An interactive poll at the opening session of the Global Islamic Economy Summit 2016 found that half of the delegates believe governments must do more to address the needs of youth in the region.
Asked: “Are you optimistic that the governments in the region are appropriately addressing the needs of their Youth” 50 per cent of delegates present said they were not, 42 per cent said they were, with 8 per cent undecided.
One panellist at the opening plenary, Tirad Mahmoud, CEO, Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank, suggested even this result was conservative. “I think this is optimistic,” he said. “If you polled youth throughout the region, I think you’d get a result that is far more concerning.”
The session, titled “Today’s Youth, Tomorrow’s Leaders: Scalable Solutions to Empower the Next Generation”, was moderated by Axel Threlfall, Thomson Reuters editor-at-large, and addressed key issues facing young people in the Islamic economy: unemployment, lack of opportunities and lack of ‘voice’.
Addressing the issue of rapid population growth – the youth segment of the world’s 1.7 billion Muslims is growing at twice the global average – panellist Ali Al Nuaimi, Senior Nuclear Professional and Member of the UAE Emirates Youth Council, said that while some governments see this as a challenge or an obstacle to overcome, other governments see youth as an opportunity.
He said the leadership of the UAE, instead of asking policymakers what they should do about youth, was actively asking youth themselves what they think about their future. He highlighted the appointment of a Minister of State for Youth Affairs in February as a concrete example that the UAE is taking to give voice a youth.
“The youth are capable … they are the most adaptable. They can accommodate changes and can adopt new technologies, he said. “Some governments are lagging behind in this. But here we believe in our youth, we trust our youth … and that’s why we invest in them.”
The third panellist, Chiara Appendino, the Mayor of Turin, and one of the youngest senior politicians in Italy, explained how her city was dealing with two key youth challenges familiar to the region: education and employment. “Education to me means high quality education,” she said. “to develop skills and work for the community,” she said.
“Then, we need to create work opportunities. In Turin, we’ve reinvented our historical business, industry, and working on tourism and cultural attractiveness of the city [this has created] new opportunities for young people”
Asked by Threlfall about whether there was still a stigma to working in the private sector,
Tirad Mahmoud said that he had set a goal at ADIB that, by 2020, the bank would be self-sustaining in terms of talent, and recruiting local youth were key to meeting that target. “We instituted a policy where we would not hire from other banks for junior position,” he said. “We would recruit, 100 per cent, from schools and colleges.”
He said that contrary to stereotypes, the youth he’d hired were not afraid of hard work. “The tougher our training programmes, the more happy and fulfilled they are,” he said. “They are not wanting to be spoon-fed, they want to be challenged.”
He added that Islamic finance may have an advantage over standard banking in terms of recruitment: “Our research indicates youth are much more interested in ethical banking than general banking.
Al Nuaimi said the future could not be about simply creating more public sector jobs. “That’s not empowerment,” he said. “We’re focusing on creating an environment where youth can thrive and fulfil their full potential.”
He added that an increased focus of entrepreneurship could be the answer: “Less than 3 per cent of youth here are entrepreneurs,” he said. “This is a country of 200 nationalities, people come here from all over the world to start their own businesses. Our youth should be leading this movement, and not falling behind.”
Before the session closed for audience questions, he highlighted initiatives such as the National Entrepreneurship Plan, which educates the youth on what it means to be entrepreneurs, and provides mentorship and other incentives to encourage youth to establish their own businesses.