While the world’s most influential people were once (more or less) measured by the size of their wealth or the height of their professional stature, it is refreshing and indeed humbling to note that today’s era of young guns are just as known for their talents, passions and courage than any cash or title.
Few people on this year’s list of the world’s most influential young Arabs are propped up by heavy bank accounts. They are instead making a difference in the world via their creativity and genuine desire to contribute to their communities.
In tune with the revolution of youth speaking out against all manner of causes that has been evolving particularly since 2011, a significant proportion of those on our list are activists, either directly or indirectly. They are standing up to repressive governments in a way that generations before them seldom did; they are improving education faster than the state; they are creating their own futures rather than waiting to be handed a cushy-yet-unsatisfying job; they are helping others to do the same; they are fighting for the right to speak freely at the risk of imprisonment and even death. They are a generation of heroes.
Take Chaker Khazaal (number one on our list), Mohammed Assaf (37) and Awni Farhat (77). They all spent much of their childhood in a refugee camp but sheer determination and a refusal to allow their dreams to die in the surrounding debris have seen them become standout idols in their respective fields.
Indeed, there is a somewhat dark mask over this year’s selection of the most influential young Arabs: conflict and/or repression has affected the experiences of no less than one-fifth of those on the list. War or its aftermath is central to the work of many in the region today.
The Arab youth population and its proportion of the total Arab world is only growing. While we can be thankful that so many of them have shown leadership beyond their years, the pure size of this growing demographic presents serious issues around employment, in particular. We saw how unemployment sparked the Arab Spring and continues to feed violence in many locations, highlighting the consequences of not addressing the issue.
Governments, particularly since the oil price plummet, have begun more earnestly addressing the issue while at the same time working to reduce their own bloated public sectors. But the truth is, there is only so much they can do. Arab youth will mostly be left to create their own futures – and for many of them the excitement of entrepreneurship is a welcome situation to be in.
In many cases, the start-ups will double as problem solvers, amid the growing interest in social entrepreneurship. These are the young Arabs who we will continue to write about in this very magazine.
International organisations and governments also are increasingly recognising the relevance of youth by creating specific posts to address their issues and enhance their participation in decision making. In that regard, Shamma Al Mazrouei (2) became the UAE’s first Minister of State for Youth Affairs in February, while Jordan’s Ahmad Alhendawi (25) is the UN Secretary General’s first ever Envoy on Youth, making him also the youngest senior official in the history of the organisation.
I sincerely hope you are as inspired and moved by the stories of these 100 influential young Arabs as we were researching them.