Young people in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have both the lowest levels of access to financial services, as well as the highest rates of youth unemployment, in the world. According to the World Bank, only 13% of young people (age 15-24) in the MENA region have accounts at a formal financial institution, as compared to a worldwide average of 37%, and 17% in the next closest region, sub-Saharan Africa. Youth unemployment in the MENA region is the world’s highest, at 25%.
“Youth Financial Inclusion in the MENA Region” drew over 80 representatives from microfinance institutions, governmental agencies, think tanks, international organizations and civil society to share insights into why levels of youth financial access in the region are so low, and what can be done to improve the situation. Participants shared the results of recent research, explored opportunities for new program interventions, and discussed governmental policy alternatives that could help to increase youth financial access throughout the region.
According to Dr. Nader Kabbani, Director of Research and Policy at Silatech, “When young people are ‘banked,’ or participate in formal financial institutions, they gain access to resources and services such as savings accounts, small loans to start new businesses, or other types of products that help them build their capital and expand the opportunities available to them.”
“At the moment, young people in the Arab world do their best to get access to these resources through informal channels such as family and friends,” he continued.
Dr. Kabbani added: “We hope workshops like this will help open the region’s financial resources to young people, as well as to help make financial institutions aware of the huge, and largely untapped, youth market that is available to them.”
“In most countries of the MENA region, the so-called ‘youth bulge’ presents an exciting opportunity for financial institutions to engage an entire generation,” said Mayada El-Zoghbi, Senior Microfinance Specialist with CGAP. Recent CGAP research shows that “through savings banks may be able to achieve deeper, longer lasting relationships with the next generation of people needing access to safe, secure, and convenient savings, alongside other financial services. And that next generation could grow up better equipped to use a variety of tools to plan for the future, achieve savings discipline, and manage their financial lives – interfacing with the financial sector in a safe, savvy way that is productive for clients, banks, and society.”
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