Promoting employment in the MENA region
The German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), together with the German Federal Ministry of Finance (BMF), hosted this high-level conference on job creation in the MENA region as part of the Deauville Partnership’s Finance Track. The Deauville Partnership was established in 2011 in response to the transformation under way in the MENA region. The Partnership aims at providing support to Arab countries in transition and at better coordinating international assistance. The intention for the conference is to forge alliances for job creation between the various actors involved – policy makers, entrepreneurs, business associations, trade unions, social initiatives and international development institutions.
The main objectives of the conference were to explore possible approaches to creating jobs in the MENA region. Over 120 high-ranking participants, most from the MENA region, attended. ISESCO was represented by Dr Maha Merezak.
In his opening address, Parliamentary State Secretary to the BMZ, Thomas Silberhorn, referenced the current waves of refugees fleeing to Europe, noting that the lack of perspectives in the MENA region was being felt in Germany. A youth unemployment rate of 30% represented a huge threat to the stability of countries in the region, according to Silberhorn. He pointed out that simply increasing capital flow to the region was not enough to strengthen the region, arguing that the situation of the people and small companies needed to be improved as well: “We need the creativity of young people in these countries.” A lack of education was often a factor, and the private sector should fulfill its responsibilities here, he said, adding: “The ongoing flood of refugees is the direct result of all these issues.” Since 2014, the BMZ has invested 200 million euros in over 30 projects in the MENA region. Though many expectations had not yet been fulfilled, Silberhorn reminded listeners that transformation was a long, slow process.
In his keynote speech, Ragui Assaad, Professor at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, explored how job markets in the MENA region had changed. He pointed to the high rate of youth unemployment and poor job quality for highly qualified workers as particularly problematic, and identified the drop in jobs in the public sector the private sector had been unable to balance out as the primary driver of these issues. Many young professionals still hoped to land jobs in the public sector, which is very attractive primarily for non-material advantages like status and security, Assaad said. He criticized the developing trend in which the status of parents increasingly determined their children’s employment – regardless of their own qualifications. Assad called for more congruency between the jobs available and the jobs needed, adding that a clear bankruptcy framework would also contribute to strengthening the business climate and increase companies’ willingness to take risks.
Stefan Kapferer, Deputy Secretary-General of the OECD, expressed concern about the development of regional GNPs. He argued that countries could not wait for foreign direct investment and needed to improve the business climate for local small enterprises in particular. Ultimately job market reform was the only way forward, Kapferer said.
Participants addressed specific issues in three separate workshops. They discussed short-term solutions for acute problems, ways to strengthen the private sector, and opportunities for structural adjustment.
In the panel discussion that followed, which was moderated by Daniel Gerlach (Editor in Chief, Zenith), Jordan’s Minister of Labor Nidal Katamine, Heba Gamal (CEO Endeavor, Egypt), Christiane Bögemann-Hagedorn (BMZ’s Deputy Director General North Africa, Middle East, South-Eastern and Eastern Europe and Latin America), Rula Shunnar (Director of Country Operations at SILATECH, Qatar) talked about how an alliance of states, the private sector, unions, associations and civil society could help ameliorate the great challenge posed by unemployment.
“We cannot focus on creating new jobs if we are constantly working to solve other problems,” Minister Katamine said. The continuing wave of refugees was to much for the country to handle, he added, noting that of the 11 million people currently living in Jordan, only 4 million were Jordanians. “There is no normal here anymore,” Katamine said. Another huge problem was a lack of rural infrastructure, he continued. Almost all the available jobs were concentrated in three or four cities.
Christiane Bögemann-Hagedorn emphasized the importance of alliances comprising companies, civil society, the government and unions. In education in particular, companies needed additional support, she added. “We cannot export the German educational system, but maybe we can pass on ideas that could help companies better educate their workforces.”
Heba Gamal presented a private sector perspective. Companies would not voluntarily join alliances, she said, since they preferred to focus on what they do best: their core business. But promoting the exchange of experience between companies was important, Gamal added.
Rula Shunnar argued that while alliances were an attractive option, solutions needed to be adjusted to suit a country’s specific context. She mentioned Gaza as one example where virtual jobs could be created. Shunnar contended that setting goals involving abstract numbers was not always effective: “We have to start at the lowest level.”
The floor was then opened to the audience. The ensuing discussion focused on how to promote regional integration and how companies could be encouraged to share their know-how.