Google on Wednesday announced a major programme to support companies in the Middle East and North Africa, which in turn would lead to an accelerated recovery in economies as the world fights back the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Grow Stronger with Google initiative will provide an overall proactive ecosystem that will digitise businesses and help them cope up with the ever-changing dynamics of the market.

The region-wide programme is also a wide-ranged endeavour. With it, the US Internet giant aims to help a million people and businesses in the region learn digital skills and grow their organisations by the end of 2021; get 150,000 UAE and Saudi businesses online; distribute $4 million in grants and loans from; and dole out $9 million in ad grants and credits for businesses and governments. In the UAE, Google has pledged to focus on key sectors, particularly retail and tourism.

"This is our single largest commitment to date since we first started [in Mena] 13 years ago," Lino Cattaruzzi, Google's managing director for Mena, said in a virtual roundtable.

"Google is here to help... accelerating economies to create jobs faster. This is a first; we've never done it in the past."

Google has been active in the region for over a decade now. In 2018, it launched Maharat min Google, a digital skills training programme, which to date has been completed by one million Arabic speakers in Mena.

According to the Arab Monetary Fund, around six million jobs are now at risk in the Arab world. A recent survey from Robert Half showed that 70 per cent of UAE employees are reassessing their careers because of Covid-19 and the most in demand jobs require applied digital skills.

Cattaruzzi says the programme would be a good platform to keep the engines of businesses and economies humming amid these unusually challenging times.

"We don't know how long [the pandemic situation and its fallout] will last, but we want to help everyone recover faster," he added.

"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've seen during the crisis."

Google has a number of pillars on which the programme is built upon. Digital skills and mentorship, comprising general digital skills that will focus on digital marketing training for over 300,000 students and businesses in partnership with local organisations and authorities; advanced skills, which will host virtual training for thousands of tech businesses on cloud computing and train 400,000 developers, with a focus on women, on advanced digital skills covering topics like UI software development kit Flutter and machine learning, 140,000 of which will be from Saudi Arabia.

It also includes mentorship, with the launch of the Google for Startups Accelerator that will accept applications for mentorship and training, in which the first cohort of 15 startups will be selected in November and will last for three months. Also, $1.1 million worth of financial grants to organisations like Mercy Corps, the Arab Tourism Organization and Youth Business International will be given to mentor businesses and entrepreneurs across the region.

"We want to have open communication to have fair opportunities for everyone," Cattaruzzi added.

Digitising businesses is also a primarty focus, with the launch of Market Finder, a Google product that helps local businesses grow to new markets and acquire global customers. It will be available in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Free access to the Google Shopping tab will also be given to Mena retailers in order to help them list their products and connect with more customers regardless of whether they advertise with Google.

Google also aims to get 100,000 local businesses in Saudi Arabia online by listing them on Google My Business and training them on digital marketing, in partnership with Saudi Post, and another 50,000 local businesses in the UAE in partnership with the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

"As we work towards our new target of helping over 50,000 local companies grow through Google My Business, we are raising the bar even higher by leading and involving business communities and chambers across the UAE in this campaign and leveraging our strategic partnership with Google to support businesses with digital marketing and training," Dubai Chamber president and CEO Hamad Buamim said.

"I am confident that we will achieve this goal, foster smarter business practices among SMEs and unlock new growth opportunities in the UAE and beyond."

Additionally, the company will offer access to more capital, with $3 million in loans to support thousands of underserved small businesses in partnership with Kiva, with $2 million going to Egypt.

"The generous support of will allow Mercy Corps and MicroMentor to connect 7,500 small business owners across the Middle East and North Africa to the world's largest online mentoring community," added Anita Ramachandran, executive director of MicroMentor.


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