The late Secretary Madeleine Albright stated in 2016: “known for oil, Saudi Arabia’s true wealth comes from its youth”. These words ring as true now as they did then. Considering that 75% of Saudis are under the age of 35, to say that the youth are the key to future national prosperity is an understatement. In the span of a few years, Saudi Arabia witnessed a significant number of initiatives in support of youth empowerment, the likes of which are rare in a region as tumultuous as the Middle-East. These initiatives include ‘Tourism Trailblazers’, an investment worth $100 million by the Ministry of Tourism to equip 100,000 Saudis with hospitality skills, the plethora of internships and masterclasses offered by MiSK to encourage entrepreneurial and leadership expertise, and programs in numerous industries such as sports, STEM and business. These investments allow Saudis to make a lasting and positive impact in their respective fields, and in return, their economic potential is unleashed.
The outcome of these initiatives take years, and are long-term, high reward investments. However, we can see some of their beneficial effects today. Earlier this year, 35 Saudi students among a pool of 1,800 students from 80 countries received a total of 22 awards at ISEF in the US. Similarly, a group of Saudis also won 13 science and technology awards at ITEX in Malaysia. Saudis were once content with monotony in their professional lives, but not anymore. This generation of Saudis determinedly strive for the best, anything else is simply not good enough. We Saudis are witnessing what can only be described as a renaissance. The reforms instituted by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman have touched every aspect of Saudi society. The economic revitalisation, women’s rights, and youth empowerment all go hand-in-hand. Prior to the reforms, the youth felt somewhat restricted; and now, young Saudis are walking down the hallways of their universities and workplaces with a sense of pride, enthusiasm and ambition.
In early November, the 2022 MiSK Global Forum took place in Riyadh under the theme of generation transformation. Over 15,000 young minds, innovators and entrepreneurs attended the event, aiming at bridging generational gaps. What is significant about this event, is that it convened thousands, whether online or in-person, from 120 countries across the globe. Saudi Arabia does not solely wish to empower its own youths, but export this empowerment and foster dialogue and discourse between youths around the world to collectively solve challenges. This is only an example of the innumerable initiatives introduced, and year-round events organised. While certain countries around the world are repressing their youths, restraining their potential which will have disastrous long-term effects, others have emphasised their importance. Current sentiments about the future of Saudi youth are exceedingly optimistic. The first vital step, of encouraging dialogue between youths to face obstacles, has been taken. Youths are now able to take a more proactive stance in fixing issues before they become problems. Saudi Arabia is now shifting from a solely oil-based economy to a knowledge-based one, and young Saudis play an increasingly significant contribution.
The government’s role is to create a framework for Saudi Arabia’s future, but it is the youth who will implement it in the coming years. The youth are dynamic and inspired, they can see the endless possibilities of what is achievable, and have the will and determination to see it through. What is happening before us is unprecedented, and for that reason we understand that there is a bright future ahead. We young Saudis have embraced this transformation, and suddenly, reaching for the stars does not seem ambitious enough for us.