JEDDAH: Addressing the dreams of Saudi youth, creating medium businesses and adopting training as well as long-term planning are the three main goals that Dr. Fahad A.M Al-Said, CEO of Saudi Real Estate Co. Al-Akaria, sets for the Kingdom’s development.
In an exclusive interview with Diana Al-Jassem of Arab News at his head office in Riyadh, Al-Said says Saudi society is the one that has put restrictions over the Saudi Culture in general, and woman in particular.
He also says that housing is a growing problem that can be addressed once the government and private sectors and individuals push forward their initiatives in a joint venture effort.
What, in your opinion, are changes that would have a major impact on the lives of Saudi nationals in the coming 20 years?
There are two major changes that I hope to see very soon. Number one is training, and number two is the reduction of family size in Saudi Arabia. We have to carefully apply these two steps. I always say that ‘you can cash Saudi riyal in any place in the world, if we train Saudis to be cashable in any place of the world,.’ Saudi Arabia is an international market, so we do have a problem with training and we have to handle it. In terms of family size, we can see now that 70 percent of the Saudi population is less than 20 years old. In late eighties, we had a baby boom, which created tremendous pressure on our society, economy, services, etc. Saudi Arabia has the biggest birth rate in the world estimated at 5.2. We have to look at the rate of birth. The Saudi population used to be eight million, but now we are 17 million. This rate of increase scares me. We have to convince people to start reducing the number of births. There are three interconnected duties for every society, which are education, training and jobs. Only few years ago we started having best universities in the world. We need on job training, institutional training and virtual reality training.
Role of leadership
What do you think of the leadership roles for organizations in the Kingdom? What are the factors/reasons for their current state?
Leaders at private and public firms should be doers not talkers. Anyone in management position has to realize the mentality of the youth is different from that of their seniors. Youth need actions, plans and tangible results. I believe that the biggest challenge facing the mangers and leaders of private and public firms in Saudi organizations is convincing youth by being action takers, not talkers. There is a gap between senior thinking and youth thinking, where youth thinking is better.
What are the most difficult decisions that need to be applied in the Kingdom in the next 20 years?
The first decision is to adopt training in the right direction. The second decision is to improve the well being of the youth by offering houses, education, health care, and many other services.
What goals would you set for the Kingdom’s development and how do you think these goals can be achieved?
We are having difficulties with regulations that are mostly in force since the 50s. It served good in the previous ages, but now these regulations should be changed. What I have seen so far is that we have cosmetic changes but not original changes. Now, we need new bylaws that cope with changes occurring socially, and economically.
What characteristics do you think are important for officials, and how these characteristics could contribute toward the Kingdom’s development?
Speak the language of 70 percent of the population, which is youth. We have to learn youth language, habits and way of communication. Any decision maker has to match or at least understand the way youth express themselves.
Give us an example of the most creative project you wish to establish in the Kingdom.
Training programs would be the best projects in the coming 20 years. I hope to see such projects in the future. We have to look carefully in the knowledge-based economy that needs two major foundations — education and training.
KSA in three words
What three words would you use to describe the Kingdom in the coming 20 years?
I can describe the Kingdom using the words — flourishing continuous development. I do have strong trust in Saudi youth. I can say that every student is more intelligent than the older student generation. Our future is for the youth, and I strongly have trust on them.
How can we all improve human rights in Saudi Arabia? What are your expectations regarding human rights practices in the coming 20 years?
Human rights have three levels that start with the family, society — then the laws of the country. I cannot ask for human rights for a family or a community that doesn’t give human rights to individuals. We are now transferring from culture/family-based society to an institutionalized community.
What is the challenge facing the Kingdom today?
Preparing Saudis through training for jobs and offering houses are the major challenges facing the Kingdom today. Youth usually have high expectations from the future and 70 percent of Saudis are youth. Our challenge is to prepare them, make them ready for jobs. There are several concepts that we need to raise and discuss with our youth and make them accept all types of jobs. We have to train them how to communicate with clients, how to answer, how to discuss, how to be responsible, how to challenge, and many such skills.
Prominent economic activity
What are the most prominent economic activities in the Kingdom? And what are the neglected sectors?
Prominent sectors are knowledge-based economy, petrochemical industry, and renewable energy. We have to focus on neglected businesses, which are mid-size businesses. In Saudi Arabia, the person can be an individual worker or owner of a giant company. The mid-size businesses do not exist anymore.
There is a huge demand for housing in the Kingdom because of rising young population. The government has also put an emphasis on this sector as it allocated SR 250 billion in this year’s budget for housing. Do you believe housing sector needs much more attention from the government and private sector?
Between 1975-1995 we built 3.2 million units in Saudi Arabia. So we are capable to build houses. Statistics now show that we need 2.5 million housing units. We need a joint effort of both public and private sectors to fill the gap and work together. Housing problems can be solved easily though dividing the responsibility among government, private sector and individuals. Mortgage law is a helpful tool to mid- and high-income people worldwide. Low-income people will not benefit from the mortgage law.
Role of SMEs
There is a need to boost small and medium enterprises (SMEs) sector in the Kingdom as it creates various jobs. What role do you see for SMEs in the Kingdom’s economic development?
We do have small businesses in every sector. When I say small I mean one individual. To have middle-level businesses, we need to have a group of people, from 5 to 15, who work in such businesses. We cannot have a group of people to sustain their business. This is because the Saudi economy is gigantic and seasonal.
Education is always a top priority of the Saudi government. What changes do you envisage in the education system befitting Saudi youth in a knowledge-based economy?
I used to teach at King Fahd University that is among high ranked universities. We started with eight universities, but now thankfully we have 21 universities across 13 provinces of Saudi Arabia. Now we are in a knowledge-based global economy, brain is working now more than muscles. I am waiting for the day to see Saudi nationals compete for jobs worldwide.
How do you see Saudi women’s contribution in the labor sector and social and political arenas in the next 20 years? What is required in order for Saudi women to actualize your future vision?
Our problem is that we place differences between men and women. Our society creates the difference. Most of the obstacles placed in front of women are because of the society not the system. For example, till the beginning of 1980s there was no law to ban women from driving. Our Saudi society created that movement till it had been approved by officials and became a law. Our society had placed restrictions, so each Saudi man is undergoing these restrictions himself to satisfy the society. We shape our society, and then our society shapes us.
What measures and standards are yet to be introduced to Saudi media, and what are your expectations over the next 20 years? What impact will social media have on traditional media?
I would love a regulatory body to control our media. We need a regulatory body even for the new media. Technology is helpful to facilitate communication and I think it has a great impact on the coming generation. We have to use the new technology in our media. The competition between traditional and new media is normal.
Learning from the past
What are three or four mistakes that have been repeated in the Kingdom during the past 10 decades and how could we eliminate them in order to develop the Kingdom?
1) Yearly planning versus planning four or 10 years is a mistake that we should avoid. Businesses and economies need more than one year to execute plans.
2) A change in our 1950s regulations is required. Regulations of the fifties don’t work in the current age.
3) Actions speak louder than words.
Message to youth
Given that youth make up the majority of the Saudi population, what message would you want conveyed to them? What else would you say to the rest of the population?
Youth have to realize that there is no substitute for hard work, and come up through education and training. I have full trust in youth.
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Al-Said’s top goals
Major changes required in:
- Boosting training system
- Reducing future family size
The leadership role should focus on:
- Actions speaks louder than words
Challenging tasks are:
- Adopt training in the right direction
- Improve the well being of the youth
Describing the Kingdom in three words:
- Flourishing continuous development
- Preparing youth for jobs through training
- Offering houses and other well being for youth
Requirements for housing development:
- Dividing responsibilities among government, private sector and individuals
Role of SMEs:
- To have mid-size businesses is a challenge
- More training courses and more qualified teachers
- Retraining to prepare workers to take up positions of higher responsibility
About Saudi women:
- Society places obstacles in front of women
Mistakes could be avoided through:
- Yearly planning versus four or ten years of planning
- Change of our 1950s regulations
- Replace talkers with doers
Message to youth:
- Inherit the spirit of hard work
- Strive for more training and education