Social media key to Arab youth empowerment: report
Policy makers call for potential to be tapped to aid new entrepreneurial generation
The Governance and Innovation Programme of the Dubai School of Government (DSG), under the patronage of His Excellency Saqr Ghobash Saeed Ghobash, UAE Minister of Labour, today announced the findings of an eight-nation survey on shifting attitudes towards social media in the Arab world.
DSG conducted the study in collaboration with SAP MENA, polling 5,000 respondents from Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Lebanon, Oman, Egypt and Jordan.
"I congratulate the Dubai School of Government for this research conducted with SAP MENA, which will open the debate on how to create more opportunities for Arab youth," said His Excellency.
"This research will help the new Arab generation who are getting involved in new projects. It will help them discover opportunities for jobs across all sectors and will also help companies to better use social media in the hiring of college graduates, thereby transferring its usage from the political to the economic sphere."
The results revealed major shifts in social media usage, particularly in areas of self-promotion and employment. Nearly 80% of those polled said they believed the online communities were indispensable in helping them find employment, while 71% said they would use the technology to find their next job.
In the workplace most felt the networks were a boon, agreeing that they inspired innovation, promoted trust among the workforce and allowed more effective communication with customers.
Eighty-six per cent believed the social sites were critical to business success and drew on reasons such as marketing potential (90%) and the ability to reach larger markets (86%).
Many agreed that social media could act as a powerful educational tool and 86% said they thought students should avail themselves of the sites to this end, while 76% said they had already used the social tools to acquire entrepreneurial skills.
But while many Arabs continue to embrace the new paradigm, concerns remain about the role of government in the arena, especially in regard to legal frameworks to protect intellectual property, privacy and copyright. Eight-one percent encouraged the introduction of national policy to police the technologies, particularly in the classroom and workplace.
"Our research has shown that close to 50m Arabs are actively connected to social media and primarily use the platforms to change social and political realities in their countries," said Fadi Salem, director of the Governance and Innovation Programme, DSG and co-author of the report.
"It is essential for policy makers and businesses to understand this emerging phenomenon and its impact on their societies and markets."
A panel of policy makers and business experts agreed the findings pointed to untapped potential in the areas of up-skilling and entrepreneurship.
"Nowadays you see kids at age 10, 11 or 12 say they don't want to be employed by a company, public or private, after they leave school," said Dr Aisha bin Bishr, assistant director general, Executive Office.
"They want to start their own company, even if is small. Within 10 years you will see this major shift; they will take the risk.
"We have been seeing a growing trend, even among those who come to us for support," said Abdulbaset Al Janahi, CEO of Dubai SME, a Dubai Government body that assists startups.
"They come to us with forecasting and show us their accounts on Facebook and Twitter. We have financed people based on the number of people following them [in social media]."
Sam Alkharrat, managing director, SAP MENA said, "Social media is a fundamental change in our environment and it is here to stay, so we have to adapt and learn to use it to our advantage.
"While it is a very important tool, just like TV, radio or the internet, it is just an advanced way of managing the information flow. But rather than a vertical or horizontal flow it is a network flow, which makes it more efficient."
But the experts largely agree with the respondents that as the use of social media grows, government will have to reassess its role, both administratively and legally.
"There is a general desire within the government to take advantage of what is happening in social media," said bin Bashr. "Even the private sector has only scratched the surface of this huge area [of communication]."
"People on social media don't like government bureaucracy and I think administrations have to realise that there is a huge shift happening within the business model of government," said Al Janahi.
But government cannot be the only entity to manage the social change. Governments will look to the private sector to engage with the technologies and build new capabilities for tapping the social well. Alkharrat revealed that SAP's plans in the region were focused on precisely that.
"SAP is creating about 1,000 jobs in the UAE over the next five years," he said.
"We have made plans to invest $450m over the next four years in the Middle East region to create jobs and to up-skill talent. Recently we opened our development centre in Dubai Silicon Oasis under the patronage of His Excellency Sheikh Ahmed and we are going to have a one-of-a-kind development and innovation centre, hiring developers that can innovate in Arabic software, analytics and mobility and convert these new trends we are seeing into benefits for business."