A New Commitment for Securing a Prosperous Middle East
By James D. Wolfensohn
No task is more urgent than providing hope to the 100 million young people between the ages of 15 and 29 in the Middle East. If we provide them with the opportunity to lead constructive lives, they will build an exciting future of prosperity, stability and hope. If they are frustrated and are unable to find work and build their families, there will be unrest, dissension and very possibly violence.
The region has many successes on which to build. The majority of its young men and women are more educated, healthier and better connected to the global community than their parents. The youth of the Middle East are a major asset in furthering prosperity and peace in the region.
Yet the challenges are also manifold. As a starting point, young people need an education that meets the demands of the market place. Education reform must go hand-in-hand with expanding opportunities for fulfilling, productive work. In the past five years, the region has seen remarkable economic growth. Since 2002, job creation has increased, unemployment has decreased and the Middle East has experienced one of its highest periods of growth performance.
As we look forward, the region must create over 30 million jobs between now and 2020. Without a major change in government planning and the creation of new possibilities for entrepreneurial initiatives and the creation in new and expanded industries beyond oil and agriculture, unemployment will grow. Young people will be forced to delay marriage compounded by housing shortages which will affect them directly. The region needs more long-term, highly committed partnerships that span social divides and create impact on the opportunities for youth. Significant investments must be made in policies and programs that improve the lives and prospects of young people.
The Middle East Youth Initiative is a modest attempt to leverage the growing interest in Middle East youth development. It will serve as an incubator for new ideas by working closely with policymakers, academic institutions, the private sector, NGOs, think tanks, and international/regional organizations. We hope that our efforts will give voice to the aspirations of the region’s youth and serve as a platform to help them realize their potential.