Efforts at creating jobs for young people and supporting entrepreneurs in the Arab region, already facing an uphill battle, have hit even harder times because of the lockdowns many countries imposed to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The numerous programs set up in recent years to try to tackle the region’s high unemployment rates have been forced by to move online, where many are struggling to remain effective. Efforts at supporting entrepreneurs during the pandemic were discussed last month at the online conference Rebuilding Futures, organized by SPARK, a Dutch nongovernmental organization focused on creating better jobs for young people in fragile states, and Al-Fanar Media. (See a related article, “The Acceleration of Online Education: What Can We Learn from the Crisis and Beyond?”)
Yet experts warn that even when countries finally claw their way back to some semblance of normality, unemployment levels will remain high without reforms to make economies more dynamic, less dependent on the public sector for jobs, and more friendly to the creation of private businesses.
Even before the coronavirus pandemic, the jobless rate in the Arab region was double what it is in the rest of the world. In 2019 the region had an unemployment rate of 10.3 percent, compared to a global average of 5.4 percent, according to estimates of the International Labor Organization (ILO). Youth unemployment stood last year at 26.4 percent, vs. 13.6 percent globally. Fueled by one of the world’s highest proportions of young people in the population, the Arab region’s youth unemployment rate has been the highest in the world for over 25 years.
Meanwhile, cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, continue to climb around the world. Among the Arab countries, Saudi Arabia has the most confirmed cases, followed by Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
Difficult Transitions to Online
Experts say that across the region, the combined effects of coronavirus lockdowns, a contraction of trade, a sharp fall in tourism and depressed oil prices, have thrown many people out of work and plunged the area into a deep recession.
Programs set up to provide job training or support to entrepreneurs had limited reach to begin with, and have had varying degrees of success in moving their programs online.