Frustrated with struggling economies and corruption, nearly half of young Arabs have considered leaving their country

  • Desire to emigrate highest in the Levantine states of Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Syria and Palestinian Territories, while young nationals of oil-rich Gulf states least likely to want to leave
  • Survey findings shed light on the views of Arab youth on anti-government protests, gender rights, personal identity, jobs, foreign relations and the COVID-19 pandemic

Nearly half of 200 million young Arabs in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region have considered leaving their country, frustrated with struggling economies and widespread government corruption, according to the findings of the 12th Annual ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey, released today. The survey also reveals that the COVID-19 pandemic has further increased young Arabs’ desire to emigrate, with one-third of the region’s youth more likely to want to leave their country.

Across the region, 42 per cent of young Arabs have considered emigrating to another country. The desire to leave is most prevalent (63 per cent) among youth in the Levantine states of Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Yemen and Palestinian Territories. Meanwhile, young people in the oil-rich Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states are least likely (13 per cent) to consider leaving. The primary drivers of potential emigration are economic reasons (24 per cent) and corruption (16 per cent), with educational opportunities, new experiences and safety and security also playing a significant role.

The findings of MENA’s largest independent study on youth conducted for ASDA’A BCW by PSB, a global strategic research and analytics consultancy, reveals the opinions of young Arabs on a range of subjects including the anti-government protests that raged through parts of the region during the past year, gender rights, personal identity, employment, personal debt, foreign relations and media consumption.

The survey polled 4,000 young Arab nationals aged 18 to 24 from 17 Arab states in the Middle East and North Africa with a 50:50 male female split. The research was conducted in two phases, with the main survey polling between January 19 and March 3, 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the region; and the second, COVID-19 Pulse Survey, between August 18 and 26, 2020, conducted in six Arab states.

“The findings of our Arab Youth Survey highlight the unique complexities – and opportunities –that must be addressed to meet the aspirations of young people in the Arab world,” said Donna Imperato, Global CEO, BCW (Burson Cohn & Wolfe). “These insights on the region – one of the most diverse in the world and where the under-30s make up two thirds of the population – form the basis of the communications counsel that we provide to our clients, including governments, civil society organisations and the private sector.”

“As an independent study, the ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey has consistently delivered evidence-based insights on the hopes and frustrations of young people in the Arab world,” said Sunil John, President, Middle East, BCW and Founder of ASDA’A BCW. “Set against the backdrop of street protests and a sharp oil price decline that have led to acute government budget deficits, the study demonstrates the link between poor governance and lack of opportunities. The findings underpin the need for many parts of the MENA region to focus on and nurture its youth dividend or risk losing a generation of its brightest young people.”

Following a wave of anti-government protests across the region over the last 12 months, the survey reveals that almost nine in 10 young Arabs in Algeria, Iraq, Sudan and Lebanon supported the protests in their own countries. A majority of the youth in these four countries are optimistic that the protests would lead to real positive change.

Protests resulted in the ousting of Omar Al-Bashir after nearly three decades in power as president in Sudan, and the resignation of Abdelaziz Bouteflika after over two decades as the president of Algeria. Lebanon and Iraq also both saw a change in leadership. The COVID-19 pandemic appears to have added to the possibility of more unrest, particularly in Lebanon, where nearly three-quarters of respondents in the COVID-19 Pulse Survey said they believe the pandemic has made protests against the political status quo more likely.

“The link between the protests and corruption can also be inferred from the fact that tackling government corruption is seen as the single largest priority for achieving progress in the Arab world (36 per cent of all respondents), ahead of any other issue, including creating well-paying jobs (32 per cent), and defeating terrorist organisations or resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict,” John added.

With job creation identified as the second most important priority for regional progress, almost nine in 10 young people (87 per cent) are concerned about unemployment, but only half (49 per cent) say they have confidence in their governments’ ability to deal with unemployment. The ongoing economic woes appear to be further compounded by the impact of COVID-19, with 20 per cent saying someone in their family has lost their job due to the pandemic, 30 per cent reporting higher household debt, and 72 per cent saying the pandemic has made it more difficult to find a job.

In a region with the world’s highest youth unemployment (over 26 per cent according to the International Labour Organisation), a rising number of young Arabs are looking beyond the government or the private sector to provide employment, instead preferring to work for themselves or their families (23 per cent vs. 16 per cent in 2019). Two in five are also considering setting up their own business within the next five years – with youth in the GCC showing the greatest entrepreneurial spirit (55 per cent).

The survey also debunks stereotypical notions of the region, particularly on gender rights. A strong majority of young Arab women (75 per cent) say they have the same or more rights as men in their country. Young Arab women (76 per cent) and men (70 per cent) agree that a woman can benefit her family more by working than staying at home.

Voicing their view on the changing dynamics of foreign affairs, Arab youth see Saudi Arabia and the UAE as the two rising Arab powers that have most influence on the geo-political environment of the region (39 per cent and 34 per cent, respectively). Among non-Arab states, the United States is seen having increased its influence in the region the most over the past five years. This year, the US is also seen more favourably (56 per cent) by Arab youth than in 2019 (41 per cent) or any point since 2016.

For the ninth consecutive year, the UAE continues to prevail as the preferred nation for young Arabs to live in (46 per cent) and for their own nation to emulate (52 per cent). The United States is the next most popular country among Arab youth to live in (33 per cent) and emulate (30 per cent).

Other key findings from the survey include:
• More young Arabs say they are being saddled with personal debt. Nearly one-third of young Arabs (35 per cent) say they are in debt now, a significant increase from earlier years (21 per cent in 2019).
• Religion is seen as the most important aspect of the personal identity of young Arabs (40 per cent), more so than their family, nationality, gender and other factors.
• Arab youth are increasingly embracing the digital revolution: In 2015, just 25 per cent young Arabs cited social media as their source of news, this year, 79 per cent say they get their news from social media. Since 2018, e-commerce has also experienced exponential growth among Arab youth and a large majority (80 per cent) now shop online.

With two-thirds of the Arab population under the age of 30, the survey presents evidence-based insights into the attitudes of Arab youth, providing public and private sector organisations with data and analysis to inform their decision-making and policy creation. Download for free, the full findings and a White Paper on this year’s ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey at arabyouthsurvey.com

ASDA’A BCW’s Sunil John named Best PR Professional in the Middle East in PRWeek Global Awards 2020

Sunil John, founder of regional public relations agency ASDA’A BCW and President of BCW Middle East, has been named ‘Best PR Professional in the Middle East’ in the PRWeek Global Awards 2020.

This latest individual award for John from the global PR industry coincides with the 20th anniversary year of ASDA’A, the agency he founded. He is credited with transforming PR from a communications function struggling under the shadow of big advertising agencies “to a thriving industry that attracts global capital and talent to the Middle East,” according to PRWeek. Other judges’ comments highlighted his role as “a renowned expert in the region, a true leader with a point of view on all things communications and business related.”

Under John’s leadership, ASDA’A BCW’s achievements include being part of the team which launched the tallest tower in the world, Burj Khalifa in Dubai in 2010, and supporting the UAE in its bids to host Expo 2020 Dubai and Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi.  John is also the driving force behind the annual ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey – the largest and longest running research into the region’s largest and most important demographic, its youth. The 2019 edition of the survey, titled ‘A Call for Reform’ was shortlisted in the PRWeek Global Citizenship Award.

ASDA’A BCW was also Highly Commended in the Middle East Agency of the Year category. Judges noted how the agency used the formation of Burson Cohn & Wolfe (BCW) in 2018, following the merger of two of WPP’s biggest public relations brands Burson-Marsteller and Cohn & Wolfe as, “a springboard to adopt new methodologies, focusing on culture and training.”

ASDA’A BCW has continued to grow through its five specialist practices: Consumer & Healthcare, Corporate, Enterprise & Technology, Financial and Public Affairs from small shoots as ASDA’A in 2000. It is now the only Middle East geography reporting directly to worldwide among any international PR agency and John, as President-Middle East, has a seat on the BCW global board. John also leads two additional subsidiary brands in the Middle East: Proof, spanning design, digital and social; and PSB Middle East, the research specialists.

This prestigious global award from PRWeek is the fourth individual industry award for John, following the SABRE Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement in 2014, and two MEPRA awards, including the Chairman’s Award in 2016 and the inaugural MEPRA Fellowship in 2018. He was also invited to join the Arthur W Page society in 2019. In 2018, he was named among the ‘Arabian Business 100 Inspiring leaders in the Middle East’ and was ‘Arabian Business 100 influential people helping shape the Emirate’.

ASDA’A BCW shortlisted at the SABRE EMEA Awards 2020

ASDA’A BCW is honoured to be shortlisted for the SABRE EMEA Awards Middle East Consultancy of the Year and to be part of the BCW EMEA team shortlisted for the EMEA Consultancy of the Year. These nominations are based on our client work and performance in 2019, our first full year as BCW, making this accomplishment even more meaningful to us. The shortlist selections are the result of an exhaustive research process involving more than 200 submissions, calls, and face-to-face meetings with the leading PR firms across Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and we could not be prouder to have been recognised for our work.

We are also nominated in the following five categories for work with some of our amazing clients:

The SABRE Award for Superior Achievement in Reputation Management

Oil & Gas 4.0 – Strengthening ADNOC’s Corporate Reputation as the National Oil Company of the Future — The Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) with ASDA’A BCW

Regional – The Middle East

Merchant-ising the Digital Dream! — Visa with ASDA’A BCW

Product Media Relations (Trade Media)

Completion of the World’s Largest Oil Platform — NPCC with ASDA’A BCW

Multicultural Marketing

‘A Call for Reform’ – The 11th Annual ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey 2019 — ASDA’A BCW

B2B – Energy and Natural Resources

Oil & Gas 4.0 – Strengthening ADNOC’s Corporate Reputation as the National Oil Company of the Future — The Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) with ASDA’A BCW

We are grateful to our creative, collaborative and hard-working team and our fantastic clients, who have made this nomination possible, and we look forward to finding out the results on May 28th at the virtual SABRE Awards. Good luck to all, and fingers crossed!


To read about the full list of nominees, click here


MENA’s $1billion PR industry set to double in value by 2030

  • Evolution of National Champion companies to global brands will catalyse the growth of the PR sector, observes opening panel of PRovoke MENA Summit
  • Region’s senior communicators present insights on the global success achieved by Emirates, Mubadala, ADNOC and Dubai Holding

Dubai, UAE; February 6, 2020: Fuelled by the rapid growth of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region’s National champion companies, the Public Relations (PR) industry in MENA is set to leapfrog in value to double its current size of $1billion by 2030,  was the key take out from the PRovoke MENA Summit 2020, held in Dubai today.

PRovoke MENA Summit, organised by PRovoke Media (formerly The Holmes Report), is part of a global series of events that explore the innovation, disruption and evolution of the PR industry that is redefining influence and engagement across the globe.

The Summit opened with an insightful session ‘From National Heroes to Global Brands: Why the Middle East has emerged as a PR Powerhouse,’ moderated by Sunil John, Founder of ASDA’A BCW and President, Middle East of BCW. The panel hosted some of the region’s most respected and influential communicators: Boutros Boutros, Divisional Senior Vice President, Corporate Communications, Marketing and Brand, Emirates Airline and Group; Umayma Abubakar, Director of Internal Corporate Relations, Mubadala; Omar Zaafrani, Senior Vice President, Group Communications & Corporate Social Responsibility, ADNOC; and Huda Buhumaid, Chief Marketing Officer, Dubai Holding. The panelists explored how the regional PR landscape has grown, mirroring the transformation of National Champion companies such as Emirates, Mubadala, ADNOC and Dubai Holding into global brands.

Introducing the panel, Sunil John noted that the dramatic economic, social and political changes witnessed in MENA position the region as a strategic market for all global industries. The region will be at the centre of the world this year, with Expo 2020 Dubai, the G20 Summit meetings in Saudi Arabia, the upcoming World Bank IMF annual meetings in Morocco in 2021, the FIFA World Cup in Qatar in 2022 and other global events set to contribute to the regional PR industry’s continued growth.

“From US$500million a decade ago, the industry has upped its value to more than double that figure today and will further gain traction to double again by 2030. This will be driven by the growth of global brands that emerge from our region, especially from the two largest economies, Saudi Arabia and the UAE,” said Sunil John.

Highlighting the growth of Emirates, which today has a total communications budget of US$800 million, a team of 250 communications professionals, and working globally with 85 PR agencies, 100 advertising  firms, and 30 digital and events management companies, Boutros Boutros said Public Relations continues to be the “most valuable, effective and affordable communications medium, which will continue to grow in the coming years.” Boutros said the Dubai office of Emirates plays the role of a, “global inhouse hub to manage all the different agencies, with the strategy and policies originating here.”

Umayma Abubakar said successfully communicating the Mubadala story is also a reflection of the vision of UAE’s leadership. “Their goal of economic diversification has positioned the UAE as more than an oil and gas economy. There is a compelling need to tell our story to the world, to show that you have a lot to contribute and add value. In this, it was important to be transparent, and to be perceived as a responsible investor.”

Omar Zaafrani said the responsibility of national brands goes beyond their organisation and must represent a national perspective reflecting the UAE’s national branding and soft power. With a directional focus on making ADNOC, an oil and gas company, ‘cool’, Zaafrani said the challenge is to address the stereotypical stigma that is attributed to oil and gas sector players. “That takes courage, and a deliberate focus on humanising the story to make oil and gas relevant to the community.”

Dubai Holding’s Huda Buhumaid said there are interesting stories from this region and people are interested in knowing ‘how, why and when.’ “We are here ‘For the good of tomorrow’ and we change the landscape of Dubai through our different ventures. With over 400,000 people living in our real estate communities, more than 3 million people staying in our hotels, and with 11 business parks employing 95,000 people, we are promoting Dubai to the world – to the investors, tourists and residents – across various touch points.”

Concluding the session, Sunil John said communicating to a global audience is different from talking to a local audience. “The strategy needs to be truly global, cultural nuances understood with creativity playing a key role, supported by advanced data analysis. But innovative content and story-telling will continue to be at its heart.”