On Wednesday, February 3, the Atlantic Council’s Middle East Strategy Task Force (MEST) hosted a panel of distinguished experts for a discussion on “Youth, Tech, and Entrepreneurship: Unlocking the Middle East’s Economic Potential.” Seeking to discuss the economic revitalization of the Middle East, MEST Co-Chairs Madeleine K. Albright and Stephen J. Hadley were joined by entrepreneur and author Christopher Schroeder, Founder and Vice Chairman of Aramex Fadi Ghandour, Chairman of Sawari Ventures LLC Ahmed Alfi, Vice President for Information Management at the American University in Cairo Sherif Kamel, and Chief Science Officer and Cofounder of Affectiva Rana El Kaliouby.
Albright opened by discussing the task force’s approach to tackling five aspects of the Middle East’s challenges: security, governance, religion, refugees, and economics. She announced the release of the MEST’s first report written by Schroeder and Kamel, Co-Conveners of the Economic Recovery and Revitalization Working Group, which focuses on building a competitive, 21st century economy in the Middle East with education and innovation at its core.
Schroeder discussed how technological advancement is transforming the Middle East, especially the younger generation. He described a “Participation Revolution” where the new generation is demanding direct roles in every aspect of their lives—in particular the political, economic, and social, especially the role of women. Schroeder stressed the importance of education and the rule of law to a prosperous future in the Middle East.
Fadi Ghandour began by pointing out that the Middle East is not just Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Libya, but that there are 18 other Arab countries not embroiled in conflict. He listed three overarching issues that the region is facing: how to build economies beyond petroleum, youth education and employment, and social fragmentation.
Ahmed Alfi began by identifying education as the foremost problem in the Middle East. He stressed that the individual is empowered by education and technology, and that education must meet teach skills needed to compete in the 21st century.
Sherif Kamel addressed the physical, infrastructural challenges that the region faces due to a huge young population. He said technology can help tackle this issue, but not by itself. Technology should be used to help create an educational ecosystem that supports an entrepreneurial ecosystem. He stressed that an open learning environment with the use of advances in technology can help build principled, innovative entrepreneurs.
Rana El Kaliouby discussed a cultural shift in the Middle East that is increasingly supporting entrepreneurial ventures. She discussed the participation of women in startups, where there is an increase of women playing crucial roles in the economic ecosystem of the region. She also highlighted the importance of mentorship programs and examples of female role models, which is critical for the region.