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The future of work in the MENA region: Moving into the digital fast lane… with the brakes on

January 24, 2022

  Nader Kabbani


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This document is part of the series 'Regional views on the future of work' that seeks to take stock of the main dimensions shaping the future of work in the Global South and present key messages and policy recommendations to create an innovative and inclusive future of work in MENA.

*The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of IDRC or its Board of Governors. This work was carried out with the aid of a grant from the International Development Research Centre, Ottawa, Canada.


The fourth industrial revolution is changing workforces around the world. Robots are automating repetitive jobs, not just those in manufacturing, but in agriculture and services as well. Digital technologies and artificial intelligence (AI) are displacing routine jobs in retail, hospitality, and other industries.

Technological innovation has the potential to free workers to engage in more creative pursuits, such as managing technology and creating new consumer experiences. Skilled individuals will benefit, enjoying global reach and higher salaries. They will be able to telework and access global marketplaces from anywhere. However, workers who lack the skills to engage with technology or who work in institutions that limit their ability to innovate and grow will see their wages and job prospects decline.

Changes introduced by the fourth industrial revolution will have a profound impact on economies and societies. Some countries will engage effectively, develop needed institutions, and prepare people to master the skills they need to survive the thrive in the digital age. Other countries will try to engage, but without making the investments needed to upgrade the capacities of their institutions or the skills of their workforces.

Although MENA faces similar development challenges to other developing regions of the world, including labour market informality, demographic trends, weak institutional capacity, and political economy traps. what sets the regions apart are two key challenges: the declining natural resource wealth and the strained citizens state relations. So how Middle East & North Africa governments can prepare for the fourth industrial revolution?

With these question in mind we gatherer together academics and field experts at the “Dialogues on the future of work in the Global South” for approaching to them from southern and regional perspetives.

This document –as well as three companion papers covering other Global South regions- seeks to present key messages and policy recommendations emerging from these discussions. On the one hand, it is intended to take stock of the main dimensions shaping the future of work in the Global South. On the other, it is an open invitation to move from the plane of predictions to that of the imagination and future-building. It can serve as a powerful tool to reframe the discussion by adding Global South perspectives.

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Work is changing rapidly. Learning to navigate the changes will benefit us all.

IDRC has launched FOWIGS—a research program that will help understand how these changes are affecting the lives of the most vulnerable and suggest pathways for an inclusive digital future. The challenges are large and the questions are complex. But we need to face them now more than ever. Stay connected. Learn how.


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