Let’s not let this COVID crisis go to waste

Let’s not let this COVID crisis go to waste

More than 2 billion doses of the vaccine have been administered worldwide, a promising statistic in global efforts to turn the tide of the COVID-19 pandemic. More progress is expected after the White House announcement making 75% of surplus U.S. vaccines available to the UN-backed COVID-19 Global Vaccine Access Program (COVAX) to address supply inequalities in the world and stimulate stalled campaigns, especially in developing countries.

This should bring some relief to countries in the Middle East and North Africa where COVID-19 continues to endanger public health, exacerbate socio-economic tensions, highlight political failures and bad news. governance, and to underline the cost of prolonged political intransigence. However, addressing the challenges unique to this region in the post-pandemic world will require much more commitment, investment and turnaround from the whole of society at levels far beyond the mere implementation of campaigns. effective vaccination programs designed only to cope with the acute phase. pandemic – not what comes after.

By the time most of the world is vaccinated against COVID-19, nearly half a billion dollars will be plunged into poverty, while those lucky enough to keep their jobs will face hours of work reduced to 6.5% worldwide. The pandemic will not only have disrupted entire economies or exposed glaring vulnerabilities in global supply chains. It will cast a shadow over many years to come, either as a stumbling block to the recovery or growth of some of the MENA’s developing economies, or as an unlikely accelerator for membership of the MENA region. region to economic transformations based on resilience, even to the rewriting of some of its increasingly dilapidated social contracts.

Fortunately, a relatively unspoken pearl of wisdom about any crisis is that it is also a source of opportunity. The brief lull of governments in the MENA region as state capacities appear to be focused solely on combating the pandemic, among a litany of other challenges, is an insurmountable chance to consider non-traditional solutions, the key to unlock long-term remedies for some of the region’s intractable socio-economic ills, including youth unemployment and the under-empowerment of women and girls.

COVID-19 has destroyed a disproportionate share of commerce, commerce, transport, travel and tourism in the MENA region. This exacerbates the problems in some countries in the Arab world already struggling with stubborn double-digit unemployment rates, especially among women and youth, rates which increase further as one moves away from the mainstream. large population centers. In addition, the region is experiencing a demographic explosion of youth; people aged 15 to 30 make up 30 percent of the population, a number that is expected to increase as the region’s population is expected to double over the next three decades.

Even before the pandemic, the MENA region was simply not producing enough jobs for its growing youth to find gainful opportunities despite the relative overall improvements in the quality of education driven by accelerating transformations in creation. knowledge economies of the future in the Gulf. The countries that emerged with new governments after the violent uproar of a decade ago have not fared better, managing modest growth but at levels still insufficient to reduce the growing number of young people who are not. in school, or looking for a job or training.

Traditional solutions are far from achieving the proposed objectives. Most governments still resist massive public sector reforms, and even if they were implemented, the private sector lacks sufficient support, reach and capacity to absorb a sudden influx of former public servants. Interim solutions to formalize certain types of work or to encourage employment in the agricultural sector lack widespread impact and are not sustainable without frequent government intervention. Meanwhile, as vaccination campaigns intensify and restrictions ease, the number of unemployed continues to rise and has started fueling protests in Tunisia, Lebanon, Algeria and Iraq.

Surprisingly, the MENA region is not entirely short of options, provided the work begins to lift traditional constraints on the free movement of people and talent. The pandemic has forced the whole world to turn to a hybrid workforce, where most people work remotely, which has many benefits for workers, employers, governments and even for climate change. There are very few, relatively surmountable barriers for MENA countries to harness this new trend and adopt some of its innovations to address the region’s intractable unemployment problems, while empowering women and even helping women. the recovery of private sectors affected by the pandemic.

Advances in technology and innovation to achieve this are not unprecedented, as the digitization of finance has dramatically expanded the coverage of financial services to previously unbanked regions, and new solutions are improving the efficiency of telemedicine, thereby transforming health care delivery. Most of the obstacles to this kind of progress are already well known, and the lessons of how they have been overcome in the context of the digitalization of finance and telemedicine are numerous. In addition, more than 450 fintech companies in the region are expected to raise more than $ 2 billion in funding by 2022, which means that interest in developing technology-based remote work solutions aimed at meeting the There’s no shortage of the region’s most intractable multigenerational challenge: getting its youth to work.

Certainly, there will always be concerns that transformative approaches for faster job creation, enhancing human capital and improving the overall competitiveness of the MENA region, could be costly, time-consuming and beneficial. for only a small segment of young people who can afford it. However, with the concerted support of international organizations working with civil society groups and backed by well-managed government initiatives, it is possible to harness the enormous yet unexplored potential of greater employment and employment. youth entrepreneurship.

In addition, a few entrepreneurs and job seekers themselves are already looking beyond traditional platforms to find work and embrace new tools and platforms to access opportunities traditionally limited to national borders. Elsewhere, specialized e-commerce channels have also emerged, allowing vulnerable young people and women, regardless of their location, to market their talents or products to a global audience.

Finally, the expansion of remote working in the MENA region will not only make available many previously reduced employment opportunities, but will also accelerate efforts to build some of the region’s knowledge economies and maximize their resilience to future shocks. . Another unintended positive consequence of adopting a hybrid workforce is the sharp increase in mobile literacy rates and greater absorption of intensive and episodic lifelong learning opportunities, which in turn builds human capital. .

This is all the more important as technical skills will have an increasingly shorter lifespan in the knowledge-based economies and advanced societies of the future. Thus, it is not enough to make young people work, national programs will also have to adapt to the new dynamics of the workforce. Employers increasingly prefer malleable, tech-savvy workers, who can easily tailor their skills as needed throughout their careers. Employees, on the other hand, are increasingly looking for remote work opportunities, which ensure sufficient flexibility to, for example, engage in lifelong learning opportunities in order to maintain their competitiveness in the workplace. the era of automation and the ever-changing demand for skills.

  • Hafed Al-Ghwell is a Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute at the John Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. Twitter: @HafedAlGhwell

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the authors of this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Arab News


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