The global economic crisis and the Arab Spring have sharpened the challenge to the countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) from a large young population seeking better educational and professional opportunities. A variety of factors have impeded the countries’ abilities to absorb an increasing labor force: excessive GDP volatility; labor demand heavily dominated by the public sector; economies dependent on oil revenues and low value-added products; and weak integration into the global economy.
The World Bank's "think equal" campaign, which launched the new World Development Report on Gender Equality and Development, addresses the challenge of women's empowerment and gender equality well. Preconceived notions of what it means to be a "real man" or a "real woman" are deeply internalized and integral to our identities and relationships. Women and men who seek to mix up this picture will have to do the hard work of acknowledging that some of our most cherished values and assumptions about gender no longer make sense and may ultimately prove to be harmful.
Being a volunteer in Lebanon is not an easy task. People tend to encourage us superficially but they actually do not understand the reason why we would spend our time doing something for free when we can be working on something more profitable - at least to help with our summer expenses or university tuition. It is also pretty hard to bring in or recruit volunteers! I have heard recruiting for such an effort was much easier in the past when my parents were my age. People had fewer distractions and were more committed to the concept of helping each other.
In light of the Arab Spring and continued focus on the region, we are discovering much about the Arab world. This is a very positive development, which brings to light the many misunderstandings and “myths” about the region. This is certainly true of education. It is time to address and dispel them. Myth 1 - Education is poor in the region because it has been neglected: Untrue. Since their independence, Arab world countries have made huge gains and currently invest heavily in education. The Arab world has made significant progress in recent decades.
The Prime Minister of Tunisia, Béji Caïd Essebsi, is in Washington DC this week on an official visit to the United States and we were honored that he made time to visit the World Bank and share his thoughts about his country’s future as it prepares for elections on October 23. What a remarkable story it is. The Prime Minister, who has served in public life since Tunisia’s independence in 1957 and wryly describes himself as “no political novice”, told us he had expected change. But the manner and speed and unpredictability of the revolution in December and January was a surprise. Mr. Caïd Essebsi has been a unique leader for this fast-paced and game-changing period in Tunisia.
In addition to increasing globalization, which has been key to rapid growth for many countries, an emerging debate is which sector, services or manufacturing, could be the main source of growth for developing countries today. The East Asian middle and high income countries globalized through manufacturing-led activities, having followed the traditional development path from agriculture through manufacturing and only later to services. For the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) countries, which sector path to growth, services or manufacturing, could emerge and be fostered?
One of the key and long-lasting concerns across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has been job creation. With the Arab spring events, this issue has moved to the top of the development policy agenda in most countries in the region. And the media has been reporting personal stories of hardships faced by people, especially young ones, trying to find jobs that match their aspirations, in some cases, qualifications, and enable them to launch their lives and start families. There is little doubt that the region needs more jobs.
This is the first week of my professional return to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Until last Friday I held the job of Vice President of the Sustainable Development network at the World Bank, a truly rich and fulfilling engagement in a range of global enterprises from agriculture, to infrastructure, to climate change. I feel honored to assume the new role of MNA VP at this extraordinary time in the region’s history. Many eyes are on us and much will be expected. As history unfolds before us, in the Arab Spring, in the uprisings, in the revolutions, I have reflected much on what this will mean and where it will take us. I remain filled with optimism as people across the region have, in their own heartfelt formulation, “taken back their dignity”