MENAFN - Arab News
Working Saudi women can make great impact
Ahmed Al-Saied, CEO of Herfy Food Services Company.
(MENAFN - Arab News) Water shortage, oil depletion, and rapidly increasing population are among the major challenges facing Saudi Arabia, according to Ahmed Al-Saied, CEO of Herfy Food Services Company. If overlooked or neglected these problems could cause immense harm to the society with a burgeoning youth, Al-Saied says in an exclusive interview with Arab News. However, he says, he has immense faith in the country's youth. He wants them to be proud of what God has given - natural resources, huge country and the most valuable Islamic cities in the world - Makkah and Madinah. A Riyadh-born science graduate in economics and political science, Al-Saied is the co-owner, CEO and chairman of Herfy Food Services Co., which he founded in 1980. In 2010 Herfy became a public company and has since been trading in the Saudi stock market.
What changes would have a major impact on the lives of Saudis within the next 20 years?
The great improvement in education that we are seeing in Saudi Arabia, especially in the higher education level. The number of universities that are under construction or under planning will make a large difference, especially in the rural areas.
The increased number of young women who have obtained a university degree and started working everywhere will have a great impact on the Saudi society. The impact will be partly negative, but mostly positive. We have to try the old ideas in some people's mind who look down upon women and who are impacted by the old traditions.
Trying to improve the political and social systems and keep upgrading and developing the country to reflect the wealth in both history and natural resources.
What do you think of the leadership role regarding Kingdom's organizations? What are the factors for the current state?
Leadership is one of the elements behind the success of any company or organization. We need to improve the training of our young managers to turn them into real leaders. One of the main reasons behind lack of leadership in some organizations is that some Saudi young graduates are in a hurry to become leaders before they get enough training and enough experience.
What, in your opinion, are the major decisions that need to be implemented during the next twenty years?
In my opinion, we are facing the following major problems and we need to work very hard in taking decisions to overcome them:
We have to confess that a major portion of our water resources has depleted in the last 30 years due to increase in population and aggressive usage of water in agriculture, industrial and residential activates. We have to learn how to conserve our limited water resources and also try to get new techniques to increase our water resources from water desalination. So, facing water shortage will be one of the greatest challenges that Saudis will face.
Over population, high unemployment;
We have now about 100,000 Saudi students who are studying abroad, which can make a big difference in the future for our country, depending on how we are going to handle the social impact that these young people will bring to the country. Either we are going to give them the right direction, or they could join the long line of unemployment of young people. The high rate of unemployment in Saudi Arabia is connected directly to the overpopulation problem that we have in the Kingdom. Saudi Arabia's population could become 50 million in less than 25 years if we continue growing with the same rate. So we have to plan for this tremendous increase in population with limited water resources. To be frank, the Ministry of Labor is doing its best to resolve the unemployment problem, and I am optimistic that we could see positive results in 5 years time.
Oil represents 90 percent of the Saudi GDP, which puts the country in a very critical position. If the world invents a cheaper source of energy in the next 50 years, this could put us in a very bad position. Besides the fact that Saudi Arabia has to export large amount of oil to stabilize oil prices in the market, we as Saudis consume tremendous amount of oil either to use in our large cars or for energy, industry and agriculture. We have to learn how to conserve our best natural resource, which is oil.
What are the main goals you have set regarding the Kingdom's development, and how these goals could be achieved through your current position?
The main goal that I would like to set for our country is to be integrated economically and politically with the Gulf states first and then with the major regional Arab countries. This integration should include economical, demographic, transportation, and commercial activities. From my current position, as CEO of Herfy Foods Co., we are building more food plants in Saudi Arabia; we are trying to import fewer materials for our operations. We are making our own bread, our own meat processing, and we use local vegetables. We have also opened several Herfy's in the countries around us, and we are planning to expand more regionally.
What is the most creative project you wish to establish in the Kingdom?
My most creative project will involve water consumption. I would like to improve the water storage capacity of the Kingdom. We have to have strategic long-term water storage policy. Also, I would like to recycle the wastewater using new technologies like what they are using in the United States, Japan and other countries.
KSA in three words
What three words would you use to describe the Kingdom within the coming twenty years, and why?
We have the Two Holiest Mosques in the world, in Makkah and Madinah. Millions of people come to visit them every year. We also have the largest oil reserve in the world and we are the largest oil exporter in the world. So, we need to build on these resources to improve the development of the country socially, politically and economically.
Regarding Kingdom officials what characteristics do you think are important for such individuals? How would such characteristics contribute toward the Kingdom's further development?
Our top officials are doing their best toward the development of the country. I would like to see the second and third layers of officials to ease their bureaucracy and to have the attitude of encouraging the investors instead of putting obstacle after obstacle in front of them.
How can we all improve human rights in Saudi Arabia? What are your expectations regarding human rights practices within the coming twenty years?
Human rights were established here on this earth with the message of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), when he came and fought slavery and fought against women's abuse and taught us that all humans are created equal. The prophet (pbuh) taught us about human rights 1,200 years before the French Revolution or American Revolution. The prophet (pbuh) taught us the "Liberty of Choice" 600 years before the Magna Carta of England. So, I am optimistic of human rights in Saudi Arabia in the next 20 years, we just need to stick to what Prophet Mohamed (pbuh) taught us in a very simple way: "We are created equal." I would like very much to see the "Reform and Development" of the judicial system that the government promised and will spend SR 9 billion for such a reform in first phase.
What is the challenge facing the Kingdom today?
I think I answered this question in my reply to an earlier question. There are extra challenges on the foreign policy front, such as the relations with Iran and the relations with the new regimes that are in the creation now after the so-called Arab Spring. Also, the relations with oil importers and the price of oil are among the challenges. One of the main challenges that Saudi Arabia will face in the next 50 years is: What we are we going to do if the world finds, invents or explores another source of energy, other than oil?
What are the most prominent economic activities in the Kingdom? What are the neglected sectors that need to be developed?
Of course the most prominent economic activities are in the oil industry. The most neglected ones are the petrochemical industry; we need to increase the activities in this sector. We can export manufactured oil products instead of exporting just crude oil.
There is a hug demand for housing in the Kingdom because of rising young population. The government has also put an emphasis on this sector as it allocated SR250 billion in this year's budget for housing. Do you believe housing sector needs much attention from the government and private sector?
I think housing is a major problem, especially in the low- and middle-income classes. I think the plan that Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah announced last year will cover a large portion of this problem, but I also believe that the private sector has a major role to play in solving this problem. We can't just ask the government to do everything.
Role of SMEs
There is a need to boost small and medium 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 SME is the main economic power machine that moves the economy in any country. It creates jobs and boosts the middle class size and gives hope to the young people in their future. These SMEs later on could become great companies. If you look at two of the greatest companies in the world today, Microsoft and Apple, they started as an SME in the garage of the house of one of the founders and became the richest companies in the world, and made their owners the richest people in the world. I believe that the public and private sectors, and banks should put their effort together to encourage young men and women to start their own business, and be creative.
Education is always a priority of the Saudi government. What changes you envisage in education system to fit Saudi youth in knowledge-based economy?
Education is the most important element of economic development. The difference between developed countries and underdeveloped countries is education. I would like to see improvement in education at public schools. I went to public schools during all my education periods, because the public school system was very good, now I am worried about the collapse of the public school systems, not just in Saudi Arabia, but in the entire region around us. Now I don't know any middle class or upper class family sends their kids to public schools any more. Without the improvement of the public school system, all the effort in education will be a major challenge.
How do you see Saudi women's contribution in the labor sector, social and political arenas within the coming twenty years? And What's required in order for Saudi women to actualize your future vision?
Women are 50 percent of any society, they are the backbone of any successful society, and any trial to ignore women in the development of the society will fail. The society that ignores women is like someone who is trying to walk on one leg. With the increased number of girls going to universities, I am optimistic to see that 50 percent of the university students today in Saudi Arabia are girls. All through our history of Islam, women were always working side by side with men in the marketplace, in the Haj and even in wars they were side by side with men. I would like to see women participating in every activity either economical or political. Now women can participate in voting for local municipalities and could be members of the municipal councils. King Abdullah opened these doors for women, now they have no excuse not to participate. Women need to be more active and to take the opportunities in front of them. 60 years ago there were no schools for women in Saudi Arabia, now most girls in Saudi Arabia want to go to college and want to work. I believe that we need to ease the restrictions that are still in place, which limit the participation of women in the workplace.
What measures and standards need to be applied in Saudi media during the next twenty years? And What are your expectations?
In terms of standards, I would like to see the Saudi media to be on par with the international media. I would like to see the Saudi Media in the next 20 years to emphasize on the issues that are really important to the Saudi citizens. Also to see the line between opinion and news, sometimes people in the media mix between news and opinion, and we have to distinguish between them.
What impact will social media have on traditional media?
Social media such as Facebook and Twitter could be a double-edged sword. It could improve communication between young people and let them express their ideas and feelings, but also it could spread rumors and lies. So, instead of trying to limit the access to these social media outlets, we have to encourage our young people to use them and use their brains to filter any misinformation, rumors or lies that may spread through such a media outlet. In the meantime, we need to teach them how to improve their communication skills.
What is the impact of social media on traditions?
Social media is used now like chatting tools. Instead of talking on the phone, young people are using these outlets to chat with each other. I am not worried about the Saudi traditions to be affected by the social media.
Learning from the past
What are three or four mistakes that have been repeated in the Kingdom during the past ten decades, and how we could we eliminate these mistakes in order to develop the Kingdom?
We, as a society, are looking down at the working class, and this is why until today it is very difficult to find a Saudi plumber or a Saudi carpenter, and this is not healthy for any society. We are complaining about unemployment among young people and in the meantime we have millions of foreign workers in Saudi Arabia because our kids don't take up these physical jobs and they are not even trained for. The misuse of our water resources, and I already talked about that. We are still depending 90 percent on our oil revenue. They must keep improving our human resources, which are our most valuable assets, becoming less independent on oil and less independent on foreign workers.
Message to youth
Given that the youth make up the majority of the Saudi population, what message would you want conveyed to them? And what else would you say to rest of the population?
I would like to say to our young men and women, believe in yourself, set a goal and target in your life and you can reach this goal and target, be creative, work hard and your dream will come true, and I am a living example of that. What I would like to say to rest of the population is that we have to thank God for what He gives us from natural resources, huge country, and the most valuable Islamic cities in the world, Makkah and Madinah. We have to preserve and conserve our resources and look to our future not after 20 years, but after 50 years, what we are going to leave to our kids and grand kids. I would like to add to my young people that we would accept your mistakes if we see your best effort, we trust you, believe in you, and support you. Sooner or later you will take the leadership from us. You are our hope that we are working for, we are expecting to see you in the near future as scientists, writers, engineers, thinkers, doctors and poets.
God bless you!
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