BEIRUT: Lebanese youths, faced with incredibly high rates of unemployment, must be more proactive and entrepreneurial if the country’s economy is to return to strong, sustainable growth, business leaders said at a gathering in Beirut Tuesday.
“I would look at creating employment by favoring people to go into entrepreneurship by creating companies and firms that would generate self-employment opportunities and jobs for others,” Kafalat Chairman Khater Abi Habib said. “If we do this well, we can grow successfully by creating the right job opportunities to absorb our top talents.”
Abi Habib was speaking during the “Youth Unemployment: Bringing Davos Insights to Beirut” panel discussion held at the American University of Beirut and organized by The Global Shapers in collaboration with the Center for Civic Engagement and Community Service and Fortium Consulting.
The Global Shapers Community is a network of 309 hubs around the world that work to increase young leaders’ contribution to their local communities. The World Economic Forum initiative began in 2011, and each hub organizes an impactful local project, in addition to holding workshops, meetings with leaders, discussion panels and other activities to increase the members’ capacity as future leaders.
Beirut’s hub was one of the first hubs, opening in 2012.
Monday’s gathering discussed the findings from the annual World Economic Forum in Davos 2014 on youth unemployment and its relevance to Lebanon.
Panelists focused on ways of creating job opportunities and fighting against unemployment in Lebanon.
Kafalat’s Abi Habib called on those working to tackle unemployment in Lebanon to be aware of localized causes and symptoms of the problem.
“Non-governmental organizations and civil society, for instance, need to develop a deep understanding of our demography and our employment topography,” he said.
“They should study the spread of unemployment over the different sectors in the geography of the country across the generations with a main focus on youths.”
Kamal Shayya, director of the Masar Association that works with Lebanese youths, highlighted some of those localized causes of youth unemployment in Lebanon.
“There is a mismatch between education and the marketplace in Lebanon,” he said, adding that universities should focus on improving their quality of education in a way that conforms to the skills required in the marketplace.
This discrepancy between skills in demand and supply hits the country’s youths especially hard.
“Around 34 percent of the youths are jobless while they constitute 66 percent of total unemployed in Lebanon,” he said.
Shayya placed some blame for the rising unemployment on the government’s priorities and the lack of attention paid to the industry and agriculture sectors.
“There is no proper strategy by the government to protect these two sectors,” he said, adding that the main focus in Lebanon was on the services sector.
“We need to have a successful service sector in Lebanon, for sure, but sectors such as industry and agriculture are more resilient to political and security problems,” he said. “This is why we should also focus on these sectors which generate good job opportunities as well.”
The conflict in Syria, and resulting spillover into Lebanon that has scared off many Arab businessmen and tourists, has hit the country’s services sector especially hard, leading to nearly stagnant growth in the last two years.
The wider economy has struggled to absorb the drop in the services sector, with Kafalat witnessing a significant decline in the value of loan guarantees provided in 2013.
“The complicated security and political situation has impacted a lot of sectors and mainly tourism, which in turn, has affected the volume of loan guarantees given by Kafalat to entrepreneurs by around 15 percent,” Abi Habib told The Daily Star on the sidelines of the meeting.
Having attended the World Economic Forum as part of the Global Shapers, Ziad Mabsout gave an overview of the discussions that took place in Davos.
“The speakers focused on two areas to tackle unemployment. The first was education and training while the second was the private sector’s initiative,” said Mabsout, a senior investment analyst at Fortium Consulting.
He cited Majid Jaffar, CEO of Crescent Petroleum, who emphasized critical thinking and entrepreneurship to encouraged youths to create their own path out of public sector employment.
He also quoted Saudi Aramco CEO Khalid al-Falih, who pointed to his company’s efforts to fund vocational training centers to bring in high-skilled trainers.
“These efforts, according to Falih, secure their supply chain, build goodwill and address a societal need,” Mabsout said, adding that Aramco had launched a $200 million fund for investment in startups.
“However, Falih considers that Arab countries like Lebanon, Syria and Egypt nowadays need security stability before speaking about or considering youth employment.”