(MENAFN - Arab News) Intensifying Saudization, boosting education and ending bureaucratic delays are the three major steps that should be taken in the coming two decades, according to Samir Al-Shubaily, deputy CEO of Roots Group ARABIA. With the group involved in implementing the Ministry of Labor's intensive Saudization plan, Al-Shubaily has called for an intensified action to streamline the education system so that it could aim at tackling the growing unemployment problem. In an interview with Diana Al-Jassem of Arab News, he called for a major effort for encouraging small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and ending bureaucratic delays to boost the economy.
What are the changes that would have a major impact on the lives of Saudis in the coming 20 years?
There is no doubt that Saudi Arabia continues to embrace new technology almost as fast as it emerges. This is not in contrast to our conservative views but rather a complement to it. "Change" is good, especially when it may have a positive impact on our lives. Take for example the increasing importance of networking technology. The resultant emergence of social media networks directly impacted our businesses and personal lives. In the future, our dependency will increase on these networks to handle more details of our daily lives. I believe that the emergence of these social networks alongside the prevalence of satellite and TV stations will continue to expand to reach every home and mold different opinions and ideas.
Another big change will be increased costs for services. Today the government greatly subsidizes the costs of services, like water, electricity, fuel, etc. Gradually, we will see a reduction in these subsidies and therefore bigger bills for consumers. This will eventually lead us to smaller homes and cars and even smaller families. This is a natural development.
Role of leadership
What do you think is the role of organizations in the Kingdom? What are the factors and reasons for their current state?
The boom in the Kingdom's private and public sectors has emphasized the need for leadership with vision that is determined to realize practical and specific objectives, which serve the organizations' goals. In a private company, this involves subjects such as return on investment, market share, saudization targets, and the usual menagerie of indicators. In a nonprofit organization, such matters need to be quantified a lot more than now to be able to judge the efficacy of management. Secondly, there is a responsibility toward the greater society in which the organization operates. A leader must ensure his organization is acting in a positive manner in society.
What are the most difficult decisions that need to be implemented in the Kingdom in the coming 20 years?
Boosting the quality of education will be the most impactful decision. The countries that advanced tremendously in the last decade or two have started this journey with a determined focus on improving education. We don't need to reinvent the wheel. We can learn from countries like Turkey, South Korea, and Singapore. They all made major strides for their populations by focusing on education.
Give me an example of the most creative project you wish to establish in the Kingdom.
The project I dream of is spreading the use of Arabic language to all non-Arab Muslim countries, whereby Arabic becomes their second language. After all, Arabic is the language of the Qur'an and non-Arab Muslim populations have a thirst to understand it correctly. I personally believe that, in the long run, this will have a greater impact on Muslim unity than any development projects.
KSA in three words
What three words would you use to describe the Kingdom in the coming 20 years, and why you decided on the three words?
The first word coming to my mind would be "Challenged" - amid the political and economical global turmoil around us. Secondly, and hopefully, the realization of GCC's unity as Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah hopes. Thirdly, I would say "Proactive" - endeavor in the liberation of Palestine.
How can we all improve human rights in Saudi Arabia? What are your expectations regarding human rights practices in the coming 20 years?
We can improve human rights in Saudi Arabia by raising public awareness in our education systems based on the teaching of the Islamic faith. More importantly, we need to raise our children with the proper understanding and respect for others' rights. It takes time, but there seldom are short-term solutions. And in the coming 20 years, human rights association will be an integral part of the Kingdom's social fabric.
What is the biggest challenge facing the Kingdom today?
In the very short term the biggest challenge is unemployment among Saudi youth, as a result of the failure of the education system. In the long term, the cultural challenge, is charting a middle course between the competing currents of ultraconservatism and liberalism. As for the economy, in the long term, the biggest challenge would be diversification away from an oil-based economy.
What are the most prominent economic activities in the Kingdom? What are the neglected sectors that need to be developed?
Oil and natural gas production and refining are and will continue to be (for the foreseeable future) the biggest elements of our economy. Next comes, the financial sector, the real estate and development sector, and finally the construction sector, noting that these three swap positions every few years depending on the economic situation at the time. On the other hand, education and health care need a big push - education in terms of quality and health care in terms of number of providers.
There is huge demand for housing in the Kingdom because of rising young population. The government is also emphasizing on this sector and has allocated SR 250 billion in this year's budget for housing. Do you believe housing needs much more attention from the government and private sector?
The numbers currently don't add up. Unless the government heavily subsidizes housing, only a small segment will be able to afford it. For the numbers to add up, real estate prices have to come down, and for that to happen real legislation must be enacted for preventing the hoarding of big plots of land. It is this hoarding that drives up real estate prices artificially.
Role of SMEs
There is a need to boost small business enterprises (SME) sector in the Kingdom as it creates various jobs. What role do you see for SMEs in the Kingdom's economic development?
The real need is to reduce government bureaucracy. That will help all segments of the economy including the SMEs who already play a solid role. After all, we all know it is them who make up the bulk of the work force.
Education is always a priority of the Saudi government. What changes you envisage in the education system to fit Saudi youth in knowledge-based economy?
Major changes need to be enacted. For example, let us first look at what set of skills are required upon graduation and mold our system accordingly, that is let's start with the latter. Of all developments that will affect our country, this will be the most impactful in the coming years. The flip side is, if we don't dramatically improve our education system, then we stand little chance of getting out of the hole we're in now, and subsequently, we get further behind other nations.
How do you see Saudi women's contribution in the labor, social and political arenas in the coming 20 years?
Every day we are seeing positive signs of women's contributions. We're also seeing that more accepting attitudes are emerging. Yet there's still a long way to go.
What's required in order for Saudi women to actualize your future vision?
Saudi women need to have time and patience in order to gain their substantial allocation in all aspects of the Saudi community.
Learning from the past
What are three or four mistakes that have been repeated in the Kingdom during the past 10 decades?
One, I would say accountability. In my opinion, every person in charge of a task, whether an employee or manager, a president or minister; whether in a private company or the governmental sector, must be held accountable for his or her work. Without this feedback cycle, there is no impetus for improvement. The second mistake would be the sponsor system, also known as the kafalah system. It runs against all human rights and dignity. It allows abuse of people on a large scale. I see that it needs to be replaced with systems similar to all the countries around us. Thirdly I'd say the focus on education and it is the way into shaping any future.
Message to the youth
Given that youth make up the majority of the Saudi population, what message do you have for them?
First and foremost, I encourage the youth to embrace the bliss of education - to be civilized and well raised people, and be positive contributors to their society -whether at school, at home, at work or wherever. I encourage them to read the Qur'an.