Students from sewing class, partner AFPF in Tunisia. City of Methuia. Photo: Lotte Ærsøe

Ten lessons on entrepreneurship and job creation in the MENA region

Inequality, Women's Economic Empowerment, Youth employment

Students from sewing class, partner AFPF in Tunisia.
City of Methuia.
Photo: Lotte Ærsøe

Job creation in the MENA Region, the context and challenges 

 The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region face unemployment as a common challenge. The youth population is growing but the jobs are not being created at the same pace. Economic growth rates have declined, leading to a lack of employment opportunities sought by a rapidly expanding labour force. Globally, the lowest rates of youth engagement are seen in the MENA region, where only about 27 per cent of young people participate in the labour force. These high unemployment rates are closely linked to wide-spread inequality in the region.

Regarding education systems, institutions across the MENA region are unable to meet the demands of a growing youth population and a rapidly modernizing job market. The small and medium enterprise (SME) sector is unable to create enough sustainable and good-quality jobs. The formal employment sector lacks transparency, and there is restricted access to credit and information. Furthermore, economic reforms have had limited success in creating long-term jobs, enhancing employment opportunities with fair pay and in creating a healthy and attractive business environment.   

How are we addressing the challenge? 

Oxfam, with the support of the Danish Arab Partnership Program (DAPP) and Medup! of the European Union, are working together to reduce inequality and increase employment in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, Lebanon and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Through our programmes, we aim to increase opportunities, develop local partnerships and networks, build capacities and influence policies to bring change to the life of young people. 

One of the programmes in partnership with DAPP and Oxfam IBIS, is the Youth Participation and Employment program (YPE). This is a five-year program, which started in 2017​. The program aims to improve technical skills, organisational capacities of institutions and encourages advocacy and dialogue between youth and public and private institutions through partnerships.  

An example of a YPE supported project is the FORSA Portal for Education in Jordan. FORSA improves access to the job market for young people in Middle Eastern countries, addressing gaps in their education, skills and experience. The resource allows young people to sign up and match labour market demands to their skills.

Another program is Promoting Social Entrepreneurship in the Mediterranean region (MedUP!). The four-year program was started in 2018 and is implemented in six MENA region countries. The program promotes an enabling environment for the development of the social entrepreneurship sector as a driver for inclusive growth and job creation. This work is being done through facilitating capacity building and awareness-raising in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The program has been instrumental for women’s empowerment, improving access to finance and training on business management which helps rural women start income-generated activities.  

Lessons learnt from the programmes 

Working with our partners we aim to create more decent job opportunities for women and young people in the MENA region. Taking from our recent case studies, these are the lessons we’ve learnt from our programmes. 

  1. Youth employment interventions should not only focus on job creation but also ensure the quality of jobs. Interventions should consider the participation of women and young girls, addressing NEET (not in education, employment and training) targets and needs of young people in both rural and urban areas. 

  2. Increasing inclusive employment opportunities can reduce inequality. Creating inclusive employment requires a range of considerations such as: focusing on women, breaking social barriers, influencing for pro-youth policies, being sensitive to conflict, managing risks, building local capacity, increasing our partnership base, improving and investing on market services and facilitating private sector involvement. 

  3. Supporting innovation and use of technology requires a focus on skill-building of youth. Trying new ideas and developing replicable models is essential to address the widespread problem of unemployment. 

  4. Developing a network of skilled partners and stakeholders and increasing their capacity for influencing national policies related to entrepreneurship and employment is crucial for youth interventions. 

  5. Technical support to entrepreneurs through coaching and mentoring and coordination with government and the private sector can help finance start-ups and create new jobs.

  6. Inspiring Youth is key to achieving their goals of becoming entrepreneurs to help them adapt their skills to the changing demand. This can be very different from the formal education that is gradually becoming irrelevant for the job market. E-learning platforms can play a key role in facilitating a higher level of training and matching jobs for new skills. 

  7. Young people should increase awareness about job quality in terms of equal pay, the sustainability of jobs and labour rights. They should take part in internship programs and use their knowledge on labour rights and decent jobs to protect themselves from exploitation.  

  8. Developing private sector partnerships can assist in understanding the labour market demand and help develop technical capacities of young workers who can be placed with the private sector.  

  9. Social enterprises are unique and have different needs. They should be clear on their social objectives and governance structure. Facilitator organisations should be careful in finding the right service provider for them. 

  10. Women’s access to finance can increase their knowledge and ability to be self-employed. Women in co-operative groups can reduce transaction costs, guarantee each other for loans and increase profits from their enterprises. 

Find out more about the MENA region Countries Oxfam works with.

Read the case studies by country
Jordan, Tunisia, Morocco, Lebanon, OPT

Author
Shekhar Anand

Shekhar Anand

Shekhar is Interim Team Leader and Senior Advisor, Learning & Knowledge management, Youth Participation and Employment (YPE) Danish Arab Partnership Program (DAPP), OXFAM IBIS. Shekhar holds an M.Sc from the London School of Economics, UK and a postgraduate diploma in Rural Development from Xavier Institute of Social Service in India. He has worked with Oxfam, CARE, CIDA and national governments in South and East Asia, East Africa, the Middle East and ex-Soviet countries leading economic justice, food security, gendered value chain development and youth participation and employment programmes.