Google unveiled an initiative to hasten the economic recovery of the Mena region through digital transformation.
The Grow Stronger with Google programme will offer tools, training and financial grants worth more than $13 million to empower local businesses and jobseekers.
The technology company will register 150,000 businesses in Saudi Arabia and the UAE on its Google My Business platform and equip them with digital marketing skills.
The company has collaborated with Saudi Post and the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry to bring about this process.
“Online tools have been a lifeline for many during the pandemic," said Lino Cattaruzzi, managing director at Google in Mena region.
"Making the most of the online opportunity can help people, businesses and communities in the UAE and in the wider region bounce back stronger.”
He said the programme, the company's biggest so far in the region, will help people to learn new skills, find jobs and provide businesses with the tools to expand their e-commerce operations, especially companies in the retail and tourism sectors that were the hardest-hit by Covid-19.
The financial assistance includes loans, advertising grants and credits for various governments, social institutions and businesses affected by the pandemic.
This is in addition to the company’s ongoing contribution to local and regional businesses in the Mena region, Google said.
The technology company will also disburse grants worth $1.1m to institutions such as the Mercy Corps, the Arab Tourism Organisation and Youth Business International, which are mentoring entrepreneurs across the region.
The virus-induced slowdown has upended the global economy, leaving millions unemployed. One in five young Arabs said they or someone in their family had lost a job, according to the findings of this year's Arab Youth Survey.
More than seven in 10 said it was “much more difficult” or a “little more difficult” to find a job, compared with the time before Covid-19.
In the UAE, 41 per cent said finding a new job was more difficult now than before the pandemic.
In another survey from global staffing company Robert Half, seven in 10 UAE employees said they were reassessing their careers due to the pandemic.
The most sought-after jobs require candidates with applied digital skills.
As part of its region-wide programme, Google committed to equip about a million people and businesses in the Mena region with digital skills and help them to grow their businesses by the end of next year.
“We remain fundamentally optimistic about the future of this region, and confident that working together with local partners, we can boost recovery and build on the rapid acceleration of tech adoption we have seen during the crisis," Mr Cattaruzzi said.
Google will train 400,000 developers, with a focus on women, in areas such as machine learning and artificial intelligence. Out of these, about 140,000 will be in Saudi Arabia.
The company also launched an accelerator programme, through which its experts will mentor and provide digital marketing training to regional start-ups.
“The first cohort of 15 start-ups will be selected in November and will last for three months,” said Mr Cattaruzzi.
The company also unveiled its Market Finder tool in the region to help local businesses expand into new markets and acquire customers around the world.
In the beginning, it will be available in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
Mena retailers can also list their products free of charge on the Google Shopping tab to help them connect with more customers, regardless of whether they advertise with Google or not.
The technology company has teamed up with Kiva, a California-based online lending platform, to offer $3m in loans to financially support thousands of underserved small businesses in the region, it said.
“As we work towards our new target of helping over 50,000 local companies grow … we are raising the bar even higher … and leveraging our strategic partnership with Google to support businesses with digital marketing and training,” said Hamad Buamim, president and chief executive of Dubai Chamber.