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Youthful optimism can help overcome our challenges

Our Arab youth survey reveals a confident population seeking stability and opportunities for progress as well as greater civil liberties

Arab Youth Survey BCW
Despite challenges, most younger Arabs believe they will have a better life than their parents

One of the insights from our 14th annual ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey this year was that many young Arabs see footballers as their role models.

When polled between May and June, Arab youth cited Egyptian striker Mohamed Salah and Saudi Arabian legend Majed Abdullah as two of the public figures they admired the most.

Fast forward to December, with Morocco achieving a historic fourth place in the 2022 Fifa World Cup in Qatar, and Saudi Arabia beating the eventual winners, Argentina, in an earlier qualifying match, it is safe to say that even more young Arab men and women will be citing footballers as their role models in the next edition of our research.  

The story of the football prowess of North African and Middle Eastern nations at this year’s tournament was a welcome change from the usual news coverage of the region.

Ironically, it revealed something our annual study has consistently shown – a confident, ambitious population more than capable of holding their own when given a level playing field. 

Today, Arab youth seek stability and opportunities for progress as eagerly as they do greater civil liberties. And despite seemingly impossible odds at times, most believe they will have a better life than their parents.

It is apposite to describe the joy of sport as a distraction, particularly in the Arab world. Arab youth may well be optimistic and football mad, but they are hardly oblivious to the challenges confronting them.

In fact, according to our 2022 research, many see themselves at a crossroads. They believe their best days lie ahead, but most say their country’s economy is headed in the wrong direction.

An increasing proportion are looking forward to starting their own business, but inflation and access to quality education are concerns across the board. 

In this year’s poll more than a third (41 percent) said they were struggling to meet their basic expenses (rising to 63 percent in the Levant), and more than half (53 percent) said they receive financial support from their family.

Nearly half (49 percent) of all young Arabs said they now believe it will be difficult to find a job, especially in the Levant, where the figure rose to nearly three-quarters (73 percent). 

Yet there is a silver lining. While most economies around the world are preparing for recession, those in the Middle East are expected to grow by 3.5 percent in 2023, according to the World Bank.

The International Monetary Fund estimates that the Arabian Gulf states will generate additional revenues of $1.3 trillion over the next four years. 

This windfall will help the region’s wealthiest economies sustain large-scale investment in diversification and decarbonisation, with positive knock-on effects on neighbouring countries. 

With the UAE hosting the United Nations Climate Change Conference (Cop28) in 2023 and Saudi Arabia pursuing the Middle East Green Initiative, opportunities in the region’s cleantech sector will enjoy an unprecedented focus. 

The UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have each pledged to achieve net-zero emissions. This will stimulate opportunities in all areas of the economy as governments and the private sector strive to reduce their environmental impact.

Accordingly, demonstrating a clear sustainability vision, backed by robust environmental, social and governance (ESG) frameworks will increasingly become non-negotiable. 

The current gap in this regard is both a concern and an opportunity for the consulting sector. According to our research, about two-thirds (59 percent) of businesses in Saudi Arabia and the UAE say they do not have an ESG framework in place.

Half of those who say they do also admit they do not fully understand it. In May this year ASDA’A BCW launched the dedicated advisory OnePoint5 to help bridge this worrying gap between action and words. 

The optimism of Arab youth, as documented by the ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey, and displayed for all to see, is a resource we must rapidly put to work to overcome the Arab world’s well-documented challenges. 

As communicators, we must help governments and businesses to articulate strategies that are sensitive to this new reality. We must shift from reactive to proactive counselling, offering creative, digital and integrated solutions. 

Sunil John is Mena president of BCW and founder of PR consultancy ASDA’A BCW

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