Lina’s post got me thinking these past few days about an issue that has been brewing in my mind for a while now. There is something interesting about a population (Jordan) of which over half is considered “youth”. Of course the term “youth” spans the age groups and socioeconomic backgrounds, so obviously not every young Jordanian is in the same boat. There are some common ground problems we face across the board, but specifically-speaking, there are many problems that are context-specific.
There is a group in our population that few people talk about and whom I find fairly interesting. Generally speaking, they are private-schooled, and western-educated, aspiring-intellectuals and fairly skilled. They are not necessarily the sons and daughters of influential people, in fact, I believe most of them are not. Their numbers have undoubtedly been growing and the way I know this, or have come to believe this, is based on the fact that many of them, if not most of them, have one major thing in common: they have all come back to Jordan.
They come back because they feel they can make a difference, or, they have some inner-passion (which the more cynical might call: youthful-delusions) to come back and “build their country”. They come back because they feel their 20-something years are better utilized here, in Jordan, where they feel they can make a difference.
Again, let me emphasize the point for those who may feel the need to stray: this is not about an elitist segment of society, in fact many are fairly middle-class (if such a thing exists in Jordan). Moreover, the focus is not just on their socioeconomic backgrounds or their education, but rather their passion, their desires and their goals. For there are many who belong to the same segment that could care less about “helping Jordan” and have their own personal ambitions to tend to. What I am talking about here is a group of like-minded people, and emphasis on the word “minded”.
What is even more unique about this group is something that I’ve noticed only quite recently: many of them, are disappointed.
Upon coming back they look for government positions where they feel they can make the most impact. They have that spirit of entering a public institutions, rolling up their sleeves, and doing actual work; actual change. And none of that happens. They discover the odds against them are simply overwhelming. They’re underutilized and given medial jobs to do. A display of ambition is a threat and so they’re placed on the back burner. If they do find a proper position with proper work, where their skills can be fully utilized, they’re usually kept so busy, so distracted, that they forget that they’re not doing what they want to be doing. What they need to be doing.
And so a large group of like-minded, passionate people – who, mind you, have in fact been able to change nations as history and the international experience has shown us time and again; these people are wasted. Not only wasted, but broken. They become so disappointed and disenfranchised with the whole system that they no longer have the will nor the passion to do anything about anything.
They are not only political, by the way.
Many are young entrepreneurs.
They come back to Jordan with great ideas; ideas that could’ve worked anywhere else in the world and probably been revolutionary in another context, yet, for some reason, they want to implement it in their own backyard. What they face is massive resistance. Beuracracy. Regulations. And a whole mechanism that is set up just to see them fail. There is that cliche of there being a will where there is a way. In Jordan, it doesn’t work. The roadblocks are so concrete that they are designed to keep you out and you can’t beat that system. When you have a new and bold idea, when you’re not just opening a supermarket, you really need leadership; you need decision-makers and policy-makers willing to take a chance on a group of young people. You even need the older generation of successful business-persons willing to take a chance on young people.
And that never happens.
If it’s not mainstream; if it’s different; if it hasn’t been done and tried a million times, then it’s not worth it.
In some cases, I have seen the idea stolen outright from a young person and implemented by a larger fish. Because business is business.
So an idea is wasted. Change is wasted. A generation is wasted.
And yet, we’re told this country cares about it’s youth.
It’s one of the reasons why anyone who’s anyone in this country, tends to be over 40.
How many times have you heard of someone successful in Jordan that is under 30? How many names can you name; and do they roll off your tongue as readily as the elites? Compare that to say, the US, where so many of the people at the forefront of change – be it business, political, technology or otherwise – are 20-something year olds.
Barack Obama, whose speeches are seen as some of the most inspiring since the Kennedy-era, has a chief speech-writer that is 26 years old.
Larry Page and Sergey Brin, co-founded Google when they were still in college.
As was Mark Zuckerberg: creator of the revolutionary social-networking site, Facebook.
As were the zillion other examples.
All due to personal ambition meeting a receptive environment.
All success stories.
So where are ours?