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42% of Arab youth want to launch their businesses instead of working regular jobs

A survey shows entrepreneurial spirit strongest among GCC youth, with majority saying it is easy to start a business in their country.

42% of Arab youth want to launch their businesses instead of working regular jobs
[Source photo: Anvita Gupta/Fast Company Middle East]

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Entrepreneurship in the Arab world is experiencing a startling growth in the number of successful startups and the amount of investment. Startups are scaling by adapting offerings and business models to serve local needs. This entrepreneurial zeal of Arab youth thinking differently about their future employment reflects in the ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey, which found nearly half (42%) of young Arabs are planning to start their own business in the next five years. 

Exploring Arab youth attitudes toward their future careers, the survey found that this desire was strongest in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states (53%), followed by the Levant (39%) and North Africa (37%). 

GCC youth were also more upbeat about their chances of going into business, with 58% saying that starting a business in their country was “very easy/somewhat easy.” 

This compares with 79% of youth in the Levant and 73% in North Africa who said it was ‘very difficult/somewhat difficult’ to start a business in their country.

According to the research, tax breaks, reduced startup fees, enhanced training and education, and government-backed loans would encourage more youth to become entrepreneurs. When it comes to their preferred industry, 15% of the sample said they wanted to start a business in the tech sector, followed by e-commerce (13%), the creative industries (11%), manufacturing (11%), real estate (10%), the food business (9%), and retail, hospitality and education (7% each). 

One of the significant trends the survey has documented over the years is the increasing preference of Arab youth for private-sector jobs over a career in government. 

Compared to nearly half of all respondents in 2019 who said they preferred to work in the government sector, less than a third (30%) feel the same now. Meanwhile, a third (33%) of Arab youth said they would prefer to work in business, a 13% increase from 2022. 

One in four (25%) young Arabs now say they want to work for themselves or their family, a slight decline since last year (28%) but a six-percentage point jump from 2019. Meanwhile, 11% said they preferred to work for a non-profit organization. 

“The fact that Arab youth are eager to start their own business is an encouraging sign, but it is also a natural response to the great difficulty in certain countries to find stable employment. Policymakers and the business community must do more to support those young men and women willing to do it alone,” said Sunil John, President, MENA, BCW and Founder of ASDA’A BCW.

“Meanwhile, the increasing diversification of the GCC economies is casting the private sector in a positive new light,” John added. “This is a promising trend for the long-term sustainability of the regional economy and a potential source of jobs and opportunity for Arab youth outside the Arabian Gulf.”

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