MENAFN - Arab News
Saudi- Investing in young minds is our challenge
Dr. Walid Fitaihi, founder and CEO of the International Medical Center.
(MENAFN - Arab News) Dr. Walid Fitaihi is the founder, chairman of the board of directors and chief executive officer of the International Medical Center (IMC) based in Jeddah. He is vocal about youth rights. He says Saudi youth should be given an opportunity and their grievances heard. He called for establishing a ministry of youth, offering a platform where youth could discuss their needs.
Dr. Fitaihi's integral role in the foundation of the IMC included the creation of its mission and vision. Having overseen the design and construction of the facility, and guiding it through a successful accreditation, he has set up guidelines for recruitment, quality and policy-making with a view to instilling the IMC culture and values in all those involved in running the hospital.
The grand opening of the IMC was held in October 2006 under the patronage of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, bringing Dr. Fitaihi's dream into reality.
His mission in life is to enhance the quality of health care and ensure that the IMC truly represents a major paradigm shift in health care services in the region.
Dr. Fitaihi emphasized three major points during the interview with Arab News: Share ideas with youth, develop education, and give freedom to media.
What changes will have a major impact on the lives of Saudis in the coming 20 years?
There was a graph study done that put a math score about the dependence on national resources. Countries like Japan and Singapore are in the high math score of little dependence on national resources. Saudi Arabia is the worst of any other country in the world, as it is fully dependent on oil, and in the same category with Ghana. In the coming years, we will have a baby boom where we have to invest in people and depend less on oil. This could happen through early start of education, allowing people to express themselves, teaching them the values, and giving them the freedom of expression.
Role of leadership
What do you think of the leadership role of organizations in the Kingdom? What are the reasons for their current state?
The whole world is going through changes, through Arab Spring in parts of the Middle East. If we look around, we will see that all countries have been changed by youth power. We are going through a baby boom as more than 70 percent of our society are under 25 years of age. We must listen to youth, as they are going to change our society. There was a declaration signed by young Saudis putting forth their demands and responsibilities. People should have the right to express themselves through projects they create. Leaders must listen carefully to the youth, especially matured voices among them, because youth are the energy of the country. I really call for establishing a ministry for youth and the portfolio should be held by a youth under 30 years old.
What are the most difficult decisions the Kingdom should take in the next 20 years?
The Kingdom is going through a very critical position in the coming years. The decision considered most difficult is whether to listen to the voice of youth or not. If we hear the voice of youth and involve them in further changes, the Kingdom will definitely develop.
What goals would you set for the Kingdom's onward development and how can these goals be achieved.
I believe that boosting education is the perfect way toward developing the community. The syllabus that we have is too weak and cannot produce an enlightened generation. We need to improve our education system. If countries like Japan have progressed, it is due to education. We should stop relying on unqualified teachers.
Saudization will remain a distant dream if we continue to depend on unqualified Saudi teachers. In fact, communities have realized that the best investment ever is in the early stages of human life, especially in communities where young people constitute the majority. A documentary film entitled "Waiting for Superman" produced a year ago discussed the challenges facing education around the world and stressed that the most important factor for the success of the education system is the teacher. If a student studies one year under a good, well qualified teacher, he can get three times better education than the student who studies three years under a weak teacher.
The challenge is how to raise hundreds of thousands of teachers in a few years. We have five million school students who make up about a quarter of the community. Through my efforts, I keep developing health services by depending on qualified staff and experts regardless of the nationality.
Give me an example of the most creative project that you wish to do in the Kingdom.
The most creative project is to establish a school and bring top qualified experts from the world over to observe the education level in that school. If I were asked to establish a creative and rare project, I would choose for each subject three talented teachers who use the latest techniques and tools in teaching.
These teachers would be in charge of giving the same lessons by using the most developed tools. Such developed curriculums should be ready for students from grade one and up to high school. The curriculums should be saved on a freely accessible interactive website for students. This way, students and their parents can participate in the education process. Thus, students will stop depending on private lessons at home. This idea is not mine. It's available worldwide.
There are similar projects around the world, including the Academy of Khan, which are available on the Internet for free. Similar projects have been developed in Turkey and India. If we implement such projects, the teacher's role will become more effective, especially when they start evaluating the students' level during an open discussion in class.
There is another important benefit of this project in which religious materials can be distributed through the teachers, which will protect our children from wrong religious ideas and notions. The cost of the project is limited to the provision of iPad for each student and payments for teachers.
What are the most prominent economic activities in the Kingdom and what are the 'neglected' sectors that need to be developed?
The most prominent economic activity in the Kingdom is to own lands. Businessmen in the Kingdom believe that such investments are the best. In contrast, the best investment is in shaping the young minds. We should develop our people's minds and invest in their creative ideas in the interest of the Kingdom's development.
Do you believe housing sector needs much attention from the government and private sector?
The demand for housing in the Kingdom is huge because of rising young population. The government has also put an emphasis on this sector as it has allocated SR250 billion in the budget for housing. Monopoly is the main cause of the housing crisis. Monopoly is about the empty privately owned lands that are not being used, even though the government has equipped the lands with essential services, such as roads, electricity and water. Since the government doesn't demand zakat or taxes on these lands, owning lands and leaving them barren over the time has become a safe investment.
The practice has become so common in our culture where society believes in the popular saying: "Saudi land doesn't require food or drink; even if it falls ill it will not die but will simply live on." Businessmen and real estate agents delay selling these vacant lands to ensure enormous profits. The rapid increase in population leads to a higher demand for lands and, as a result the land prices soar. Businessmen now sell only a small portion of their empty lands to get the cash flow they need.
Large stretches of lands remain barren and the society is caught in a vicious cycle. According to latest statistics, 5,000 square kilometer land is available but only 23 percent has been used. In other words, 77 percent of the land that the government has spent money on to provide with roads, electricity, and water are frozen and monopolized. And a similar picture exists in all of the Kingdom's cities. These lands are sufficient enough to meet the needs of hundreds of Saudis. The empty lands have become wastelands because they are not utilized and the society has a right on them as the public money has gone into servicing these lands.
The majority of young men in this rich, wealthy country do not own a home. Studies show that with current land prices, only individuals with a monthly salary of SR15,000 or above can afford to buy a home. Unfortunately, more than 90 percent of Saudi employees have a monthly income of less than SR15,000. Actually, increase in land prices is directly related to the increasing apartment rents and it is the average, hardworking employee that suffers the most.
The average person pays 30 percent of the annual income on residential rent, and it is expected that this number will reach 50 percent in the future. High prices of land have a domino effect and raise the rents of offices and shops, which in turn will cause inflation. The negative impact of an increase in land costs does not end here. It puts an additional financial burden on the government to adopt developmental projects, such as building hospitals, schools, residential compounds, and community centers with youth programs. Private organizations will be discouraged from investing in such projects that will have immense ethical and societal benefits on the society at large.
Role of SMEs
There is a need to boost the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) sector in the Kingdom as it creates various jobs. What role do you see for SMEs in the Kingdom's economic development?
SMEs are considered to be very important to the Kingdom as they come up with innovative ideas. Actually, we disregard SMEs' ideas and do not implement them. Such ideas need cooperation between the public and private sectors for implementation. For example, Singapore has a track record of successful SMEs. What we have in the Kingdom is small shops that are unorganized. Such projects have to be supported by government as well as businessmen by providing young people with loans and training, and should benefit from experienced businessmen.
Education is always a priority of the Saudi government. What changes you envisage in the education system for Saudi youth in the knowledge-based economy?
Developing a special syllabus is a necessity for boosting education. I already gave an example of the model schools that I dream to see in the Kingdom. In terms of universities, I got to know that the scholarships' cost could be used in establishing and developing a university like Cambridge University. So such projects are much better than sending students to study abroad.
How do you see Saudi women's contribution in the labor, social and political fields in the coming 20 years?
I wish to see a bigger contribution of women in labor, social and political life. It is really sad that even when we have the model for contribution and involvement of women in society in every aspect of it through Islam, we have not been able to implement it fully. As an example, Khadija, the wife of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), was basically the CEO of her own company. She employed Prophet Muhammad who is the most valuable human being who ever lived on Earth. We have many other examples of women's contributions in every aspect of life throughout Islamic history. Until recently, women in Saudi Arabia were not given the opportunity to practice in fields Islam had granted to them. The good thing is that there are many new laws and changes that definitely will make a difference for working women in Saudi Arabia. However, hiring women makes solid business where we have many intelligent, hard-working, dedicated Saudi women than Saudi men in the market. This has been my experience at IMC. We have more than 50 percent women working with us. They are successful because they, Saudi women, have a drive to excel and prove to themselves that they can do it and do it better.
How do you think your vision can be pursued?
Saudi women are already working hard and have proved themselves in the labor market. I believe that they need to keep pressing for their rights and continue with their good work. Saudi women have proved that they are much more intelligent than men.
What measures and standards are yet to be (and must be) applied to Saudi media? And what are your expectations in the next 20 years?
Saudi media is keenly observed and controlled. If we look at Saudi TV channels and newspapers, we will discover that there is no freedom, no voice for the youth. Any media can be successful when it delivers the voice of the youth and solves their problems. This criterion is lacking in Saudi media.
What impact will social media have regarding change in the Kingdom?
Social media is the platform youth are using to deliver their voice. On such platforms, Saudis can create and promote their ideas. Such platforms are considered the real voice of youth, not the traditional media at all.
What impact will social media have on traditional media?
I would like to mention the importance of competition between traditional and social media, where traditional media has to learn from social media how to be the youth platform. We recently noticed a large number of young Saudis had started their programs on the YouTube. These were low budget programs, but attracted many viewers not only in the Kingdom but worldwide.
Learning from the past
What are three or four mistakes that have been repeated in the Kingdom during the past 10 decades and how we could eliminate them in order to further develop the Kingdom?
The most repeated mistake is not hearing the voice of the youth. Youth constitute a sizeable majority in Saudi society, and so we have to involve them in social, economical and political activities. Once we give youth the opportunity to speak out loud, many mistakes will be eliminated.
What most leaders in both the government and private sectors should do to ensure the Kingdom's growth and sustainable development?
Every leader has to share ideas with the new generation, ask for their problems and needs, and discuss possible solutions. Dialogue is a very important element that we lack in Saudi organizations.
Message to youth
Given that youth make up the majority of the Saudi population, what message would you want to convey to them?
My message to youth is don't give up; change will come sooner or later. Keep working and keep calling for changes and improvement.
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