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Building 21st Century Knowledge Economies for Job Growth and Competitiveness in the Middle East

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MENA countries face a daunting list of challenges:

  • MENA’s  youthful demographic profile calls for the creation of 5 million jobs a year in the region over the next twenty years, lest unemployment and especially youth unemployment explode – with potentially dire consequences
  • with few exceptions, MENA countries have by and large remained isolated from the new global economy, and must urgently develop more modern economies that are better at meeting the four key success factors of agility, international  networking, constant learning, and reliability
  • those MENA countries that are oil and gas producers must start preparing for the post-petroleum and post-carbon future
  • more generally, most MENA countries must prepare for major water, energy, food, climate change, and other issues in the decades to come
  • a majority of MENA countries must diversify their economies – for reasons ranging from over-dependency on petroleum revenues to excessive GDP volatility stemming from the large share of rain-fed agriculture
  • a small group among MENA countries – those with a large expatriate labor force juxtaposed to a native working population almost entirely occupied in the public sector – have a clear long-term interest in  promoting the emergence of a more private-sector savvy, sophisticated, and engaged native population

Every country in the MENA region faces at least two, often more, of these six challenges – each within its own context. Yet responding to these challenges in a business-as-usual manner is unrealistic: most MENA countries face a dearth of labor-creating industrialization options in the wake of Asia’s immense leaps, and in many of them, the private sector is underdeveloped while the limits of state enterprise may well have been reached.

And so, varied as they are, these challenges produce as many reasons for MENA countries to want to re-think their futures along entirely new lines – that is, attempting the more transformative changes that have become associated with moving toward a knowledge-based economy.

Many countries of the region have already embraced the Knowledge Economy concept, and some are already making strides in that direction. For this reason the MENA Region of the World Bank, in partnership with ISESCO, the Tunisian government, and the World Bank Institute (WBI), jointly organized a high-level conference to address the challenges and opportunities faced by MENA countries in making the transition to the Knowledge Economy: “MENA Countries in the 21st Century - Building Knowledge Economies for job creation, increased competitiveness, and balanced development”.

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