Author: Mohammed Ajawi

Listening to Arab Youth

More young Arabs express their desire to start a business and work for themselves (picture used for illustrative purpose only)

By Dr. Jihad Azour

Optimism can be difficult to muster at a time of heightened uncertainty and global turmoil. The 2022 ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey, conducted only a few months after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic, reflected a darkening economic outlook. Rapidly rising commodity prices and supply-chain disruptions were fueling inflation worldwide, and higher food prices were straining low-income households and undermining food security in many parts of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

Not much has changed in the year since. Despite some easing since the end of 2022, price pressures remain stubbornly high; this year, inflation is expected to average around 15% in the Arab world. Many of the region’s central banks continued tightening monetary policy to prevent inflation expectations from de-anchoring. Coupled with turbulence in global financial markets and increased policy uncertainty, this could dampen economic activity for the foreseeable future.

Given this context, it is no surprise that rising living costs and unemployment were the most pressing concerns for young Arabs. The 2022 survey covered five Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates), North Africa (Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Sudan, and Tunisia), and the Levant (Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestinian Territories, Syria, and Yemen), where stark disparities in income and wealth remain.

This year, 41% of respondents reported struggling to pay their expenses in full, up from 37% in 2021. This share is much higher in the Levant, where 63% of the young people surveyed were unable to meet their basic financial obligations.

Moreover, this year’s survey highlighted how young Arabs’ concerns about education and unemployment dimmed their hopes for the future. About 83% of respondents were worried about the quality of education in their country. And, while only 15% of the youth population in GCC countries said it would be difficult to find a job, that share was 55% in North Africa and 73% in the Levant.

The most encouraging finding was growing interest in entrepreneurship. More young Arabs expressed the desire to start a business and work for themselves, while the traditional allure of government jobs appears to be waning (except, perhaps, in the GCC countries). This shift will help drive economic dynamism and boost growth, which could translate into more opportunities for future generations.

In response to these findings, policymakers should focus on addressing the cost-of-living crisis and generating more and better employment opportunities. Shielding households from rising prices will require targeted measures, such as temporary cash transfers to the most vulnerable segments of the population, though governments should resist the temptation to reintroduce or expand subsidies and trade restrictions. Meanwhile, survey responses point to a two-pronged approach to tackling the lack of jobs: fighting corruption and nepotism and improving the education system. Both require policymakers to implement long-term reforms.

While it is important to help young people gain skills that are attractive to current and future employers, governments should also provide entrepreneurial support for young Arabs hoping to start and grow their own business. Beyond offering more training, this means removing barriers to market entry, increasing transparency in the provision of public goods and services, and broadening access to credit.

The International Monetary Fund recently highlighted the importance of stepping up digitalization and investing in new technologies in the MENA region. This would help young men and women take full advantage of the new job opportunities associated with remote work, online learning, digital finance, and e-commerce. At the same time, digitalization will improve access to and delivery of social protection services.

Finally, the survey results underscore the threat posed by climate change. The Arab world relies heavily on food imports, making supplies and prices vulnerable to severe weather events in other parts of the world. Policymakers must take decisive measures to ensure food security, such as investing in climate-resilient infrastructure, using water more efficiently, and improving the management of food stocks and supply chains at the national level. Greater investment in clean-energy technologies could also deliver comparative advantages (by reducing the emissions produced by industrial exports), accelerate the diversification of the region’s economies, and create jobs.

The IMF is committed to supporting the MENA region through financing, having already allocated $53.8 billion to Arab countries since the start of the pandemic [link?], together with assistance for capacity development and policy advice. The Fund is also enhancing its lending toolkit to help countries better cope with new crises and challenges.

To help address the urgent food crisis facing its most vulnerable members, the IMF has introduced a one-year lending window, which, as of April 2023, has benefited six countries with a total of $1.9 billion. That scheme is complemented by the IMF’s new resilience and sustainability trust, which supports low-income and middle-income countries in addressing long-term challenges, including climate change and future pandemics.

While the most recent survey of young Arabs ultimately presents a positive picture, with many convinced that their best days lie ahead, it also suggest an ever-growing battle between optimism and pessimism, particularly when it comes to the economy. One hopes that with the support of international organizations like the IMF, the next survey will show a renewed sense of confidence, inspired by improved economic conditions. Hope for a better future must continue to be nurtured, even – or especially – in turbulent times.

Dr. Jihad Azour, a former Lebanese finance minister, is the Director of the International Monetary Fund’s Middle East and Central Asia Department.

Read the Project Syndicate column here

ASDA’A BCW wins ‘Middle East Consultancy of the Year’ at 2023 EMEA SABRE Awards

  • The annual ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey won EMEA Innovation SABRE Gold for the second consecutive year for Best Agency Thought Leadership Initiative
  • Organised by PRovoke Media, the SABRE Awards are the world’s biggest PR Awards, evaluated by a jury of more than 50 industry leaders

ASDA’A BCW, the region’s leading communications consultancy, has been named ‘Middle East Consultancy of the Year’ at the prestigious 2023 EMEA SABRE Awards, the world’s largest PR awards programme.

This is the fourth agency of the year recognition for ASDA’A BCW in recent months, after it was named ‘Media Company of the Year’ at the Arabian Business Achievements Awards in January, and ‘Best Agency – UAE’ and ‘Best PR/Communications Agency’ at the Campaign Agency of the Year Awards in December 2022. 

At the SABREs this year, the annual ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey also won the EMEA Innovation SABRE Gold for Best Agency Thought Leadership initiative, for the second consecutive year.

Rami Halawani, Executive Vice President for Client Services at ASDA’A BCW, receives the ‘Middle East Consultancy of the Year’ 2023 SABRE EMEA award from Paul Holmes, Founder of PRovoke Media, at a ceremony held in Frankfurt.

PRovoke Media wrote: “ASDA’A BCW has always been a regional industry pioneer and continues to change the way PR is seen in the Middle East. From day one, it disrupted the industry model by targeting a market that had never used PR before: local governments, family businesses and emerging regional brands with global ambitions. ASDA’A BCW also continued to innovate in 2022 by becoming the first communications consultancy in MENA to launch a dedicated ESG advisory, OnePoint5, to meet the growing requirement for Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) services in the region.”

Sunil John, President – MENA of BCW and Founder of ASDA’A BCW, said: “All awards are special, but the EMEA SABREs are arguably in a league of their own. The fact that ASDA’A BCW came out on top this year is a ringing endorsement of the work we deliver for our clients. Passion and commitment are truly a winning combination. This recognition reinforces our standing in the region as a talent-led and innovation-driven integrated consultancy creating exceptional value for our clients.”

Rami Halawani, Executive Vice President for Client Services at ASDA’A BCW, received the SABRE honours from Paul Holmes, Founder of PRovoke Media, at a ceremony held in Frankfurt.

With a strong presence in the corporate domain – including corporate reputation, consumer communications, public affairs, healthcare, finance, enterprise and technology, crisis management and employee relations, ASDA’A BCW further expanded its digital and data expertise in 2022.

Last year, the Agency achieved record revenue growth in its history. This was led by near 100 per cent client retention and record new business wins. Serving more than 100 clients in the region, ASDA’A BCW ranked high in the 2021 BCW Global Client Satisfaction Survey, where 68% of respondents rated its overall performance at ‘8 or higher’ on a 10-point scale, and 83% said they are more likely to recommend the firm.

The ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey demonstrates the value that the PR industry brings to governments, businesses, and civil society by providing evidence-based insights on the hopes, attitudes, and aspirations of MENA’s largest demographic, its over 200 million youth. The 2022 edition was launched with strong global/regional impact, reaching over 500 million people within the first week of its launch in September 2022.


ASDA’A BCW appoints industry expert Rami Halawani as Executive Vice President – Client Services

Rami Halawani, formerly ASDA’A BCW’s Regional Director – Levant & North Africa, joins back from Dubai Chambers, where he was Director – Marketing & Communications

Rami Halawani, EVP – Client Services, ASDA’A BCW

Dubai, UAE; January 25, 2023: ASDA’A BCW, the region’s leading communications consultancy, has appointed Rami Halawani, a strategic communications and marketing professional with over two decades of experience, as its Executive Vice President – Client Services.

He will focus on strengthening key client relationships, delivering counsel to elevate campaigns, provide reputation and crisis management counsel, and build new business partnerships.  

Rami was an integral part of the Agency’s regional growth from 2002 to 2009 as Regional Director – Levant and North Africa, managing wholly-owned and affiliate offices in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and Egypt, in addition to leading the Consumer Marketing and Healthcare practices.

He joins the Agency from Dubai Chambers, where he was Director – Marketing & Corporate Communication for over 12 years, responsible for implementing the Chambers’ global communications strategy and engaging internal and external stakeholders. 

Welcoming Rami, Sunil John, President – MENA of BCW and Founder of ASDA’A BCW, said: “It is such a delight to welcome back Rami, who has played a key role in building our regional network. Rami will provide in-depth counsel to our clients with his demonstrated skills in integrated and digital-first communications as we chart a new growth strategy in 2023 focused on delivering exceptional client service.”

Rami said: “This is a true home-coming for me. With the communications industry evolving at a tremendous pace, it is important that Agencies focus on real value addition through service diversification and innovation – and ASDA’A BCW has been at the forefront especially with the region’s most quoted thought leadership initiative – the annual Arab Youth Survey and the recent launch of the innovative ESG advisory OnePoint5”.

Rami started his career with Weber Shandwick PR in Dubai as Account Manager and Arabic Media Relations Manager. A graduate in Literature with Post Graduation in Translation and Interpretation and is fluent in English, Arabic, French and Italian.

Having won ‘Best Agency – UAE’ – a historic recognition for a PR firm – at the Campaign Agency of the Year Middle East awards and the 2022 Best PR/Communications Agency, ASDA’A BCW is enhancing its value offerings for clients through innovative approaches to Public Relations.