POWER TO THE (YOUNG) PEOPLE

Kuwait 2017 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | FOCUS: YOUTH EMPOWERMENT

With the private sector poised to take on a greater role in the Kuwaiti economy, the country is working to instill a sense of ambition and entrepreneurship in its youth to steer it away from careers in public service.

Youth empowerment is one of the issues His Highness the Amir is most vocal about, and which he returns to in all of his speeches and policy outlines. It is also reflected in decisions made by his senior economic advisor, HE Yousif El-Ebraheem, the reputed educationalist and academic who served a distinguished career in public service. Amongst other appointments, he was Minister of Education & Higher Education, Finance, and Planning.

Since the start of the decade, several projects have been launched to empower the youth and encourage them to pursue careers outside of the public domain. A notable example of this was the National Fund for Small and Medium Enterprises, which was founded in 2013 and is now accountable for a publicly allocated KWD2 billion. In addition to funding, the organization provides seminars and consultations for aspiring entrepreneurs.
The fund was one of several recommendations that followed a comprehensive research project that was a part of the National Youth Project, which brought together 45 young Kuwaitis and gave them one year to work out their vision of the future for Kuwait. In a grand ceremony, their ideas were presented to His Highness the Amir and members of the cabinet. Another recommendation was to establish a Ministry of Youth Affairs, which was materialized in 2012 and is now set to grow even bigger, creating a a new Ministry for Sports. Many of the 45 young Kuwaitis that participated have either moved on to work in these new governmental institutions or joined the ranks of the Supreme Council of Planning and Development, the Kuwait Petroleum Corporation, or the Supreme Petroleum Council.

Kuwait has been progressive about taking a leading role for empowerment of the Arab youth since 2009, holding its first bi-annual summit for just this purpose. In order to further promote this idea, an Arab fund for SME development was founded with total capital reaching USD2 billion, of which USD500 million came from Kuwait, USD500 million from Saudi Arabia, and the rest of the Arab world contributing varying amounts.
The Ministry of Higher Education, led by HE Dr. Mohammad Abdulatif Mohammad Al-Fares, is currently guided by the latest five-year plan, primarily targeted at lifting standards across the board and aligning graduate programs to industry demands, bridging the gap between academia and the labor market. With the country in dire need of more graduates in the sciences, the Sabah Al-Ahmad Center for Creativity was established in 2010 as part of the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences (KFAS); the center is aimed at boosting interest among young Kuwaitis for professions in science and encouraging them to commercialize their discoveries at a later stage in life.

The major challenge surrounding empowering the youth is no longer employing everyone in public-sector positions, especially considering the government's general strategy now is to have an active private sector responsible for the lion's share of GDP development. Youth employment remains a major concern, and the primary challenge is creating value-adding jobs for young Kuwaitis. The country has both public and private education institutes, all of which are increasingly becoming aware of this new reality, one where it matters what degree you receive for the career you want to pursue. Young Kuwaitis are increasingly encouraged to join private firms or start their own companies. For the latter, there is a difference between opening a new restaurant, which requires bringing in 10-15 foreign laborers, and creating an IT services company for two highly skilled Kuwaitis. The first will not have much of an impact on youth employment or GDP generation, though these industries can flourish on their own if there is enough demand; however export- and service-oriented activities will significantly boost the economic landscape of the country.