Youth, Purpose and Prosperity: Security in the Middle East
This is Sa’ed Murad. He is a Jordanian who, not long ago, was one of the young people who make up the 29% youth unemployment statistic in that country. Today, however, he is a successful app developer.
He is one of 73 youth who, through the MENA-YES program in Jordan, learned how to develop apps for the Android platform. The Arabic language app market is a great untapped market; there are few apps produced in that language and a huge population across the Middle East and around the world with the Arab diaspora. When Sa’ed first applied to join Global Communities’ Caterpillar Foundation-supported MENA-YES program, he had to borrow money to be able to afford to come to class. Initially he learned how to maintain hybrid cars and earned enough to buy a computer, then he diversified into app development. In a country with more active phone lines than people, and where 65% of those are smart phones, Sa’ed had the eye of an entrepreneur and saw opportunity.
Sa’ed’s apps are diverse. They range from promoting tourism in Jordan to a piano game, and he continues to diversify into different areas. Sa’ed took the first step of an entrepreneur — risk — but it is paying off, as each month his apps bring in $50–100 in advertising revenue. “I want to be a millionaire,” he says, with a smirk.
Another graduate of the program is Samah Beshtawi, a young Jordanian woman. She has created apps for teaching Arabic language to children; one of these apps is among the top 300 downloaded apps in Europe. With more than 100,000 downloads of her app to date, the diaspora market is huge for her, as Arab families in Europe seek to teach their children their language. Through games and other creative methods, children can learn how to read their parents’ language.
The MENA-YES program, which was implemented across three countries — Jordan, Yemen and Lebanon — closed in 2016. Collectively, the country teams increased the employability of 2,050 young people through building 318 partnerships with private sector firms, and developing and customizing 86 training modules to meet employers’ demand for skills. Over 1,800 youth also received training in access to finance, market development and business skills. Follow-up with a significant sub-set of graduates found that 60% of them were employed or in further training 180 days after program completion in Jordan and Lebanon.
Given the success of the program, Global Communities created a local, Jordanian affiliate, Partners for Good, with the staff of the MENA-YES program in Jordan. Partners for Good is now continuing this work with more at-risk, unemployed youth. As well as app development, we are also training young men and women in mobile device maintenance, another demand industry. We encourage youth to either develop their own apps or connect them to companies so they get hired. The work is flexible and can be done anywhere. This means, for example, for women or people with disabilities, who may be movement restricted by either cultural, physical or financial reasons, significant income can be generated from home.
Why is this important? Sa’ed comes from Madaba, the city where the first uprisings began in Jordan, during the Arab Spring. While Jordan managed to maintain political stability during the turmoil that overwhelmed much of the region, there are many unemployed, at-risk youth. Youth with no clear path forward in life, can become frustrated, and can be lured into dangerous activities. Youth with a purpose, employment and a decent income, self-driven and confident, are far less likely to engage in activities that lead to instability and insecurity.
Global Communities and Partners for Good work both separately and in partnership to continue providing youth with access to economic opportunity through a market-driven approach. Partners for Good is now looking at how they can direct education and economic opportunity toward refugees and, especially, vulnerable refugee women through demand driven mobile technology. By helping youth to harness their potential in a way that gives them hope, purpose and a future of self-determination, we remove a key stressor that can lead to regional — and ultimately international — instability.