Like much of the Middle East, Jordan has an abundance of young people. But while youth make up well over half of the country's population, a startling 70% of young people who are one year out of school are still unemployed. INJAZ, a nonprofit that teaches entrepreneurship skills to young Jordanians, aims to change that. We spoke with CEO Deema Bibi at last week's ACT II: Aspen Global Leadership Summit to learn more about the organization.
According to Bibi, Jordan has such high rates of unemployed youth because there is a gap between the country's stifling educational system and the needs of the job market. "We work with students in public schools, and extracurricular activities are almost nonexistent outside of our program. Throughout the years we realized that the problem is just that they're not motivated. It's because their teachers are half-dead," she says. "The system evaluates you on how much you can memorize, they limit your creativity, they try to put you in a frame."
Under Bibi's leadership, a staff of 60 people and 3,300 private sector volunteers implement entrepreneurship programs in public schools and universities. The programs are both curricular and extracurricular, but they all "focus on inspiring young people, building entrepreneurship skills, social leadership skills," says Bibi. "It's all hands-on so the students actually implement projects, design them, manage them, monitor and evaluate them."
Sample high school and college courses include "Economics For Success," "Personal Economics," and "The Company Course," which challenges students to start their own companies. INJAZ also runs a leadership competition that asks students to come up with creative products and services.
Since its inception in 1999, INJAZ has seen over 350,000 students go through its programs. There are plenty of success stories. Almost all of the projects that have come out of the Company Course are now operating as companies—and they are being run by the youth themselves. Bibi recalls one particularly successful company that manufactures a stylish, user-friendly wooden chair that transforms into a ladder. The company originally started selling the chair in Jordan, and now it has moved into the global market.
"There's so much energy in what we do," says Bibi. "Youth find this a breath of fresh air."
[Image: Flickr user U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv]