Silatech "Empowering Youth, Transforming Societies" High-Level Event

Geneva, Switzerland, 04 March 2019

Abdi Sahl Dawali is a young man… he grew up surrounded by violence, conflict and hunger.  He could imagine no end to the cycle of poverty and frustration he had experienced his entire life in his homeland of Somalia.  He dreamed of escaping to Europe for the chance of a better future. 

And like so many other young people with no hope, he fled his country and undertook a long and dangerous journey.  Abdi travelled for days by car and on foot, from his home, through Ethiopia and Sudan in his attempt to reach Libya where he hoped to find passage to Europe.  After walking for almost two weeks in harsh desert conditions, he finally crossed the Libyan border.  There he found even more hardship, conflict, and violence.  He struggled to raise enough money to pay the traffickers for a place on a boat to Europe.  And, to make his predicament worse, he was imprisoned for more than a year for overstaying in the country.

On his release he was finally able to raise the money for his trip with the help of his friends and got on a boat bound for Europe; a boat that would take him to freedom…only to suffer another catastrophe when the boat’s engines failed, and they began to sink.

He floated for 12 hours in the sea and could only watch helplessly as many of his friends - all who had been filled with similar dreams and desperation - died in the cold water before he was thankfully rescued. 

Abdi spent three years in Libya, stuck in a cycle of failed attempts, when the tragedy of losing his friends became too much for him…With his heart broken and dreams of his future in Europe crushed, he eventually returned home to Somalia; resigned to a life void of hope.

This is where Abdi’s story changes, from those of so many young people in our region.  Living in Somalia once again, Abdi faced a life of despair… till one day, his friends told him of an organisation called “Silatech” which might help him get a job or start a business.  With nothing left to lose, he decided to take this one last chance. 

He applied for and secured a loan that he used to open a brand-new business – a café in his home town.  A business that has given him a future… a business that has given his family a new quality of life… and a business that has allowed Abdi to hire three other young Somali employees and in turn help them support their families and contribute to his entire community.

He told us, “Now I have a successful enterprise that changed my life…I am an active member in my community… I have hope.”

“Silatech,” in Arabic, means “your connection.” But to millions of young people in the Arab World, Silatech means something more. It means “hope.” Hope for a decent work, a steady income, and a better future.

In 2005, with the horror of 9/11 still a recent memory, I was invited to join a high-level group by the late, honourable Kofi Annan to explore the roots of extremism.

Back then, unemployment in the MENA region was already very high and continuing to rise. Many young people had no prospect for a better future, and I was deeply concerned… deeply concerned that unemployment was contributing to the radicalization of Arab youth.  

We soon came to realize that the scope of the problem in the Arab world was even bigger than we had thought. The population of young men and women was growing much faster than the number of jobs that were available for them in the marketplace. 

Statistics from the International Labour Organization told us that about 13 per cent of the world’s young people were unemployed. But in the Arab world, that number was 30 per cent – which meant that tens of millions of young Arab people were without jobs.  

Without meaningful work, our young men and women had no hope for the future… leaving them more vulnerable to radicalization, violence, and political extremism.

And, as recent history has shown us, hopelessness has consequences.

In 2011, frustrated Arab youth – many with no jobs, no prospects, and no hope – took to the streets in the “Arab Spring” protests, overthrowing and destabilizing governments.

And just a few years later, tens of thousands of young men and women from the Middle East and North Africa – unemployed, hungry and desperate – waded ashore in Europe, setting off the greatest global migration crisis in modern times.

If hopelessness has consequences… so does hope.

In 2008 I created Silatech as a global initiative – with a primary focus on the MENA Region –  to empower our youth.

We quickly gained the support of UN agencies, governments, NGOs, companies, banks, and individuals… including some of you here today.

Silatech approaches the problems faced in these communities in a creative and innovative way.  We aim to create programs that are sustainable, and that have a transformative impact on the root cause of the problems and not just address the symptoms.

First, we study the local economy and community to determine what kind of employment or training is appropriate.

Once we understand this, we connect with banks and other global partners to provide microfinance opportunities for young people who need small loans to start businesses.

But, some young people aren’t looking to open a cafeteria, like Abdi; they don’t want to start their own businesses. They just need training to compete for existing jobs in their communities.

During the past 10 years, Silatech, along with over 300 Partners, has connected more than one million young people in seventeen countries with new jobs, careers, and businesses.

But, my friends, Silatech’s work has always gone beyond just finding jobs or creating businesses; many of our efforts have a more wide-ranging impact on the countries in which we operate.  We strongly believe in the importance of youth civic participation and social empowerment as a driving force for community and national development.

In Tunisia, for example, we partnered with the UN Democracy Fund, Tamkeen for Development and Zitouna Tamkeen, to empower youth to build confidence and commitment to participate in the democratic process.

On a different front, our Al Amal Program in Sudan aims to rehabilitate and reintegrate previously radicalized youth.  Training them in entrepreneurship and helping them start their own businesses.  Instead of giving up on them, we give them a second chance to transform their lives and help rebuild their communities.

Young men and women need jobs or business opportunities to better themselves and their communities.  They need the chance to earn a living that will allow them to support their families, contribute to society, and build better futures.

This is the hope that Silatech offers.

I am therefore happy to announce today, that in addition to the one million young people we’ve already connected with jobs, we now have commitments in place to connect another two million young men and women by 2022. That’s three million meaningful jobs and businesses, thanks to Silatech and its partners.

But, we must do more…I therefore propose that we set a new target and raise the bar to 5 million by 2022. 

It is more than just the 5 million individuals… it is their families, their new employees and their families whose lives will be changed.

So today, I call on leaders who seek stability in their communities… I call on financial institutions who have the funding to invest in our youth… I call on human rights activists who desire equality for all…And, I call on governments who understand the dire consequences of the migration crisis.

Together, we can shift the paradigm… from negative to positive, from loss to gain, from marginalized to empowered, from disillusioned to valued …and, most importantly… From hopelessness, to hope.