The Middle East, with its diverse economies, has been in an ongoing economic and political transformation since the onset of this decade. Different governments have vowed to curb social woes in their countries such as dim economic opportunities, high youth unemployment and the lack of access to social services, however a lot of these promises have yet to come to fruition.
Countries like Tunisia and Egypt, who have both witnessed a regime change, have averaged 1-2% in economic growth since 2011 (according to the World Bank), not enough to create jobs for millions of young people in both countries. Young graduates in Tunisia account for 30% of youth unemployment on average and this number goes up to 50% in the interior regions.
Unlike Europe and other economic blocs in the world such as ASEAN and even the GCC, the vast area of the Middle East has been negatively affected by lack of free movement of people and labor in the past decades. Although they speak the same language and share several cultural traits and traditions (which are always good indicators for economic hegemony), talent in the Middle East is constrained to national borders. Thus, talent pooling and knowledge exchanges are both restricted and expensive.
Growing Opportunities Across the Middle East
E-commerce and the overall “technology” industries have seen a consistent surge all across the Middle East. Souq, Careem, Jumia and other e-commerce businesses are ubiquitous in many economies of the Middle East. While each country has its own local market forces, several people and managers are doing the same job everywhere and learning from their own local challenges whenever they arise. Many opportunities are emerging with new injection of money after the Amazon-souq acquisition which will open new doors and bring new players to the e-commerce market across the Middle East
Remote Jobs and Talent Pooling
Remote jobs, the permanent kind, offer a genuine challenge to the status quo. If some companies are willing to pay recruitment agencies the handsome amount of money they usually pay to solicit and filter applications from foreign labor, they might as well invest the same money to scout for talent and groom it to be able to work outside office and national physical boundaries.
Besides traditional professional social networks such as LinkedIn and Bayt.com, young talents from the Middle East are adopting social networks to their employment needs. Online communities allow employers to reach and hire regional talent that are suitable for their job openings without footing a large bill for their physical movement and relocation costs.
With the rapid spread of mobile and internet literacy, more young people are able and trained to work in the internet industry more than can their national economy can accommodate, as is the case for struggling economies like Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt – and even Morocco.
GCC economies, which have traditionally welcomed migration from other Arab countries to grow their service industries, can now better manage this migration flux while maintaining their aid commitment to other developing economies in the region by helping integrate and train the local workforce from these countries with simple access to internet connections. Remote jobs offer the perfect combination of formal professional training and the possibility to redirect income earned in any market towards any other market in the world.
Remote work, upward mobility and combatting brain drain
When I joined Melltoo as a remote employee in 2014, the “remote” part did not factor much in my unspoken commitment to the team and business. I knew that I had a job to wake up to and I understood the business was heading in a direction that required my full alertness and enthusiasm to do the tasks that needed to be done. I was also slightly averse to leaving my country to migrate to a new place.
Remote work has allowed me to access gainful employment in a vibrant market outside of my home country while effectively spending my disposable income right here in my local community, buying from local businesses that employ many other people around me.
When executed right (read our pieces about productivity and collaboration in a virtual environment), remote work opportunities can offer stable jobs and incomes to vast people around the Middle East right where they are. With the advance of communication tools, not so many words are lost in translation nowadays.
I have spent three years of my professional life since graduation in a remote work environment. During these years, I have learnt immensely about the intricacies of peer-to-peer marketplaces more than I could have ever dreamed of. During the same time, I spent my income wisely traveling to over 20 countries in the world. Thanks to my job, I was also able to buy a the technology and devices I need to support me in with my remote work routine.
Traveling has become a major fixture of remote work because of its obvious benefits. Visiting new places, meeting new people and discovering new places is not only thrilling, but also a cleansing experience. I have felt the most energized doing my work from different locations while maintaining a responsible work routine. This is a privilege I have access to that many young people my age cannot even dream of.
At Melltoo, we grew from few scores of users per day to 10,000+ active users during peak days. Pace has changed but my work routine has been the same. In these three years, I have grown from a business administration graduate who had the chance and the opportunity to study abroad to a grown, more experienced, business manager who handled not only both frustrated and ecstatic customers, but also a people manager and someone who understands the complicated processes of the internet industry.
This knowledge and operational expertise has become a golden goose in my country, Tunisia, where digitalizing services and the economy is only at infant stages to say the least. Fortunately, I did not have to leave my country to benefit from all this learning. Remote work is one viable solution for governments to preserve talent and cultivate exchanges of expertise and skills transfers.
Female labor integration
Apart from my own experience, the Middle East faces an issue with staggering female unemployment due to local economic forces or otherwise. Female labor participation in the Middle East is only 27%, a low number when female university graduates in the region are almost equal (47.7%) in number to male graduates.
Remote jobbing supports women’s integration into the workforce and the workplace. The missing 15% can have an immense impact on local economies on the Middle East. Added income will help lift families above the poverty line and increase their access to good education and further professional training. This added income will replenish local treasuries with income taxes and other types of taxes from local commercial activity and capital gain.
Melltoo fully supports female training and integration into the global industry since we have often extended job opportunities on several occasions to female university students to learn and work with us. Such was the case of Yusra, who worked as our community manager and later moved on to become a special needs teacher. Yesmin, who participated in our newest article about female employees at Melltoo is our illustrator-in-chief. She works on our visual branding UI design.
Is the Middle East fully ready for new jobs of the future?
This horrific infographic, circulating among youth on Facebook, on MENA’s readiness to host skills and jobs of the future can speak further to why remote jobs are now more needed than ever. The map looks grim, however, opportunities are only arising right now. Remote work has been embraced globally by Fortune 500 companies. New tools are being developed everyday such as (slack, basecamp and other communication tools) to support the nature of remote work.
It is time to push toward the future of work to allow MEA to truly turn a new page. Join the remote work revolution.