Q&A with Dr Rania Al-Mashat, Egypt’s Minister of International Cooperation
Egyptian Minister of International Cooperation and member of the Generation Unlimited Global Leadership Council, Dr Rania Al-Mashat, shares her insights on partnerships to harness the potential of young people.
In your opinion, what are some of the most pressing issues facing young people today and how can public-private-youth partnerships address them?
The past three years have surely been a challenge, with massive and successive global shocks, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine and climate change. And, of course, the impact on youth especially has been even greater if we take into consideration the repercussions this has all had on employment and education.
To recover, a key driver in our economy is the private sector. Enabling the private sector to grow and increase public-private partnerships in development projects, as well as creating a suitable environment for entrepreneurs and innovators to thrive and grow, is of high priority to the government, as this reflects positively on the economy.
As Minister of International Cooperation in Egypt, our focus has been on international partnerships for sustainable development, to be able to go from pledges to implementation. This includes curating public-private partnerships to accelerate progress towards development. Incorporating youth into this equation by hearing their voice would be the game changer, including them as part of the design and architecture of on-ground implementation.
There are almost 1.8 billion people between the ages of 10 to 24 in the world today, making this the largest generation of youth in history. If we zoom in on the youth of developing and least developed countries, they face issues that limit their own potential and the potential of their societies in achieving sustainable and inclusive economic development, all of which was exacerbated by rising global economic challenges and the pandemic.
Firstly, we need to focus on education. The future of any country is heavily reliant on the output of its education system and what youth have learned to bring to the workforce. Given that the education system globally is constantly changing, this requires inclusive learning, and agile leadership for swift responses to remote learning and a digital-first curriculum, both requiring the engagement of the private sector.
Secondly, reskilling for the jobs of the future and embracing a digital transformation are essential parts of putting our youth on track. As the global economy is becoming increasingly knowledge-based, today, education and skills are more important than ever in securing a country’s future because investments in education provide a catalyst for economic growth, job creation, and increased social mobility, especially when it comes to supporting youth in vulnerable communities.
Thirdly, entrepreneurship and innovation, as well as access to technology, lie at the heart of public-private-youth partnerships, as this is a clear path to creating impactful progress, and brings creative and new ideas to the table. That’s how one can advance anything, be it on a small scale within a company or on a larger scale in terms of the economy.
How do you see young people's upskilling playing a role in addressing global challenges—in particular, the climate crisis and the necessity for a just, green transition?
There is surely a special degree of originality and imagination that comes with novel approaches to problem-solving that youth bring to the table.
The reality is, in today's global environment, no country will be able to achieve long-term economic growth and development whilst neglecting the climate crisis: a gradual green transition is now a precondition to prosperity and longevity. As such, youth upskilling can play a fundamental role in climate action because young people, whenever empowered, possess the skills and knowledge that are necessary to drive innovation and positive change in various fields.
Entrepreneurship falls within part of the Ministry’s work to foster an innovation-centric atmosphere, as Egypt aims to cultivate resilient entrepreneurs ready to compete globally, lead GDP growth, and increase economic competitiveness. This is part and parcel of responding to the climate crisis effectively in a way where we also accelerate development.
A key example of youth contributing to the green transition, while also utilizing technology, can be found in Egypt’s Presidency of COP27 which witnessed the launch of a global startup competition: the global ClimaTech Run competition at COP27. Showing a true display of innovative technology and unmatched creativity, this brought together over 422 applications from 77 countries, narrowed down to 15 finalists and 5 winners with projects within the key theme of adaptation and resilience with a focus on water, food, agriculture and waste management, reflecting especially the global commitment to moving from pledges to implementation, increasing adaptation efforts.
Interestingly, the 15 finalist startups, together, reduce emissions by a total of about 400,000 tons of carbon dioxide through the solutions they provide. This shows the power of youth in addressing global challenges, the climate crisis and the necessity for a just, green transition.
Leveraging the untapped potential of startups and committed to continuously striving to catalyze the development of an agile entrepreneurial ecosystem, Egypt is unlocking its position as a hub for creativity and innovation in the Middle East and Africa with a focus on priority sectors centered around a “green mindset”. Ultimately, upskilling is essential for young people to effectively contribute to addressing global challenges, equipping them with the skills, knowledge, and resources needed to drive innovation, create sustainable solutions, and make a positive impact in the world.
As you are the Co-Chair of the Advisory Board Generation Unlimited Egypt (Shabab Balad), how do you see Generation Unlimited in the next five years, your vision and aspiration for Shabab Balad?
First of all, I am honored to have been selected among the distinguished Global Leadership Council (GLC) in the Generation Unlimited (GenU) initiative, a global Public-Private-Youth partnership by the United Nations International Children (UNICEF).
The Government of Egypt, in collaboration with UNICEF and the UNRC in Egypt successfully launched the national version of GenU in Egypt: Shabab Balad. As the initiative’s core mission is to skill young leaders-to-be, especially young women, and connect them to employment, entrepreneurship and social impact opportunities, I would say this could potentially become the largest multi-stakeholder platform for youth empowerment in Egypt, thanks mainly to the diversity of its membership.
As we are approaching the 2030 SDGs mark, the goals within the Shabab Balad open the door to more collaboration with public-private-youth partnerships, thus contributing to accelerating progress towards the global goals.
Looking at the five-year vision, Shabab Balad is actually very much in-line with Egypt’s Vision 2030, which provides a roadmap for a knowledge-based society that supports sustainable economic growth and social cohesion and is prioritizing efforts to: reform the educational system to equip youth with the tools they need for the future; create decent and productive jobs for youth, including entrepreneurship; and to promote youth engagement as active citizens.
This is aligned with Shabab Balad’s five strategic priorities: education, training and skilling, employment, digital accessibility, and positive social engagement.
Additionally, gender equality and climate action are two pillars that have been adopted as cross-cutting priorities that will be mainstreamed across all Shabab Balad activities. This is a key priority for many of the rising entrepreneurs in the country and us.
One of the major strengths of GenU in Egypt is the fact that youth participation and engagement are strongly embedded within its day-to-day operations. Youth are represented on the Advisory Board as well as in every one of the initiative's five subcommittees.
For the next five years and beyond, Shabab Balad will continue to serve and empower youth in Egypt, as this is in tandem with our strong belief that the proportionate participation of youth in our societies is key to unlocking sustainable and inclusive economic growth.