Youth Empowerment Seen from the Gulf Countries
Lack of communication, the failure of governments to design policies, inertia in changing mindsets and reluctance were the problems seen as obstacles in promoting the youth in today’s world during the 6th edition of the International Government Communication Forum that took place last week in the emirate of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, a forum that gathered over 2,500 governmental experts, academics, researchers and business people, former Presidents of countries and Prime Ministers.
The panel on youth empowerment and education provided a wide range of ideas from public and private sectors, academia, business people and even a Noble Prize winner.
One could identify slightly different approaches between the public and private sector and among countries.
Najla Bint Mohammad Al Awar, minister of community development of the UAE, stressed the need for communication. She acknowledged that “governments should not be in an ivory tower and should open all channels of communication and integrate needs and wishes in its policies”. Her ministry collects opinions from citizens via social media and WhatsApp precisely because she realized that the most valuable and inspiring opinions come from the youth through modern channels of communication. Moreover, the ministry launched the “committee for community development and elaboration of policies” to include the youth in such activities.
Social media is a strong channel of communication across the Arab world. However, do we possess the abilities to analyse its contents efficiently and put it to good work for society?
The need to change attitudes and to include the youth in the decision-making process was stressed by Najla Al – Midfa, a UAE businesswoman, which puts forward a reality that is conspicuous – although Arab countries have a very young population, representing a majority, they are hardly included in decision-making processes: “60% of all Arabs are young, in many Arab countries, the percentage of young people is very high and this includes the Gulf countries….but it takes some time to change the mindset and to have the adults listen to the youth, although we all agree that we need to listen to each other if we want to make changes”.
The failure of governments to design policies was emphasized by Abdullatif Al Zayani, Secretary General of the Cooperation Council of the Arab States in the Gulf (the GCC): “We are facing many challenges – security, economic, social, environmental… and we must be aware that all these challenges are not for governments, but for our children and for their lives and future! One of our goals is to integrate the young people’s ambitions”. Nonetheless, Al Zayani did not refer to concrete measures to empower the youth or at least to include their ideas into policies.
Kailash Satyarthi, Noble Peace Prize winner, hinted to a sort of lack of will or practical possibility to really empower the youth: “Young people are frustrated in many parts of the world, although they are full of enthusiasm…And we still need to empower, to educate and to engage, having in mind the human rights perspective”.
The emirate of Sharjah, the host of the 6th edition of the International Government Communication Forum, is an example of youth empowerment. The institutions of the emirate are flooding with educated and professional young people because Sharjah’s state politics is education, philanthropy and communication with the world, and the words “education” and “knowledge” are pronounced here every second, especially by the Ruler of Sharjah, His Highness Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Mohamed Al Qasimi who promotes policies focusing on the youth, especially in education. He set up schools and large universities with significant numbers of students, and grants for education and research programs funded with 120 million USD annually.
A notable result is the team working with NASA and India on Martian exploration with Amal, the first Arab space mission for planet Mars. They are all graduates of Sharjah higher education. With less than 3 million Emirati citizens and about 7 million expats (which makes it unique in the world due to the largest percentage of expats), the country is also unique because it has economically grown 324 times in 45 years and has reached that level of development that allows it currently to have a UAE Space Agency working with NASA for Mars exploration.
Sharjah wants not only to educate its youth but also to train them to become responsible leaders. The Ruler’s goal is to plant and grow a seed in their minds about how to serve the country best, by becoming diplomats, politicians, experts, so he set up the Children’s Parliament in 1997 for children between 5-12, to develop skills in the youth, and some of them are now working for various Government departments. He believes that “one should be proud if one works for his society!”, encourages society “to focus on children and youth, to take knowledge to further levels, to make the most of what we learn every day, and to develop research and science” and always asks “those who are responsible for taking care of society to focus on the human being, from childhood to death, in everything they do!”
Despite good intentions expressed during the IGCF 2017 in Sharjah, it was clear that few governments are willing and ready to fight inertia, to accept new approaches and to integrate the young generations into the decision-making process.