Empowering Young Arabs to Work in Tech Across The Middle East & North Africa by Richie Santosdiaz for The Fintech Times
Fintech Fintech for Good Middle East & Africa Weekend Read

Empowering Young Arabs to Work in Tech Across The Middle East & North Africa

The generational shift of getting the young generation to work in wider tech can be felt across the world, increasingly so in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. How can current and future generations be inspired to do so in the ecosystem that encompasses tech?

Historically, the MENA region (and the wider Middle East and Africa (MEA) region) is a diverse landscape. It is home to some of the world’s richest as well as world’s poorest countries. For the former, in particular in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region that consists of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, The United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Kuwait, the region has one of the world’s highest standards of livings and overall high gross domestic products (GDPs).

Notably, in particular the affluent GCC countries but also other countries in the wider MENA and MEA region are undergoing massive national economic development and diversification strategies (for example Saudi Vision 2030) whereby their economies will aim to be not only less oil reliant but one that fosters innovation, talent and diversity amongst its economic development.

Combat youth unemployment

The region overall has a young population with the largest youth population in the world (more than half the population are under 25 years old). As a whole, youth unemployment generally in MENA is pretty high. Even before covid-19 made a dent in the overall global economy, this was still a challenge for much of MENA for its youth. As what the chart from a report by The Fintech Times (Fintech: Middle East & Africa 2021) shows generally the less affluent countries compared to say the GCC ones or Israel showed really high youth employment.

Youth Unemployment in the Middle East &amp
Youth Unemployment in the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) Region – the following is a chart summarised in the recent Fintech: Middle East & Africa 2021 Report by The Fintech Times


Due to the lack of job opportunities, often those from relatively less affluent countries will migrate to more affluent parts in the wider MEA region and beyond. For example, Egypt is one of the world’s top five largest senders of remittances behind India, China, Mexico and the Philippines; much of that is their youth going abroad for greener pastures. This is also evident across other nations such as Lebanon who are also undergoing their own political and economic challenges – even before with the coronavirus.

Incentivising the youth to work in the private sector

Traditionally, especially in the GCC, Arabs historically in recent memory have worked in the public sector. A report from 2018 by Oliver Wyman highlighted that around two-thirds of GCC nationals were working in the public sector, which countries such as the UAE, Kuwait and Qatar each at least at 80% of its local population in the public sector. A general notion has been that the sector is more stable and with more benefits – amongst its various reasons. The same report also highlights that The World Bank estimates that between 40-60% of some of the public budgets of the GCC are spent on wages and compensation, which includes social security.

However, as mentioned with wider economic development strategies across the GCC, that appears to be changing in terms of mindset and implementation from the top. For instance, in Saudi Arabia, as part of its National Transformation Plan (NTP) targets the past few years includes the likes of a creation of almost half a million private sector jobs by 2020 and a reduction of its wage bill to 40% (from 45%) of GDP between 2016 and 2020.

Promoting the private sector with job skills for highly-skilled sectors and incentives

Linked again to wider economic development strategies, there has been noticeable growth in the number of incentives that are helping target and prepare young Arabs for futures in the private sector – in particular with highly-skilled sectors such as tech as a whole, financial services, and fintech – to name a few.

Empowering Young Arabs to Work in Tech Across The Middle East and North Africa by Richie Santosdiaz for The Fintech Times
Growing opportunities across the wider tech ecosystem will help a future generation of young Arabs not only work in them but potentially start their own businesses as well IMAGE SOURCE GETTY

Examples abound and growing but include recent ones:

  • UAE and Banking – The Human Resources Authority (HRA) last year signed a cooperation agreement with the Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) Academy, and First Abu Dhabi Bank (FAB), to establish an educational platform for banking services within ADGM Academy through ‘The Bankers Programme’. The initiative’s key objective is to enhance the skills and capabilities of UAE nationals, and support their integration within the banking sector.
  • Saudi Arabia and fintech art – Fintech Saudi, the fintech catalyst established by the Saudi Central Bank and the Capital Markets Authority in Saudi Arabia, recently launched the Fintech Saudi Youth Art Competition. Anyone living in Saudi Arabia who is under the age of 16 years old was encouraged to submit their artwork to The Fintech Saudi Youth Art Competition; their creativity needed to relate to the theme of “Living in the Future”, which seeks to identify what the future of fintech will look like for Saudi Arabia.
  • Bahrain and Fintech – Recently the National Bank of Bahrain (NBB) launched the Digital Banking Challenge in strategic partnership with Bahrain FinTech Bay; one of MENA’s largest FinTech Hubs open for all Bahraini youth to develop new and creative solutions focused on NBB’s new digital banking app.
  • UAE and women empowerment in fintech – Dubai International Financial Centre’s (DIFC) FinTech Hive says the third edition of its FinTech Hive AccelerateHer programme will double in size this year, supporting up to 40 female participants, compared with 14 last year. AccelerateHer first launched in 2019 to develop female talent in financial technology and innovation sectors.
  • Saudi Arabia and startup ecosystem – Saudi Arabia is boosting its startup ecosystem with supportive regulatory frameworks and local venture funds which a growing number of institutions and initiatives such as: the Mohammed Bin Salman College, the Saudi Aramco Entrepreneurship Center (Wa’ed), the Public Investment Fund (PIF) Academy, the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology Innovation and Economic Development department and the Misk Foundation – to name a few.
  • Egypt and fintech with university students – Fintech Egypt –an affiliate of the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) last year launched the FinYology – Fintech for Youth initiative, with the objective of fostering young talents and inspire university students of different related majors to conduct fintech Projects and innovative solutions.
  • Mastercard and STEM for young women – Mastercard’s signature science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programme, Girls4Tech, reached its initial goal of educating one million girls. They have an ambition to reach five million girls by 2025 (many of which are young future women in the region). It is not only just encouraging the future generation to get into tech but to give the youth access to an education and the digital tools such as edtech to learn.

On a final note, the skills gap to help empower the youth to one day not only work in the private sector but also set up their own businesses, particularly in the wider tech ecosystem can be felt. A spotlight of course is the wider MEA fintech ecosystem, specifically in many parts of MENA where countries such as the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, Qatar – to name a few – have seen growth and support from the topic and also increasing organic growth of its solutions.

Despite the challenges in the global economy as a whole with youth employment, there has been growing signs and aspirations with the MENA region as a whole. Time will tell but the future can provide a region an innovative future that can help foster significant talent across highly skilled sectors across the wider tech ecosystem.


  • Executive Economic Development Advisor (Emerging Markets) | Contributor

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