Youth innovation backbone of economy: Naif Al-Rajhi |
Arab News - 15 May, 2012
Naif bin Saleh Al-Rajhi is a young Saudi businessman who has been working on various types of investments since 2002. Naif has succeeded in his own projects within 10 years. He is the CEO of Memar Company specializing in all real estate development sectors — from residential to commercial and hospitality projects in addition to food and catering business. Arab News got the opportunity to meet Al-Rajhi at his office in Riyadh for an exclusive interview. Al-Rajhi confirmed that each decade holds many changes as well as challenges, some of them expected. He expects many changes in the fields of education, official agencies and development of housing projects. Al-Rajhi seems very enthusiastic to work in all sectors, establish new projects that mix innovation and traditions. His current projects are related to developing real estate, entertainment and tourism, plus housing. More innovative ideas in the Kingdom are on the anvil, Al-Rajhi says.
What are the changes that would have a major impact on the lives of Saudis in the coming twenty years?
Each decade passes, holds in it lots of challenges and changes. Starting from oil evolution, natural gas exploration then power generation, which had led to the country’s huge infrastructure and telecommunication development over the past 20 years.
Then to have the access in 2005 to the WTO, and lately the development of the economic cities in different regions of the Kingdom with spending more than $ 373 billion to advance Saudi Arabia’s economic development.
Having seen the changes in the last decade, we can envision huge challenges that must be met, such as employment, stability, consistency and security.
The Saudi community is developing rapidly and many important decisions have been taking within the last 5 years.
In my opinion, youth will contribute in building the Kingdom’s bright future with their knowledge and role.
Role of leadership
What do you think is the role of organizations in the Kingdom? What are the factors and reasons for their current state?
Leadership role is being improved mainly in the past decade, however; both the public and private sectors are still in need of visionary leaders with a strong willingness to impose all the strategies. The leaders should focus on raising the number of experienced national professionals and diversifying the resources of the economic growth.
What are the most difficult decisions that need to be implemented in the Kingdom within the coming twenty years?
Government should continue to build a solid infrastructure that we can depend upon in the future.
Administratively, facilities should be made available for enhancing e-government solutions and all requirements of businessmen should be met within a minimum stipulated time for obtaining various licenses.
The private sector can play a role in the development of youth, especially as a large number of graduates from King Abdullah Scholarship Program are being made available for both this sector as well as the public sector.
Officials of all government departments should work in tangent for maintaining the Kingdom’s growth.
Kingdom’s sustainable development
What goals would you set for the Kingdom’s development? And how would these goals be achievable through your current role?
One of the goals I would set is to influence the young minds and train them in the decision making process. In our company we are targeting the young minds and giving them the opportunity to prove their mantle.
Give me an example of the most creative project you wish to establish in the Kingdom.
In Saudi Arabia we are all known for our strong family bonds, however today the old and the aged do not enjoy the company of their family members all the time. Those with special care needs are left to fend for themselves, as their families are helpless in the absence of enough special care centers. So, one of my goals is to establish a center for the care of elderly people in the Kingdom, equipped with the latest technologies where we can provide high quality of service without letting them suffer from loneliness.
KSA in three words
What three words would you use to describe the Kingdom in the coming 20 years, and why you decided on the three words?
Change, development and innovation are my three words that are key for the Kingdom in the next 20 years. I am sure there will be many changes occurring in the coming two decades. I expect there will be much more budget allocations in the educational, health, and industrial fields. I believe innovation will be the driver of change and development.
What characteristics do you think are important for the Kingdom’s officials? How would such characteristics contribute toward the Kingdom’s future development?
The Kingdom’s officials have improved over the last 5 years. Among the indicators is the way online services in certain sectors have been activated., but still there are bureaucratic hurdles that delay the official procedure. So, what is needed is decentralization of authority.
How can we all improve Human Rights in Saudi Arabia? What are your expectations regarding human rights practices in the coming twenty years?
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is established on the basis of Islam, which clearly lays down the definition and meaning of human rights. There could be some confusion about it in some quarters, but the community now has more knowledge about it and awareness as well. In fact, human rights is so important that it should be taught in school and the Human Rights Association should play a major role in educating people about it.
What are the most prominent economic activities in the Kingdom? What are the neglected sectors that need to be developed?
As we all know the most prominent economic activity in the Kingdom is industry, especially the oil industry. Saudi Arabia is one of the top countries in this field. The country has good potentials in the petrochemicals sector too. Riyadh could be the capital of petrochemical industries in the coming years. The secondary and complementary industries and the retail sector are expanding on a massive scale in the Kingdom too. The neglected sectors in the Kingdom are many but the most important one is tourism. The Kingdom should show more interest in it, especially as the Kingdom is rich in history and traditions.
There is huge demand for housing in the Kingdom because of rising young population. The government is also emphasizing on this sector and allocated SR 250 billion in this year’s budget for housing. Do you believe housing needs much more attention from the government and private sector?
There is demand for 2.6 million units according to a latest study, which means that around 200,000 units must be constructed annually. Less than 25 percent of the population owns homes and around 70 percent of the population are youth. These figures lead to the importance of accelerating housing regulations, financing and availability. The government as well has to force landlords to develop their lands; there are huge areas where if it were developed, large amounts of residential units would be available in the market. It’s been shown lately how government channels are delivering permits and licenses quicker than before but still it is not enough. Regarding government financing, the Real Estate Development Fund had increased house financing to half a million people in the Kingdom
The private sector has to fulfill all government conditions and put all their acts together toward finalizing projects, and managing and delivering them on time. There is understanding between both the government and private sectors that housing in the coming 10 to 20 years is the hardest proposition where all have to take corrective actions.
Role of SMEs
There is a need to boost small business enterprises (SMEs) sector as it creates various jobs. What role do you see for SMEs in the Kingdom’s economic development?
The SMEs sector is very important in the economy of any country and can play a dominant role in shaping the economy. I think Saudi Arabia is heading toward boosting this sector. SMEs should collaborate and not grow in different directions, but it needs extra facilities and attention from the government to reap the benefits of projects, which lead to create more jobs.
Education is always a priority of the Saudi government. What changes you envisage in education system to suit Saudi youth in knowledge-based economy?
As I said before the Kingdom has invested heavily in education, especially in the field of higher education. The Kingdom should focus on developing general education with focus on creating strong and efficient curriculum while keeping an eye on creating mental and physical activities for young students. This will save more time and money in their pursuit of higher education
How do you see Saudi women’s contribution in the labor sector, and social and political arenas in the coming 20 years? I see the Kingdom in a new era with women very much active in the labor sector. In the past, women’s work was limited to education. It is good to see the Kingdom giving women more attention. Thus we see them active in many fields, including political. In the next 20 years, women will be playing a major role. What makes the Saudi woman different is that she is capable of doing her work within the framework of religion and traditions. Saudi women should have commitment and work hard to prove their ability to make changes in the Kingdom’s future. I think women should take this opportunity seriously and believe in their ability to make a difference.
What measures and standards need to be applied to Saudi media? And what do you think is the role of social media regarding change in the Kingdom?
Honesty and transparency and stop the polemics and put the interests of the country and the people on top of every thing. With smartphones becoming easily accessible to social media and the rise in the proportion of Internet users, we hope to see larger participation in the social media. Social media is not utilized in an efficient manner. We would like to see its influence growing and becoming more effective in the coming days.
What impact has social media on the Kingdom’s traditional media?
Social Media in Saudi Arabia is new, however with the increasing number of Internet users it will start playing a bigger role. The traditional media is also keeping pace and adopting new applications. We hope to see according recognition by official agencies to social media.
Learning from past
What are three or four mistakes that have been repeated in the Kingdom during the past 10 decades?
The mistakes that have been repeated in the Kingdom are related to bureaucracy and centralized administration. The implementation of decisions always involves time and money.
What leaders in both the public and private sectors should do to ensure the Kingdom’s growth and sustainable development?
The leaders in both sectors should focus in investing in the youth of the Kingdom to ensure a sustainable growth and development. Youth and young minds are the backbone of any development.
Message to youth
Given that youth make up the majority of the Saudi population, what message do you have for them?
I would like to convey to them that the future of the country is in their hands and that success does not come easily. It comes with hard work, and taking and making use of opportunities so they should keep working and success will follow. Those who succeed are those who continue to tray and never give up.