By Ed Attwood
Welcome to the 2015 Arabian Business Power List, our guide to the planet’s 100 most influential young Arabs
Ask anyone outside the region what they think is the Middle East’s most valuable resource, and I’d hazard a guess that the most frequent answer you’ll receive is: ‘oil’. In truth, however, it’s really the Arab world’s young people that are both the region’s biggest opportunity – as well as also being its greatest challenge.
The statistics are startling; more than three quarters of the 350-million-strong population of the Arab world are under 40, with about 60 percent under the age of 30. Yet youth unemployment in the region is roughly double the global average, largely thanks to the woeful under-representation of women in the workforce. The World Bank thinks that 65 percent of young Egyptian women are currently out of work.
For regional governments, the cost of finding new jobs for the younger generation is far more than they can afford. Estimates suggest that around 100 million new jobs will need to be created by 2020, while lost job opportunities are costing the Arab world up to $50bn every year. As the oil price slides and the threat of budget deficits hangs over even the rich countries in the Gulf, it’s becoming more and more obvious that governments alone cannot solve a problem that is only getting worse.
All of which brings us onto this week’s issue of Arabian Business. For the last decade, we have produced an annual list of who we believe to be the world’s most influential Arabs. This year, we decided to take a look at the next generation; the movers and shakers under the age of 40 who are set to define both this region and potentially the rest of the world in the years to come.
Many of the names on our list won’t surprise you. They range from the man who has his hands full organising the region’s biggest event – Qatar’s World Cup in 2022 – to the executive in charge of the world’s largest construction project on the western coast of Saudi Arabia. There’s the usual array of sportspeople, authors and actors. But you may well not have heard of the guy who we have chosen as our number one, despite the fact that his work has helped well over 140,000 of Egypt’s poorest people over the last four years.
But what has especially struck me about this year’s list is the number of people who are achieving incredible things in the face of adversity. Take Mariam Abultewi, for example. The 25-year-old is the first woman to have a start-up funded in Gaza, and spent time pitching her ride-sharing app to investors even as bombs fell during the war last year. Abeer Abu Ghaith – described as the West Bank’s first hi-tech female entrepreneur – has created a business that links Palestinian freelancers with businesses all over the world. And then there’s Radwa Rostom, a civil engineer who has come up with a solution that she thinks could change the lives of the estimated 16 million Egyptians who currently live in slums.
Plenty of our entries are entrepreneurs, many of whom have founded companies based all around the world. If the Arab world is to live up to the expectations of its young people, it will need more private-sector players to step up to the plate – after all, in other parts of the globe, it is the private sector that provides by far the highest proportion of jobs in the workforce. Governments should enable entrepreneurs by enacting legislation that provides for bankruptcy, makes it easier to start a business and removes protectionist policies. The fact that so many of our entries have chosen to base themselves in the UAE – despite not being Emirati citizens – shows how the country has taken on board some of these measures, although more still needs to be done.
Above all, the list is a celebration of the Arab world’s brightest talent, particularly in a part of the world where good news is sometimes hard to come by.