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Khalid Al Ameri: Arab youth: the return of individualism
January 05, 2016
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The European Renaissance, which took place between the 14th and 17th centuries, is highly credited with being the starting point of individualism where one celebrating their uniqueness became popular. Advances were made in the fields of arts and science, work became more intimate and personalised, even personal branding through autobiographies and self-portraits (in modern day terms the “Selfie”) became mainstream.

Artists like Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci reached their artistic heights, Christopher Columbus discovered the “New World”, and the development of the “scientific method” based on historical data and math allowed scientists such as Galileo and Copernicus to make great advances in the fields of astronomy and physics.

All this to say that the renaissance paved the way for an individual to shape and build their own identity outside the walls of cultural norms, it allowed people to express themselves in ways they felt comfortable regardless of whether or not society deemed it acceptable, it allowed people to be who they wanted to be and become who they wanted to become.

Fast-forward to 2016 and it certainly feels that the Arab youth are in the middle of creating their own modern day renaissance somewhat similar to that of what started in the 14th century. Sure the playing fields are different, the tools and technology at our fingertips is far more advanced, society’s personalities and priorities have changed dramatically, but the search for individuality amongst Arab youth is as alive as it has ever been.

Social media played a vital part in the start of the “Arab Youth Renaissance” as it gave them a platform to share their thoughts and personalities, it created a world where people could share, for better or for worse, exactly what they were thinking, it also provided opportunities for the creatives and entrepreneurs to completely skip big corporations to share their services or products. Social media celebrities have also shown that it’s possible to monetise, gain region-wide recognition and create a career out of work which is considered non-traditional.

On the other side of the renaissance we are seeing companies and entities failing to adapt to the shifting personalities of our youth. The issue is that the youth no longer want just a steady salary or a job that locks them up in a cubicle for 9 hours a day. They want to express themselves through their work, they want flexibility to create and take chances, they want to do work that has an impact on their lives and the lives of others, and they want meaning.

We are starting to see a growing number of students hesitant to jump straight into the job market out of fear of becoming a number in a system, the growth of government backed initiatives such as the Khalifa Fund and Dubai SME in parallel to the shift in youth personalities is making entrepreneurship more attractive than ever. Locally, I have noticed a rise in sabbaticals amongst young Emirati workers, a sabbatical is a type of long leave of absence people take from their jobs, usually about a year, to either travel or simply try something new. This was unheard of as recently as a few years back probably because employees didn’t even know such a leave of absence from work existed.

The current corporate leaders and organisations who are worried about such strong changes amongst youth should be, our youth are going to be harder to hire, harder to retain, and less willing to conform to outdated practices and policies. However, leaders and organisations who are excited about this new energy amongst Arab youth should be, they will start to see impact driven employees who are not just in it for the money, they will start to see creativity and innovation built into their work, and similar to what happened in the renaissance of the 14th century they will start to see advances in fields and industries across the region.

I remember conducting a survey during University where I asked the youth on social media what their biggest worry for their future was. I got common responses such as safety and security of the region, finding a job, or weird ones such as not having a Starbucks close to their home. The one worry that came up most regardless of gender, age, or demographic was not knowing what they were put on this earth to do, but I think now they are starting to figure it out, because now they are more concerned about how they feel about themselves and their work, rather than what others think of it.

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The author is a columnist on education and youth development.

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