Sluggish and inequitable economic growth remains a critical developmental challenge throughout the region. Indeed, economic and political marginalization, particularly of the region’s youth, was a key factor setting in motion the events of the Arab Awakening. Excluding the Gulf economies, the region’s countries fare poorly in measures of global competiveness. Overall, the Middle East and North Africa trails the rest of the world in its share of non-oil exports as a percentage of GDP and needs to do more to attract trade and foreign direct investment. While country circumstances vary, regional challenges include barriers to trade and foreign direct investment, public spending policies and subsidies, the inefficient use of natural resources, aging public infrastructure, a mismatch between workforce skills and the demands of the workplace, and the lack of a clear vision and mandate for economic reform. Most importantly, the region needs to ensure that women and youth fully contribute to – and benefit from – the economic growth that the region needs.
The young people who helped drive the events of the region’s democratic awakening are particularly affected by the lack of economic opportunities. Economic growth – while positive throughout most of the region – has not been strong, sustained, or inclusive enough to reduce unemployment, leaving millions of young people without jobs. More than half of the region’s population is under the age of 24, and over one-quarter of its young people are unemployed. These young people could be the region’s best resource for strong economies and a vibrant future.
OMEP supports rapid economic growth to help address the economic disruption of political and social transitions. Our programs reduce barriers to trade, set and enforce standards and processes for customs, strengthen intellectual property rights, promote entrepreneurial and small and medium enterprise (SME) development across the region, and expand economic opportunities for youth and women. We also provide economic analysis, project design, and monitoring and evaluation of regional economic growth programs implemented across borders and in transitioning countries.
Impacts achieved by USAID in the region include:
- At a leading Algerian university, USAID created a career center designed to close the gap between the skills demanded by the Algerian labor market and those provided by higher education institutions. To date, the Center has helped 7,000 students prepare for employment. The Algerian Ministry of Higher Education has picked up on the success of the Career Center and plans to use the USAID project as a model for 18 new centers throughout Algeria.
- Business-to-business exchanges for companies from Iraq, Jordan, and the West Bank & Gaza. These exchanges brought together nearly 300 private sector representatives representing 195 companies, resulting in 24 completed deals.
- A series of workshops co-sponsored with the International Monetary Fund enhanced the skills of over 200 senior government officials in public financial management. The program was instrumental in sharing experiences between regional officials, and passing legislation region-wide on issues including banking regulation and tax compliance. In Egypt, for example, our assistance helped lead to a five-fold increase in tax revenues.
Last updated: March 23, 2015