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A few tips for WEF when it draws the transformation map for Saudi Arabia

Those exceptionally bright people at the World Economic Forum (WEF) have come up with a cracking idea to coincide with the annual meeting of their Global Future Councils in Dubai.
The WEF has made public the trove of “transformation maps” that it has been working on for the past couple of years, but which have been largely internal WEF resource material until now.
What is a “transformation map?” It is a “dynamic knowledge tool” to help you understand and visualize the forces that change countries, industries and big issues like climate change and artificial intelligence.
The maps are produced in consultation with universities, think tanks, international organizations and research institutions, and end up with an interesting diagram — a bit like a bicycle wheel with very wonky spokes — that links issues such as geopolitics and resources to others such as human capital and development.
Move your cursor over the spokes and it shows you how all the factors and forces link up with and interact with each other. Very clever.
For example, the transformation map for the US identifies the five key issues facing the world’s biggest economy as: The digital economy and competitiveness; the future of work; geopolitical dynamics; sustainable energy systems; and the Trump presidency. How could they ignore that last one?
There are more than 100 of these maps available for scrutiny now, and around 30 that examine either countries or geographic regions. Of these, four maps relate to the Middle East, with a general map on the MENA region, and country maps on Jordan, Turkey and the UAE.
There is, as yet, no map for Saudi Arabia. Maybe the Kingdom is in such a state of rapid transition that the WEF found it difficult to pin down into one snapshot; maybe they simply have not got round to it yet.
So, in an effort to help the WEF promote the public feedback it seeks for its new venture, here is my back-of-an-envelope effort at producing the skeleton of a transformation map for the Kingdom as it goes through the biggest changes in its history.
Many of the crucial elements are common to the MENA and UAE maps, so there are some obvious points of reference. But in virtually every instance, the issues are of greater relevance to Saudi Arabia.
Global energy shifts, environmental sustainability and resource security are common themes in the region and the UAE, but are even more pertinent for Saudi Arabia, as the world’s largest oil exporter with the second largest reserves of oil.

The extra factor I would suggest to WEF when it gets round to drawing up its Saudi map is the unique opportunity presented by a youthful, dynamic generation of new leaders.

Frank Kane

Human capital development, youth unemployment and entrepreneurship for growth are big issues in the whole Arab world, and are highlighted as key areas for MENA and the UAE. But they are particularly relevant in the Kingdom, with its big, fast-growing young demographic, and need for millions of private sector jobs in an era of historically low oil prices and constrained national budgets, sparking the biggest privatization program in history.
The twin issues of infrastructure investment and urban concentration are key to most economies in the Middle East, but especially in Saudi Arabia, with its multibillion-dollar projects to build new metropolises across the country, and upgrade existing urbanfacilities.
The $500 billion mega-city of Neom would probably be one of the core issues. Regional economic and geopolitical factors are highlighted in the WEF transformation maps as vital issues for MENA and the UAE, but they are even more vital in Saudi Arabia, with its geographical position bridging the Levant and North Africa, and — a matter of increasing relevance now — just across the Gulf from Iran.
Economic diversification and transforming governance and institutions are also a feature of the maps, and of course the Vision 2030 strategy to reduce oil dependence and the anti-corruption campaign are excellent examples of both.
The extra factor I would suggest to WEF when it gets round to drawing up its Saudi map is the unique opportunity presented by a youthful, dynamic generation of new leaders, as well as the challenges this might throw up in the case of inter-generational resistance to change.
So there you have it — the core issues that will determine the future of the Kingdom, and help decide the direction of the wider region, indeed the world.
Transformation maps are such fun.
• Frank Kane is an award-winning business journalist based in Dubai. He can be reached on Twitter @frankkanedubai