The Arab world extends from the Comoros in Africa to Iraq in Asia. The region includes such monumental sights as the Egyptian pyramids, Petra, and Kaaba. Despite its rich past and long history, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is characterized by youthfulness, particularly because it is the most youthful region in the world with over 30% of the population being under 30. With over 100 million youth in the Arab world, institutions like INJAZ have a big responsibility.
INJAZ, or JA MENA, established its first office in 2001. Today, INJAZ—which means achievement in Arabic—operates in 13 of the 22 Arab countries. Since its founding, INJAZ has impacted over 3.5 million students through its diverse programs, which center around three focus areas— work readiness, financial literacy, and entrepreneurship. INJAZ programs play a crucial role in preparing Arab youth to participate in the global economy of the 21st century. In addition to JA programs, many INJAZ offices developed their own programs or projects, tailoring them to youth needs in each of the 13 countries.
Some of INJAZ programs are offered in Arabic, the common official language of all Arab countries, while others are offered in French and some in English, such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Youth Leadership Programme (YLP). The UNDP YLP focuses on integrating sustainability in business and motivating youth to found startups that contribute to achieving the 17 United Nations Global Goals for Sustainable Development; INJAZ Lebanon is one of the implementing partners of this program. Last year, two of the five Lebanese teams competing regionally in Jordan were trained through INJAZ Lebanon and one of the two finalists invited to attend the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) event at the United Nations headquarters in New York City was an INJAZ alumna.
Having donors like the United Nations is crucial to securing funding and resources for youth programs. In recent years, donors and partners have taken an interest in entrepreneurship and work readiness. To build on this growing interest, Samar Dani, Executive Director of INJAZ Lebanon, applied to the 2019 JA Labs grant competition. Her proposed program would make entrepreneurship accessible and attractive to all Lebanese youth by implementing an online platform that gamifies the INJAZ Lebanon Company Program. It would also change the learning experience for students in vulnerable areas showing them that learning can be fun. INJAZ Lebanon received the JA Labs grant at the 2019 JA Global Leadership Conference.
While grant opportunities like JA Labs are essential to providing additional support to local offices, the regional direction that INJAZ Al-Arab provides with regard to bringing new partners, more funding and wider network is crucial to the survival and sustainability of INJAZ in the Arab world, especially since the region has seen many instances of instability since the Arab Spring in 2010. When asked about the crisis moments MENA has witnessed, Shahad Haswa, Regional Entrepreneurship and Innovation Lead at INJAZ Al-Arab, said, “At INJAZ, we adopt the mentality that we don’t give up, that moments of hardship bring innovation and change and that these are moments that INJAZ does not want to miss on.” Leen Abu Baker, an INJAZ Palestine alumnus, added, “INJAZ is the magic tool that provides you with the skills that bridge the gap between the public and private sector, move your resume from the big pile to the small pile, and give you opportunities to excel in the market and turn your life to a success story.” Shahad said, “Youth are the future and we shape the future through youth.” Throughout the years, INJAZ has maintained its legacy and strengthened its impact through its strong community and resilient spirit. INJAZ’s journey is far from over; it continues to implement more customized programs tailored to the needs of Arab youth, establishing chapters connecting INJAZ alumni regionally, and forming the youth of the global village we live in.
Sara Hammoud is a student at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon, majoring in electrical and computer engineering and minoring in economics. She is also an entrepreneur who is passionate about using technology to solve global challenges in innovative ways. She has over three years of experience in founding startups, working closely with entrepreneurs in different industries and countries, and mentoring entrepreneurs. She is the first JA Gather Reporter for the MENA region and founder of Benzinati, a startup that aims to motivate private vehicle drivers to adopt eco-friendly transportation means through an application that studies driving behaviors and rewards them for fuel consumption reduction.