CASABLANCA, Morocco — In 2011 people all over the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) took to the streets and ignited the Arab Spring. While citizens protested a multitude of issues, one was particularly ubiquitous — youth unemployment rates.
For years, youth in MENA countries faced disproportionately high unemployment rates. This is because MENA countries are experiencing what is called a ‘youth bulge’.
A ‘youth bulge’ is a phenomenon that often occurs in developing countries when infant mortality rates decline but fertility rates remain the same or higher. When a country has a ‘youth bulge’ children and young adults begin to make up a larger percentage of the overall population.
Right now Morocco is at the height of its ‘youth bulge’. Youth aged 15 to 29 years old make up 30 percent of the total population and 40 percent of the eligible workforce.
In countries with a growing economy and a high demand for workers, this demographic would be a blessing. However in youth unemployment in Morocco has reached a rate of almost 50 percent, which is 10 times the national rate.
Why is high youth unemployment occurring?
For one, preference for limited public sector jobs has left many unemployed or working informal jobs. Informal jobs, like selling souvenirs at the local souk, leave workers vulnerable because they have not actually signed a job contract. Their jobs provide no benefits and are threatened by instability.
Another reason unemployment rates among youth are high is because there is a disparity between education and applicable jobs. When critical skills such as learning French, the dominant language of the region, are left out of primary and secondary education, youth are automatically at a disadvantage for finding jobs.
Though the current situation favors those with higher education, still 20 percent of the unemployed Moroccan youth have university level degrees. This is largely due to failed public policy, where programs aimed at helping graduates start businesses resulted in unsuccessful business plans and defaults on loans.
But the world has not given up on Morocco and the larger MENA region. Following the Arab Spring, the World Bank developed a report with suggestions on policy change for sustainable employment, with youth as the main targets for reform.
As the World Bank Vice President for the MENA region, Inger Anderson, says, “Youth represent the future of Morocco and overcoming youth exclusion can have a significant impact on the country’s development and prosperity.”
Heeding the World Bank’s advice, organizations all over the world are implementing programs to provide Moroccan youth with the relevant skills needed to be successful in the workforce and shape the future.
One organization is Enactus, an international nonprofit organization based out of Springfield, Missouri.
Enactus operates on a platform of collaboration and competition. Dedicated to tapping into the youth’s potential, Enactus installs programs on campuses all over the world that focus on developing youth entrepreneurship.
The campus programs link local administrators with business leaders to teach students entrepreneurial skills. The teams then develop their own projects that both spur development and help the community.
As of 2015 Morocco has 51 active teams working on 108 projects.
Enactus also conducts an annual World Cup. At the Enactus World Cup teams from campuses all over the world meet for three days to compete for the best entrepreneurial projects. At the end of the third day, the winner of the competition is crowned Enactus World Cup Champion.
At the 2014 Enactus World Cup in Beijing, China, Morocco was crowned Vice Champion of the World Cup. The team that represented Morocco is the Mohammadia School of Engineers. The team won for its Vernet/Access Water Project.
The Vernet/Access Water Project is a combination of two efforts to create jobs and solve a global health issue. Vernet/Access Water manufactures and markets water purification products by taking local materials and transforming them into water purification devices to be bought and sold in villages. While Vernet/Access Water first started in five Moroccan villages, it hopes to become international and has already implemented a project in Burkina Faso.
Enactus is just one of many organizations across the MENA region enfranchising students. As World Bank Social Scientist Gloria La Cava notes, “Young people in Morocco are full of ideas and are keen to contribute to society.” If the inspiration of organizations like Enactus is coupled with institutional change, the MENA region could turn its ‘youth bulge’ into a vehicle for great economic prosperity.
– Celestina Radogno