New York- Investing in young entrepreneurs and innovators across the Arab States region is a key method for empowering youth across the region and advancing toward the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals, concluded delegates to the ECOSOC Youth Summit representing the Government of Japan and the United Nations Development Programme.

At a side event today to the Summit today entitled “The 2030 Agenda, Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship in the Arab States Region,” delegates participated in a wide-ranging dialogue on the role of youth in driving development across the region. Delegates included representatives of Japan, UNDP, as well as social entrepreneurs from the Arab States region supported by UNDP and partners.

The side event was co-hosted by the Permanent Mission of Japan and the United Nations Development Programme. Japan’s participation highlighted the country’s Extended SDGs Action Plan 2018, based on the pillars of 1) Promotion of Society 5.0 which corresponds to the SDGs, 2) Regional vitalization driven by the SDGs, and 3) Empowerment of next generations and women. With its focus on youth the event corresponded to the latter pillar – and highlighted the high expectations which Japan has for youth as an engine for the realization of the SDGs.

Young people under the age of 29 make up nearly two third of the Arab States region’s population. This “demographic momentum” will last for at least the next two decades and offers an historic opportunity which Arab countries must seize. Investing in youth and empowering them to engage in development processes is a critical and urgent priority in its own right. It is a prerequisite for achieving tangible and sustainable progress on development and stability for the entire region.

The Government of Jordan was also represented on the panel, with Ambassador H.E. Sima Bahous highlighting that although Jordan’s population accounts for 3% of the overall Middle East and North Africa population, around 23% of entrepreneurs in the region are Jordanians. Ambassador Bahous also underscored that despite challenges facing Jordan including a lack of natural resources, and challenges associated with the influx of refugees from Syria, the country takes pride in its human capital in particular that of its youth, and believes that equipping them with knowledge renders them ready to be agents of peace, innovation and stability in the region and drivers of economic growth to create much-needed jobs and enhance living standards.

UNDP’s participation was led by the Regional Bureau for Arab States. “Supporting young people in the Arab States region is a priority for UNDP,” said Mourad Wahba, Assistant Secretary-General and Director of the UNDP Regional Bureau for Arab States. “Young people are the largest population segment in the Arab States region, and it is through their engagement that the region will make the advances needed to achieve the SDGs by 2030. The Government of Japan is to be commended for its vital partnership in supporting young entrepreneurs across the region.”

For decades the Arab States region has made important advances in the realm of education, but translating these gains in young people’s capabilities into decent jobs for youth has been a challenge. At present unemployment among youth in the region is nearly 30% – more than double the global average of 14%.

For the countries in the region and international partners, this is a matter of grave concern as young people are the engines of positive social and economic transformation yet not fully engaged in activities which can foster their full potential in terms of productivity.

Delegates participating in the discussion included two young entrepreneurs based in the Arab States region and supported by UNDP: Taher Sellami, of Tunisia, a business student who is being supported by UNDP to develop a project an online platform called INO intended to enable recruitment of young professionals based only on their qualifications, as a means to combat discrimination in hiring practices; and Martine Zaarour, an architect and development activist in Lebanon, who with UNDP support is rolling out an e-commerce platform to enable women entrepreneurs in the catering sector to broaden their client base.

“UNDP’s support has been a tremendous help for the refinement and growth of my e-commerce platform, enabling me to create a resource that women entrepreneurs across the country can use to grow their customer base and expand their revenue,” said Martine Zaarour.

Japan has been a leading partner of UNDP and Member States in the Arab States Region in supporting programmes designed to engage youth and create employment, sharing its values in innovation and experiences in achieving dramatic economic recovery and growth by utilizing human capital. Japan has increased such programmes since 2011, supporting 14 countries in the Arab Region. Examples of such programmes include partnership with the private sector - the Toyota Iraq and Toyota Libya in affiliation with Sumitomo Corporation in partnership with UNDP, offer unique opportunities for displaced young people to find employment. Japan has additionally been promoting youth empowerment through a number of programs, including the Employment Creation in Innovative Public Works Program, which has resulted in the creation of job opportunities for Egyptian youth in innovative public works using Japan’s expertise in sustainable infrastructure, as well as a job creation program in Sudan which provided vocational training as well as funding to the selected business proposals submitted by young entrepreneurs in Sudan.

During discussion at the side event, representatives of member states and of UNDP agreed to continue to identify opportunities to support young entrepreneurs in the Arab States region.

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