The findings from the 11th Annual ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey 2019 were announced on the 30th of April 2019. The Survey was carried out by an international research firm PSB, over a 4 week period starting from the 6th to the 29th of January, 2019. The survey aims to explore attitudes among Arab youth through face-to-face interviews of 3,300 Arab youth between the ages of 18 to 64. (Both male & female)
In order to get a gender neutral perspective, the survey claims to have kept a 50-50 male-female ratio. According to the findings of the report, with more than 60% of Arab population comprised of individuals aged less than 30, the survey would present evidence-based insights into the attitudes of Arab youth which would help public and private sector organisations when formulating policies and initiatives geared towards the future leaders of the region. The survey is a welcome and much needed insight in to the minds and preferences of the future leaders of the Arab region. However, I feel that an opportunity to the methodology behind framing the questions was missed which might have shed more light on the ensuing topics and why they were deemed important over other issues.
I attended the Forum at the kind invitation of Mr. Sunil John, the President – Middle East and Founder of ASDA’A BCW and I have been doing so for a number of years now. I believe it is a very important exercise in the right direction. After going through the findings contained in the report this year, I wanted to share my thoughts on the survey results:
Religion is a sensitive topic considering the world we find ourselves in. With the rise of Islamophobia in the West and the rest of the world, the topic was broached in careful, precisely worded terms. The need for that caution arose due to the fact that not only were the findings based on the youth, they will also be read by the youth and will in turn, mold those malleable minds accordingly. This is where phrasing of the questions and of the results becomes even more important. While the intentions were to bring in openness and tolerance to new ideals, with regards to the execution however, I believe there is still room for improvement. I feel that the usage of language which calls current ideologies as “rigid, closed and opposed to any modernising force, dismissing all that is new and unfamiliar as hearsay” needs to be diluted so as not to cloud the minds of the youth and make them drift away from their religion and heritage.
2. GOVERNMENT ROLE
Giving credit where it’s due though, the survey gives a voice to some genuine concerns of the youth such as with regards to governance. The Arab youth has shown their preference for capable governments that are accountable, efficient, and provide opportunities for prosperity. Highlighting the need for a new social contract between the governments of the Arab region and the youth would pave the way for transparency, accountability and ensure that no segment of the society is ignored.
The divide between opinion on quality of education in the GCC region and the Levant and North Africa is a positive aspect for the former where the youth has shown confidence in the level of educational opportunities provided to them. This needs to be highlighted and promoted more by educational institutes in order to attract bright minds and to bring them at par with global names. However, even educational institutions should pay heed to the demands of the youth and constantly strive to ensure that the education provided prepares the student for employment opportunities after graduation. With employment ranking high on the list of priority areas for the youth, it needs to be given special attention by decision makers. In this regard, there is a need for better planning and co-operation between public and private sectors to ensure that the education infrastructure aligns with the needs of the labour market. This includes vocational training and re-training, promotion of entrepreneurship and services, such as job counseling and career fairs.
4. FOREIGN RELATIONS
The results of the survey show that the youth is very much aware of the geo-political scenario and the power players in the region. Majority of the Arab youth sees the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as the one wielding the most influence. However, it is heartening to see UAE punching above it weight and coming in a close second in the eyes of the youth. This belies the belief of the future generation in the leadership of our beloved country.
The Arab region has seen its fair share of violence and conflict for more than two decades. The youth, have grown up in this turmoil have called for a need to put an end to this by citing it as the one of the biggest obstacles facing the Middle East today. The fact that they see a lack of unity within the Arab world should encourage country leaders to mitigate this divide. The result should be seen as a ray of hope for the future when the same youth would fill up decision making positions in their respective countries. Perhaps the findings could have been worded more positively.
Sectarianism within Islam is a difficult topic with no easy answers. This is the ‘Year of Tolerance’ in the UAE and the findings of the survey should have reflected that in structuring the questions and guiding the youth towards a more optimistic and tolerant direction.
6. MODEL NATIONS
UAE has been ranked as the country perfectly suited for living by the youth for 8 years consecutively. This is a proud moment and one that needs to be promoted and highlighted at all forums as it brings into reality the vision and ideals of the visionary rulers of UAE. The fact that the youth have placed UAE above other non-Arab countries such as the US, Canada, Turkey and Japan is a cause for pride and a validation of the global values and open, tolerant culture promoted by the wise leadership of our beloved country.
7. DRUG USE
The ease of drugs accessibility is another area of concern for policymakers and one that should be nipped in the bud. According to 62% of those surveyed, peer pressure followed by ease of access is the number one and two reasons for drug usage. This should be taken as a wake-up call by the government and institutions that are entrusted with the task of molding the future of our youth. Parents and families should be more vigilant about the company their children keep so that they do not fall into destructive habits and tendencies. In fact, the solution for the problem has also been provided by the youth with a strong majority calling for stricter laws and enforcement measures to curb this evil.
8. MENTAL HEALTH
A new section this year dealt with mental health. It was shocking to find the prevalence of mental health issues in the youth of the region and the taboo and lack of focus, attention and investment afforded to this area. A serious call is made here for concerted efforts to put our house in order.
With online shopping increasing from 53% to 71% in a year, there is no doubt that the digital revolution has definitely begun in the Arab Youth. Although the pace of growth is still behind Western countries such as the UK but it is fast catching up which is a promising sign and resonates well for the future with the MENA market projected to reach $28 billion, or 7% of total retail, by 2022.
10. MEDIA CONSUMPTION
The Arab youth has a predisposition towards online media as compared to traditional sources. An overwhelming 80% of those surveyed say that they prefer social media. This is a startling development from 2015 when only 25% of the youth showed a preference for the digital format. This points to the awareness level possessed by the youth who challenge the status quo and are not satisfied with singular narratives. Rather they are interested on multiple sources of information so that in the end they can form their own opinion. This is the perfect recipe for developing informative, visionary leaders.
In order to find the full details of the survey, please visit: http://arabyouthsurvey.com/about_the_survey.html