(MENAFN - Arab News) Entrepreneurship experts, governmental representatives, and young Saudi businessmen and women gathered yesterday at the Jeddah Economic Forum (JEF) to discuss ways of engendering a business culture among youths and developing knowledge-based economy in the region.
Vice-president of Research institutes in the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology Prince Turki bin Saud bin Mohammed Al-Saud, TV personality and CEO-founder of private equity firm Hamilton Bradshaw James Caan, Cofounder and CEO of Endeavor Company Linda Rottenberg and CEO of WAMDA and CEO-founder of Yamli.com and YallaStartup.org Habib Haddad shared with the audience their opinions and expertise on how to develop entrepreneurial know-how and actively contribute to transform the regional economy without excessively relying on governmental support.
Caan, one of the UK's most recognized entrepreneurs, investors and business commentators, opened the session identifying as key issues the necessity to invest in an education that encourages a trading mentality, prepares young Saudis to the workplace and encourages them to graduate in relevant fields to the country's economy.
Despite being the largest and most influential country of the region with a four percent annual GDP growth and 28.5 million inhabitants, Saudi Arabia has difficulty in finding job opportunities for a youth that constitutes 65 percent of the entire population and registers a 1.5 percent increase every year.
"In the Kingdom, 9 out of 10 private jobs go to foreigners, 9 out of 10 public sector jobs go to Saudis and only 17 percent of the total workforce is made by Saudis. In this difficult context, the Saudization program and the allocation to the education sector of 14 billion a year (the region's largest budget) by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah are important steps to reach the goal of creating 75 million jobs by 2020 in the MENA region," said Caan.
Despite recognizing the importance of implementing effective policies to tackle the issue of unemployment and economic growth, Caan and most of the experts contributing to the discussion believe that entrepreneurship mindsets, braveness in coming up with innovative ideas and decentralization of initiatives to encourage the setting up of successful private businesses can do more to the cause than any univocal governmental program.
"Saudi Arabia abounds in substantial family businesses. Joining forces between members of the successful and experienced private sector, by opening for instance a venture fund and developing a common strategy, can create numerous jobs and opportunities. The real point is what we can do for our government through our experience and/or ideas and not vice-versa," explained Caan.
Habib and Rottenberg focused their intervention on the importance of mentorship and entrepreneurship culture based on persistence, flexibility, passion and firm belief in one's ideas to trigger a real market change.
"Start small and think big, work more and think less and don't give too much importance to immediate productivity." In entrepreneurship, events never follow a linear trend," said Habib. It is normal to face difficult moments. Unfortunately the culture in Saudi Arabia is not yet supportive and few people would dare leave a secure job to give form to an idea, he added.
Classified among the world's experts on entrepreneurship, business opportunities in emerging markets and innovative leadership for the new economy, Rottenberg believes that, more than the capital, mentorship is the key ingredient to generate a high impact entrepreneurship.
With her company, Rottenberg is active in many countries in the Middle East and identifies mentors and promising entrepreneurs.
"I see a lot of potential in Saudi Arabia. Once a young entrepreneur succeeds, he should become a mentor himself thus contributing to develop a winning entrepreneurship spirit in the country," said Rottenberg.
Prince Turki concluded the session stressing the importance of providing initial financial support to young entrepreneurs as indispensable starting point to concretize any idea.
According to Turki, the problem of Saudi Arabia is that its entrepreneurship culture is mainly focused on trade and real estate and the country lacks venture capital companies that invest in ideas.
"South Korea's incredible growth in only two decades should represent for Saudi Arabia a source of inspiration. Good policy, venture capital, access to funds, advanced education and infrastructure development will allow us to reach similar results," said Turki.
"Badir," meaning to initiate, is a technology incubator program, launched in 2008 by King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST). It represents a concrete step in this direction. The program aims at filling the gap between the world of industry and research and accelerating the growth of emerging technology based businesses in Saudi Arabia," said Turki.
Today's audience survey on "what is the most critical lever in transforming entrepreneurship in the region," resulted in a preference for "making it cheap and fast to start and operate a small and medium enterprise" (38 percent), followed by building a world class ecosystem (34 percent) and finally providing easy access to capital (28 percent).