UK aid’s approach to youth employment in the Middle East and North Africa

A full review assessing the relevance and effectiveness of UK aid programmes in promoting employment opportunities for young people across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).


Over half of the population in the MENA region is under 24 years old and a quarter of young people in the labour force are unemployed. Some countries within the region report that up to 60% of young women are not in education, employment or training (NEET), whilst nearly 30% of young unemployed people across the region have a university degree.

The youth employment challenge is exacerbated by both demand-side failures, such as a lack of access to finance, restrictive business regulations and cronyism which reduces the number of employment opportunities, and supply-side failures, such as education and skills that do not match labour market needs, making it harder for young people to compete for jobs.

Overall, the MENA region is characterised by economic and geopolitical instability. Economies face structural imbalances including large, inefficient public sectors, uncompetitive business environments and governance challenges, as well as high youth unemployment.

Within this context, sustainable economic development and poverty reduction in the region are closely linked to the need to create decent work opportunities for young people.


The range of potential interventions to address youth unemployment is broad. We have identified 115 programmes with a total value of over £2.4 billion from the UK’s aid portfolio in the region that include a youth employment element within the scope of our review.

The portfolio under review includes programmes where youth employment is a direct objective, or where youth employment is a component of other objectives, such as in programmes that promote stability or support refugee populations.

The portfolio covers Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs), Syria, Turkey, Yemen, Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia, and includes programming since the publication of the 2015 UK aid strategy.

Review questions

  • Relevance: Is the UK’s approach to promoting youth employment in MENA relevant to needs?
  • Coherence: How coherent is UK aid’s approach to promoting youth employment?
  • Effectiveness: How effective is the UK’s support to youth employment in MENA?


Research for this review began in September 2020, with publication expected in June 2021.


[ICAI Youth employment in MENA review – Approach paper]

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