Empowering youth for a disruptive future

By Fadi Adra, Dima Sayess, and Hashem Hayee Hamad Alkaabi


Young people are living during a period of accelerated change driven by an increased focus on diversity, sustainability, and technology. The rapid onset of Industry 4.0 (advanced, connected manufacturing) will further change the nature of work and require new skills and competencies. At present, youth aged 15 to 35 are close to 50% of the UAE population—the largest demographic cohort. It is vital to invest in youth and help them reach their potential to secure the economy for the future.

To understand the way forward, Strategy& cooperated with the Emirates Youth Council (EYC). Together we examined the top 10 youth-related trends that the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified, trends that will shape the next decade for UAE youth.

We mapped these trends to five themes:

Education and human capital

In terms of education and human capital, youth should focus on digitized, personalized, and life-long education. As educational models become more flexible, students will customize their learning experiences. Similarly, the focus on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math)-based education and learning across disciplines will intensify, with a stress on developing technological and soft skills.

Employment and productivity

Employers in turn need an agile, entrepreneurial, and resilient workforce. Remote and digital working will become standard—enabled by the adoption of emerging technologies. The “gig” economy and fluid workforces are becoming more prevalent, with people holding many jobs or employees shared by multiple employers. That means that youth will be inclined to work that fulfills their desire for enterprise, personal freedom, innovation, individuality, and ownership.

Health and safety

Similarly, youth will place greater emphasis on their physical well-being. Fitness will be more holistic and more digitally enhanced. Youth are already benefiting from innovations that offer personalized diets. Medical technologies will deliver data-driven preventive care and improve longevity. The pandemic has compounded mental health issues, but mental illnesses will lose their stigma and treatments will use new technologies.

Society and sustainability

The pandemic has also encouraged youth to focus on sustainable consumption. There is a stress on saving for the future rather than instant gratification. The sharing economy, which was hit hard by health concerns, will have to be reinvented. The entertainment industry is moving toward immersive digital experiences. The disruption of supply chains means more support for local products. Youth will become more active in adopting resource-efficient lifestyles and promoting policies to counter climate change, and will influence businesses to be more eco-friendly. Similarly, youth will have increased opportunities for green education and jobs in renewables.


On a community level, social cohesion is strengthening in the UAE. This trend is part of broader changes in the structure of the family, with more women working, declining birth rates, and an increase in elderly dependents. Technology will lessen the intergenerational gap, while global citizenship education will prepare students for the future global work market and improve social cohesion. Social protection, inclusion, and empowerment schemes will promote gender equality and people of determination will benefit from inclusive opportunities through assistive technologies.

Youth around the world are more values-driven and socially responsible. Social entrepreneurship is more popular, as is virtual volunteering. Innovative channels like tech platforms are strengthening civic participation. Those platforms will also enable wider youth participation in policy and decision making.

We believe that these trends are opportunities for youth and decision makers. Youth should treat these trends as priorities, preparing for Industry 4.0, seeking internships and entrepreneurship programs while testing entrepreneurial ideas through startup challenges. They should take responsibility for their physical and mental health, using technology to set physical activity prompts, and adopting telemedicine and personalized healthcare. They should be financially responsible and develop money management skills. They should develop eco-friendly habits and “reduce, reuse, recycle” lifestyles. Youth should nurture family ties and advocate for the inclusion of women and people of determination inclusion. They should volunteer their skills to better society, and participate in co-designing government solutions.

In response, official bodies should have the appropriate policy for each trend. These entities should keep being involved with youth so that young people become more engaged in co-designing solutions. Official entities can, for example, create alliances with technology firms to provide youth with internships and apprenticeships. They should nurture an ecosystem for youth enterprise and improve the availability of finance for young entrepreneurs.

Together, youth initiative and official policies can have considerable impact, preparing youth and the UAE for the future.

About the authors

Fadi Adra is a Partner with Strategy& Middle East. Dima Sayess is partner with Strategy& Middle East and Director of the Ideation Center, the leading think tank for Strategy& in the Middle East. Hashem Hayee Hamad Alkaabi is with the Emirates Youth Council.

This article originally appeared in Gulf News, September 2021.

Contact us

Fadi Adra

Fadi Adra

Partner, Strategy& Middle East

Dima Sayess

Dima Sayess

Partner and Ideation Center Lead, Strategy& Middle East