When President Barack Obama convened the Summit on Entrepreneurship in April 2010, hardly anyone in attendance expected, that in less than twelve months, countries in the Middle East and North Africa would be witnessing stark political changes that range from all-out revolution to unprecedented demand for governance and economic reforms. In this shifting reality, where employment challenges, particularly among young citizens, have played a crucial role in the calls for change, there has never been a more pressing need to create qualityjobs. In countries where governments have been recently toppled, this need is coupled with a heightened expectation for more job opportunities for young citizens. For the United States, and an American administration that has sought a “New Beginning” with Muslim-majority societies, such change presents a watershed moment for U.S.-Islamic world relations. And because the two overthrown dictators, Zein Al Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak, were U.S. allies, many in the region are now keenly following not only Washington’s reactions to the immediate aftermath of such changes, but also the degree to which the United States will be an effective partner in helping address the underlying issues that led to the social upheaval. Specifically, addressing a lack of quality jobs, particularly for people under the age of thirty, will be as important to citizens in the region as human rights, the rule of law, and political freedoms.
In light of these historic changes across the region, it is imperative for both Muslim-majority governments and the Obama administration to chart clear, coherent, and nuanced policies aimed at building sustainable and job-creating economic environments in the region. It is also an important moment for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and development agencies to take stock of what this new reality means for their programs and initiatives in a region with potentially crippling employment challenges.
Convened at the 2011 U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Washington, DC, an entrepreneurship and job creation working group discussed many of the issues presented in this paper. The working group included leading entrepreneurs, economic policy experts, and academics from the Muslim world and the United States who understand entrepreneurship and its role in contributing to sustainable job-creating economies. Recommendations for governments, NGOs, and the private sector are presented at the end of the paper.