best Company of the Year’ at the INJAZ Young Arab Entrepreneurs Competition.

Thankfully, support for these young people is springing up across the region. Initiatives like Silatech, Amman Tech Tuesdays, and the Middle East Leadership Academy are connecting them with employers, experts, and each other.

Networks of investors, incubators, and mentors are helping to fill the skills and financing gaps. Groups like Oasis500 in Jordan, Seed Start Up in Dubai, and Plug and Play in Egypt are providing not just funds, but much-needed advice and training.

But we can do more. We can all do more to encourage young people to take risks… to teach our children to see and foresee the next big opportunity… to nurture the next generation to break assumptions and confound expectations.

Everyone here in this room has imagination and determination. Your idea, your initiative could be all the difference to a young woman starting a business or a young man finding a job.

So let’s start brainstorming. Let’s start asking ourselves:

“How can I help put our young people not just on a path to work, but on a career path to prosperity?”
“How can I inspire a new class of entrepreneurs?”

“How can I help my country break the laws of physics?”

Thank you.

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