Ten months after launching at the Alliance of Civilizations Forum, the global youth employment initiative Silatech is gathering pace.
Silatech was founded at the AoC Forum in Madrid this January with an unashamedly lofty goal – economically empowering Arab youth in order to unlock the full potential of a new generation. Although the story of the ‘Arab Street’ has historically been one of great human potential and a desire to shape the future, in the 21st century much of the energy, knowledge and enterprise of young people throughout the region has remained untapped; average regional youth unemployment hovers around 15%, and in some of twenty-two Arab countries this figure reaches up to 35%. Such conditions have exerted wide-ranging social and political implications, with hopelessness leading to alienation which serves as fertile ground for the breeding of extremist ideologies.
In line with the objectives of the Alliance of Civilizations, Silatech intends to transform this situation by providing real opportunities for young people throughout the Arab world. Beginning with six pilot countries, Bahrain, Morocco, Qatar, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen, the initiative has adopted two approaches towards this task. Firstly, Silatech – which means “your connection” in Arabic – will connect young people, particularly first-time job seekers, to networks of employers and business partners, and provide them with the practical support, training and resources to build their skills and access to capital, all essential for sparking a greater entrepreneurial spirit throughout the region. Secondly, Silatech aims to forge a coalition of leading global corporations, civil society, major philanthropic foundations and the media, in order to jump start the process of job creation and enterprise, and facilitate the outreach efforts of the organization. But just as importantly, the establishment of this coalition promises to show that broad-based global partnerships can address real needs and deliver vital change on the ground, while transcending cultures and invalidating the clash of civilizations myth.
This is precisely what is found in the results of the recent ground-breaking Doha Summit held from 1-3 June under the patronage of Her Highness Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned, and co-hosted by the Financial Times. At the opening ceremony, Rick Little, Silatech Chief Executive emphasized that “the summit is about taking action. It is about making real commitments”, and indeed the conference – which featured over 200 participants from the public, private and civil society sectors – went on to attain several significant, actionable commitments towards young people, enterprise and employment.
The first of these is a strategic collaboration with Cisco, which has dedicated its globalization center to support Silatech and create a technology platform to create a favorable environment for ICT education and allow youth to interact with prospective employers in faster, more secure ways.
The second development is an important strategic partnership agreed with the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation, which signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Silatech to coordinate efforts in fighting youth unemployment. The Foundation, which was launched in May 2007 with an endowment of $10 billion, is focused on encouraging Arab intellectual output, nurturing young talent, and creating the right environment for cultural development – goals closely aligned with Silatech’s – and the two organizations will work together to increase youth access to employment as well as capital and market support across the region, in addition to the development of training programs.
In addition, two different initiatives aimed at attracting greater private investment in the youth enterprise market were formed from alliances between Silatech and international partners. The World Bank Global Partnership for Youth Investment will work with Silatech to offer financial products and business development services to encourage financial intermediaries to invest in the high-growth niche youth micro enterprise market across the region. Sharing the same goal, the Qatar Financial Markets Authority and the FTSE Group, the world-leading global index provider, will collaborate with Silatech to launch a new and unique regional index project devoted to promoting the creation of small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) markets and indices across the Middle East and North Africa region in order to increase economic growth and youth employment opportunities.
Finally, a Youth Knowledge Consortium was founded by Silatech and the Brookings Institution, Dubai School of Government, the Arab Labour Organization, Gallup, the World Bank’s Global Partnership for Youth Investment, ImagineNations Group, the International Labour Organization and the Issam Fares Institute, American University of Beirut. The Consortium’s members will convene in the coming months to launch cutting-edge initiatives including a youth job-readiness index, research to address unemployment and skills mismatch and stimulate financial access for young entrepreneurs, and dialogue with policy-makers, the private and civil society sectors in order to develop effective youth employment policies and programs.
The Silatech Board of Trustees was also announced at the Doha summit.
There is still much work to be done. Silatech’s mission is only just beginning, and the coming months will prove crucial to the future of the initiative’s projects. Nevertheless, the manner in which they were conceived – through the proactive collaborative work of a broad-based network of global partners, with Silatech playing a facilitating role and setting the strategic direction of the efforts – has proven itself as a model of decision-making. Furthermore, throughout the Doha Summit, Silatech has never lost sight of the fact that its mission ultimately resides on its ability to harness the potential of the youth who it seeks to serve. As Her Highness Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned noted in her closing remarks to the summit, “Silatech is your responsibility. It’s your institution. It was initiated with your ideas and creativity, and you will lend it all the energy and youthfulness it needs to overcome any obstacles with all drive and determination.” Remembering this crucial fact will ensure that the organization – and the Alliance of Civilizations – continue to experience success in the years ahead, as they pursue their joint and challenging missions together.