If you want to see Saudi Arabia in 2030, look at Misk today

If you want to see Saudi Arabia in 2030, look at Misk today

In the fall of 2016, I attended a five-day event at the headquarters of the United Nations in New York called A Day in Riyadh. The event was intended to showcase the development of Riyadh over the years, with particular emphasis on current development projects that will transform it into a global metropolis by 2030. A virtual reality interactive display gave visitors a glimpse, via computer animation, of what the Saudi capital will look like.
A few months before, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, then the deputy crown prince, had introduced an ambitious package of economic and social reforms known as Saudi Vision 2030, which was nothing short of a blueprint for the transformation of the Saudi economy and society. Interestingly enough, one does not need much imagination or a virtual reality display to envision what Saudi Arabia could be like by 2030 under this plan. All one has to do is observe the Misk Foundation today. More than any other institution, Misk embodies the spirit of Vision 2030 and is at the forefront of innovation and the transformation currently underway in Saudi Arabia.
Misk was established by Prince Mohammed in 2011 as a philanthropic foundation. Predating Vision 2030 by a few years, it appears to have had a head start in implementing the plan. What sets it apart, however, is not simply the programs that it implements, all of which are focused on youth development. It is the way it works, the way its staff speak and even the way its headquarters in Riyadh is designed. Everything about it says “think outside the box.” The Vision itself is predicated on this principle as well, with Neom, the first smart city to be built from the ground up, being the most obvious manifestation.
Teams of mostly young Saudis of both sexes always administer Misk’s programs and events. Its operations and programs stress the importance of the collective effort but also provide incentives for individual achievements. That spirit is also the essence of Vision 2030. It is the melding of individual desire and ambition with a sense of social responsibility, not only to help push the development of the Kingdom forward but also to improve the general condition of mankind. 

Inspired and fueled by the energy of youth, Mohammed bin Salman’s philanthropic foundation is at the forefront of innovation and embodies the spirit of national transformation. 

Fahad Nazer

Misk’s commitment to helping build a better world was on full display last week as it organized two events in two very different but very important cities, Cairo and London. A few weeks before that, it hosted an event at Davos, Switzerland, where some of the world’s most important global economic and political leaders had gathered for the Word Economic Forum. Hundreds of guests from all over the world were introduced to Saudi food and music, and Saudi youth leaders mingled with global thought leaders.
Broadly speaking, Misk is focused on four areas: Education, technology/science, art, and media. In all these fields, it looks beyond traditional approaches and time-tested methods. This belief in the power of innovation and trusting that what youth may lack in experience, they make up for in energy, drive and a constant yearning to learn, has been a key to the success of Misk. Of course, this multilayered approach is also consistent with Vision 2030, which has adopted a holistic approach to development. While it is true that the Vision has included a number of programs that are aimed at providing the private sector with the necessary tools to flourish, it has also emphasized improving the quality of life. Therefore it should not come as a surprise that tourism, entertainment and sports have received so much attention.
I have written before about my experience attending a Misk Youth Forum in New York last fall. Watching the events in Davos, Cairo and London, it once again became clear that there are constants at all Misk events; impeccable organization, inspired engagement and an urge to make a difference among all the participants. 
Those who still have doubts about the feasibility of Vision 2030 would do well to attend an event organized by Misk, or even visit its headquarters in Riyadh. An American friend who visited it recently told me it was unlike anything he had seen in Washington, and compared to the headquarters of Google in California. Innovation, determination and a faith in the infectious enthusiasm of youth have been the keys to the success of Misk. They will also be crucial to the success of Vision 2030.
 
  • Fahad Nazer is a political consultant to the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington and an International Fellow at the National Council on US Arab Relations. He does not represent or speak on behalf of either organization. Twitter: @fanazer
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