"Computer science (CS) is foundational for all students to understand how the world works, and to learn the skills they need to succeed in the future," says Leonardo Ortiz Villacorta, Vice President of International Partnerships, Code.org. "Bringing CS to all students requires a broad movement that includes government, academia, nonprofits and the private sector as well as the support from teachers and parents," he adds. Promising private sector social enterprises and non-profits, such as Code.org which develops context-specific, learner-centric, open-source computer science curricula, are informing Arab initiatives to further innovate and collaborate for scale and sustainability.
As we have highlighted in the first three blogs of this digital skills series, COVID-19 has only exacerbated the need for affordable, accessible, market-relevant, and inclusive options for people to gain digital skills that will help them succeed in digital work. The private sector is well-positioned to help meet and expand this increasingly urgent and unmet need and demand in MENA’s digital labor market
in emerging automation and innovation sectors. Private sector-led initiatives are on the rise, including for example, Google-led Maharat Min Google which has provided thousands of Arab youth with free online learning opportunities to develop digital coding, design, and marketing skills. For those entering the labor market, or trying to secure enterprise financing, the certificates offered by such online-learning program that are then further accredited or validated by universities and other partners are valuable.
Similarly, SAP’s Training and Development Institute offers a suite of content, delivery, and validation as well as apprentice-type initiatives that empower rising talents on SAP’s innovations, and helps to kick-start tech careers for those within the SAP ecosystem. One of the Institute’s activities targeting un- or underemployed graduates is its two to three-month Young Professional Program which covers software functionality and provides certification alongside soft and future skill trainings. The program is live in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Morocco, and Bahrain among others.
During the pandemic, major global MOOC providers such as Coursera are making additional courses freely available, including more that can lead to fee-free certification and help individuals get back to work. Similarly, Microsoft launched its global skills initiative in partnership with LinkedIn, offering free learning paths mapped to jobs that are in-demand, discounted Microsoft certifications to validate skills, and best practices for job searching and interview prepping. In Lebanon, in response to COVID-19, Code.org teamed up with the Beirut Digital District Academy under the World Bank’s Skilling UP Mashreq Project to offer free coding courses in English, French and Arabic.
At the same time, private sector opportunities to earn from digital-oriented work are also growing, and extend far beyond the technology industry. A Brookings study of the American digital economy found that 67% of computing jobs are outside of the technology sector. Hsoub, a group of Internet businesses serving Arabic speaking users across the world, aims to help people acquire digital skills through their own Academy and apply them through its freelancing platform and digital services marketplace. In the digitally-enabled sharing economy, Pink Taxi, an all-female taxi service in Egypt, employs over 450 women.
Also in an effort to support digital job creation through business start-up and growth, major telecom giant Orange has teamed up with GIZ to enhance digital employability and entrepreneurship across Middle East and Africa. Taking more of a 'brick-n-mortar' approach to content, finance and delivery, the program is establishing a network of high-tech hubs — Orange Digital Centers (ODCs) — that will offer coding, Fablab, start-up accelerators, and venture capital. And Google has also partnered with the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) IJNet Arabic service in Dubai to provide better journalism and digital skills to journalists in the MENA region, focusing on immersive storytelling and strengthening the digital news industry at large. They are offering trainings to thousands of MENA journalists on digital tools to gather and source information and enhance trust and verification.
All of these initiatives and projects signal the oncoming digital transformation opportunities in MENA. The pandemic has only brightened the spotlight on how important digital education and skills are in the equation. Seizing these opportunities requires an 'all hands on deck' approach. The World Bank can play a critical convening role to ensure that private sector-led examples of digital skills development are supported for scale and impact and move beyond the scope of isolated, boutique interventions. All actors in the private sector — businesses, non-profits, civic groups and social enterprise entities alike — have critical roles to play to improve, scale, and ensure the durability of content, finance, delivery and validation of digital skills, as well as creating and catalyzing digital jobs.