United Arab Emirates

"Youth Circle": Up for the Challenge? Youth and the future of Government


Remarks by Angel Gurría

Secretary-General, OECD

Dubai, United Arab Emirates, 11 February 2018

(As prepared for delivery)



Your Excellency Minister Shamma Al Mazrui, Distinguished guests,

I must admit, this might be my favourite event of this Summit... but don’t tell anyone! It is indeed a great opportunity to address such a unique and inspiring crowd of young pioneers from a variety of backgrounds.


Allow me to start off by thanking the UAE, Her Excellency Minister Al Mazrui, the Arab Youth Center, and all the passionate colleagues who have been working hard to organize this event. The UAE has shown leadership in empowering their young men and women, and I would like to applaud their many achievements such as the establishment of the Youth Hub and the Arab Youth Startup Marketplace, to name just a few.


We live in a context of increasing complexity and uncertainty. The challenges of our times and the ones facing our governments include the impact of the digital economy, robotics, disruptive technologies, climate change, flows of refugees and migrants, widening inequalities, erosion of trust, resurgent waves of isolationism and populism and the ascendance of a post-truth environment, to name just a few. Against this backdrop, I have been asked to share with you some ideas on your role in shaping the governments of the future.


In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, 2/3rds of the population is below 30, the largest youth cohort the region has ever seen. You are not only the future! You are defining what the world looks like every day today! Yet, our data shows that the price tag of being young can be significant: the MENA region has the highest youth unemployment rate in the world. In OECD countries, today’s generation of young people are worse-off than middle-aged adults on many indicators we use to evaluate quality of life, and in more than half of OECD countries, young people express less trust in governments than their parents.


Despite unprecedented access to information, education and training, the transition to adulthood has become more challenging than ever before. Failing to harness the talent of youth means lost potential and less inclusive growth.


This is arguably of even greater concern in many MENA countries, in particular for young women who are often facing a double challenge based on age- and gender-based discrimination. Although young women outnumber their male peers at the university level in many MENA countries, only 24% of the female population is active in the labour market compared to around 60% in OECD countries. It is further estimated that gender-based discrimination in laws and social norms cost the region USD 575 billion a year.
You, future government leaders, can change that! You hold the power to transform the destinies of young women and men, ensure that they are no longer discriminated, that they can access effective channels and tools to shape decision-making and policy implementation.


You can also drive the cultural change that is needed to overcome fragmentations and embrace the future with a sense of collective purpose, and make it a fearless future for all.


Ladies and gentlemen,

Take a moment to look around you. We have 100 Arab Youth pioneers in this room! Each and every person is here in recognition of your achievements, from innovation in design, to management or advocacy.

I call on you today to make sure that your innovations are not done on the margins of public life, but as a core part of it!

I call on you to make sure that your achievements contribute to resilient economies and inclusive societies across the world!

I call on you to engage, engage, engage! Engage with your governments, with your elected officials, with your communities, with your local associations.


At the OECD, we are working tirelessly with governments in the region to support them in making this a reality as well. We are supporting their capacities to engage with you, to strengthen your access to information, and to broaden your opportunities to participate in decision-making. We are also supporting governments in developing new tools that help them design public services through a youth lens, and many other examples of which you will hear from today.


We can only succeed if governments, entrepreneurs, innovators, and leaders of all ages work together. Be part of the dialogue and make sure that your achievements benefit all, and especially those that are excluded or disadvantaged. Growth is not an achievement if it is not inclusive.


Let me end by sharing with you the wishes I shared with my colleagues for the new year back in Paris: the whole point of looking at the future ... is to shape it. This is your time to do so! To design, develop and deliver, better policies for better lives! Thank you.



Also see:

OECD work in Youth

OECD work on MENA

OECD work with United Arab Emirates


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