Despite the remarkable progress we are currently witnessing in the Arab region on all fronts, economic developments continue to be the most defining markers for our future. Our socioeconomic structures today are driven and shaped by the economy. With the realization of our leaders’ visions, we also see a proportionate rise in citizens’ hopes for a prosperous and secure future.
The decline in fuel prices in 2018 has led policymakers to wonder what will come next. What are the other factors that will dominate as we continue our journey to shaping a progressive future? Oil is no longer the mainstay of our economies - human resources, science and knowledge are solid and powerful assets that lead us towards success and stability.
Strategies for economic change have been implemented across the region in response to this shift in our economic vision and fundamentals. The most striking example of this shift is Saudi Arabia’s comprehensive and integrated Vision 2030 that cohesively brings together the country’s cultural, social and economic objectives to provide an elevated quality of life to its people by that year.
Vision 2030 has outlined 12 programs for implementation over the coming years. The first program announced as part of Vision 2030 was the National Transformation Program, which aims to bring about fundamental transformations in Saudi culture and society. Through announcing this program prior to any others, the Saudi leadership reiterated that the economy is built on a strong social base and is led by local human resources, people who believe in their mission and role in the development of their countries.
Another significant development initiative is the National Industrial Development and Logistics Program (NIDLP), seeking to transform Saudi Arabia into a leading industrial power and logistics hub. Programs to promote Saudi identity, housing, financial balance, privatization, public-private partnerships, and to enhance the quality of life of Saudi citizens and residents are also underway. Quality of life has been identified by Vision 2030 as its ultimate objective and is an integral part of its plans and strategies.
Over the past two years, Saudi Arabia has articulated its intention to implement transformative changes in the next phase of its journey of growth. These changes are projected to reshape the fabric of Saudi society and restore its evolutionary culture.
Through its initial steps, the Saudi transformation demonstrates the importance of the role of leadership in a nation’s success. His Royal Highness Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman represents young leadership with an ambitious vision that targets a young society. The Crown Prince’s bold attitude and unwavering commitment to the interests of his people are necessary to overcome the country’s conventional and rigid culture and social mores. They are equally necessary in combating corruption, introducing structural reforms in Saudi society and economy, and in shaping a new direction for the leadership where politics and the economy are perfectly aligned, enabling the integration of Saudi Arabia’s economy into the global mainstream.
Under the Crown Prince’s stewardship, several frameworks and institutions have been entrusted with the mission of achieving Vision 2030, led by the Council of Economic and Development Affairs. The council has been mandated with launching the 12 Vision programs and establishing a central leadership committee for each program responsible for developing plans, strategies and governance mechanisms. Furthermore, each ministerial office in Saudi Arabia now has a Vision realization office that seeks to align the operations and policies of government entities with the objectives of Vision 2030.
Although there are several differences in ground realities between Saudi Arabia and Oman, some similarities exist as well, making the Saudi Vision 2030 a case study relevant to us and also to other nations within our region.
We must learn from best practices around the world. One of the most important lessons Saudi Arabia has taught us is that a strong leadership is not just effective, but crucial, in the realization of socioeconomic aspirations.
Second, its cohesive approach to its programs clearly illustrates that transformation must be comprehensive. We cannot separate national, economic and social objectives. Saudi Arabia’s pursuit of a new economy means building social structures encompassing a new culture that is not dependent on the state to meet all needs and does not rely on a single source of income, i.e. oil. Rather, the reliance is on the collective productivity of society, an objective that all the Vision’s programs seek to develop and enable.
Third, Vision 2030’s first phase coincides with Saudi Arabia’s efforts to open up to the global economy, build partnerships and sign agreements with leading global economic hubs. The first phase of the Vision prioritizes intensive media campaigns that support the new direction of the Saudi leadership, and highlights the opportunities available to the local private sector as well as to foreign investors. Communicating Vision 2030’s programs effectively is considered key to their success and marks a radical shift for all the countries in the region.
Lastly, Saudi Arabia’s economic growth will have a ripple effect on regional economies, and encourage the development of a platform for permanent regional economic coordination. Essential prerequisites for the success of regional economic consortiums include integrated markets and standardized legislations and regulations, particularly with regard to the exchange of goods and services, capital mobility and partnership in large-scale economic projects such as renewable energy and land, sea and air transport systems.
When we talk about the future of the region, the economy is undoubtedly, the most important aspect since a sound economy translates into sovereignty and the freedom to shape our future. Economic progress is the right of citizens and the duty of governments, and forms the basis of equal and competitive relations between the region and the rest of the world.
Let us resolve to learn from regional best practices and work collaboratively with our neighbors to drive the Arab region towards a successful and secure future.
* The author is the Executive Chairman of Investcorp and an International Advisor to the Brookings Instituition. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of Times of Oman