Calling on the young to pitch in on growth debates

This article appeared originally in Gulf News: link to original article

My age served me well this time. I was invited to take part in the first National Youth Dialogue to take place in the UAE. The purpose of the two-day retreat was to brainstorm and come up with ideas that can enhance the role of the youth and ensure their participation in the decision-making process, and aligning that with the UAE National Agenda 2021.

So why the National Youth Dialogue? Why now? And what does it mean to launch the first National Youth Agenda in the UAE? The article will provide the example of two countries whose early investment in human capital provided momentum in their growth and prosperity.

The UAE has been blessed with oil as its natural resource and main source of revenues. The development of the seven emirates had led to partial diversification from oil, with more focus on trade and services. The establishment of ports, expansion of airports, and the focus on free trade and open skies are only examples of the country’s general direction towards less dependence on oil and increased dependence on lasting resources. One of which, and the most important of all, is human capital.

Enter South Korea. In 1960, South Korea had a GDP per capita of $155.6. In 2015, its GDP per capita stood at $27,221.5 (World Bank). South Korea had no natural resources back then and have none today.

South Korea expanded its trade and developed its domestic industries in an effort to compete globally, which cannot be achieved without early investment in development of its human capital and capitalizing on it later on. South Korea’s human development index increased from 0.622 in 1980 to 0.898 today (United Nations Development Programme). By investing in education and in healthcare, two of the main eight themes in the National Youth Dialogue, South Korea had its education and health indices rise from 0.564 and 0.709 to 0.898 and 0.912 respectively.

South Korea is also ranked fourth in ease of doing business (World Bank). Two of the index’s 10 pillars are “starting a business” and “getting credit” – think entrepreneurship. The latter was one of the main themes at the National Youth Dialogue.

Enter Singapore. Singapore is ranked first in ease of doing business and ranked 10th worldwide in ease of “starting a business”. Singapore boasts no natural resources, yet managed to raise its GDP per capita from $427.9 to $52,888.7 between 1960 and 2015. In 1980, its education and health indices were 0.488 and 0.8 respectively.

Today, those are 0.782 and 0.969. Singapore opened its markets for trade and became a leading destination for foreign direct investments in Asia. This could not have been achieved if not for the early realization that Singapore’s natural resource is its human capital. As a result, Singapore’s human development index increased from 0.718 in 1980 to 0.912 today.

As the index takes into account “a long and healthy life, knowledge and a decent standard of living”, one could conclude that the early investment in the human capita, by investing in education and health care among other things, goes hand-in-hand with the prosperity of a nation.

As the UAE moves away from oil, there is no question that its human capital is the right catalyst to bet on for its growth and prosperity. The UAE has put itself in the shoes of a country with no natural resources, and acted accordingly. The National Youth Dialogue is a declaration of what the UAE believes in, and its leadership engagement and announcement of the National Youth Agenda by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice-President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, is an illustration of how the country perceives the future – youth.

The planning for a knowledge-based economy starts today by consulting the youth and including them in the implementation of the UAE’s plans. The last thought that I want to leave you with: what’s next?