Every year since 2008, we have been asking thousands of young Arab men and women in countries across the MENA region dozens of questions about their attitudes, concerns and hopes for the future.
The one question I am mostly asked is why a public relations agency chooses to invest so much time and effort in a research effort as large as the Arab Youth Survey. After all, we are not a market research company. The answer I give is that any organisation with a long-term interest in the Middle East has an obligation to understand the evolving opinions of its largest demographic: its youth. Two-thirds of the MENA population are under the age of 30, and what they think has profound implications for a diversity of opinion formers, including policy makers, business leaders, civil society and of course our clients.
We know that tackling the region’s many problems is an immense challenge. But it is also clear that the viewpoints of Arab youth are often misunderstood. The chief aim of our Arab Youth Survey, therefore, is to help improve access to reliable data here in the Middle East, where research into public opinion is often limited. That is why we make our annual Survey freely available and why the study is growing. Since 2008 it has more than doubled in size to now cover 3,000 18-24-year-olds in 15 MENA countries – and we hope to broaden and enrich the study further in the future.
The attention the survey receives is also increasing, with even His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, commenting on the findings via Twitter – further evidence of the growing shift towards online media sources identified in our research.
Every year the Arab Youth Survey findings confirm and confound received opinion on a range of issues, but growing concern about economic challenges such as rising living costs, fair pay and home ownership is a persistent trend. Of course, identifying these problems is one thing, reaching a consensus on dealing with them is a task of a different order of magnitude. It certainly exercised the minds of the expert audience who attended this week’s launch of the Arab Youth Survey.
Among the recommendations debated by a range of opinion leaders was the importance of breaking down the largest challenges facing Arab youth into smaller, more achievable targets, supported by initiatives such as improved training, clearer regulation and increasing collaboration between the public and private sectors. It is a business principle most successful companies follow on a daily basis.
While the perspectives on how best to meet the expectations of Arab youth will inevitably vary, it is my view that the participation of private industry in defining the way forward will only increase. The fact that dialogue on youth attitudes in the MENA region is becoming more open and inclusive can only be a good thing, and it is our commitment as the region’s leading public relations consultancy to promote that dialogue through our annual Arab Youth Survey.