Similar to their peers around the world, young Palestinians do equate schooling with the prospect of getting good jobs. But what is most striking is that education has become a source of self-worth and social recognition. In the words of one young man from Old City in Hebron, “When you have a degree you have your respect wherever you go.”
West Bank and Gaza
High unemployment in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) largely reflects the growth deficit. While China has been growing at 10 percent for a decade and has unemployment below 5 percent. MENA is the mirror image, growing at 5 percent and suffering unemployment above 10 percent. The absence of strong growth in MENA has been a serious constraint to employment. It's worth noting though that MENA’s employment situation is not accurately described by the jobless growth that has plagued much of the industrial world in recent years.
In December 2010, the Arab Spring began with a call for a change, which ended up becoming a reality in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. The restoration of justice is now a priority focus in all these countries. In the minds of many citizens, justice means the return of funds looted by officials over decades of high-level government corruption. The tenor of recent news reports shows that throughout the region, the public’s patience for the process is wearing thin.
Recent events across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region have underscored the urgent need to ensure job creation and an enabling environment for a young and better-educated, more skilled labor force. The international economic crisis has further deepened the problem in a region that is characterized by the world’s highest youth unemployment rate and the lowest female labor force participation.
Driving through the Wall that hems in the Palestinian city of Ramallah I am always struck by the number of high-rise buildings under construction, the numerous expensive cars and latest cafes. To the eye it appears that Ramallah is a rapidly growing capital of a booming middle-income country. However, I know that this is a mirage. It masks the dire poverty in Gaza, in the rural areas of the West Bank and in the refugee camps that dot the countryside. The minute one passes through the checkpoint into Gaza – something few people get to do – the expensive cars are gone, replaced by donkey carts, piles of trash and the misery of a captive population.
I am very pleased to announce the launch of a new recruitment drive for Arabic speakers, called the SMART (Strategic MNA Arabic Recruitment of Talent) program, which will provide a small cohort of the best and brightest Arabic speakers with a unique opportunity to pursue a career at the Bank. We are very excited to introduce young, dynamic professionals to the MENA region of the World Bank and in this small way contribute to the expansion of the Arab talent in the World Bank’s MENA Region.