The IGNITE conference brings together refugees, entrepreneurs and education experts, as well as representatives from the private sector, governments, academia and NGOs to exchange ideas on how to increase opportunities for young people in fragile states. RNW Media’s Citizens’ Voice programme was out in force at the 2019 conference in Amsterdam with presentations on our work in Egypt, Libya and Syria.
The IGNITE conference is an annual event organised by Spark, an NGO that uses a cross-sector approach to improve higher education, promote sustainable economic empowerment and strengthen leadership amongst young people, particularly women and refugees. The MENA region was strongly represented at the 2019 Ignite conference, and Citizens’ Voice projects in the region were presented at three different workshops.
Women Entrepreneurs in Conflict was the theme of a workshop in which Abir Sarras, RNW Media’s Regional Manager for North Africa, highlighted the work of the Huna Libya platform and its survey on the role of women in the workforce. Over 6,000 young people responded to the survey, 78 per cent of them women. Of those respondents only 2% of the women said that they did not want to work. However, the responses to the survey also made clear that negative cultural and societal norms around women’s role are one of the biggest hurdles to women’s full participation in the workforce in Libya. Challenges Libyan women face include the perception that only certain jobs are suitable for them, leading to a lack of opportunities, lack of safe, reliable transportation to and from work and opposition from family members. Those present were asked to consider the role their organisations could play in responding to these challenges.
Jobs for Youth
Muhammed El-Sharebeni, Programme Development coordinator for RNW Media’s Masaraat platform in Egypt, took part in a workshop looking at ways of matching young people to jobs. He outlined Masaraat’s main objectives, which focus on: ensuring young Egyptians have easy access to information and (peer) learning to help them develop basic skills and identify and access employment opportunities; creating a dynamic online community of scale where young women and men can connect and network with peers and relevant services providers and employer’s associations; and enabling young people to connect with (in)formal decision makers and advocate for policies and services which enable access to the labour market and youth entrepreneurship. Since its launch in April 2019 Masaraat has already attracted an online community of more than 60,000 followers with content relating to choosing a career, job-hunting and building employment-related skills.
Digital solutions for young Syrians
Years of conflict have left Syria severely fragmented with the warring sides creating divisions between people and isolating different regions. The media landscape is highly polarised and feeds this lack of social cohesion. Young people are badly affected and, with an unemployment rate running at more than 60 per cent, have little chance of finding work. Ruba Mimi, Regional Manager for the Middle East, took part in a workshop looking at how a start can be made at economic recovery and job creation in Syria. She discussed how an inclusive digital platform can contribute to ending the isolation and exclusion of young people in Syria. With the aim of bridging divides between communities, the platform engages young people by addressing the key issues they have in common – the foremost of which is unemployment. Functioning as an alternative civic space, the platform connects young Syrians with local experts to offer career and study opportunities.
Amplifying young people’s concerns
After his presentation, Muhammed El-Sharebeni had a lengthy discussion about Masaraat with the Ambassador for Youth, Education and Work at the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs Tijmen Rooseboom. The Ambasador was interested in learning more about how digital solutions such as Masaraat can contribute to helping young people get decent jobs in Egypt according to El-Sharebeni
It’s great to see the amount of interest the Netherlands gives to this issue. Youth unemployment in the MENA region is a huge challenge and has a negative influence on the stability of the region. I am happy that the Dutch government has an active Youth ambassador who is raising the voice of youth in the MENA region and putting their concerns on the agenda of the Dutch government.
The IGNITE conference is the only annual event that brings together people from all the different sectors working to improve employment opportunities in fragile states – from entrepreneurs to governments. With the economic inclusion of young people becoming an increasingly important topic for RNW Media and the Citizens’ Voice programme, the event was a chance to share ideas and experience with a wide range of stakeholders and potential partners.