MENA economies face several challenges, including low integration into global value chains, a strong skills mismatch, unemployment and low labour force participation rates of youth and women. Years after the Arab uprisings, people are still waiting for their living conditions to improve and for more transparency from their governments. The fragility of the region is compounded by the management of irregular and mixed migration. Middle Eastern countries are hosting millions of refugees and North African countries are a hub for large migratory movements. These circumstances underline the need to restore stability, initiate reconstruction and create opportunities for both immigrant and host populations.
The region has implemented structural reforms to increase economic openness and diversification to support private sector development. These reforms have led to an initial increase in investment, trade and economic growth. New development models and initiatives are already being implemented or are planned. More comprehensive reforms are needed to introduce inclusive and sustainable development models that provide better opportunities for all especially the younger generation and women. The COVID-19 crisis has brought severe economic losses and social pain; however, the situation remains fluid and it is difficult to provide precise estimates of income losses and the resulting increase in the number of poor people. For Swisscontact, moving projects forward means protecting people and performance. Therefore, we ensure that we adopt an agile approach, continuously assess risks, and adapt processes. Swisscontact stays in close contact with its partners to advance project activities.
Despite major challenges in the region, it offers great opportunities in countries that have begun to implement significant political reforms. The young population represents a key economic resource. In the coming years, the labour force will grow faster than the people dependent on it, freeing up resources for investment in economic development and welfare. To seize this opportunity, governments and civil society need to create well-functioning institutions and implement effective policies to promote inclusive growth. MENA economies will also play a central role in the global fight against climate change, as economies in the region undergo an environmental transformation towards green and renewable energies and wage their own battle against desertification and water scarcity.
Resource-poor countries also have significant development and investment potential in tourism, manufacturing, services, and agribusiness. Tourism is a relatively well-developed industry in some countries and offers important sources of employment and revenue, given the touristic assets and geographical proximity to European and GCC markets. Efforts are aimed at further developing the manufacturing and services sectors to promote trade and integration into global value chains. There is still a need to promote more sustainable and inclusive models of tourism development, especially in rural areas. Agro-industrial activities refer to the processing, preservation, and preparation of agricultural production for intermediate and final consumption. They are a component of the manufacturing sector, where value is added to agricultural commodities and are recognised as an important driver of economic growth and development. Agro-industries connect industrial and agricultural sectors, creating upstream and downstream linkages that can have multiplier effects in job creation and value addition in related sectors such as agriculture, manufacturing, trade, and services.
In this context, the region can develop wide-ranging agendas, adapted to the potential of each country, to address interlinked areas:
Approaches to address these areas need to be adapted to each country’s circumstances, needs, and potential. For all countries, increasing international competitiveness and attracting more and better foreign direct investment are fundamental components to securing sustainable growth, employment, and better living standard.
We facilitate national and global trade to improve growth potential and the competitiveness of businesses to foster sustainable job and income creation. Our facilitation work aims to better integrate less developed economies into the global economy, with a particular focus on the European and Swiss markets. In our partner countries, we work on ‘last mile’ activities with exporters and relevant trade-ecosystem partners, such as business support organisations and other relevant trade partners.
Migration and mobility can stimulate development as drivers of social and economic change. They can improve livelihoods of individuals and families and contribute to economic growth. We support key actors in partner countries using regular migration and diaspora engagement to achieve their development goals. In the long term, we contribute to improving the prospects in the countries of origin of many migrants.
Empowering women and integrating them as active participants in the economy is essential to promoting economic growth. Our work seeks to help women engage in the economy by boosting female entrepreneurship and formalising their businesses. These measures include facilitating women entrepreneurs’ access to information, financial services, markets, investment opportunities, and other assets.