The Human Capital: Promoting Mediterranean Youth Inclusion


  1. Throughout the Mediterranean, young people[1] are bearing the brunt of the crises: massive unemployment and demographic pressure, alienation, dangerous sea crossings to reach Europe, and the lure of extremism that could go as far as outright violence. The political elites have underestimated the perils of massive exclusion and abandoned large numbers of their young men and women to their own devices[2].
  1. Unemployment and economic instability are major issues in the region. The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has a large reservoir of untapped human resources, with the world’s highest unemployment rate among youth and the lowest participation of females in the labour force[3]. The share of young people neither in employment, education, or training (NEET)[4] also explains the lack of opportunities and the absence of a vision on the future for youth. Moreover, the current organisation of the production system between the Northern and Southern Mediterranean restricts the Southern economies to the low value-added end as well as short-term subcontracting arrangements, thus preventing reduction of the abnormally high levels of underemployment of skilled workers which fuels expatriation[5].
  1. This also underlines the need to renew the social contract and to mobilise development actors in countering radicalisation and extreme violence. Economic exclusion coupled with the lack of responses from the State to increase opportunities highlights the failure of the current social contract, which is based on a rentier system, family connections and privileges. This is also a cause for radicalisation and extreme violence. If Mediterranean States need to concentrate on the renewal of this social contract, development actors will have to contribute through coordinated actions aiming at creating plurality and enhancing citizens’ engagement and personal development.
  1. Over the past years Mediterranean integration and North-South cooperation programmes have privileged trade with little attention to the human capital side of development and intraregional dimension, South-South cooperation. Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreements focus on the liberalisation of trade in goods, services and capital, whilst individuals and skills mobility remains highly restricted. And this is actually a recent trend: throughout history, North-South exchanges have contributed to build a region of knowledge and creativity. Human mobility allows to share practices, increase dialogue and foster economic cooperation benefiting both the North and the South. Diaspora communities as agents for development can also play a key role in enhancing dialogue with their countries of origin, and support innovation and stability, investment and training.
  1. Education is essential to achieve inclusive growth and global competitiveness. Education and human capital are critical to enhance the individual’s sustained contribution to country growth and competitiveness. Despite the success in expanding access and the considerable resources invested, education systems have fallen short of their promise for economic growth and social mobility[6]. Most countries in the MENA region have competitiveness ratings below the world average on the Global Competitiveness Index (GCI).

Key strategic issues to be addressed in the Mediterranean

  1. The MENA region needs to move from a traditional economy to a knowledge-based economy. Knowledge is recognised as the driver for productivity and economic growth and workers, especially young people entering the labour market, need to acquire a range of skills and continuously adapt these skills. Incentives are needed to enhance knowledge in all sectors.
  1. A new vision of education is critical for the MENA region – one that promotes critical thinking, creativity and innovation that would allow the region to achieve inclusive growth, social stability and global competitiveness. This transition should be accompanied by a shift from an ‘education for all’ to ‘learning for all’. Massive investments have been made in infrastructures in order to have an education open to all but now the current priority is to enhance the quality of education, ending rote learning and fostering the capacity of education systems to train young people to fit into labour market needs.
  1. There is a need to build and develop new value chains linking mobility, education, research and the private sector for production, competitiveness and economic development. Moving up to this value chains would create new job opportunities for qualified and empowered young people. Coordinated strategies have to be developed to share those value chains.
  1. Despite the massive surge subsequent to the Arab Springs few years ago, civic engagement among young people in the MENA region is weak. Youth participation to public life should be encouraged and strategies to promote civic engagement among youth have to be developed. Youth are actors for change and civic engagement is a pathway towards political reform and a more equitable development in the region.
  1. Switching from a ‘migration’ to a ‘mobility’ perspective would help better promote social and economic development in countries of origin, transit and destination. Migrants as a driver for growth, international mobility and human development are key concepts positively contributing to economic and social growth of all the countries involved in the migration process. The human side of migrations, including the respect of migrants’ human rights, can concur to reinforce the migrants’ role as agents for development and a resource of social capital to be promoted. In order to allow migrants to fully participate in the socio-economic development of hosting countries, skills and competences recognition is necessary[7]. The potential contribution of the MENA diaspora to the countries of origin (remittances, transfers of skills, trade, networks and investment), circular migration in the Mediterranean Region and productive return are also an important aspects to be taken into account.
  1. Today, Mediterranean countries dispose of the tools and capacities to define development priorities. It is time to move from a top-down to a bottom-up approach, where needs and solutions are jointly identified in cooperation with Southern partners. Development institutions and Northern countries can find an important role in providing expertise though peer exchanges.
  1. Focusing on regional cooperation while pursuing bilateral would position the Italian Cooperation on an area with a high potential. Development actors usually cooperate with Southern countries on bilateral bases. However, many of the current challenges in the MENA region go beyond national borders. The boundaries fragmentation in the Middle East and cross-country issues such as the refugee crisis and extreme violence are some examples. Delivering regional public goods now appears as a priority in the Mediterranean and only few financing instruments exist to tackle these challenges.
  1. Enhancing quality in education is essential in this sector. This is consistent with the Sustainable Development Goal ‘Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’ and can be done through fostering peer-to-peer exchanges with Northern centres of excellence in all educational levels (from early childhood to tertiary education, including vocational training). This process should bring Southern institutions to deliver education with standards equivalent to their European counterparts, thus recognising certifications and delivering shared diplomas with EU educational.
  1. Investing in soft skills instead of infrastructures not only fosters skills development but also increases open-mindedness, employability, growth, social cohesion, and inclusion. Thus, this is also a solution to foster inclusion of marginalised groups, particularly young men and women in rural and periurban areas (through vocational training, for instance).
  1. Promoting linkages between educational institutions and the private sector is thus necessary in order to couple supply and demand but also to respond to market needs in terms of skills and competencies to be developed.
  1. Fostering mobility, knowledge-sharing and dialogue among youth is a complement for soft skills development in order to reach the proposed objectives. Diaspora, circular and returning migrants can play a key role in this effort, even in the context of the South-South cooperation
  1. A knowledge-based economy, the creation of new value chains and a positive approach to migration focusing on development to balance security concerns are key issues to promote youth employability and mobility. Fostering job creation and employability is necessary to achieve youth inclusion in the Mediterranean.
  1. The objective of enhancing non-cognitive skills, entrepreneurship and life skills—for a new vision of education—can be achieved through investment in soft and life skills. As regards financial instruments, tailored community-based services (crowdfunding, peer-to-peer funding, revolving funds, etc.) in addition to the traditional models should be explored to support Direct Diaspora Investments.
  1. Open-mindedness is a key to facing the new generations’ challenges. Youth should be given the tools to build society that promotes open-mindedness and dialogue through awareness raising, development of critical sense, clubs of free-thought.

[1] Youth aged 15-29 represent 19.8% of the population in the Mediterranean (European Union, Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Palestinian territories, Tunisia), meaning about 140 million youth.
[2] ‘Economic Transitions in the Mediterranean’, CMI, 2015 (
[3] ‘Jobs for Shared Prosperity: Time for Action in the Middle East and North Africa’, World Bank, 2013.
[4] According to ILO statistics, the number of NEETs in the Mediterranean (European Union, Egypt, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Palestinian territories, Tunisia. No data available for Algeria and Lebanon) was 12,020.3 thousand in 2013.
[5] ‘Economic Transitions in the Mediterranean’ policy paper, CMI, 2015.
[6] ‘Education for Competitiveness’, World Bank, 2016.
[7] Cf. ‘Education without Borders’ initiative by Università Telematica Internazionale Uninettuno.

Juan Manuel MORENO – World Bank
Marco MANTOVAN – International Organization for Migration
Maria Amata GARITO – Uninettuno
H. BEN SALEM – Association Tunisienne des Femmes Démocrates