Banner photo: S. Sheridan/Mercy Corps


Currently, the MENA region has one of the highest proportional youth populations in the world. According to the United Nations, over half of the region’s population is under the age of 25, with roughly one-fifth between the ages of 15 and 24 (UNPY, 2010). This demographic growth, or youth bulge, represents an enormous supply of human capital with the potential to drive economic growth. Unfortunately, despite high average levels of educational achievement, MENA also has one of the largest regional rates of youth unemployment (UNPY, 2010). According to the International Labor Organization, youth unemployment in the region rose to 30 percent in 2015, up almost 10 percent since 2009 (ILO, 2015).

The summit focused on four key challenges identified in consultation with young people affected by the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, which partnerships between the private, development/humanitarian and public sectors can help address. These include education, employment, participation and gender. While the Summit did not address gender as a stand-alone topic, gender discrimination was an important underlying theme that was addressed through presentations and initiatives in other areas.

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Four key challenges facing adolescents and youth affected by the Syria and Iraq crises




The challenge: Limited access to post-primary education pathways restrict the opportunities for young people to develop and acquire the relevant skills needed to get jobs. Young people want marketable skills that enable them to find employment. Post-basic education opportunities are often unavailable or inaccessible to marginalized youth. UNHCR estimates that refugee children are five times less likely than the global average to be enrolled in formal schooling and the situation worsens dramatically when focusing on secondary school enrolment (UNHCR, 2016). For example, the percentage of displaced secondary school-aged children enrolled in school was 22 percent in Jordan and just 3 percent in Lebanon in 2016. (HRW, 2016).

At the Summit, participants explored how technology can enable young people to access education opportunities and to learn skills that are relevant to the job market. Specifically, the summit looked at:

  • How technology is transforming learning, for example through MOOCs, virtual classrooms, mobile learning, gameification and VR.

  • How can education be tailored to teach young people the skills needed for the twenty-first century.

  • Broader questions around the future of education including MOOCs, bootcamps, the future of the degree and competency and skills-based learning .

  • How to align training opportunities with national curricula in the region.

  • Ensuring learning opportunities meet the needs of all young people, including young people already in the workforce, those who have not completed schooling, or young girls who may have time and transport limitations due to social norms and domestic roles.

EMPLOYMENT and entrepreneurship

The challenge: Some 30 percent of youth in MENA are unemployed. Inside Syria, the situation is particularly dire: unemployment rates among youth are estimated to be close to 75 percent, with significantly higher rates among Syrian women. Some 65 percent of young female IDPs and 23 percent of young male IDPs are unemployed. Access to dignified work is a challenge across the region. This leads to many young people being subjected to exploitative conditions in an attempt to achieve financial independence or contribute much needed cash or remittances to their families. The many young people who wish to set up their own businesses, lack access to expertise, resources and support.

At the Summit, participants explored solutions that provide youth with access to meaningful employment opportunities and opportunities for entrepreneurship, specifically:

  • Creating job opportunities in the region.

  • Creating opportunities for young people to engage in remote work.

  • Technological solutions such as mobile apps and job matching platforms to connect young people with job opportunities

  • Providing opportunities for women and girls.

  • Understanding the challenges and opportunities presented by the entrepreneurship environment in the region.

  • Funding opportunities, entrepreneurship and startup training for displaced and other vulnerable young entrepreneurs.

PARTicipation and representation

The challenge: Young people feel isolated because they lack a voice, they don’t have a say in important decisions that affect their lives or their communities. They are also missing out on opportunities to connect with their peers in a positive way. This sense of isolation is compounded by under-representation and misrepresentation in the media.

At the Summit, participants explored solutions for enabling young people to find meaningful opportunities to get their voices heard, contribute to their communities, network and boost their positive representation in the media, specifically:

  • Tackling negative perceptions of refugees and other young people in the region in the media, including on social media.

  • Using technology to connect young people with opportunities to support their communities such as volunteering initiatives, and to engage with their host communities.

  • Support young people with chances to network among their peers in person and online.


In addition to the three key themes above, a number of cross-cutting themes were addressed throughout the two days, including:

  • Promoting partnerships between and within sectors, particularly how the private sector can work with humanitarian, development and other actors to support the needs of displaced youth.

  • Tackling gender discrimination by providing young women and girls with opportunities to contribute - economically and socially - in their local community and beyond, including through remote work.

  • Ensuring that tech-based interventions are inclusive of other vulnerable / minority groups such as young people with disabilities and those from ethno-religious minorities.

  • Addressing language barriers both through promotion of Arabic language initiatives (such as skills training in Arabic) and provision of English-language certifications

  • Strengthening the evidence base around tech-enabled interventions.

  • Promoting scalability of tech-enabled interventions.