Saudi Arabia has one of the youngest populations in the world. In 2017, around 70 percent of the population was under 30 years old. How can the Kingdom tap into this potential and empower young people to become future innovators?
According to Index Mundi, the petroleum sector — the driving force behind KSA’s incredible growth from the past century until present — accounts for 87 percent of budget revenues, 42 percent of GDP and 90 percent of export earnings. The Saudi economy is undergoing a massive economic development reformation, spearheaded by the transformation strategy Saudi Vision 2030.
Much of this transformation centers around engaging the country’s youth and providing them with opportunities to contribute their own unique visions and talents.
For entrepreneurship to thrive, current and future generations in KSA will need a stimulating environment. Saudi Arabia is boosting its startup ecosystem with supportive regulatory frameworks and local venture funds. Various institutions and initiatives are working toward this end, including the Mohammed Bin Salman College, the Saudi Aramco Entrepreneurship Center (Wa’ed), the Public Investment Fund (PIF) Academy, the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology Innovation and Economic Development department and the Misk Foundation.
Various government agencies and companies are also supporting Saudi Arabia’s efforts in this regard, such as the Business Incubators and Accelerators Company, a unit of the Saudi Technology Development and Investment Company (TAQNIA), in turn owned by the PIF.
A number of programs are also working to promote future talent. The Saudi Young Leaders Exchange Programs (SYLEP) is a three-week program in the US for undergraduate Saudi students or recently graduated university students between the ages of 21-26. The aim of SYLEP 2020 is to “build leadership skills, civic responsibility, appreciation for cultural diversity, and community engagement and volunteerism among Saudi university students.” The theme of this year’s program is “STEAM” — science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics.
Day-to-day business operations for current and future entrepreneurs have become easier over the years as the Kingdom prioritizes technology and innovation. KSA has made it easier for international entrepreneurs to obtain licenses to launch startups as part of an initiative to drive the private sector to 65 percent of GDP from its 40 percent. This will involve a blend of growth from foreign direct investment and Saudi-grown entrepreneurship and innovation.
Across a variety of sectors in KSA — especially technology — the desire for future Saudi entrepreneurship and innovation is evident. An article from Wamda quoted a chief technology officer from the travel agency Al Tayyar as saying that 97 percent of Saudi’s economic growth will derive from technology in the next five years.
Despite the current challenges posed by the pandemic, much of the foundation for future youth entrepreneurship has already been set. From Riyadh to Jeddah to the Eastern
Provinces to the rest of the Kingdom, the effects of this spirit of innovation will be felt for many years to come.
Richie Santosdiaz is an economic development expert. He is currently Head of Strategy for the Dubai-headquartered RISE.