SOURCE: Arab News
Time: March 23, 2018
WASHINGTON: Saudi students who have forged reputations as innovators are urging fellow young Saudis to seize a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reshape their futures.
At a packed conference room at Washington DC’s most iconic hotel, the Willard InterContinental, just across from the White House, a series of speakers took to the stage on Wednesday to call on the Saudi-majority audience to take up the challenge of reform.
“Never be afraid to do something or to be the first to do it,” said Razan Alageel, who last year won the outstanding youth delegate award at a UN youth project.
Alageel, who is studying political science at Appalachian State University in the US, said Saudis must not be intimidated by the scale of the tasks ahead as they face up to domestic and international challenges.
“You will always have a mountain to climb and another cliff to jump off. Believe in your instincts. You are powerful beyond measure, so use it,” she said.
She made her comments at a Misk Talk event in Washington DC, organized by the Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Philanthropic Foundation.
Misk, as the foundation is known for short, was set up in 2011 by the crown prince to promote innovation and education opportunities for young Saudis, and to encourage media that “knows no boundaries.”
More than half of the Kingdom’s 27 million nationals are below age 30, a demographic situation that poses a serious economic challenge, and many get their news from social media outlets rather than relying on traditional sources.
Saudi Arabia has historically been able to employ young people in government agencies, paid for by the country’s massive oil wealth. But the crown prince has embarked on a bold economic reform agenda that, if successful, will radically shake up government subsidies in the state.
The Misk foundation is part of that effort. At Wednesday’s presentation, the message to young Saudis was that they, not oil, are the country’s most valuable resource.
Mohammed Bakhsh, an undergraduate at George Washington University, used his presentation to encourage young Saudis to take risks and not fear failure, both central elements of the entrepreneurship the crown prince has called for.
“Failure is one of the best teachers, failure is the essence of success,” he said, a mantra more typically associated with Silicon Valley than old-style Saudi economic policy.
Much was also said about the reforms that have taken place in Saudi, including allowing women to drive.
“Remember, less than five years ago we couldn’t have discussions about women’s rights in this formal capacity, that was impossible and unheard of,” said Jehan Al-Mahmoud, a PhD student in socio-lingustics at Georgetown University.
“It has been a journey for all of us. The Saudi youth, we are all witnessing this incredible transformation in our country and we are getting there.
“As the Saudi nation, we got lucky with the oil at first but we continue to get lucky with knowledgeable, ambitious leadership that cultivates the most valuable resource that we have — us,” she said.