Economic Empowerment of Youth in the UAE


Youth economic empowerment has been the priority in the United Nations. Subsequently, it is an important consideration when member countries implement the sustainable development goals (SDGs). The primary focus of this research is exploring the economic empowerment of youth for achieving SDGs, specifically SDG 4 and 5, as a means of creating a platform for innovation and creativity. Utilizing the Youth Progress Index, the government of the UAE has ensured the needs, the foundation of wellness, followed by the opportunities which should be present to the youth. The research shows that the government of the UAE can work closely with other stakeholders to ensure that youth have access to affordable and quality education. The UAE government has made efforts to ensure that the youth can improve their creativity and innovativeness while they are still in institutions of higher learning. The research utilizes secondary data collection to explore the growing body of literature to determine the economic empowerment of youths around the world in general and the UAE specifically. Comparative analysis, drawing on data and policies from countries that rank highly on the Youth Progress Index, Austria, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand, is employed to determine whether or not the existing policies of youth empowerment can ensure that the youth will be achieved SDG 4 and 5 by 2025; and to determine the effectiveness of stakeholders in helping the above goals to be achieved within the said period.



The concept of empowerment has gained massive popularity over the past several decades. According to United Nations (2018), its first major application was in reference to strengthening the political, social, and economic position of women around the world. The term was developed from the word ‘power’. Bonifacio (2019, p. 41) defines it as “the authority or power given to someone to do something.” It means that when one is empowered, they are offered avenues through which they can achieve personal goals without relying on other members of society. It is important to note that this definition holds the view that empowerment is given to someone by someone. For instance, it is the responsibility of the government to empower a section of society to ensure that they can achieve specific goals in their lives (Rahmawati et al. 2019).

According to Smith and Smith (2019), the concept of empowerment has gained massive popularity over the past two decades in the context of women’s empowerment. For a long time, women were denied opportunities to achieve academic and career success primarily because of their gender. They were expected to take care of the domestic work at home so that they could rely on men to provide for them all their needs. However, the trend has been changing as it became clear that women had the capacity to achieve success at school, work, and in various socio-economic and political forums as men (Rajasekhar, Manjula, and Paranjothi, 2020). Women empowerment was used as a way of ensuring that they were granted equal opportunity to achieve success as men in various settings (Kumar and Casey, 2020).

The concept has also been used in the context of protecting the interest of the aged people. Bonifacio (2019) observes that some institutions tend to discriminate against people on the basis of their age when hiring or retrenching. The trend became common as technology became the center stage of operations in various organizations. The older workers were considered less techno-savvy and incapable of transforming from analog to digital operations (Black and Black, 2020). The concept of empowerment for the elderly was used to ensure that they gain knowledge on the emerging technologies and their positions respected by different organizations. It has helped in reducing cases of retrenching elderly persons (Bin Saeed et al. 2019).

The United Nations (UN) defines the term youth as “those persons between the ages of 15 and 24 years” (Rajasekhar, Manjula and Paranjothi, 2020, p. 27). In other countries adults below age 36 are considered as youth. They are basing this classification on a definition of “the appearance, freshness, vigor, spirit, etc., characteristic of one who is young” (Smith and Smith, 2019, p. 55). The United Arab Emirates (UAE) embraced the definition that was given by the UN, though in some contexts, adolescents aged 12 years and above may also fit into this group (Thomas, 2021). It means that the age classification may change depending on the context of the debate.

Youth empowerment has become a relevant debate over the past two decades. According to Black and Black (2020), the sustainable development goals (SDGs) developed by the UN identifies youth as critical players in achieving specific developmental goals in society. The SDGs acknowledge that the future of any given society is often defined by its youth. The first goal of the SDGs is the elimination of hunger (Davies and True, 2019). Youths can participate in achieving this goal when they are offered platforms where they can gain knowledge and then participate in the economic progress of the nations as skilled employees or entrepreneurs. Goal 4 of the SDGs focuses on quality education (Champion, 2020). It is the responsibility of the government and parents to ensure that children have access to quality education that can help in shaping their lives. Goal 5 focuses on gender equality (Smith and Smith, 2019). The same can only be achieved when both male and female youths are offered equal opportunities (Liebenberg et al. 2018).

It is important to understand the link between youth empowerment and SDGs. According to Champion (2020), SDG 4 and 5 are directly focused on empowering youth. Quality education, as explained in SDG 4 aims are ensuring that youths get the necessary skills needed in the job market or for them to become successful entrepreneurs. Gender equality, as outlined in SDG 4, also helps in empowering the youth irrespective of their gender. Marginalization of women is one of the historical injustices not only in the developing economies but also in the developed world (Smith and Smith, 2019). This goal acknowledges the fact that women can just perform as well as men when offered the platform to do so. As such, there is a need to ensure that they are adequately empowered. The government of the UAE has remained committed to the empowering of youth because they are the future leaders of the country. It is important to note that the other 15 SDGs are equally important in empowering youth, although the study narrowed down to the two because of their relevance to the topic.

Stakeholders (parents, educators, individuals and government officials have to ensure that there is no preferential treatment on the basis of one’s gender (Black and Black, 2020). These qualities are developed when one is in the delicate stage between childhood and adulthood. It is with this knowledge that the UN, individual countries around the world, and various entities have focused on empowering youth (Al-bdareen, 2020).

Youth empowerment, just like the two words that form it, has also raised controversy in defining its meaning. Champion (2020, p. 67) defines it as “the process by which young people gain the ability and authority to make informed decisions and implement change in their own lives and the lives of other people.” Although most definitions revolve around the idea of promoting the ability and authority of youth to make independent decisions on important issues about their lives, the process of youth empowerment varies from one country to the other. Wilson et al. (2008) note that in some societies, youth empowerment should revolve around creating avenues through which young people can gain knowledge that can enable them to be independent and authoritative in their adult lives. As such, the emphasis is placed on higher education as a means of empowering youth. On the other hand, some societies emphasize the need to provide youth with means of production so that they can take control of their financial future (Akpotor and Johnson, 2018).

In the UAE, the government, and several other non-governmental entities, have been keen on promoting youth empowerment. The government has been keen on implementing various SDGs policies meant to ensure that youths are enabled to gain the power to participate in the socio-economic and political development of the nation. According to Bonifacio (2019), youth empowerment in the country has been implemented in different ways depending on the age and academic level of an individual. The first stage of youth empowerment in the country is education. The government offers free education in all public learning institutions in the country. It means that one has the capacity to pursue higher education without the challenge of paying high school fees. Jivani (2018) explains that the country has one of the highest transitions from high school to institutions of higher learning in the country because of the initiative taken by the government.

The other approach of youth empowerment involves the economic support that the government provides to its youth. Those who have gone through institutions of higher learning need to get stable employment or have access to capital that can enable them to start and sustain their own businesses. The government has enacted policies that encourage both public and private institutions to hire youth. Úcar Martínez et al. (2017) explain that most of the employment positions that target youth emphasize less on experience that they have, with the knowledge that many of them have just graduated from institutions of higher learning. On the other hand, those who are keen on starting their businesses are offered tax breaks and access to the capital market so that they can get the financial assistance they need to support their business initiatives. In this paper, the focus of the study is to explore the economic empowerment of youth in the UAE as a path towards achieving the SDGs (Aslam, 2017).

Statement of the Problem

The UAE was one of the few countries in the Arab world that were not significantly affected by the Arab Spring that started in 2010. According to Davies and True (2019), in most of the countries that experienced the worst revolt, such as Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, and Yemen, the revolt was driven by youth who felt that they had been ignored by their governments. Champion (2020) explains that when youth lack gainful employment, they become an easy target for radicalized groups that can easily convince them to revolt against the government. They become frustrated, especially if they struggled to go through the schooling system and later fail to secure employment. Such young persons can easily be convinced that their government is not concerned about them and that the only way to achieve economic power is to force the current regime out of power. It is such a narrative that started the Arab Spring in Tunisia in 2010.

The problem is that sometimes youth may be radicalized even when a perfect environment is created for their success. A government can make a concerted effort to empower its youth but they can still participate in civil unrest. It is important to note that such revolutions may not necessarily lead to economic prosperity among youth. A perfect case is Libya before and after forcing Muammar Gaddafi out of power. During the regime of Gaddafi, education and most of the basic needs were either offered for free or at a significantly subsidized price. Youths could pursue higher education without worrying about school fees (Smith and Smith, 2019). Although there was minor civil unrest in some sections of Libya, the country was generally peaceful and citizens have the opportunity to pursue their goals in different fields. However, when he was forced out of power and assassinated, the country fell into the hands of different radical groups. It is no longer a safe and prosperous country where youths could easily pursue their dreams with ease as it was during Gaddafi’s reign (Sawani, 2018).

The example provided in Libya demonstrates that the issue of youths should always be handled with care. Youth empowerment goes beyond providing them with avenues to pursue higher education. Pace (2020) believes that economic empowerment is an essential aspect of empowering them. When a young person has a thriving business, irrespective of its size, they will rarely engage in civil disobedience and violent riots. They know that such activities may threaten the existence of their businesses. As such, they will be actively involved in promoting peace and ensuring that there is stability. Similarly, when they get gainfully employed, they will focus on pursuing their life dreams instead of focusing on creating chaos in society (Newman, 2019). They will be spending most of their time at work and for the holidays, they will prefer spending time with their family and friends.

The economic empowerment of youth may take a varying approach. On the one hand, the government can empower youths by promoting entrepreneurship. This can be achieved by making it easy for them to access the capital that they need to start and sustain their businesses. Creating easy access to the capital market is just one step towards promoting an entrepreneurial culture. Stokes (2019) believes that policies that the government enact also define the sustainability of such businesses started by youth.

SDGs 4 and 5 are centered on youth empowerment as a way of ensuring that the future of a country is protected (Sachs et al. 2020). As the government strives to achieve these SDGs, it must understand the appropriate approach to empowering youth. It is critical to ensure that as they are empowered, they are also made responsible for their future and the future of the country (Shah and Velhal, 2020). They have to understand the fact that while the government has a responsibility of creating avenues for them to achieve economic success through employment or entrepreneurship, they also have the responsibility of taking advantage of these opportunities (Collste et al. 2017). They have to understand that they also have the role of maintaining political stability in the country to ensure that there is a safe environment for businesses to thrive.

Rationale of the Study

The UAE has been keen on promoting youth empowerment as a way of realizing SDGs. However, events of the Arab Spring demonstrated that sometimes creating a sustainable environment through which youths can achieve economic success may not be enough. As the government seeks to find ways of empowering youth, it is necessary to ensure that the target group feels and appreciates the effort made. As Davies and True (2019) note, youth have to feel that they are getting the support that they need to empower them to achieve their goals. It means that relevant authorities have to understand the changing trends and expectations of the targeted group. Soon after the country gained independence, the majority of youths at that time were interested in getting a higher education so that they could get decent employment.

The majority of those youths are the current leaders and heads of many large companies in the country today. They also play a major role in defining the policies of the country. Socio-economic and political changes have redefined the expectations of these youths. Advanced technologies, especially in the fields of information communication and transport have transformed the world into a global village. Youths in the UAE can monitor and understand events taking place in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, and other developed nations. As such, their expectations have been realigned with those of youths from countries that they admire. Some of the local youths want to be inventors because they have witnessed young people like Mark Zuckerberg become billionaires through the same strategy (Abdelhaey et al. 2019). Others want to pursue a career in public service as they believe it will offer them the avenue through which they can bring the change they want in the country. Another section of youth just wants decent employment so that they can lead lives that they admired when they were young.

This study will help in identifying various programs that the government of the UAE can embrace to empower its youth. As mentioned above, taking just one approach to promote youth empowerment may not be enough. As the government ensures that they get the education that they need and access to the capital market, various other programs are also essential in ensuring that the intended goal is achieved (Black and Black, 2020). The researcher will review existing literature and explain various programs that have worked in other parts of the world and how they can be applied in the local context. Through this study, the researcher will be able to explain how the government can ensure that its youth are supported to not only be economically empowered but also engaged enough in other sectors of the economy so that they do not find it reasonable to engage in civil strife. These programs will help in ensuring that youths in this country become responsible for the general socio-economic and political development of the nation (Mataruna-Dos-Santos et al. 2021).

Research Aim and Objectives

The topic of youth empowerment has attracted the attention of many scholars over the past decade. Since the events of the Arab Spring, many governments across the region have been keen on empowering youth to ensure that a repeat of the same incident is avoided as much as possible. As such, various policies have been implemented to ensure that they are actively engaged in the socio-political and economic development of their countries. In this paper, the aim is to discuss the economic empowerment of youth in the UAE as a path towards achieving SDGs. The following are the specific objectives of the study:

  1. To assess if the UAE’s existing youth empowerment policies can ensure that youth in the UAE fully achieve SDGs 4 and 5 by 2025;
  2. To determine how effectively different stakeholders can be engaged to help in achieving the above goals within the stated period.

Research Questions

The above aim and objectives will be achieved by analyzing secondary sources of data. The following are the research questions are used to guide the process of collecting and analyzing data:

  1. How is the UAE progressing in terms of the SDG 4 and 5 when examined through the lens of the Youth Progress Index?
  2. How are UAE youth policies aligned with youth empowerment and the achievement of the SDGs 4 and 5?

Literature Review


The previous chapter provided a background of economic empowerment of the youth, stated the objectives, and research questions of the study. In this chapter, the focus is to review the existing literature on the topic. According to Kurebwa and Dodo (2019), economic youth empowerment is a topic that has attracted the attention of many scholars. The future of any society depends on its youth. As such, various programs have been developed in different parts of the world to ensure that youth acquire the necessary knowledge that can enable them to be responsible for their countries economic growth (Alblooshi and May 2018). Reviewing the works of other scholars will help in identifying consistencies, inconsistencies, and gaps in the existing bodies of knowledge. This chapter starts by providing a definition of youth and youth empowerment and discusses the youth progress index. It then focuses on youth empowerment programs around the world, in the MENA region and the UAE. The researcher also reviews the literature on aligning federal youth policies with sustainable development goals (SDGs). Factors that define federal policies are reviewed before providing a conceptual framework.

Defining Youth and Youth Empowerment

Youth empowerment is a concept that has gained massive popularity around the world over the recent past. Dadzie et al. (2020) explain that the global community has realized that the only way of securing the future is to ensure that youths are empowered. Different scholars have provided varying definitions of the term youth based on different premises. Azarchi (2020) describes it as a stage that begins from late adolescence to early adulthood. It is the stage where an individual is completing higher education and making their first entry into the job market (Cooper, 2018). The term has also been defined simply as a developmental stage between childhood and adulthood. Alldred et al. (2018) describe youth as young adults who are in college or just starting their careers soon after college. They have the energy and the desire to participate in the economic progress of their country without having to bear the burden of raising a family because, at this stage, most of them are yet to start their families.

The global community has introduced various programs to help in empowering youth. As such, there has been a need to have a universally accepted definition of youth. The UN defines the term as “those persons between the ages of 15 and 24 years” (Rajasekhar, Manjula, and Paranjothi, 2020, p. 27). This definition provides a specific age set that qualifies an individual to be classified as a youth. The strict definition provided by the UN was meant to ensure that if there are specific benefits meant for youth, it does not go for individuals who should be classified as adults. Zavella (2020) believes that the term youth should refer to individuals who are just approaching the age of the majority of those who are in the early years of the same. Despite the small variant, it is evident that all these definitions agree on the fact that youth is a stage from late adolescence to young adulthood where one has the opportunity to define who they become in society (Torres-Harding et al. 2018).

The term empowerment has also been used for the past several decades in the global community. The term is developed from the world ‘power’, which Camara (2020) defines as “the capacity or ability to direct or influence the behavior of others or the course of events.” The ability of an individual to influence policies and activities within a country defines empowerment. Davies and True (2019, p. 78) define empowerment as “the process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one’s life and claiming one’s rights.” One is considered empowered if they can responsibly control their life, defend their rights and freedoms, and actively participate in the economic development of their nation. They have to get the right education and access to opportunities to pursue their interests in the social, economic, and political arenas.

The term empowerment was first used in reference to promoting the rights of women around the world. For a long time, women were denied the opportunity to achieve their full potentials academically, in various careers, and in the political world (Ucar, Soler-Masó, and Planas-Lladó, 2020). The problem has not been unique to underdeveloped countries. The United States, which is one of the most economically, technologically, politically, and socially developed countries in the world, has never had a female president (Goyal, 2018). Women empowerment was seen as a campaign that would eliminate all barriers that women face in their quest to achieve success in various fields. Peach (2020) believes that the campaign has borne fruits. Many women around the world have been able to achieve massive success in fields that were previously seen as being exclusively for men. Many Fortune 500 companies are currently headed by women. The United Kingdom, Germany, and many other advanced nations around the world have had their first female political leaders. The United States elected its first female vice president in 2020. These achievements demonstrate the success of the women empowerment concept that has been promoted for the last five decades (Galiè and Farnworth, 2019).

According to Irish (2020), youths are always the most disaffected group by the problem of unemployment. A significant number of young people willing and capable of engaging in gainful employment cannot find suitable jobs in various parts of the world. In Africa and parts of Asia, there have been cases of mass emigration of youth to Europe and North America primarily because of limited opportunities in their home countries (Woodson, 2019). They have the energy, the knowledge, and the willingness to engage in various economic opportunities. However, the system is designed in ways that do not favor them. For example, when a company indicates that one of the qualifications for one to be hired is 4-7 years of experience, they are systematically locking out youths from such posts. When they leave college, they expect to be hired so that they can gain experience (Asfiah, 2020). However, when experience is used to deny them the opportunity to pursue their career, they are forced to find alternative means of earning their income. Figure 2.1 below shows a comparative analysis of unemployment between youths and adults. The figure shows that the younger an individual is, the more likely they are to be unemployed.

Comparison of global youth unemployment versus adult employment
Figure 2.1. Comparison of global youth unemployment versus adult employment

These global trends reflect the reality in the country where the younger generation is less likely to get gainful employment compared with older adults. Further comparative analysis of the unemployment problem among youths in the MENA region shows that the problem is worse in Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, and Jordan is not performing any better. Morocco had the lowest unemployment rate both in adults and youths among the countries that were sampled. The graph further confirms that youths are the most disaffected group on the issue of unemployment. In chapter 4 of this dissertation, the researcher will assess how the UAE compares with others in the region. The chapter will address the existing gaps in data from the country.

Comparing youth unemployment in the MENA region
Figure 2.2. Comparing youth unemployment in the MENA region

The Youth Progress Index

The global community has acknowledged the need for and significance of empowering youth. The concept of the youth progress index emerged as a way of assessing how well youth in a given country are empowered. The construction of the youth index will be detailed in subsequent sections of this report. Youth empowerment goes beyond the provision of quality education and the promotion of gender equality. It also focuses on the provision of basic human needs, foundations for wellbeing, and access to opportunities for personal growth, as discussed in this section. Peach (2020, p. 71) explains that the youth progress index is “one of the first-ever concepts for measuring the quality of life of young people independently of economic indicators.” In the past, the indicator was dependent on a country’s gross domestic product (GDP) per capita. As such, an assumption would be made that a country with high per capita is also performing well in youth empowerment. The problem is that such assumptions are always not accurate. This progress index goes beyond the GDP of a country (Qaiser et al. 2018). It assesses specific youth empowerment in a country on the basis of three categories: basic human needs, foundations of wellbeing, and opportunities.

Basic Human Needs

The first index focuses on the ability of youth to have access to basic human needs. Before they can participate in the economic progress of their country, youths need basic human needs, top of which is nutritional and basic medical care (Rheindorf and Wodak, 2019). Irish (2020) explains that in some developing nations around the world, youths go without food because of the harsh economic conditions. The cost of medical care is prohibitive and a majority of them cannot afford it. In other cases, public health centers are so few and in far places that they cannot help youth when in an emergency. The problem of access to quality healthcare is not a unique problem to the developing nations. In the United States, the Affordable Care Act was meant to ensure that quality healthcare was available for all (Woodson, 2019). However, the law has faced various challenges in its implementation, especially when President Trump took over the government. The first step towards ensuring that youths are empowered is to ensure that they have access to nutritional and basic medical care (Bunch, 2018).

Water and sanitation are essential basic needs that youths should have access to as they seek empowerment. Goyal (2018) explains that those in developed nations and major cities may not understand the challenge of lack of clean water and proper sewerage system. They have tap water flowing at all times and with minimal interruptions if any. However, some youth in developing nations do not enjoy such amenities. They have to walk for miles every day to fetch water, which in most cases are not clean enough for human use. However, they have no alternative but to use it despite the health risks (Black and Black, 2020). The UAE’s economy is more advanced than most of those in Africa and Asia. As such, the government should focus on comparing this index with those of developed nations such as Austria, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand among others.

Figure 2.3 below shows clean drinking water that is easily available to youths at home in the UK while those in Kenya are struggling to get the basic commodity in the adjacent photo. It is worth noting that the UAE has an arid environment and water is mainly sourced by desalination. The sustainability of this approach may be questioned as the UAE continues to grow. Figure 2.3 below shows that although clean drinking water is still an issue in other parts of the world, the UK and the UAE have found a solution to the problem.

Clean drinking water in a UK and UAE home and lack of the same in Kenya
Figure 2.3. Clean drinking water in a UK and UAE home and lack of the same in Kenya

Sanitation is another basic requirement for youths. In some developing countries around the world, one has to make a delicate balance between bathing regularly and using the rationed water for other more urgent needs such as drinking and cooking (Maina et al. 2019; Contreras and Eisenberg, 2020). However, youths in the developed countries do not have to worry about such problems. There is easy access to water and other toiletry needs, making it easy for them to maintain their hygiene. Homes and institutions of learning have proper sanitation in Austria because it is a basic requirement. Figure 2.4 below shows a washroom at a school in Austria. In the UAE, the situation is better than it is in Kenya.

A washroom in Austria and Kenya respectively
Figure 2.4. A washroom in Austria and Kenya respectively

The shelter is another basic human need that is used to assess the youth progress index. According to Gieseler (2019), for young people to focus on personal and societal progress, they need to have proper housing where they feel safe. Many underdeveloped nations around the world have a housing crisis. These families are living next to dangerously polluted rivers that expose them to various health risks. There is also the constant threat that in cases of flooding, these houses can easily be swept downstream (Museveni, 2020; Van Welie et al. 2018). If it happens at night when people are asleep, then the likelihood that many people will lose their lives is high. Lack of proper housing is considered one of the most common challenges that youths all over the world face. While those in underdeveloped countries have to accept the realities of staying in such dangerous shanties as the one shown below, those in the developed countries struggle to get a mortgage to own a home (Trimmer et al. 2019).

Homelessness is a common problem in most of the countries (Woodson, 2019). Many youths are forced to sleep in their cars because they cannot afford the high cost of housing in the country. It is important to note that housing is assigned a high priority by the government of the UAE to eliminate the development of slums. However, the affordability of housing in cities like Dubai is still an issue, especially for the expatriates. Figure 2.5 below shows the public in Hong Kong, Pakistan, and the UAE. As shown in the figure below, the UAE’s housing project is better than that in Pakistan and some of the countries in the region. However, there a need for the government and other responsible stakeholders to address the issue of affordability.

Public housing in Hong Kong, Pakistan (karachi), Abu Dhabi respectively
Figure 2.5. Public housing in Hong Kong, Pakistan (karachi), Abu Dhabi respectively

Personal safety is another basic need that is used to determine the progress index. In most of these slums, the safety of youths is not guaranteed (Patel, 2019; Branham et al. 2017). A significant number of them are forced into crime as a way of earning their income. These young robbers and burglars are at constant risk of being lynched by a mob if they are caught committing the crime (Williams and Davidson, n.d.). They can also be gunned down by law enforcement officers if they are considered armed and dangerous (Goyal, 2018). They know of these risks but they still consider crime the only way through which they can earn a living. The law-abiding youths are not safe either in these dangerous neighborhoods (Säynätmäki and Zhang, 2020). They can easily fall victims to the criminals who prefer using unnecessary force to rob. They are constantly focused on protecting their lives that the concept of youth empowerment makes little sense to them (Odufuwa et al. 2019). This index emphasizes the need to ensure that youths are protected from such harm as a means of ensuring that they can focus more on personal and national development issues.

Foundations of Wellbeing

Maslow’s theory of needs, shown in figure 2.6 below, ranks human needs from the most basic, discussed above, to secondary needs as one progresses in the ladder of success and actualization (Dan, 2017). This theory holds that the lower needs must be met before one can proceed to higher needs (Woodson, 2019). When basic human needs of the youth progress index have been met, then foundations of ‘wellbeing’ become the next index. Youths must be offered a foundation upon which they can build a successful future. The index identifies four areas that have to be considered to ensure that youths have the right foundation for growth

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs
Figure 2.6. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

The first foundation that youths need is access to basic knowledge. During the early stages of life, a person lacks the knowledge and physical strength to actively engage in activities that generate income. The only thing they need at that stage is adequate education. Ideally, youth need to gain knowledge through the formal education system (Bellocchi et al. 2017). They need adequate knowledge to pursue the career they desire. Institutions of higher learning are designed to equip youths with skills relevant to the career they want to pursue. It is the responsibility of the government to ensure that education is accessible and affordable to all youths (Goyal, 2018). The financial background of youth should not be the primary determinant of whether they will have access to the quality education they need to succeed in their lives.

Access to information and communication is another foundational requirement for youths. Gieseler (2019) argues that those in power have always protected a system where youths are denied avenues to voice their views, especially in countries governed by totalitarians such as North Korea. The problem is that when suppressed for long, they may use violent avenues to ensure that they are heard. The Arab Spring that started in 2010 in North Africa and spread to the Middle East was driven by youth who felt frustrated by the system of governance in their countries (Cooky and Messner, 2018). They felt that the government was ignoring them and the conventional media was not providing them with platforms to communicate with their leaders. They used social media, which had become popular all over the world. Woodson (2019) acknowledges the significance of ensuring that youths have avenues of communicating with their leaders and society at large. They need engaging platforms where they can get a response when they raise an issue that requires the attention of specific authorities.

Health and wellness are also essential in ensuring that youths are successful in a given country. Beyond the basic health needs discussed in the basic human needs above, youths also need a system where they can access major health centers and conduct routine check-ups without being hindered by prohibitive costs. Fontana (2020) observes that wellness also includes having a balanced diet and access to regular exercising facilities. Gyms have become important in enabling people of all ages to stay physically fit and energized. They also help in fighting obesity, cardiovascular diseases, and reduction of stress, which are common conditions among youth (Peach, 2020). The availability and affordability of such facilities are major issues in developing economies (Dalziel, 2019).

Environmental quality is the last factor in this index of youth progress (Charles and D’Alessio, 2020). The quality of the environment in which one lives defines their health and general wellbeing. When the environment is dirty and dangerous, like those shown in the figures above, then one’s health will be compromised. They will spend most of their time in hospitals because of health complications arising from the unsafe environment. Cholera, dysentery, and diarrhea are some common health problems that may arise from contaminated water. Others have to nurse physical wounds from attacks by robbers. The time that these youths should take in empowering themselves is wasted in managing life-threatening conditions caused by dangerous environments in which they live.


When basic human needs and foundations for wellbeing requirements are met, the next category of youth progress is opportunities presented to them. Youths can be ambitious and determined to achieve success in different careers, but when they are denied the opportunities that they deserve, then it may not be easy for them to realize their dreams. The UN has outlined specific opportunities that they need to have to ensure that they can achieve the growth that they desire. Black and Black (2020) argue that it is the responsibility of the government, individual family members, and society, in general, to ensure that these opportunities are presented to youth at the earliest stage possible.

Personal rights are essential for the success of the youth. According to Cooky and Messner (2018), young people should be granted the right to become who they want to be in life. Problems often arise when a parent wants their child to become the person they wanted to be but failed because of various reasons (Shvets, 2017). A child may want to become a musician or an athlete but the parent may insist that they have to become doctors or lawyers (Aliiev et al. 2018). Such a parent will deliberately block opportunities that may enable the child to become what they want. Instead, they will force them to pursue careers that they do not have a passion for (Cooky and Messner, 2018). Society may also be restrictive in defining what an acceptable practice is. For instance, a young lady may want to pursue a career in sports (Cimmino, 2019). However, beliefs and practices in society may limit her capacity to pursue her dreams (Tsesis, 2019).

Personal freedom of choice is another area of opportunity that youths need in their progress index. Religion has been one of the most restrictive practices in society for centuries (Goyal, 2018). A Jew cannot easily get married to a Muslim or a Christian because of the possible cultural and religious conflict. The perception of a possible religious conflict is fast becoming a myth. Institutions of higher learning around the world are bringing people of diverse backgrounds into a setting where they have to interact with one another regularly (Lundby, 2018). Subsequently, it is possible that an African Muslim becomes a friend with a Jew from Germany and a Christian from the United States.

This interaction can enable them to realize that they have a lot in common and similar problems that they have to address than what defines them apart (Black and Black, 2020). However, society still embraces restrictive practices that limit an individual’s capacity to make an independent choice about their career and life. This index emphasizes the need for the government, society, and families to allow their youth to make independent decisions, but with their guidance. In case their decision is wrong, then they need to explain to them why it is so and how they can still make the right decision but without being forced to do so.

Inclusion is another requirement for the well-being of youth as it creates opportunities for them. Gieseler (2019) emphasizes the need to ensure that youths are made part of policy-making, especially when it comes to decisions that directly affect them. It is common to find cases where the department for youth affairs is headed by a person aged over 60 years. Such an individual completely lacks any knowledge about the needs and aspirations of youth. It means that when they are responsible for developing policies for youth, they will rarely resonate with the targeted population. As such, the government needs to include youths in positions of power (Behm et al. 2017). They should guide the government on making policies that can help young people achieve their goals based on the opportunities available. The inclusion of youths in positions of power should not be limited to government institutions (Fontana, 2020). The private sector, non-governmental organizations, and learning institutions should also involve youth when developing policies and defining their long-term goals and strategies (Sprague Martinez et al. 2018).

Access to advanced education is another factor that creates opportunities for young people. The UAE is one of the few countries in the world where one can pursue higher education without having to pay anything as long as they attend public universities and colleges (Cooky and Messner, 2018). In many developed nations such as the United States, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom, learners are offered student loan that enables them to pursue their higher education either in private or public institutions. They have to repay the loan once they start working. Not all youths around the world have the opportunity to pursue advanced education (Goyal, 2018). Some are forced to terminate their education at high school or even lower levels because of limited resources. Even in cases where the government promises to subsidize the fee, many families in the developing world cannot afford to meet the basic needs of their families while at the same time pay school fees for their children in college. Table 2.1 below provides a summary of the youth progress index. A discussion of the different components of the index will be detailed in subsequent sections of the report.

Table 2.1. The youth progress index

The youth progress index

Figure 2.7 below provides a global overview of the youth progress index by country. It is evident that North America (the US and Canada), Western Europe, and Australia have the highest score in the youth progress index at 80-90%. In these countries, all the basic needs and foundations of wellbeing are effectively met. Youth are also offered fair opportunities to achieve success in the economic arena through entrepreneurship or gainful employment. Many Central and South American countries and those in Asia also score 70-80% in this index. They provide the basic needs and offer the right foundations for youth through formal education.

Youth in these countries may not enjoy vast opportunities for personal development as those in the western countries, but they can still achieve success through the empowerment that they get from the government and family. Sub-Sahara Africa and some parts of South Asia have the worst score. Such a poor performance was expected because as discussed above, some youths

in these countries do not even have access to basic needs such as food and clean water. They spend most of their time struggling to meet these basic needs and rarely focus on personal growth. They lack ambition and their focus is to lead similar lives, in the same deplorable slums as their parents did. The UN, through various agencies, has initiated different programs in some of these worst-affected nations to ensure that youths are empowered. It is important to note that although data about some MENA countries are presented, the UAE has only provided partial data on the youth progress index, a gap that this dissertation seeks to address.

Global youth progress index
Figure 2.7. Global youth progress index

Youth Empowerment Programs around the World

The global community has come to appreciate the significance of empowering youths as a way of achieving SDGs. Youths are expected to take leadership positions in the social, economic, and political arena at some stages of their lives (Cooky and Messner, 2018). The problem is that sometimes their future is compromised because of limited education, drug use, and many other antisocial activities that are common in different societies. Empowering youth is the most effective way of protecting the future of a nation (Tenali et al. 2020). The UN and other global agencies have developed various programs meant to ensure that youths are provided with appropriate platforms that can enable them to achieve growth and development. In this section, the focus will be to discuss social, educational, political, psychological, technological, and economic youth empowerment.

Social Empowerment

In the social arena, youths are becoming vocal in ensuring that their voices are heard. According to Peach (2020), youths have been actively involved in the discourse about environmental conservation. Greta Thunberg is one of the youths that have taken leadership roles in championing environmental conservation. They feel that as the younger generation, they will be forced to bear the burden of the degraded environment (Fontana, 2020). As they, they have to take leading roles in facing leading polluters and reminding them of the need to ensure that they act responsibly to the environment. Malala Yousafzai on the other hand has remained active in championing the rights of women in a male-dominated society (Cumbers, 2020).

These two youthful women have managed to reach the global society because of various programs that the UN and other international agencies have put in place. Commonwealth Youth Council is one of the institutions which have created avenues to ensure that youth can convene and discuss issues that affect them at a global level (Oshodi and Oshodi, 2020). It has created forums that make it possible for them to interact with global leaders responsible for the formulation of policies that govern the world. They are empowered to make personal decisions that define their future as long as their plans do not infringe upon the rights and freedoms of other members of society.

Educational Empowerment

Educational empowerment is another approach that has been used to ensure that youths become responsible adults capable of undertaking various responsibilities. Cooky and Messner (2018) note that every government has a responsibility to ensure that all its youths have access to education that can enable them to become productive members of society. Quality education still remains inaccessible to the majority of youths, especially in underdeveloped economies (Zaien et al. 2021). There is a misconception that has been perpetuated in most countries that basic education is free yet parents are expected to pay for various expenses.

College education in these countries is for the rich and the middle class (Davies and True, 2019). Various international agencies have realized the need to support youths in these countries by sponsoring their education (Allina, 2018). Plan International and World Vision are some of the international organizations directly involved in sponsoring learners from poor backgrounds so that they can realize their goal of completing their studies. These organizations have remained active in Sub-Saharan Africa and parts of South Asia. The UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has been working with various regional organizations such as Global Education Forum to promote education among youth around the world.

Political Empowerment

Political empowerment is one of the areas that has remained elusive for youths both in the developed and developing economies. According to Peach (2020), for one to win an elective post in any democracy, there is a need for them to have financial muscle and connections (Dianda et al. 2021). Resources are needed to launch and maintain campaigns during the electioneering period. The connections are critical in ensuring that the aspirant can reach out to influential people that can help them achieve the popularity needed to win an election. Older politicians have better access to money and connections, which explains why they often perform better than the younger generation in elections. Black and Black (2020) note that individual countries have created platforms that can allow youths to actively participate in political discourses and the political growth of the country. The UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) has a youth forum that enables young adults to share their political experiences in their countries and define policies that can enhance their success (Economic et al. 1996).

Psychological Empowerment

Psychological empowerment is an important yet ignored field when defining policies and strategies of enabling youths to achieve success in their lives. Many youths around the world undergo various emotional challenges (Fontana, 2020). Some come from dysfunctional families where there is no peace (Malik et al. 2021). Others have become drug addicts because of peer pressure or other forces within society. Providing resources to such psychologically depressed youths may not be of great help. They first need to get psychological support to enable them to overcome their conditions.

Psychotherapy has proven to be an effective way of assisting those who are having mental problems. Rehabilitation plans are also critical in ensuring that those who have become addicts can get the assistance they need to overcome their addiction. Various international agencies have embraced the practice of offering psychological support to youth to enable them to overcome antisocial practices. European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) is one such agency that is active in the international community and has been helping youths who are suffering from mental problems (Irish, 2020; Roman-Urrestarazu et al. 2018). Similar organizations have been active in various parts of the world to help the youth to overcome their addictions.

Technological Youth Empowerment

Technology has been at the center stage of the modern changes that have been witnessed in various sectors. Gieseler (2019) believes that the future of the world will be defined by emerging technologies. Youths have proven to perform better in technology-related fields than the aging population. They grew up at a time when analog platforms were giving way to digital platforms of managing data (Egbefo and Abe, 2017). They are more flexible and able to learn new things quicker than the aging population. According to Cooky and Messner (2018), a significant number of self-made billionaires and millionaires aged below 40 years attribute their success to technology.

Governments around the world have been keen on ensuring that their youths have access to technology-based knowledge that can help them transform society. Many organizations are also employing youths to help them deal with emerging trends as defined by the new technology (Earl, 2018). For instance, social media is a relatively new platform of communication. Youths have a better understanding of how these platforms function and how they can be used to make money. A good example is Facebook that has become a globally popular platform of social engagement that has also become a trading platform.

Economic Empowerment

The global community has created various programs and entities to help empower the youth. Although it is the responsibility of individual countries to ensure that their youths are empowered, the UN, World Bank, and International Monetary Fund (IMF) have initiated various programs in Africa, Asia, and South America to help youths from underprivileged families to start businesses as groups or to get employment (Fontana, 2020). They have been giving loans and grants to young entrepreneurs to help them start or sustain their businesses. The safety and stability of a country depend on how youths are treated. Having a large number of unemployed youths without any stable source of livelihood means that they can easily join criminal gangs (Buvinić and O’Donnell, 2019).

They can also be recruited by the political class to cause mayhem during elections, making it difficult to have a free and fair election. Extremist groups are also targeting highly educated but jobless youths to help them in strategizing and executing their attacks (Davies and True, 2019). As such, it is essential to ensure that youths are adequately empowered economically. A young entrepreneur or one who has good employment will be keen on ensuring that there is peace and political stability because they have a lot to lose in case of chaos erupts (Wang and Luo, 2019).

Youth Empowerment in the Middle East and Northern Africa

The events of the Arab Spring were a major reminder to the rulers of this region that youths can no longer be ignored. It was evident that they have the power to cause serious instability and force a regime out of power (Augsberger et al. 2019). Using force to frustrate an uprising failed to achieve the desired success in the region. It is also a major threat to those who are in power. In fact, many lives were lost in Syria and Yemen where the government tried to use force. Over 60 million people were displaced from their homes within the entire region because of the war. In fact, Gaddafi lost his life trying to protect his throne. As political stability emerges, regional youth empowerment programs within MENA have sprung up with the intent of identifying and addressing the concerns of the youth (Davies and True, 2019). The regional leaders have come together to find common ways of addressing issues affecting the youth.

MENA World Economic Forum is a policy forum that specifically focuses on youth empowerment within the region. It has been working closely with financial institutions and government institutions at local levels to ensure that the talents of youths are tapped. As for Cooky and Messner (2018) note, not every youth want to be entrepreneurs or formal employment. Others have talents in sports, acting, and other artistries and need financial support to achieve their goal. This organization has been searching for and supporting such talents among youths. International Finance Corporation (IFC) is another entity that has remained active in the MENA region to help support youths to achieve success in different careers (Kenny et al. 2018). Regional organizations such as Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the Arab League have been keen on implementing youth empowerment programs.

Youth Empowerment Programs and Policies in the UAE

Every country has the responsibility of ensuring that its youths are empowered economically. The UAE is one of the few countries in the Arab world that were not significantly affected by the Arab Spring. Cooky and Messner (2018) believe that the country remained relatively peaceful during that period because of programs that the government had put in place long before the political unrest. One of the empowerment programs that were already in place was free education for all Emirati children from the basic level to institutions of higher learning (Thabet, 2018). The government also had a program where its youths would receive a full scholarship to study in some of the leading universities around the world, especially in North America and Europe. When other youths in the region felt neglected by their governments, youths in the UAE appreciated the effort that theirs had made.

The UAE has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the world. Peach (2020) notes that the unemployment rate in the country in 2020 was 2.5%, which was less than half that of the global society that stood at 5.4% (Fontana, 2020). Most of the UAE labor laws are designed to eliminate any form of youth exploitation. For instance, the law prohibits industrial enterprises from having youth aged 15 to 18 years working at night. They can only work for six hours a day and are entitled to a 1-hour break a day. These policies help in limiting cases of youth exploitation while at the same time creating an avenue for them to gain practice experience needed in the job market. Most of these regulations are defined in Title Two (Articles 20 to 26) of the UAE Labor Law and Ministerial Resolution No. 713 of 2016 Concerning the Employment and Training of Students among other legislations (Cooky and Messner, 2018). The majority of youths in this country are in gainful employment. Those who are not employed have a safety net from the government if they decide to apply for the same.

Aligning Federal Youth Policies with the SDGs

The government of the UAE has been keen on ensuring that its federal youth empowerment policies are aligned with SDGs (Vaai Hatier, 2020). The first goal seeks to ensure that there is zero poverty while the second seeks to ensure that there is zero hunger. In the UAE, the government has a policy that ensures that every youth (and all Emiratis) who do not have employment is entitled to unemployment benefits (Abhayawansa et al. 2021). As such, hunger and absolute poverty are rare in the country, especially among the locals. Good health is the third goal of the SDGs. The government provides free healthcare to all its citizens as long as they visit government facilities (Fontana, 2020). Quality education is the objective of SDG 4. As discussed in the section above, the government offers its citizens free education from primary to tertiary education.

Clean water and sanitation is the sixth goal while affordable clean energy is the eighth goal. Dubai Electricity & Water Authority (DEWA) is tasked with the responsibility of providing these services in Dubai, the largest city in the country by population (Tawfik, 2018). Other emirates also have their authorities providing these services. Other goals such as decent work and economic growth, reduced inequalities, and sustainable cities and communities have also formed most of the programs that the government has introduced to empower its youth (Davies and True, 2019). It is important to note that the majority of residents in this country are immigrant workers who have not been granted citizenship. As such, they are not covered by these policies.


This chapter provided a review of the literature related to youth empowerment. This included defining the concept of youth and youth empowerment and introducing the youth progress index, which covers three key dimensions: basic human needs, foundations of wellbeing, and opportunities. The chapter then discussed different youth empowerment programs around the world, focusing on social empowerment, educational empowerment, political empowerment, psychological empowerment, technological youth empowerment, and economic empowerment. The chapter then looked at youth empowerment in the Middle East and Northern Africa, youth empowerment programs and policies in the UAE, and strategies for aligning federal youth policies with SDGs. The review then focused on factors that define federal youth policies, which include a societal commitment to youth empowerment, goodwill from political rulers, the push and commitment from the youth, regional economic cycle, and technology. From the review, it is evident education is one of the best ways of empowering the youth. They also need to be supported to enhance their creativity and innovation. The investigation also emphasized the need for the private sector to work closely with public institutions to empower youth.



The previous chapter provided a detailed review of the literature on the topic. It discussed the concept of youth empowerment in the context of sustainable development goals (SDGs) in different parts of the world. The review made it possible to identify knowledge gaps that had to be addressed in this study. This chapter focuses on the discussion of the method used to collect and analyze data. The researcher had to narrow down the investigation to the UAE, assess the level of youth empowerment in the country, and gaps that different stakeholders, especially the federal government, still need to address. This chapter discusses the research design that was used in the study, the data collection method, and the procedure used to conduct the analysis. The chapter also addresses ethical considerations, limitations of the study, and recommendations for future studies regarding the issue of appropriate methods of research.

Qualitative Research Design

One of the first steps that a researcher has to take in a given research project is to select an appropriate research design (Johnson et al. 2020; Längler et al. 2019). Kara (2020) explains that when selecting a research design, one should ensure that it facilitates an effective response to the research questions. The chosen design should enable the researcher to achieve the aim of the study and to answer all the research questions in the most effective way possible. In this study, the aim was to discuss the economic empowerment of the youth in the UAE as a path towards achieving SDGs. The nature of the research questions had to be taken into consideration before selecting an appropriate research design. The following were the primary questions that had to guide the process of data collection:

  1. How is the UAE progressing in terms of the SDG 4 and 5 when examined through the lens of the Youth Progress Index?
  2. How are UAE youth policies aligned with youth empowerment and the achievement of the SDGs 4 and 5?

When responding to these questions, the analysis focused on looking at how the UAE is performing with respect to each of the indexes that were identified in the previous chapter. The analysis would then lead to the identification of areas where the UAE could prioritize intervention or policy change based on the policies being used by countries that are the best performing in the index. The researcher considered qualitative research methods as the appropriate design for the study. The method was chosen because it allows a researcher to provide a detailed explanation of a phenomenon beyond statistical analysis. Andrew, Pedersen, and McEvoy (2019) argue that qualitative research design involves the collection and analysis of non-numerical data to understand specific concepts, experiences, or opinions. It is often used to conduct an in-depth analysis of a problem or to generate new ideas in a given field of knowledge (Laher, Fynn, and Kramer, 2019). It was the most appropriate design for this project.

The research uses both thematic analysis and benchmarking when analyzing relevant data. Thematic analysis’s used to highlight what the UAE leadership prioritizes in terms of youth empowerment. It helps identifies policies and initiatives that the government, through various departments, has put in place to ensure that youths in the country have access to advanced education and that they can actively engage in socio-economic and political development of the nation. It helps to understand steps that the country has taken to achieve SDGs 4 and 5. Benchmarking is used to identify countries with the best performance in various youth progress indicators and allow comparison with the UAE. This leads to identification of policies and strategies that they have used to justify their high ranks in these indexes Access to basic knowledge and access to advanced education were the YPI components prioritized because of their alignment to SDGs 4 and 5. The analysis also focuses on gender parity because of the need to determine whether the country is empowering both male and female youth in equal measure.

Data Collection Method

In this study, information had to be obtained from reliable secondary sources to help in answering the research questions above. Books, peer-reviewed journals, official communications from the government of the UAE, and websites from various government ministries provided sufficient information for the study. The researcher used reliable article databases such as Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), Journal Storage (JSTOR), Educational Resource Information Center (ERIC), J-Gate, and Journal Seek were some of the important databases used. Google Scholar also helped in accessing additional journal articles and books. Publications on specific government websites such as the Ministry of State for Youth Affairs and the Ministry of Education proved critical in this investigation. The study also used information from websites of reliable institutions such as UNSECO, the Arab Youth Center, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, and the Gulf Cooperation Council. Others included the United Nations, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, and the United Nations Development Program.

The researcher used keywords such as empowerment, youth, progress, index, wellness, global, unemployment, growth, the UAE, and stakeholders to locate the articles, books, and other online sources. The main inclusion criteria are that the sources must be recent (published within the last ten years with preference given to those published within the last 3 years), focused on youth empowerment, and published by reputable institutions. Authority of authorship was also checked, in terms of academic qualifications and experience, to provide trustworthy information. Materials published by extremist organizations or their sympathizers were excluded even if they met the above criteria because of the possible bias they might have towards issues being investigated in this study.

Data Analysis Procedure

Once data was collected from the sources above, they had to be analyzed in a way that responds to the research questions. When raw data is collected from a sample of participants, it is always a tedious process to analyze it in a way that makes sense to the study (Laher, Fynn, and Kramer, 2019). However, this project involved using secondary data that had been processed already. The analysis process involved reviewing these documents to determine how they respond to each of the research questions. Given that the design was qualitative in nature, the researcher focused on gathering detailed explanations provided by these sources when answering each question. For instance, when addressing the question of existing policies on youth economic empowerment in the UAE, the analysis involved collecting direct quotations from these sources on how they respond to the issue. As mentioned above, the analysis will focus on looking at how the UAE is performing with respect to each of the youth progress indexes that were identified in chapter 2. The goal will be to determine how the country is performing in these indexes, with the aim of identifying weaknesses that should be addressed.

Using quotations from different sources made it possible to understand different perspectives on the issue. The quotations were then used to develop themes. Themes and supporting quotations were presented in a tabular form for ease of interpretation. The approach was similar to what had previously been planned when developing the research proposal. The only difference was that instead of using quotations from a sample of participants, the researcher had to rely on information from already published sources. The analysis approach was simple but effective in identifying the current state of youth empowerment, the trends, and barriers to youth empowerment in the country. The approach of analysis was considered appropriate in providing a detailed explanation of various open-ended questions in the study.

The analysis primarily looks at the elements where the UAE is only partially assessed in relation to the index. As explained in chapter 2, it is important to address these gaps to give an indicative ranking, including areas where more information, data, or policy interventions are required. The analysis will focus on specific indexes, explaining how they are constructed empirically, how to obtain the missing measures for the UAE, and what needs to be done to place us alongside the best performing countries in that index. It will help give a clear picture of how the country is performing when compared with others around the world.

Validity and Reliability

When conducting research, one of the most important factors to consider is the reliability and validity of the data presented. The researcher did not collect primary data as was initially intended. As such, the reliability and validity of data had to be looked at from the lens of the secondary sources used. The researcher was keen on selecting sources used in the study. Government publications, especially by the UAE’s Ministry of State for Youth Affairs, were considered reliable. The researcher also collected data from publications made by youth forums in the country. Peer-reviewed journals were also considered reliable sources of information for the study. Books were only used as further supporting materials in the study.

Ethical Considerations

Ethical considerations are always essential in a research project. The fact that the researcher was unable to get consent meant that data had to be collected from secondary sources. The main ethical consideration in this project was to avoid plagiarism. It is an academic offense to present works of other scholars in full or part as one’s own. In this study, the researcher avoided all forms of plagiarism in the study. Information obtained from secondary sources was cited accordingly using Harvard referencing style. The paper had to be completed and handed in within the period provided by the school.

Limitations of the Study and Recommendations

In this study, the major challenge that the researcher encountered was the fact sources used in chapter 4 are predominately from government documentation so may not apply to the UAE’s private sector. It explains why the researcher has recommended further studies on this topic to be conducted using primary data. In the literature review, it was evident that most of the published books and peer-reviewed articles were published in western countries, especially in the United States and Europe. It means that they do not provide a fair explanation of the actual conditions in the Middle East, and specifically the UAE. It is suggested that this problem can only be addressed by promoting a culture of research in the country’s institutions of higher learning.

Analysis and Discussion


The previous chapter provided an explanation of the method that was used to collect and process data. In this chapter, the focus is to present findings that were made from the analysis of the data. The analysis will focus on specific indexes, explaining how they are constructed empirically, how to obtain the missing measures for the UAE, and what needs to be done to place us alongside the best performing countries in that index. Government publications provided critical information relating to the current and future economic youth empowerment plans in the UAE as a path towards achieving sustainable development. The analysis focused on directly addressing each of the research questions, looking at how the UAE is performing with respect to each of the youth progress index

Youth Economic Empowerment Policies in the UAE

The concept of youth empowerment has gained massive popularity in various parts of the world (Youssef, 2020). It was necessary for the researcher to establish what stakeholders in the UAE, especially the government, have done to empower the youth. The following question was used to investigate this issue.

How is the UAE progressing in terms of the SDG 4 and 5 when examined through the lens of the Youth Progress Index?

When addressing this question, the focus was on how well the country is performing in various youth progress indexes. Access to information and communication, Inclusion, and access to advanced education is the specific youth progress indexes addressed in this question. The researcher reviewed secondary data sources to find effective responses to the questions above. Government publications through various websites and other platforms provided an effective response to the above questions. It was evident that there are numerous policies that the government of the UAE has put in place to empower its youth. The choice of the benchmarked country was based on the level of youth empowerment in these countries, the effectiveness of the implementation policies, and how readily available the needed data about the specific issue under investigation are. Various policies and initiatives were identified to help answer the above question. These initiatives have been presented in form of thematic analysis, as shown in Table 4.1 below.

It identifies policies and initiatives that various departments within the UAE government are taking to ensure that the country achieves SDGs 4 and 5. As the country seeks to be among the best nations in empowering the youth, it was necessary to benchmark its initiatives with nations ranked best in various youth progress indexes. It will help the policy makes to define a path that will ensure that youth in the country are empowered enough to compete fairly against their peers in these developed nations. Table 4.2 below identifies the benchmarked nations, criteria that were used to rank them top, how the UAE compare, and gender parity issues. The analysis primarily focuses on youth progress indexes in line with SDG 4 (quality education) and SDG 5 (gender equality). It is important to note that the analysis primarily focused on the second component of YPI because it is aligned with SDGs 4 and 5, which was the focus of the study. The first dimension, where the UAE performed well, was left out because the criteria are too general and do not directly focus on youth economic empowerment, which was the focus of the study. The third dimension was left for future research, as some of the criteria related to sexual orientation are inconsistent with the Islamic values of the UAE. Some of the criteria on other components champion for practices

TABLE 4.1. Youth empowerment policies and initiatives in the UAE

Theme Component of YPI Addressed Policies/ Initiatives (Supporting Quote) Explanation
Supporting creativity and innovation among youth Access to advanced education “The Ministry of Culture and Youth (MCY) works to enrich the cultural ecosystem in the UAE through, supporting cultural, arts and heritage institutions, providing a platform for artistic talent and innovation” (UAE Ministry of Culture and Youth, 2021).
“The UAE has made significant strides to ensure engagement of youth, listening to their voice and enhancement of their skills of leadership,” (UAE’s Government Portal, 2021).
“Ministry of Education Strategic Policy Plan 2017-2021 seeks to develop an innovative Education System for a knowledge and global competitive society, that includes all age groups to meet future labor market demand, by ensuring quality of the ministry of education outputs, and provision of best services for internal and external customers” (UAE Ministry of Education, 2021)
“National Strategy for Higher Education Policy 2030 is meant to build and achieve the highest scientific and professional education standards to serve the UAE’s future generations.” (UAE’s Government Portal, 2021).
“The mission of FYA is that we invest in youth’s energy, our most valuable resource, by nurturing their character, developing the environment that surrounds and shapes them, and maximizing their participation”, (UAE’s Government Portal, 2021).
The government of the UAE is keen on empowering its youth through various programs and policies. These initiatives are developed by various government departments and agencies, some of which were specifically created to protect the interest of youths. The Ministry of Culture and Youth, The Ministry of Education, and the Federal Youth Authority are some of the public entities supporting creativity and innovation among youth as ways of empowering them economically
Youth in leadership Inclusion “We aim to provide the best services to enhance our role in promoting and developing the UAE’s cultural economy and to establish our leadership in the cultural and knowledge sector,” (UAE Ministry of Culture and Youth, 2021).
“The UAE government has appointed one of the youngest ministers in the world at the age of 22,” (UAE’s Government Portal, 2021).
The UAE government has acknowledged the significance of allowing youth to actively be involved in leadership. It has appointed young people (of both genders) to head various government entities.
Theme Component of YPI Addressed Policies/ Initiatives (Supporting Quote) Explanation
Empowerment through communication Access to information and communication “The National Youth Strategy is a policy that focuses on the five major transitions (education, work, adopting a healthy and safe lifestyle, starting a family, and exercising their citizenship) in a youth’s life in a 20-year span,” (UAE’s Government Portal, 2021).
“In 2017, the UAE government developed Youth Councils as a unique tool to ensure that the youth represent their points of view and needs at all stages of the policy development process,” (UAE’s Government Portal, 2021).
“Designed by and for the youth, Youth Circles provide two-way dialogues directly between the youth and our government, private sector and global leaders,” (UAE’s Government Portal, 2021).
The government of the UAE has remained committed to empowering the youth through access and the ability to share information. The National Youth Strategy, and Youth Circles are some of the policies and programs meant to enable the youth in the country to have easy access to information relevant for their progress. Agencies like Youth Council also promotes easy access of information to the youth.
Youth initiatives Access to advanced education “Youth Circles are affordable, accessible and fully community-led, meant to develop practical solutions, innovative ideas and effective policies and tangibly connect Youth to leadership,” (UAE’s Government Portal, 2021).
“Youth Hubs are state-of-the-art spaces done by the youth, for the youth. They are collaborative work and convening spaces that connect young people throughout the UAE with the essential resources and ecosystem for growth,” (UAE’s Government Portal, 2021).
“In 2017, the UAE launched the Arab Youth Center (AYC) during the World Government Summit 2017,” (UAE’s Government Portal, 2021).
The UAE government is working closely with the local community (including the private sector), through Youth Circles, to promote innovation among youths in finding solutions to local socio-economic and political challenges. Youth Hubs are also creates platforms where public entities can work with the private sector to promote creativity among youths in the country.

Table 4.2. Benchmarking

YPI Component Criteria Used Benchmarked Country The UAE’s Progress
Index Score
Explanation Index Score {Rank} Explanation
Access to basic knowledge – Youth literacy rate
– Primary school enrolment
– Secondary school enrolment
– Gender parity in secondary enrolment
– Female population with secondary education
– Male population with secondary education


Canada was ranked first in the access to basic knowledge component of YPI in 2017, as shown in table 4.3 below, with a score of 99.65. The country has high youth literacy rate and enrolment in primary and secondary schools is equally high. It has achieved gender parity in secondary school enrolment, which means that both male and female youth have equal opportunity of having access to basic knowledge. The country has achieved this high rank by ensuring that basic education is free and easily accessible to all its citizens. 100


The UAE has made major progress in ensuring that its citizens have access to basic knowledge. UNDP’s Human Development Indicators scores the UAE at 80.2 in their index. It means that it is closer to the best performing countries, but more can still be done to enable it record an improvement. Although the UAE has made progress in improving secondary school enrolment and gender parity in secondary school enrolment, specific data that can facilitate its ranking is still missing. However, based on the performance in other indexes, it is apparent that the UAE can be ranked among top 20 globally in this YPI component
Secondary school enrolment for the UAE was estimated to be 98.77 because of the score it had for the primary school enrolment and the government policy of having 100% transition from primary to secondary school. In this case, the assumption based on the data and information from the Ministry of Education is that all students in primary schools were enrolled in secondary school. The score of 98.44 on gender parity in secondary enrolment is also based on the above factors as the government has ensured that all learners, irrespective of their gender, transit from primary to secondary school.
Access to advanced education
  • Years of tertiary education
  • Women’s average years in school
  • Inequality in the attainment of education
  • Tertiary enrolment rate
The United States emerged as the best country in access to advanced education index, scoring 91.86 as shown in table 4.3 below. Both male and female spend a considerably long period in tertiary education in the country. Tertiary enrolment rate is significantly higher than any other country in the world and cases of inequality in attainment of education is significantly low. These are the factors that have enabled the US to be ranked as the best nation in terms of access to advanced education. It has made significant investment in improving the infrastructure in institutions of higher learning 21.98
The UAE has registered improved performance in enhancing access to advanced education. The UAE has a score of 81.0 according to UNDP’s Human Development Indicators. A comparative analysis means shows that with such a score, the UAE ranks closer to some of the best performing countries in this index. The government has improved infrastructure in universities and colleges across the country. It has also invested in research activities at these institutions. The UAE has progressed in addressing inequality in the attainment of education and tertiary enrolment rate, and based on its performance on the other indexes, the country can be ranked 31 globally.
Inequality in the attainment of education was given a score of 88.75, which ranks the country ahead of the United States. This was so because of the compulsory of a law introduced in 2012 which made it compulsory for children of school-going age to remain in school until they complete Grade 12. Tertiary enrolment in the country is also significantly high among citizens because of the full sponsorship that the government grants to its citizens in these institutions.

One of the strategies that the government has used to economically empower the youth is to support various innovative strategies in which they are involved, which is an aspect of access to advanced education at part of the YPI. As shown in the table above, the government is offering these youths a platform for the development of their innovation and artistic talent through the Ministry of Culture and Youth. Through the Federal Youth Authority, the government has created a revolving fund that can help youths in the country to actively engage in various economic activities. The UNESCO has also been helping the government to empower the youths in the country through initiatives such as the International Architectural Competition in the planned rehabilitation and reconstruction of Al Nouri Mosque Complex (United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2019). Such projects are often given to large multinational corporations. However, the decision to offer such a mega-contract to youths is a demonstration of the commitment by these stakeholders to empower the youth.

The government has also focused on empowering the youth by actively engaging them in leadership, which is an aspect of inclusion as a component of YPI. As shown in the table above, the government has provided numerous platforms where youths are directly involved in leadership. The Federal Youth Authority, Youth Cycles, Youth Council, and Arab Youth Center are major government programs, which are largely headed by youths. Her Excellency Shamma bint Suhail bin Faris Al Mazrui, aged 22, was appointed as the UAE Minister of State for Youth Affairs, making her one of the youngest ministers in the world (United Nations, 2020). It builds confidence among youth knowing that the government trusts their leadership skills.

Youth empowerment in the country has also been done by creating effective platforms for communication. The government has been investing in various initiatives to enable youths in the country to communicate among themselves and with those responsible for policy formulation and implementation. Youth Council is one such initiative meant to bring together young people in the country so that they can share their ideas and engage government officials, Youth Circles, on the other hand, provides a two-way dialogue between youths in the country on the one hand, and the government, the private sector, and global leaders on the other hand. These youth initiatives have supported various youth programs, especially among those engaged in business activities or individuals keen on advancing their careers in already established companies.

On gender parity issues, it is evident that the UAE is performing better than most of its regional counterparts. Figure 4.1 below shows that the country has registered impressive performance in closing the gender gap. Within the MENA region (excluding Israel), only Kuwait has registered a better performance in terms of closing the gender gap. More is still being done to ensure that women have the same opportunities as men to achieve success in the social, economic, and political forums.

 The MENA gender gap index
Figure 4.1. The MENA gender gap index

Effectiveness of the UAE Youth Policies in Enabling the Country to Achieve SDGs 4 and 5

One of the objectives of this study was to find ways in which the country can effectively achieve SDGs 4 and 5. It was necessary to use the available secondary sources to determine how the country has performed in achieving these goals. The following question was used to conduct the assessment:

How are UAE youth policies aligned with youth empowerment and the achievement of the SDGs 4 and 5

Secondary sources available demonstrated that the country has registered impressive performance at regional and international levels in achieving goal number 4 in the SDGs. The government has introduced education policies meant to ensure that UAE youth, irrespective of their gender, is academically empowered. One of the best ways of economically empowering the youth is to offer them quality education which will make them competitive in the local and global job market. For a long time, the country had been relying on expatriates to undertake technical jobs in the construction and mining sectors at the expense of the local youth (Thomas, 2021). When they are academically empowered, these youths will take these lucrative employment opportunities instead of relying on foreigners. As shown below, the UAE is ranked 6th in the world among countries with the best higher education training, ahead of the United States and other developed nations such as Norway, Denmark, and New Zealand (World Economic Forum, 2015). It ranks second in the entire Asian continent, after Singapore, and first in the Middle East and Africa.

In an effort to align its policies with global youth empowerment programs and SDGs 4 and 5, the UAE government introduced The Ministry of Education Strategic Policy Plan 2017-2021. Since its introduction, it has become one of the policies that have enabled the country to achieve great levels of success in increasing access to advanced education for the youth. It has been able to make education more affordable for the citizens of the country. It has also facilitated the improvement of the education infrastructure in the country. It is a clear demonstration that the government and different stakeholders have been successful in enhancing the quality of education in the country. The level of success can be emulated by other countries in the world.

Global competitiveness index 2014-2015 in higher education
Figure 4.2. Global competitiveness index 2014-2015 in higher education

Goal number 5 in the SDG emphasizes the need to promote gender equality. The UAE has been keen on ensuring that women are empowered economically, socially, and politically to enable them to compete favorably with men. The current minister in the Ministry of State for Youth Affairs is a woman. The government has also appointed other women to senior government positions in different departments. The education system in the country has been reformed to ensure that every school-going child or youth has access to free quality education irrespective of their gender.

The researcher was interested in identifying specific impediments to economic youth empowerment in the UAE as the country seeks to achieve SDGs. The analysis above shows that the UAE is performing better than most of the countries in the region in terms of youth empowerment, especially in its effort towards achieving the 4th and 5th SDGs. However, it is important to note that there is still room for improvement. Other countries have registered better performance in the two indices, which means that the government and other stakeholders can still do more to ensure that the performance is improved. It was necessary to identify weaknesses in the UAE youth policies and initiatives.

A review of the literature identified various factors believed to have slowed the country’s ability to achieve these goals. Chua (2018) argues that the concept of women empowerment is relatively new in the country. For a long time, men had leverage over women in terms of advancing their education and getting better employment opportunities. They also dominated the social and political arenas. Although the country has made major milestones in ensuring that women are economically, socially, and politically empowered, men still dominate these spaces because of the cultural beliefs and practices that have existed in this region for centuries.

The social role of women in the UAE is still a major challenge towards achieving gender equality in the country. Although girls and boys receive the same quality of education and are presented with equal employment opportunities, the social responsibilities of women still make it difficult for them to achieve the same career success as men. When they start their families, society still looks up to women to take care of their young children (United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2019). They are more likely to spend more time at home after childbirth to take care of these domestic responsibilities. Others are forced to interrupt their career and dedicate their time to family duties as is expected of them.

During that period, their male colleagues get the opportunity to advance their careers. Chua (2018) observes that most employers prefer hiring men to women because of the belief that men are more resilient, energetic, and less likely to take paid leave compared with women. The stigmatization has seen most women perform less optimally than men in technical fields such as medicine and engineering in the country. The country’s laws regarding migrant workers have also been described as being oppressive and exploitative (United Nations, 2020). The majority of these migrant workers are youths below 35 years from developing countries in Africa and parts of Asia. The country cannot achieve true youth empowerment if these foreign workers are subjected to an exploitative workplace environment.

How to Further Improve Youth Economic Empowerment in the UAE

The role of youth empowerment requires close coordination of both private and public stakeholders working as a unit. The researcher developed a conceptual framework to help in explaining factors that can help promote youth economic empowerment in the country based on the information obtained from the review of the literature. As shown in figure 2.9 below, youth economic empowerment depends on federal youth policies developed by the government. The Youth Minister, Youth Councils, and other government entities responsible for the development of youth must enact policies that address specific challenges that young people in the country face. The willingness and ability of the government to develop these policies depend on a number of factors, one of them being societal commitment to youth empowerment.

When society is committed to empowering its youth, the government will feel the pressure and the need to enact youth empowerment policies. The private sector plays a critical role in creating jobs for the youth. These local companies can also work closely with local schools to create incubation centers at various institutions of higher learning. Through these incubation centers, learners can enhance their innovative skills through the direct financial support of the private sector companies. Such initiatives will motivate the government to reevaluate its youth empowerment policies based on the emerging trends in the society.

Goodwill from the political rulers is another major factor. When the political class is concerned about the welfare of youth, it will always be keen on enacting relevant policies. The last factor is the push and commitment from the youth themselves. When they constantly demand their rights, then the government will see the need to enact the needed policies. There is a need to have a feedback loop, where youth can express their current levels of satisfaction with the policies introduced, and areas that they believe improvements are needed. This approach will ensure that the government, through various relevant departments, understands concerns and youth needs in the country. These factors all contribute towards the development of sincere and actionable youth empowerment policies in the country. The framework represents how the youth can be better represented.

Conceptual framework
Figure 4.7. Conceptual framework

The analysis shows that the UAE is making an impressive progress in empowering its youth. Table 4.1 identifies the policies and initiatives that the government has taken to achieve this goal while table 4.2 compares the performance of the UAE to that of the best performing nations around the world. It has also addressed the effectiveness of the UAE youth policies in enabling the country to achieve SDGs 4 and 5. The weaknesses of some of the policies are also discussed. The final section of the chapter addresses the role of different stakeholders in youth empowerment. A conceptual framework has been developed to discuss how different institutions and stakeholders can work together to economically empower the youth in the UAE. The next chapter provides a summary of the entire dissertation and recommendations that policy-makers and scholars should consider.



The government of the United Arab Emirates has been committed to empowering its youth not only to achieve sustainable development goals but also to ensure there is sustained economic growth. As shown in the review of the literature and analysis of data from various sources discussed in chapter 3, empowering youth economically is one of the best ways of ensuring that the future economic growth of the country is protected. As the country seeks to diversify its economy, technology has been viewed as an important tool that will define the next frontier for growth. Evidence reviewed in this paper show that youths perform better than senior citizens in embracing technology and adopting emerging trends. However, if they are to apply these skills to business enterprises and start-ups they need financial support because most of them lack the financial muscle to venture into businesses.

The government has enacted various policies meant to directly support the youth to achieve economic independence. The UAE has the youngest cabinet minister in the region, Shamma bint Suhail Faris Al Mazrui, who is serving as the Minister of State for Youth Affairs. She was only 22 years when she was appointed to that position. As a youth, she understands the needs and expectations of young Emiratis and has been at the forefront in championing policies that can empower them. The Ministry has been keen on supporting innovation and entrepreneurship among the youth through various initiatives, it has been using the youth progress index to define specific areas where the youth need support.

The analysis in chapter 4, shows that under the three categories of youth progress index, which are basic human needs, foundations of wellbeing, and opportunity, the UAE is performing better than most of the MENA countries, especially in promoting creativity and innovation. The government has been successful in providing basic needs for its youth and offering them the opportunity to exploit their creativity in technology and other fields. The country has one of the highest literacy levels in the region, as shown in the paper. Funding of institutions of higher learning has ensured that youth have effective platforms to sharpen their skills to enable them to become productive young adults. However, it is necessary for the government to increase the number of youths in government positions.

The SDGs have also informed policies that the government has enacted to empower its youth. SDG 4 emphasizes the need to ensure that quality education is available to all youth. The analysis conducted above shows that the UAE has one of the best education systems. All Emiratis have access to free quality education through public learning institutions. SDG 5 holds that there should be gender equality when empowering youth. The UAE is performing better than other MENA countries, with its youngest minister being a female. No poverty, zero hunger, and good health and wellness, which are SDGs 1, 2, and 3, are effectively addressed in this country through various public programs.

Policy Recommendations

The analysis of data and the review of the literature show that the UAE has made steps towards empowering its youth in an effort to achieve SDGs. However, it is evident that more still needs to be done to ensure that the country can favorably compete with advanced economies in Europe and North America. The following recommendations should be taken into consideration when defining future government policies:

  • Based on the findings in section 4.2 that identified the role of government in promoting creativity among the youth, the UAE government should do more to promote youth initiatives as a way of achieving access to the advanced education index. The Ministry of State for Youth Affairs, working closely with the Ministry of Education, can promote creativity and innovation in local institutions of higher learning by rewarding new concepts and helping the innovators to actualize them;
  • As discussed in section 4.2 the government, through the Ministry of Education, should adequately fund local institutions of learning to ensure that they effectively empower youths through various innovative programs;
  • Consistent with the findings in the literature summarized in section, 2.4 about youth empowerment programs around the world, the private sector should have access to adequate capital to ensure that they can invest in research and innovation which involves the participation of youth. The government can set aside a section of its budget to finance programs in the private sector meant to empower youth;
  • Section 4.4 of this report emphasizes the importance of youth in leadership as a way of achieving the inclusion index. As such, when enacting new policies that directly affect the youth, it is essential to ensure that they are consulted as much as possible.

Recommendation for Further Research

Youth economic empowerment is a topic that warrants further research. Changes in the socio-economic, political, and technological environment mean that the approach to empowering the youth will change from time to time. It is essential for policymakers to know when to change the strategy, and future scholars should provide the knowledge needed at that time. One of the main challenges faced in this study was the inability to collect primary data through face-to face interviews because of the COVID-19 containment measures. Future research should overcome this challenge at a time when the global community will overcome the pandemic. The following recommendations should be considered:

  • The conceptual framework in section 4.4 of this report discusses the role of different stakeholders in youth empowerment, including youth. As such, further research should emphasize directly interviewing youth to determine their views about the ongoing progress made and weaknesses in youth empowerment programs in the UAE;
  • In order to ensure the effective delivery of youth empowerment it is necessary to evaluate the issue from the perspective of all relevant stakeholders including officials from the ministry and members of the community, as suggested in section 4.4 of this dissertation;
  • The discussion in 2.4 of the report identifies youth empowerment programs around the world. It is necessary to investigate how the UAE can compete with economically advanced economies in Europe and North America using the resources in the country;
  • Statistics in section 2.2 of this report show data about some elements of the youth progress index in the UAE is missing. As such, it is highly desirable for future scholars to collect data on these indexes to determine how the country compares with the other nations within the MENA region and globally. This will help inform policy making on an objective basis.

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