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May 02, 2014 / 0 Comments
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This article is the third in a 3 part blog series on brain drain in the context of international labor mobility. Its aim is to question the conventional wisdom and help devise win-win solutions to age old problems.


By Manjula Luthria*


Earlier in this series we marked the omnipresent concern about brain drain and noted that because the term evoked a powerful sense of loss it was no surprise that numerous public policies were designed with one primary goal in mind: stopping it.  Lest you think such thinking is passé, in 2013 eminent economist Collier called for restrictions on emigration, claiming such restrictions to be “enlightened self- interest” and justifying them on grounds of “compassion” for those left behind in origin countries (see blog 1 here).


We then followed with a set of five thought-provoking pieces of data, pieces of information that questioned how the debate had been framed altogether and offered a view that migration may not have been the main culprit after all, especially in the health care sector where the emigration of health workers has been referred to as “fatal flows”.  Allowing the data to show that migration was hardly the villain of the story was accomplished in these two previous blog posts (see blog 2 here).


Now we turn to the task of turning it into a hero! 


Today we present a proposal for consideration that could be a game changer: “Global Skill Partnerships”. Instead of fighting the push and pull factors for migration it turns these very pull and push factors into the drivers of a new kind of win-win solution. It takes the enormous arbitrage opportunity that exists across borders in training costs, combines it with the astounding arbitrage opportunity that exists across borders in wages, and calls for a new global skills and mobility partnership.  For illustrative purposes we focus on nursing skills, and the Europe-Tunisia corridor where this idea could be tested, but the idea has wider applicability. We are in active discussions with various stakeholders already and invite your reactions to this post and this series on brain drain. We will follow with expert commentary, as well as an online debate which we will announce shortly.


Read the proposal: "Global Skills Partnerships: A proposal for technical training in a mobile world"

Apr 01, 2014 / 0 Comments
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This article is the first in a 3 part blog series on brain drain in the context of international labour mobility. Its aim is to question the conventional wisdom and help devise win-win solutions to age old problems.


By Manjula Luthria*


On our drive home from a recent trip to the ski slopes we decided to add a bit of education to the vacation (despite vocal protests from the rear seat) and take a detour into the small town of Meyrin, located on the outskirts of Geneva. Meyrin is where the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) is located, the home of the Large Hadron Collider where tales of dark matter, black holes and the end of the universe have added perennial newsworthiness to scientific inquiry. It was a memorable visit by all counts.  I relearnt my long-forgotten concepts of physics over a few hours, but what I saw in my first minute seized my attention and here’s a photo of the plaque in the lobby that got me writing this…


For those of us who have been thinking seriously about the complexities of global migration, we’ve seen this term -- brain drain – emerge, fade and reemerge constantly in the discourse around the pursuit of policies that create win-win outcomes. It always has. It’s an incredibly powerful term that has occupied the pysche, perhaps because a rhyme rolls off the tongue easily… but I think there’s another powerful reason why it holds.


The term “brain drain” invokes one of the deepest and universal of all human emotions – loss.  Loss that is permanent, detrimental and lamentable, hence it must be avoided. (Behavioural economics even tells us that humans prefer loss aversion rather than accruing gains.) Then add to this already powerful human emotion of loss, one more ingredient of drama -- rich countries benefiting from the investment of the poor countries, the rich robbing the poor, and it conjures a sense of wrongful doing.  Small wonder then, that the only right thing to do was to stop it.


And indeed this is how policies to deal with the “problem” of skilled emigration were conceived, designed and implemented. Decades ago, some countries imposed exit visa type of restrictions on the emigration of highly qualified referring to its departing citizens as traitors, others mandated the signing of contracts promising return or monetary penalties. Well known academics proposed a tax  on rich countries who imported skilled workers from poor countries, respected medical journals calculated compensation  owed to poor parts of the world nd international organizations formulated terms like ethical recruitment  to manage the recruitment from places which faced skill shortages. The biggest defense of such policies has been that they were well intentioned.


How we judge these policies and their outcomes, depends largely upon how we frame the counterfactual.  In the above cases, the imagined non-migration of teachers and nurses leads to empty class rooms filling up with teachers, and empty rural medical clinics with the unattended sick filling up with nurses. The reality is far more complex though – characterized more often by unemployment amongst teachers and nurses, and the absence of other critical inputs  that go into delivering quality education or health care. Often “brain-down-the-drain” captures this counterfactual to emigration.


This ill-understood complex reality must now confront a rapidly emerging global labour market for skills. In these markets, the pull factors of biting skills shortages in high paying locations will be the norm, and the idea of being able to keep people tied to their places of birth or even training will have to be revisited. (Needless to say the idea of doing so by undertaking an investing upwards of 6 billion euros like the CERN lab is not an option for most labor origin countries.) If these are the market forces at play, then are there ways to embrace these forces, instead of fighting them, to create new win-win solutions?  


For the International Labor Mobility  program at the Center for Mediterranean Integration (CMI), this has been an important focus of our work.  We have developed an exciting set of ideas and will be presenting them in a series of products over the coming days. These could help to reframe, reset and advance our thinking substantially on this important issue.

Mar 03, 2014 / 0 Comments
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Par Ahmed Abdel-Latif*


En janvier 2014, l'Egypte et la Tunisie ont adopté des nouvelles Constitutions dans le contexte des changements politiques auxquels ils ont étés témoins depuis les révolutions de 2011 et qui ont renversé les régimes de Moubarak et de Ben Ali. Alors que l'attention publique s'est en grande partie concentrée sur la façon dont ces Constitutions ont abordé les questions débattues telles que la structure du gouvernement, le rôle de la religion et des libertés fondamentales, il y a notamment moins d'attention à la façon dont ils ont traité des questions économiques et sociales. À cet égard, il est important de noter que les deux Constitutions contiennent des clauses donnant une haute priorité à la construction d'une économie fondée sur la connaissance et qui prévoient la protection des droits de propriété intellectuelle (DPI), au niveau Constitutionnel, et cela pour la première fois dans l'histoire de ces pays.


La nouvelle Constitution égyptienne a été soumise à un référendum le 14 et le 15 janvier 2014 et a été approuvée par une large majorité d’Egyptiens qui ont pris part au vote. Elle remplace la Constitution controversée de 2012, adoptée sous l'ancien Président Morsi, ainsi que celle de 1971. La nouvelle Constitution tunisienne, qui remplace la Constitution de 1959, a été adoptée par une écrasante majorité à l'Assemblée constituante du pays, le 26 Janvier 2014.


La reconnaissance de l'importance de l'économie de la connaissance


Les Constitutions égyptienne et tunisienne comportent des clauses qui reconnaissent l'importance de la construction d'une économie fondée sur la connaissance et mettent l'accent sur la nécessité de soutenir la recherche scientifique, l'innovation et la créativité. La Constitution égyptienne stipule que «L’État assure la liberté de la recherche scientifique et l’encouragement de ses institutions comme un moyen de parvenir à la souveraineté nationale, et à la construction de l’économie du savoir» (article 23). Egalement, l’Etat « parraine les chercheurs et les inventeurs » et il alloue « une proportion, non moins de 1 % du PNB, des dépenses gouvernementales, à augmenter progressivement jusqu’à devenir conforme aux moyennes mondiales.» L'engagement à allouer un pourcentage des dépenses du gouvernement pour la recherche scientifique est remarquable et plutôt rare dans les textes Constitutionnels. Fait intéressant, il existe aussi une mention dans la même disposition qui stipule que « L’État assure les moyens de la contribution efficace des deux secteurs privés et civil et la contribution des Egyptiens à l’étranger à la renaissance de la recherche scientifique. »


D'une manière plus conventionnelle, la Constitution tunisienne prévoit que « L’État fournit les moyens nécessaires au développement de la recherche scientifique et technologique. » (Article 33).Entre 2004 et 2010, les dépenses publiques pour la recherche et le développement en Egypte se sont situés en moyenne à 0,25% du PIB en dessous de la moyenne de l'Afrique subsaharienne (hors Afrique du Sud) et à peine un dixième de la moyenne de l'OCDE[1]. Les dépenses de la Tunisie pour la recherche et le développement étaient plus élevées, aux alentours de 1,1% du PIB en 2009[2]. Dans l’indice mondial de l’innovation (Global Innovation Index), l’Égypte est classée au 108è rang, tandis que la Tunisie occupe la 70eme position[3].


En termes de création et créativité culturelles, la Constitution égyptienne engage l'Etat à assurer « la renaissance des arts et des lettres. Il [l’Etat] s’engage à s’occuper des créateurs, à protéger leurs créativités, et à y fournir les moyens d'encouragement nécessaires (article 67). Dans l’article 42, la Constitution tunisienne souligne que « l'État encourage la création culturelle ».


Les clauses relatives aux droits de propriété intellectuelle: similitudes et différences


Pour la première fois dans les Constitutions égyptiennes et tunisiennes, la protection des droits de propriété intellectuelle est sanctionnée. Il se trouve des similitudes et des différences dans la façon dont les DPI sont mentionnés. Dans les deux Constitutions, le libellé est succinct: la Constitution égyptienne stipule que « l'État assure la protection des droits de propriété intellectuelle de toutes sortes dans tous les domaines » (article 69) et la Constitution tunisienne indique que «La propriété intellectuelle est garanti" (article 41).


Il est à noter que les deux clauses s’abstiennent d’élaborer des objectifs plus larges de politique publique derrière la protection des droits de propriété intellectuelle. Pourtant, depuis plusieurs années, les pays en développement ont fait valoir, en particulier à l'Organisation mondiale de la propriété intellectuelle (OMPI) et l'Organisation mondiale du commerce (OMC), que la protection des droits de propriété intellectuelle n'est pas "une fin en soi", mais qu’elle doit plutôt contribuer efficacement à l'innovation et appuyer des objectifs plus larges de développement socio-économique. Il est utile de rappeler que la Constitution des États-Unis considère les brevets et le droit d'auteur comme moyen de promouvoir le progrès des sciences et des arts[4]. Les législations nationales qui viendront mettre en œuvre ces dispositions Constitutionnelles pourront élaborer sur les raisons de protection de la propriété intellectuelle afin de l'intégrer dans les processus de développement plus larges. Dans le cas de l'Egypte, la clause sur les DPI mentionne en outre que l'État «doit établir un organe compétent pour faire respecter ces droits et assurer leur protection juridique, tel que réglementé par la loi." Toutefois, le mandat et les pouvoirs de cet organe spécifique restent à déterminer. Est-il destiné à être un corps unifié qui gère l'administration des DPI comme dans le cas de certains pays - tels que l'Office de la propriété intellectuelle Royaume-Uni - ou serait-il plutôt une entité de coordination pour renforcer la cohérence et la coordination des politiques dans le traitement des questions de propriété intellectuelle ? Dans tous les cas, les décideurs doivent veiller à ce que le mandat de cet organisme intègre adéquatement les objectifs de politique publique et la dimension du développement. Les deux Constitutions inscrivent la protection des droits de propriété intellectuelle dans le cadre des droits de l'homme. Toutefois, les DPI sont traités dans une disposition autonome dans la Constitution égyptienne, dans la section portant sur les droits et les libertés publiques. Dans la Constitution tunisienne, la référence à la propriété intellectuelle est inscrite dans une clause qui garantit le droit à la propriété privée.


Les deux Constitutions contiennent un certain nombre de clauses sur la culture, la santé et la protection du patrimoine qui peuvent influencer la manière dont les clauses relatives aux droits de propriété intellectuelle pourraient être interprétées et mises en œuvre. Par exemple, les Constitutions égyptiennes et tunisiennes consacrent le droit à la culture (respectivement articles 48 et 42)[5], le droit à la santé (respectivement articles 18 et 38) [6]et à la protection du patrimoine culturel (respectivement articles 50 et 42[7]).


Alors que les Constitutions de plusieurs pays arabes font référence à la protection des créateurs et des inventeurs ou à la protection de la propriété privée, quelques Constitutions comprennent une référence explicite à la propriété intellectuelle, les droits de propriété intellectuelle ou des catégories spécifiques de droits de propriété intellectuelle. Outre les nouvelles Constitutions de l'Égypte et de la Tunisie, seuls les textes Constitutionnels de la Libye, le Soudan et les Emirats Arabes Unis (EAU) contiennent une telle référence explicite[8].


Le défi de la mise en œuvre


Les clauses liées à l'économie de la connaissance dans la Constitution de l'Egypte et de la Tunisie reflètent la priorité croissante accordée par ces pays à la promotion de l'innovation et la créativité dans les nouvelles politiques socio-économiques menées depuis le printemps arabe[9]. La référence à «la construction d'une économie de la connaissance" dans la Constitution égyptienne est particulièrement révélatrice à cet égard. En outre, la mention de la participation du secteur privé à l'effort de recherche montre une prise de conscience des faiblesses qui ont caractérisé le système national d'innovation dans un pays comme l'Egypte ; et la nécessité d'y remédier. Il reste à voir dans quelle mesure cette priorité aura un impact tangible sur le terrain, en particulier à la lumière des circonstances économiques difficiles qui prévalent dans les deux pays et des ressources limitées disponibles à attribuer à des objectifs concurrents de politique publique.


La référence à la propriété intellectuelle dans les Constitutions égyptiennes et tunisiennes fait partie d'une tendance générale à la "Constitutionnalisation" de la protection de la propriété intellectuelle dans une perspective de droits humains provenant soit des droits des inventeurs et créateurs soit du droit à la propriété privée. Elle reflète également l'engagement accru de ces pays avec les questions de propriété intellectuelle depuis l'adoption de l'Accord de l'OMC sur les aspects commerciaux des droits de propriété intellectuelle (ADPIC).


Compte tenu de la formulation générale des clauses de propriété intellectuelle dans les deux Constitutions, ce sera finalement la manière dont ces clauses seront mises en œuvre par les lois nationales et les décisions judiciaires qui sera essentielle pour assurer que l’approche à une protection de la propriété intellectuelle est équilibrée, qu’elle prend en compte le niveau de développement des pays et qu’elle soutient leurs objectifs de politique publique.


* Ahmed Abdel-Latif est administrateur principal du programme relatif à l’innovation, à la technologie et à la propriété intellectuelle du Centre international pour le commerce et le développement durable (ICTSD), Genève. Il est ancien négociateur de la propriété intellectuelle égyptienne.


[1] Il a augmenté de 0,43% du PIB en 2011 (Institut statistique de l'UNESCO).

[3] L'Indice mondial de l'innovation 2013, sur :

[4] Article I, section 8, clause 8 de la Constitution des Etats-Unis stipule: «Le Congrès aura le pouvoir ... De favoriser le progrès de la science et des arts utiles, en assurant, pour un temps limité, aux auteurs et inventeurs le droit exclusif sur leurs écrits et sur leurs découvertes respectifs »

[5] L'article 48 de la Constitution égyptienne stipule que « La culture est un droit de tout citoyen qui est garanti par l'Etat. L'Etat encourage la traduction de et vers l'arabe » et l’article 42 de la Constitution tunisienne stipule que « Le droit à la culture est garanti »

[6] Article 18 de la Constitution égyptienne stipule que «Tout citoyen a le droit à la santé et aux soins de intègres de santé, conformes aux normes de qualité. » et selon l'article 38 de la Constitution tunisienne « chaque être humain à droit à la santé. »

[7] L'article 50 de la Constitution égyptienne stipule que « Le patrimoine de l’Egypte civilisationnel, culturel matériel et moral, toutes diversités et grandes phases comprises, antique, égyptienne ancienne, copte et islamique est une richesse nationale et humaine que l’Etat assure la conservation et la maintenance, aussi bien que le patrimoine culturel contemporain architectural, littéraire et artistique, dans sa diversité » et l’article 41 de la Constitution tunisienne stipule que « L'Etat protège le patrimoine culturel et garantit les droits des générations futures »

[8] The Libyan interim Constitutional Declaration of 2011 refers to “intellectual and private property” in Article 8 under Rights and Public Freedoms (note du traducteur: disponible uniquement en anglais). La Constitution soudanaise compte une référence à la propriété intellectuelle portant sur des questions qui relèvent des compétences nationales du gouvernement. La Constitution des Émirats Arabes Unis garantit la protection de la propriété et des droits d'auteur culturelle, technique et industrielle, l'impression et la publication (article 121).

[9] Voir « Transformer les économies arabes : La voie de la connaissance et de l’innovation», le Centre pour l'Intégration en Méditerranée, la Banque mondiale (2013)

Oct 04, 2012 / 0 Comments
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I-Gov has taken a leap.  During May 2012, Tunisian citizens from around the country weighed in on how well they are being served by the public sector.  And the government is listening.  Under a new social accountability policy supported by the Tunisia Governance and Opportunity Development Policy Loan (DPL) in 2011, the office of the Prime Minister created the first citizen scorecard platform.  The initial results were published in Arabic on the main page of the Prime Minister’s website.  The initiative is called the Barometer of Public Services.  It helps build social accountability and good governance in public services.  Any surprises in the findings?  In one respect, no: public services fall short of what citizens want.  The surprises came in other ways.


More people than expected expressed themselves.  9,000 citizens participated in the scorecard exercise.  The exercise was Tunisia’s first such endeavor and was designed as a short online questionnaire, the results of which will inform the design and roll out of the fully fledged scorecard.  Equal access to public services was a big concern, along with administrative complexity and access to information.  55% were dissatisfied with access to information, but 73% were dissatisfied with equality in access to services.  The platform encourages public ownership of reforms and sets a standard for future progress toward good governance.


Citizens think a lot about a lot. Citizens were first asked to list the name(s) of service(s) with which they were the most dissatisfied.  They pinpointed 19 different services. The percentage of citizens dissatisfied by specific services included: municipal (25%), health insurance (19%), hospital (18%), postal (10%) and civil security (10%).  Other dissatisfactory services cited by 3% or less of the respondents, included revenue services, gas and electric, social security (private sector), drinking water, tribunals, social security (public sector), land registration, governorate and delegation services, telecommunications, customs, basic education, car and transport registration, sanitation, and university services.  What will it take to make citizens happy?  Citizens offered detailed recommendations for reforms, notably the need to simplify administrative procedures, improve access to information, improve personnel responsiveness and training, and make sure the right incentives are in place. 


What next?  Participatory reform.  For the first time, information on service delivery is available to the public and can be used to hold the providers accountable.  One example of a reform is recent health insurance changes to reduce delays in getting coverage.  Moving forward, ensuring accountability and positive steps towards reform is a shared responsibility.  Civil society at the local level should now step up and engage citizens and the administration in a broader dialogue on reforms. 


So let the I-Governing begin.  Following the first initiative, the Prime Minister’s office currently has a second scorecard underway, Tunisia’s National Health Insurance Fund Scorecard (in Arabic). This is to further inform the authorities and the public on citizens’ views on how to improve and reform health services.

Citizens now have a way to express themselves, and government the means to listen.

Oct 04, 2012 / 0 Comments
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This blog is part of a weekly series that we hope will provide some food for thought on the critical questions outlined in the forthcoming MENA Flagship Report on Jobs.


Several years ago, when I first came into the region, my department produced a Private Sector Flagship report titled, “From Privilege to Competition:  Unlocking Private-Led Growth in the Middle East and North Africa”.  This report gradually became known simply as “From Privilege to Competition” and more recently truncated even further to “P2C”.


When this report was first launched in Egypt, in the year before the Arab Spring first began to take hold, the region planned a large event in Cairo with Ministers and press.  Interestingly, no ministers turned up to the launch event.  The main thesis of the report had apparently become clearer as they digested the title!  Similar dissemination events in Rabat and Beirut also fizzled somewhat, as this highly charged message was not well appreciated by those in power.  Indeed, it was not until the advent of the Arab Spring that the message of the report really began to resonate in truly spectacular ways.


And what was that message?


The basic premise was that opportunities in the private sectors of the MENA region – and how well a private business man or (less likely) a private business woman  performed – depended upon WHO they knew rather than WHAT they knew.  Getting into business in Tunisia involved working with the extended Ben Ali family, while similar connections in Egypt, Libya, and other countries in the region were the only real  route to success in the private sector worlds of these MENA countries.  Naturally, these cabals of crony capitalists were all too keen to keep out all and any competition that may come in and threaten their cozy little nest egg of well protected companies.  Never were the words of Adam Smith more true than in pre-revolutionary MENA – “people of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.”  However, in the case of MENA it was not just “the same trade” – it had sadly become virtually the entire private sectors of many countries in the region.


Basically, the nexus of political and economic power had come to skew development towards benefiting and protecting a few well-placed players who controlled the flow of opportunities and resources.  This not only narrowed the benefits of market-based growth, but also resulted in less investment, less export diversification, and less technological sophistication.


Competition is a fundamental driver of innovation and efficiency-oriented improvements in operations, yet with constraints on entry and competition, and with financial markets, land markets and industrial strategies all oriented more towards the few rather than to the many, economic dynamism was muted along with employment growth.


My favorite graph from that report plots countries by their level of per capita national income (i.e. at presumed similar levels of economic development) and the number of products that they produced and exported.  What is startling about this graph (below) is that virtually all MENA countries fall below – and some well below – the trend line.  The implication is that MENA produces less products compared to other countries at a similar level of development – something that we intuitively all recognize (i.e. that MENA is pretty much an undiversified region in terms of its production base).  But what is also very interesting is that the technological content of the goods that are produced is relatively low compared to similar comparator countries in other regions.


The up-shot of this is that MENA countries tend to have an undiversified economic base and that the technological content of that productive base is also fairly low.  Both attributes belie the status of MENA as a middle income region – and they have been perpetuated by a closed approach to trade and foreign direct investment and a system of crony capitalism that precisely tried to lock out competitive pressures.


However, as we have increasingly become aware, a dynamic and vibrant, constantly evolving economy – which creates the required number and quality of jobs for its employment seekers – requires competition, and the  innovation and  dynamism that it produces.  The very strength of the American economy is a direct result of the  emphasis on competition as a stimulus to innovation and dynamism.  As Charles Darwin said “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but rather the one most adaptable to change”.  As with living species – the same appears to be true of national economies.  Without competition and without innovation, economies calcify and shrink – reducing job opportunities for new job seekers – while a  privileged few monopolize the limited benefits.


The exciting aspect of the Arab Spring is that this dynamic has now suddenly changed.  A door has creaked open, a window of opportunity has appeared – there is now the potential to change the existing P2C dynamic of the past 20, 30, 40, 50 years of crony capitalism.  It will, however, require a substantial change in the existing status quo.  As Adam Smith hints, new crony capitalists are likely to rise up and take the place of their fallen forebears.  Nor  have all the former crony capitalists disappeared.  Many will seek to go back to the old predictable ways of the past.


This, however, is MENA’s moment.  The window will not stay open for ever.  Unless the rhetoric and the job creation mantra that is now being chanted by most of the governments of the region is accompanied by a real openness, a greater acceptance of foreign investment, substantially enhanced competitive pressures, and a fully supportive and comprehensive business Eco-System – then the opportunities for real innovation that can create the many middle income level job opportunities which are in such demand throughout the region, will be lost.


This blog is part of a weekly series that we hope will provide some food for thought on the critical questions outlined in the forthcoming MENA Flagship Report on Jobs. The common thread and objective of these blogs are to spur a conversation on “what to tell your Finance Minister.” This is in preparation for the World Bank Annual Meetings in October 2012, where the report's main messages and the results of the live chat will be presented to MENA policy makers. We want to know what YOU think is holding people back, and what can be done to create more and better jobs in MENA. Please send us your thoughts and join us for a live web chat on jobs on September 17.

Read the previous weeks' blogs in the series:

Oct 04, 2012 / 0 Comments
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This blog is co-authored by Juan Manuel Moreno and Stefanie Brodmann


This blog is part of a weekly series that we hope will provide some food for thought on the critical questions outlined in the forthcoming MENA Flagship Report on Jobs.


The low quality and relevance of education and training systems in MENA have led them to be perceived – most notably by employers – more as barriers to employment, rather than a path to good jobs. 


In recent focus group discussions in Egypt[1], some employers even voiced the preference for hiring young, non-diploma holders who have not gone through the technical secondary system, which is perceived as an unreformed low-quality option that is visibly associated with academic failure. This preference is a symptom of an endemic problem in MENA, of skills mismatches that have resulted in extremely slow education to work transitions, increasing rates of youth unemployment and, in some countries, high graduate unemployment.


Thus, despite all the progress made in increasing access and completion rates in secondary and tertiary education, MENA graduates still struggle to find a job. The region’s youth are now in a double bind, as dropping out from, or failing to complete secondary education drastically increases the risk of being condemned as an outsider, permanently excluded from the labor market, while graduating from secondary and even tertiary education is no guarantee of a job (let alone a desirable or ‘insider’ job).


This is putting more and more pressure on education and training systems since it is clear that progress in access and completion rates has not been enough; further, it has ultimately undermined the perceived value of education and training in the eyes of students, families and employers. 


What is the solution? Is it just about more and better education? Or is it maybe about less (higher) education but more training (job-specific skills)? Or is it about a different kind of education and training that emphasizes non-cognitive skills? Or is it all of the above?


These questions have become critical in the public debate about education in MENA. Some focus on the apparent structural mismatches, blaming education and training systems, particularly at the technical vocational education and training (TVET) and tertiary levels, for failing to equip graduates with the right skills and competencies. Others see the problem in terms of skills supply outpacing skills demand – over-education – and claim that there are just too many secondary and tertiary graduates which the labor market cannot absorb. This view suggests – and this is a dangerous point for the future of education development in the region –   that education and training systems have just gone too far and too fast in providing access and generating demand at post-basic levels.


So, the problem can be looked at from various perspectives: Is it that young people in MENA are overeducated but undertrained? Or is it that they are over-trained but undereducated? Or is it rather that they are overqualified (in terms of the level of the diploma they hold) but/and under-skilled (in terms of the labor market relevance of the skills they have acquired)? Or is it simply about the lack of jobs?


Perhaps it involves all of the above. We may very well see groups of students and graduates in MENA who fit into all of these categories. 


A meritocracy deficit? 


Being employable (i.e., having acquired skills, competencies, academic certificates and professional qualifications in order to function in a job) is not enough for many young people (and labor market outsiders in general) to get a job, because of the prevalent “meritocratic deficit” in MENA countries. This means that hiring practices are not meritocratic. Employers do not have enough incentives and/or information to select the best graduates and end up making their decisions based on criteria which have little to do with the human capital, or ‘employability,’ presented by candidates. This lack of meritocracy ends up undermining the whole process of building up human capital, and increasing employability, with the result that educational credentials are devalued.


So how do people get hired in MENA? Educated youth have long heard a clear message from the labor market: in order to access one of the few ‘insider’ jobs, you need to wait your turn, or have good connections.  The following quote is from a young man in Morocco: If they don’t know you or your family, they will never trust you with a job”.


The figure below shows that in most MENA countries the majority of young people think that the main obstacle to employment is that there are either no jobs available, or that the jobs that are available are only accessible through connections. Lack of training, on the other hand, is named as a prominent constraint only in Morocco (28 percent), Djibouti (23 percent), and the GCC (7-16 percent).



There is no comparative data on the extent to which hiring is done in a transparent and meritocratic way. What can be looked at, however, are the reports that firms themselves produce on the extent to which they rely on professional management in making hiring decisions versus their reliance on families and friends. A review of this kind of data reveals that non-GCC MENA countries have the lowest scores of all world regions in meritocracy in hiring.



If there is evidence that being employable is far from enough to get a job, then it could be argued that there is a “double transition” from education to employment. The first step is becoming employable (by acquiring the skills, competencies and diplomas), which is then followed by the extra hurdle of having to position oneself to access a labor market in which meritocracy plays a limited role.


Going back to the first figure, the data shows young people in MENA voicing stark concerns about not succeeding in the second transition; concerns which they feel are owed to factors beyond their control. They see the lack of job opportunities and the meritocracy deficit as larger constraints than the lack of training.


So far, we have only blamed failures in the first transition by assuming graduates were not employable due to the lack of quality and relevance of educational systems. But there are failures also in the second transition, i.e., in that many graduates who are employable cannot cash in their employability capital because of the meritocratic deficit. Moreover, being employable (i.e., successfully having mastered the first transition) obviously increases the expectation of a good job.


The result is not only a mismatch between the supply and demand for skills, but also between the aspirations for and accessibility of jobs. The first mismatch excludes young people, while the second makes those excluded young people frustrated and angry.




[1] Focus groups were carried out in Egypt in October 2011 as background work for the forthcoming World Bank MENA Flagship on jobs (El-Ashwami, 2011).

El-Ashmawi, A. (2011). “TVET in Egypt.” Background paper prepared for the MENA Regional Jobs Flagship. Mimeo, World Bank, Washington DC.

World Economic Forum and OECD. (2012). “Arab World Competitiveness Report 2011-2012.” Geneva: World Economic Forum.

This blog is part of a weekly series that we hope will provide some food for thought on the critical questions outlined in the forthcoming MENA Flagship Report on Jobs. The common thread and objective of these blogs are to spur a conversation on “what to tell your Finance Minister.” This is in preparation for the World Bank Annual Meetings in October 2012, where the report's main messages and the results of the live chat will be presented to MENA policy makers. We want to know what YOU think is holding people back, and what can be done to create more and better jobs in MENA. Please send us your thoughts and join us for a live web chat on jobs on September 17.

Read the previous weeks' blogs in the series: 

Oct 04, 2012 / 0 Comments
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This blog has been co-authored by Lida Bteddini and Guenter Heidenhof


This blog is part of a weekly series that we hope will provide some food for thought on the critical questions outlined in the forthcoming MENA Flagship Report on Jobs.


Recent events across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region have underscored the urgent need to ensure job creation and an enabling environment for a young and better-educated, more skilled labor force.  The international economic crisis has further deepened the problem in a region that is characterized by the world’s highest youth unemployment rate and the lowest female labor force participation. This goes hand-in-hand with overwhelmingly low value-added employment and a public sector that in most countries still provides most formal jobs.  Tackling these problems and challenges has become a key policy priority for virtually all governments in the region.

In many countries in the region, the public sector remains the primary employer, employing anywhere between 14 percent and 40 percent of all workers.[1] Many government institutions are overstaffed and government employees are often paid more than in the private sector (see Table).  Government wages in the MENA region amount to 9.8 percent of GDP, the highest rate worldwide. At the same time we know from experience that the main vehicle for employment creation is private-sector led growth.  And we also know that high levels of government employment deter investment in the private sector. 



Why is public sector employment so attractive in MENA?  In fact, it is the top preference of jobseekers in the MENA region, in particular of women and of youth. In a 2009 survey, 80% of Syrian graduates reported a preference for public sector employment, and nearly 60% would accept only a public sector job.[2]  The reasons for the attractiveness of the public sector are quite obvious: the public sector provides for employment benefits such as advantageous wages and benefits. Employment in the public sector carries extremely low risk of dismissal and high job security – often in combination with relatively low demands in terms of productivity. At the same time, jobs in the formal private sector are limited when compared to countries of similar economic development. Most (private sector) jobs can be found in the informal sector and these jobs are not seen as attractive for a variety of reasons, including low pay and incentive systems.     

There is another dimension to the employment problem: many new labor market entrants do not have the skills that the market requires – while the labor force as a whole has become more educated and skilled over the years, the labor market has not built up sufficient capacity to absorb these more qualified entrants. The private sector is not growing fast enough to cater to the large number of first-time job seekers.  A significant number of individuals are voluntarily unemployed, not willing to accept lower skilled jobs or jobs at prevailing wages.  Across the region, public sector jobs are considered more respectable and more secure; they also provide for more “opportunities” than jobs in the private sector.  Just one example: ‘double-dipping’ is a problem throughout the region – in Egypt for example, one-quarter of the personnel in public health facilities is absent on an average day according to recent estimates.[3]

While the Middle East has undergone a large wave of privatization over the last two decades, many key economic sectors remain under direct state control or, more often, under the control of the social elite. The private sector is still subject to numerous constraints and distortions – this is particularly true for the informal private sector that is often subject to significant harassment and interference by the public sector.  

Faced with bloated and often inefficient bureaucracies and excessive wage bills, traditional strategies of utilizing public sector employment as a means to soak up excessive labor demands have reached their tipping point.  This makes it all the more important to effectively and decisively support the role of the private sector as the main engine for future job creation. The “rebalancing” of public versus private sector employment will require major policy changes, also in the public sector.  One key area to look at is the highly incentivized public sector employment system which has become an impediment to economic growth. Many experts argue that, in the long run, the costs associated with a high concentration of public sector jobs will cause lower total factor productivity growth, thus having a negative impact on poverty reduction efforts. A good example is among educated youth, who continue to wait for “comfortable” public sector positions rather than exposing themselves to market-driven demand and supply mechanisms.

The World Bank’s most recent flagship report, Bread, Freedom, and Dignity: Job Creation in the Middle East and North Africa underscores numerous challenges to the job growth agenda in the region, in addition to highlighting the destructive role played by barriers to firm entry in the absence of sound competition in many countries. Some of these problems are due to government policies; others are due to the discriminatory way in which these policies are enforced. While avoiding prescribed solutions, the recent World Bank flagship report highlights a number of measures that will be essential to rapid and sustainable private sector growth in the region. 

In order to meet employment challenges, the region will need to focus both on the quantity and quality of newly created jobs. MENA will require a sustained effort to move towards durable economic growth driven by the private sector—and will necessitate dedicated long-term strategies and committed leadership to carry them out. With the appropriate incentives and effective governance, public investments will work to crowd in private investment by providing energy, roads, logistics and communications links which are necessary for firms to function productively.

Unfortunately, the region has been largely characterized by weak governance systems that have achieved the contrary – crowding out private investment by using resources that would otherwise be used by the private sector. Indeed, weak governance has led to the inefficient use of public resources, has been spent on unproductive assets that are desirable only to small and select interest groups. Governments throughout the region will need to strengthen governance frameworks and reduce opportunities for monopolistic rent-seeking to foster increased competition. Governments will also need to enhance transparency and build the type of institutions that will allow a market economy to flourish, while mobilizing all relevant stakeholders around a long-term growth strategy.




[1]World Bank Flagship report, Bread, Freedom, and Dignity: Job Creation in the Middle East and North Africa, World Bank, 2012

[2]Dhillon, Navtej and Tarik Yousef (eds.), Generation in Waiting: The Unfulfilled Promise of Young People in the Middle East, Brookings Institution Press, 2009

[3]Grun, R., L. Etter, and I. Jillson. Arab Republic of Egypt: Management and Service Quality in Primary Health Care Facilities in the Alexandria and Menoufia Governorates. Mimeo. World Bank, Washington, DC, 2010.
This blog is part of a weekly series that we hope will provide some food for thought on the critical questions outlined in the forthcoming MENA Flagship Report on Jobs. The common thread and objective of these blogs are to spur a conversation on “what to tell your Finance Minister.” This is in preparation for the World Bank Annual Meetings in October 2012, where the report's main messages and the results of the live chat will be presented to MENA policy makers. We want to know what YOU think is holding people back, and what can be done to create more and better jobs in MENA. Please send us your thoughts and join us for a live web chat on jobs on September 17.

Read the previous weeks' blogs in the series:

Oct 04, 2012 / 0 Comments
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This blog is part of a weekly series that we hope will provide some food for thought on the critical questions outlined in the forthcoming MENA Flagship Report on Jobs.


High unemployment in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) largely reflects the growth deficit.  While China has been growing at 10 percent for a decade and has unemployment below 5 percent—MENA is the mirror image, growing at 5 percent and suffering unemployment above 10 percent.


The absence of strong growth in MENA has been a serious constraint to employment. It's worth noting though that MENA’s employment situation is not accurately described by the jobless growth that has plagued much of the industrial world in recent years. Rather it largely is a result of insufficient growth. In fact, the response of job growth to income growth in MENA is in general relatively high.


One issue is that MENA’s labor force is growing rapidly, so in order to employ all the new young jobseekers, growth would have to be much higher or the employment response to growth would have to be well above average.


How can this happen?  Growth could be higher if resources were used more effectively. Employment’s response to growth could increase if there were relatively greater incentives for growth in employment creating sectors.  A number of opportunities to stimulate growth and employment are underscored in the forthcoming MENA jobs report.  My three top choices (going beyond standard ingredients, such as the need for macro stability) are:


Remove input price distortions.  Energy and labor are both inputs into production.  The high energy subsidies prevailing in many countries imply that energy is a relatively cheaper input than it is elsewhere in the world, and that firms may prefer to use subsidized energy in place of taxed workers.  This leads countries to specialize in sectors and production processes that are relatively energy intensive.  Such subsidies are therefore a major distortion in countries rich in human resources: they retard growth by using resources inefficiently while limiting the labor response to growth.


Incentivize the private sector.  Despite being low productivity, the public sector is still the main employer in MENA, with the private formal sector accounting for a paltry 10 percent of employment on average.  This sucks resources out of their most productive uses, retarding growth and employment creation.  Fast growing young private firms and large enterprises are typically the big job creators in an economy.  But growth in these firms is constrained in MENA by a weak business climate coupled with incentives for jobseekers to prefer public sector.


Manufacture more. Employment elasticities of manufacturing are much higher than of resource extraction and a large body of literature finds that growth accelerations are accompanied by manufacturing surges.  In other words, manufacturing creates both jobs and growth. In MENA, however, manufacturing contributes less than 10 percent to value added growth, with natural resources above 20 percent on average.  This compares poorly to the 15-25 percent for manufacturing and less than 10 percent for natural resources in countries like Turkey, Malaysia, and Indonesia.  In addition to private sector growth highlighted above, manufacturing requires a competitive exchange rate and openness to trade and foreign investment that has for the most part been absent in the region.


Growth and employment creation in MENA are about channeling the tremendous wealth in human resources into productive uses.  Labor policies alone will therefore do little to solve the unemployment problem because a number of other distortions prevent workers from being employed efficiently.  Incentivizing labor-intensive private sector employment—as opposed to current incentives which encourage excessive fuel use and public sector employment—is fundamental.


This blog is part of a weekly series that we hope will provide some food for thought on the critical questions outlined in the forthcoming MENA Flagship Report on Jobs. The common thread and objective of these blogs are to spur a conversation on “what to tell your Finance Minister.” This is in preparation for the World Bank Annual Meetings in October 2012, where the report's main messages and the results of the live chat will be presented to MENA policy makers. We want to know what YOU think is holding people back, and what can be done to create more and better jobs in MENA. Please send us your thoughts and join us for a live web chat on jobs on September 17.


Read the previous weeks' blogs in the series:

Oct 01, 2012 / 0 Comments
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Imagine climbing into the cockpit of an airplane the weight of a medium-sized car and the wingspan of an Airbus 340. And then imagine taking off without a drop of fuel on board. Sam Shepard can, unless my eyes deceive me.


They do indeed deceive (sadly) but Andre Borschberg is a dead ringer for the star of The Right Stuff, that famous movie about test pilots pushing back the limits of the impossible. Andre is also a test pilot and also pushing hard against those limits flying Solar Impulse, the first experimental solar-powered plane. I was there to watch Andre bring it into Rabat, Morocco on its first intercontinental flight from Switzerland recently. 


For Andre and his partner, co-pilot and founder of Solar Impulse, Bertrand Piccard, it was their first stop-over on the African continent before heading south to Ouarzazate on the hot side of the Atlas Mountains. So here they came, out of the cockpit in those impressive flight suits and helmets claiming victory with a casual smile like those Right Stuff pilots when they climbed out of their crazy rocket-powered test plane that broke the sound barrier. The press waiting on the Rabat-Sale airport tarmac were delighted: what an image. Me, my knees were quite weak.


Solar Impulse is majestic. It looks a bit weird at first but its aerodynamics have a dragonfly aesthetic and its ultra-lightweight hi-tech design is powered by 12,000 solar cells in the wings that drive four 10-horsepower motors. Those solar panels also charge lithium batteries during the day which allows the sun-driven plane to fly all night. The only part of the story which is less amazing is the speed: at an average of 48 kilometers per hour, the graceful Solar Impulse is no rocket.


But rocket power is not the point. Solar Impulse is a courageous and imaginative feat but is also about a greater message. It has landed in Morocco because this country is launching one of the most ambitious solar plans in the world. Ouarzazate, the next stop on the flight plan, is home to the beginnings of a 500-MW solar power plant, one of the largest plants of its kind.


The long frail wings of Solar Impulse also bear a strong message about the destiny that links us all, across borders and economic size, if nothing is done to protect our planet, reduce greenhouse gases and promote clean energies. The ambition of the Ouarzazate solar plant, managed by the Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy, MASEN, is to become an energy-production hub not only for the domestic market but for its northern neighbors in Europe.


I’ve worked in Morocco for nearly three years as part of a World Bank team supporting Morocco’s vision of clean energy in the development of concentrated solar power. I see Morocco as a pioneer of clean energy in Africa and a visionary not just in the region but worldwide. For me this is the Right Stuff and I’m really proud to have worked with other Bank colleagues to help MASEN realize Morocco’s solar dream.


And I have to whip out my Ray bans when I watch Solar Impulse because it brings tears to my eyes. Human imagination in flight. See for yourself.



Oct 01, 2012 / 0 Comments
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This blog has been authored by Roger Coma-Cunill, Jonathan Coony and Manaf Touati


Last year, Mr. Berrada patented a new invention for solar-water heaters at the Moroccan Office of Property Rights (OMPIC). His idea is to improve the efficiency of solar-water heaters by introducing a heat-transport fluid system specially designed for buildings and communities. Mr. Berrada, a state engineer and a graduate of the Hassania School of Public Works, dreams of bringing his concept into commercial reality.

But he struggles.

To start with, he would need technical support to elaborate a business plan and financing for a prototype. If he could commercialize this promising technology, Moroccan consumers would be able to buy better solar-water heaters, local green jobs would be created and climate change emissions would be reduced.

The World Bank is currently developing a Climate Innovation Center (CIC) in Morocco to help innovators such as Mr. Berrada achieve their goals. CICs provide a tailored set of financing and other services to allow the local private sector to participate more pro-actively and profitably in the ongoing clean technology revolution.

InfoDev, a global partnership program within the World Bank Group, is leading the development of seven other CICs around the world. An on-going technical assistance project, jointly piloted by the World Bank and InfoDev, is preparing a business plan for the first CIC in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region after exhaustive consultations with numerous local stakeholders.

To identify the needs of entrepreneurs such as Mr. Berrada, the World Bank team recently finished a survey covering a broad spectrum of stakeholders engaged in innovation and climate technologies in Morocco. Around one hundred responses were received, half of them from industries and start-ups. The survey identified obstacles to innovation and ways that the Moroccan CIC could remove them. The results demonstrated a clear need among Moroccan stakeholders for the kind of services the CIC could provide. The key results of the survey are the following:


  • Strong demand for services to overcome the “valley of death” in product commercialization: applied research, demonstration and market entry.
  • Desire for (1) Information about market development and technologies, (2) Technical trainings, and (3) Financing suitable for small and medium enterprises that is not currently available in the market.  
  • 90% of respondents considered participation in national and international networks essential, which the CIC could provide to enhance technical capacities and foster technology transfer.
  • 88% of respondents saw benefit in a focal point, or cluster, for climate technologies in Morocco such as the one that CIC could provide.

Morocco has a plethora of stakeholders involved in innovation and/or climate technologies. The government has recently put in place several instruments to show its commitment, e.g. innovation funds, clusters, etc. However, it will take some time before concrete results are visible . The CIC could support the country's progress towards a green economy. Moreover, it could assist Mr. Berrada and his fellow innovators in converting his dream into reality and, in the process , create badly needed local jobs.