Having served as the Dean of School of Business at Kuwait University in the nineties, Dr. Yousef H. Al-Ebraheem, is a renowned Kuwaiti educationalist with a distinguished career in academia and public service.
Today he serves as the economic advisor at the Amiri Diwan, the office of the Emir of Kuwait, in the capacity of a minister. The topics of education, youth and employment form part of the strategies which he discusses with colleague advisors and ministers as part of Kuwait’s government vision for the transformation of society, which aims to be open and dynamic.
Prior to his role as advisor to the Emir, Dr. Al Ebraheem held several ministerial posts including Minister of Finance, Minister of Planning and Minister of State for Administrative Development affairs, as well as Minister of Education and Higher Education. He also served Cultural Counselor/Director at the Cultural Division of the Embassy of the State of Kuwait in Washington DC, USA.
He was the chairman and member of the board of directors of the Gulf Investment Corporation and also vice chairman of Al Mal Investment Company. He is a member of the board of trustees, the executive committee and the chairman of the audit committee of the Arab Open University, member of the board of trustees at the Kuwait Institute for Medical Specialization, and a member of the board of advisers of Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University, USA. Dr. Al Ebraheem is a member of the board of several nongovernmental organizations such as American Kuwaiti Alliance and INJAZ - Kuwait in association with the International Junior Achievement Worldwide. Dr. Al Ebraheem has a Ph.D. in Economics from Claremont Graduate University, Califronia, USA. He has authored a number of publications, reports, research papers and books on development and economics, including; “Budget Deficit, Renewable Resource Gap, and Human Resource Development in Oil Economies” (2002.).
While the plunge in world oil prices during the last months of 2014 and early 2015 poses a threat to the economy of Kuwait and other members of the GCC, the Kuwaiti government has pledged in January this year that this will not affect Kuwait’s economic development projects and the government will continue to support capital expenditure in the economy.
The Kuwaiti economy picked up in 2014, with non-oil economic growth reaching 3.5 percent and flat oil production kept the overall real GDP growth positive at 1.3 percent. According to the IMF, the economic outlook for Kuwait remains favorable, with non-oil GDP growth in Kuwait expected to further increase to 4.0 percent in 2015, and is projected to increase to 4.5–5.0 percent in the medium term.
Meanwhile Kuwait is actively working towards achieving economic diversification into areas with potential for youth employment as well as improving the business environment, strengthening governance in public administration, and encouraging the growth of small and medium-sized enterprises.
Dr Yousef H. Al-Ebraheem speaks to LEADERS Middle East about the main challenges that lay ahead for the Kuwaiti economy, and the emphasis being placed on youth development.
Your Excellency, Kuwait has witnessed an important political, economic and social transformation over the last few years. How would you describe are the main pillars of this transformation that has taken place in the country?
Kuwait is a small, dynamic, and open society with a high ceiling of freedom of expression. This freedom of expression tends to make people magnify the scope of Kuwait’s debated problems and issues. Having said that, Kuwait as any other country in the region has witnessed in the past few years important challenges such as the so called " the Arab Spring", the global financial crisis and the political instability in the region, but this was not the first time for Kuwait to face such regional and international challenges.
On the economic front Kuwait opted to utilize the financial surplus by accelerating investment expenditure on infrastructure projects such as the Mubarak Port, the Jaber causeway, the Sabah Salem University, hospitals, cultural and opera centers, major housing projects and a massive highway system. On the political front, the local political debate on the voting process decree ended with the endorsement by the constitution court and the election of a new Parliament was held. This led to a new era of understanding between the government and the National Assembly to concentrate on development projects and to improve and upgrade the legal framework of the country.
Lastly, on the social front, His Highness the Amir leading initiative on youth led to establishing a new Ministry for youth affairs and launching major projects and programs for the youth. One of the major projects is establishing the National Fund for Small and Medium Projects with a capital of two billion KD ($ 7.5 billion).
Kuwait has for decades been seen as a hub of dialog in the region and beyond. What are the ingredients that make of Kuwait a place of international diplomacy?
Since its independence Kuwait is taking a neutral stand based on the international laws and national security plus the extensive experience and skills of HH The Amir on the international affairs. This led the international community, individual countries and leaders to trust Kuwait and seek it's help to be the hub of dialog, and intermediary for negotiations to solve disputes and reach peaceful solutions. The recent UN recognition and Honoring of HH The Amir as a "leader of humanitarian work" and Kuwait as a " humanitarian Center" endorsed this statement.
Kuwait has placed Education and the Youth at the center for sustainable development. What are some of the initiatives in place that show your commitment towards creating a knowledge based society and empowering the youth?
Kuwait is one of the leading countries in the region who has recognized the importance of education. More than hundred years ago the first school was established followed by a school for girls. This was followed by establishing a vocational college and university, as well as creating a well-structured scholarship program to the U.S., Europe, and other countries. In summary the following are some of the recent initiatives that show the commitment towards creating knowledge based and empowering the youth:
1- Sabah Al - Ahmad Center for Giftedness and Creativity (founded 2010)
2- The National Technology Enterprises Company (NTEC founded 2004)
3- The National Youth Project (2012)
4- Ministry of Youth Affairs (2012)
5- the scientific Center (founded 2000)
6- Kuwait National Fund for Small and Medium Enterprises (2013)
7- National Youth Council (approved and will be established this year)
How optimistic are you about the future of Kuwait? What would you say are the challenges ahead for Kuwait?
I am very optimistic for the future of my country despite economic and political challenges in the region. Allowing the youth to participate in leading the country and engage them in the development process is the catalyst to a bright future. In my opinion, the major challenge in Kuwait is not the drop in oil prices, but creating productive jobs for the youth in the private sector, which is the corner stone to diversifying the economy, correcting the imbalance in the labor force, and reducing the economic dominance of the public sector.