McKinsey Middle East managing partner reflects on youth development

27 January 2020 3 min. read
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As the management consulting giant enters its 20th year in the Middle East, the team at McKinsey blog have sat down with the firm’s regional managing partner Gassan Al-Kibsi.

Now one of seven locations across the Middle East & North Africa, global management consulting giant McKinsey & Company established its first regional base in Dubai at the turn of the century (having been active for the prior four decades). As a founding member, current regional managing partner Gassan Al-Kibsi has been there from the very beginning, having returned to the region two years after first joining the firm in Washington in 1997.

To mark the firm’s 20th year of operations in the region, the McKinsey blog sat down with the Yemeni-born leader to learn more about his life and perspectives on the region – revealing a deep drive to support local youth in their pursuit of success. This sense of purpose owes to Al-Kibsi’s background, where, unlike his peers, he was fortunate enough to access greater life opportunities due to his father’s appointment to the Yemeni Embassy in Washington.

“I went to school in Sanaʽa and I had many classmates and friends who were amazingly full of sparkle,” Al-Kibsi reflects in an interview. “They were incredibly gifted, and they were very studious – way more than I was… I had a great opportunity to go to a great university, get a great job, and really just start building my life. When I compare that to my friends, none of them had the same set of opportunities. I meet them ten years later, and you can see that sparkle is gone.”

Gassan Al-Kibsi - Middle East Regional Managing Partner - McKinsey

This inequity – in Yemen and more broadly, when people don’t have the opportunities for better education, for employment, or for just the chance “to live a dignified life” – has guided Al-Kibsi’s work over the past twenty years. The Middle East and North Africa, he adds, is full of these inequities. Continuing, Al-Kibsi notes that almost 65 percent of the regional population is under thirty years old; “The fate of this region’s youth matters to the world.”

Providing figures, which include Pakistan (McKinsey Middle East oversees an office in Karachi), Al-Kibsi furthers that the region is home to around 450 million youth, equating to ten percent of the number worldwide. That proportion will rise to one out of six in just twenty years. “So, we either help half a billion people build their future and integrate into the global economy, or we leave them behind and the world becomes a much more fragmented, disconnected, and unsafe place to live.”

As it stands, only one out of four young people are likely to have a job – a figure still greater than Al-Kibsi’s own extended family, many who “feel like they have no future”. This is the reality today, he says, but it doesn’t have to be. “The youth in this region are as talented as those in Germany or California or anywhere else in the world where you feel there are great, smart youth. The difference is the youth here haven’t been given the tools to compete in a global modernising workforce.”

The good news: the momentum around economic transformation driven by evolving regional governments. “We’re seeing real changes in action, but we’re also seeing changes in mindset. There’s now generally a much bigger openness to the rest of the world that just didn’t exist before,” concludes Al-Kibsi, who states McKinsey’s purpose as strengthening institutional muscle to make things happen. “I can tell you it feels much different today than when we started out twenty years ago.