Youth look up to digital era

December 20, 2017

Layan Damanhouri

Saudi Gazette

In a nation where traditional ways are being replaced by new ones in order to adjust to the digital age, the pace of change in the Kingdom is considered fast to many but seems just right to the youth that make up the majority of the population.

Diversifying the economy, a key aspect of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman and Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman’s reforms in line with Vision 2030, not only requires changing the business model of the public sector but also shifting societal mindsets and accommodating to the future era’s demands.

70% of Saudi population is under the age of 30 and is different than their parents’ generation where social norms, technology, and economic realities have changed.

“In all honesty, we will not waste 30 years of our lives being dragged into extreme ideas, we will destroy them, now and here,” Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman has said in October during the Future Investment Initiative, the year’s biggest event where NEOM project and other surprising futuristic plans were announced.

Today, the government is launching initiatives to prepare citizen for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a digital era transforming lives and businesses.

Youth are the country’s assets for the future. Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman emphasized such recently, stating: “Our youth are our wealth. If they receive proper guidance they will create an excellent world on our earth. The youth are ambitious. All components of success are available in the Kingdom. Political will is strong and the people are ambitious.”

Creating a tech hub through projects such as the $500-billion NEOM zone not only focuses on creating new jobs but also advancing in science and technology. Building the first capitalist city in the world is considered revolutionary and will set the standards high to compete with the most advanced economies in the world.

There couldn’t be a better time to embrace change, Minister of Communications and IT Abdullah Al-Swaha recently addressed young Saudis at the Misk Global Forum, the biggest youth event of the year held last month. The minister who is also younger than his peers says he can relate to his fellow citizens. “In the digital revolution, the concept of competition has changed from focusing on asserts and legacy to focusing on entrepreneurship, knowledge and innovation,” he said.

“Today we have a beautiful opportunity to take qualitative leaps. Our role, with the support and directives of Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, is to provide you the environment, the infrastructure, and culture. Your role, as youth, is to seize this opportunity and take it because the only constant thing today is change. Change is rapid. We have the opportunity to keep up with advanced nations. This is a time for ambassadors and dreamers not for doubters. We should be armed with knowledge, entrepreneurship and innovation.”

In a direct interaction with young people, this rhetoric inspires many to dream big and is the tone of the rest of the plans of the government to empower citizens to bring Vision 2030 to a reality.

Local talents are encouraged to build innovative startups that contribute to the economy. This goes in line with the Vision 2030’s goals to job creation and fight unemployment.

The Small and Medium Enterprises Authority’s initiatives include around SR12 billion funding to support entrepreneurs in various phases.

Saudi Arabia’s own success stories competing with global pioneering companies like Uber and Airbnb are not too far off. The Ministry of Communications and IT announced that it signed a partnership with Misk Foundation and the Mohammed Bin Salman College to adopt the top 30 local entrepreneurial ventures to a rigorous program exposed to accelerators and joined with big powerhouses to set them up for success.

New entrepreneurship licenses and will invite entrepreneurs to start companies, in collaboration by the SME Authority, Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA), King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) and the Economic Cities Authority (ECA).

This initiative aims to attract “the best minds in the world, transferring knowledge, expanding the economy, increasing the contribution of SMEs to the GDP and creating jobs for Saudis,” according to the SME Authority.

Another new step this year is the establishment of a new entity called the National Digitization Unit (NDU) dedicated to running the digitization strategy of the Kingdom. A digital transformation is on its way as the Kingdom aims to focus on the citizen first. Working with the private sector, the citizens’ satisfaction will be measured and services will be designed accordingly.

Its plan is to digitally transform various sectors for the future, including healthcare, education, smart city, and e-commerce among others.

Transforming the business models and promoting entrepreneurship would create around 200,000 jobs by 2025. In 10 years time, the NDU aims to achieve several goals in the Kingdom, including sustainable, intelligent cities, new job opportunities from a digital economy, and a leading engaging, digital government.

Moreover, it strives to make citizens job creators “rather than job seekers”, where entrepreneurship is at the heart of the strategy. Saudi youth are regarded as highly consuming where the government considers the potential to transform them into producers rather than consumers, according to the NDU.

Saudi citizens are considered highly digitally savvy. In 2017, Internet users in the Kingdom made up 70.49 percent of the Saudi population and is expected to grow in the coming years, according to Statista.

A large pool of youth like the baby boom witnessed in Saudi Arabia could be an advantage rather than a burden, according to several economists. When given the right opportunities and ability to become productive, digitally savvy and educated citizens can sustain growth and move towards a knowledge-based economy.

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