In a warehouse in the Moroccan city of Tangier, stands Mohammed Attawi, age 26. With his skilled hands, he splits open bags of used clothing and sorts them into various bins.
“For almost three years, I tried to get a job, but I never received any response from the companies. The only way to make money was to work on the street with my dad,” he explains. Mohammed’s situation resembled those of many young people, especially those from poor families.
Until he bumped into the organization Casal dels Infants, which is one of Oxfam’s partners in Morocco. Here Mohammed received training in how to submit applications and conduct himself at job interviews, and at the same time he was also put into contacted with the used clothing enterprise, which is part of the network of companies that the organization has built up. Mohammed is now one of the thousands of young people whom Oxfam’s program has helped to obtain a permanent job with minimum wage and health insurance. With this start, Mohammed now hopes to be able to start a family instead of making yet another attempt to migrate to Europe, which had been his original plan.
Problems and solutions
“Oxfam’s program is working to reduce the huge inequality in access to both jobs and influence that exists in the Middle East and North Africa, and which has left many young people with a sense of hopelessness that risks creating social unrest. In many of our partners’ projects, I see a huge willingness and ability of the young people to advance when they first obtain the opportunity, and to create genuine changes in the structures that are holding them back,” says Martin Østergaard, who leads Oxfam IBIS’ work under the Danish-Arab Partnership Program.
The program, entitled ‘Participation and Employment for Young People’, consists of a number of collaborative activities with local organizations that work directly with young people in Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan, all with the aim of improving the conditions for young people in general. The aims of this program are to:
- Provide sustainable, safe, inclusive and worthwhile employment opportunities for young people;
- Help the youth acquire the life skills and tools to actively engage with society;
- Advocate for the youth and strengthen the dialogue between the young people and public and private institutions in order to improve the general conditions and remove barriers confronting young people on the labour market and in society;
- Strengthen the organizational capacity of youth organizations, which are often led by the youth themselves, so that they can achieve greater impact.
The program focusses on addressing the major challenges facing young people in the Middle East and North Africa, challenges which have serious personal consequences for their future prospects, impede community development and can lead to destabilizing tendencies in these countries. These challenges include:
- High youth unemployment, with many youth managing only through casual employment in the informal sector;
- Young women who are particularly hampered by restrictive gender roles and limitations, both in the workplace and in their own families.
- A mismatch between the needs of the private sector and the skills that the highly educated young people have;
- Very large inequality in access to decent schools, health care and to jobs and opportunities for those young people who do not have the right connections or cash to bribe their way to attractive positions;
- Poor opportunities for young people to participate in community life and to be heard;
- The experience of inequality and injustice which leads to feelings of hopelessness, lack of confidence in one’s own potentials and desperation.
The program works through its national partnerships, many of which are with local youth or women’s organizations that have direct contact with young people and their problems. The partners also include universities, training centers and other institutions and private companies:
- Egypt: Alwan Wa Awtar; Artiznl / Nawaya; El Rehla; Rise Up; Center for Entrepreneurship & AUC Venture Lab, American University in Cairo; Innoventures; The Egypt Network for Integrated Development (ENID); Aswan Women Production Collective; Basharsoft/Wuzzuf; Better Life Solutions.
- Jordan: INJAZ; King Hussein Foundation; The Jordanian Hashemite Fund for Human Development (JOHUD); Leaders of Tomorrow; Phenix Center for Economic and Informatics Studies; I-Dare.
- Morocco: Casal dels Infants; Amal el Mansour; Association Tazghart.
- Tunisia: FIDEL Ghabes; Shanti Tunis; IACE; Impact partner; Association des Femmes Tunisiennes pour la Recherche et Développement (AFTURD).
In addition, Danish and regional organizations are also helping to give the local partners ideas and mutual inspiration, among them Meyers Madhus (catering); The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts’ Schools of Architecture, Design and Conservation; Mowgli Mentoring; Beyond Reform and Development.
Examples from the region
Entrepreneurship course in Tunisia
In the Tunisian provincial town of Metouia, the organization FIDEL conducts courses for young people who are planning to become entrepreneurs. Many of them because they have given up finding a job.
“I can clearly see the change that occurs when the young people come here and receive support and encouragement. The young people lack experience in how to start their own business, and they lack the self-confidence and support to dare to do so. But here we see them wake up and take initiative and responsibility on their own,” says Kaumour Boufaied, a volunteer at FIDEL.
In Morocco, the organization ‘Tazghart’ brings together groups of 10 young women and 10 young men of different educational levels and backgrounds. Together, they discuss concrete proposals for policy initiatives that can strengthen employment for young people, and they then select representatives who pass on these proposals to local, regional and national policy-makers.
Entrepreneurship Festival in Egypt
Egypt has a very lively entrepreneurial environment, but there are major challenges for young entrepreneurs who do not have the right connections. The Rise Up Festival in Cairo is the region’s largest festival for entrepreneurs, attracting 8800 participants. Oxfam supports the festival and assists young people from the poor regions of the country in attending.
“There is a huge gap in access to resources in Egypt. Many young entrepreneurs lack access to networks, learning and capital, and it is crucial to give them the possibility to create that access,” explains Youmna Al Khattam, who coordinates the program for Oxfam.
Strengthening vocational educations in Jordan
Jordan has invested heavily in university-level educations, while more traditional craft education programs have had low status both among students and the authorities. The Phenix organization works to strengthen craft apprenticeships. One of their key activities is to bring together decision-makers, organizations and youth representatives to document needs and barriers.
“The economy creates jobs in technical fields and skilled crafts, while many of the university graduates remain unemployed, especially the women. We are working to change the attitude about apprenticeships and to make them more attractive,” says Ahmad Ahwad, Phenix’s manager.