Kuwait Career Forum Keynote Speech By Dr. Mubashar Riaz Sheikh, the UN Resident Coordinator & UNDP Resident Representative

15 Jul 2013

His Excellency the Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Hamad Al-Sabah; Her Excellency the State Minister of Planning and Development & the State Minister of National Assembly Affairs, Dr. Rola Dashti;

Forum Manager, Mr. Jamal Ibraheem Al-Houli
Distinguished Guests; Ladies and Gentlemen,
Assalamu Alaykom,

Glad to be among the youth of SOK although it’s a long time since I was one of you. According to UNICEF, youth ends at 24 or at 32 if you are applying for the Young Professional Program in the UN or in the World Bank. Anyway, memories from youth are still fresh in my mind and always will be. So I am really grateful to the organizers and you all for giving me this opportunity and to feel young again, at least while I am here.

I have been asked to share my personal experience during the turning points of my life from high school to academic life, what type of challenges I faced and how I was able to overcome them.

I am sure you will agree that this is very personal; we all face different challenges and have a different vision on where one would like to be in the professional life. From my childhood and youth days, I always wanted to be my own man, independent and capable of managing life at my terms. For this reason, choosing medicine over a comfortable life of managing the extensive family business was my first challenge and the first major decision that I took as a young person.

I always believed that I could make a difference if given an opportunity rather than just getting frustrated with the state of fair happening around me in different fields. So although I picked medicine as a profession, equally important was realizing early on during medical school that my talents and passion laid elsewhere. Therefore, although I completed my medical degree, I changed the course to public health soon afterwards with the belief that this would give me greater opportunities to contribute meaningfully and constructively in a broader field rather than just limited to provision of clinical services to a limited number of patients. So here I am today after a long but satisfying journey and sharing the story of my life with you. I am glad that I had the courage and conviction to make that decision and to overcome the challenge of moving into an area that was e uncertain but still exciting rather than taking the safe and tested pathway of following the rest of the family. So the bottom line of my story would be “follow your instincts”, although each of us has a different one.

Let us not forget that throughout our lives, we continue to face challenges of various types (be it not getting a job you really wanted, getting passed over for a promotion by someone who doesn’t deserve it, losing a job despite working real hard at it). You should be under no illusion: one or more of these things may happen to some of you as well. The important thing is to pick you up when this happens, and keep pushing hard, looking ahead without regrets and bitterness, which in any case don’t help. It may sound like a commonplace, but the more I grew and move up in my professional life the more I found there was a truth in these simple concepts.

With more than 60% of the Kuwaiti population represented by youth, youth has been a fundamental component of our work at UNDP Kuwait. In June 2012, UNDP completed a comprehensive national survey that created a space for youth between the ages of 15 to 30 to express themselves about some of the challenges they face. The results showed that 94% felt that diversification of job opportunities is important. Additionally, 45% felt that their jobs do not match their educational qualifications. These are real issues youth face when entering the job market.

In November 2012, the State Minister for Planning and Development launched a joint initiative with UNDP Kuwait to recruit 10 young Kuwaiti professionals for employment as Junior Professional Officers (JPOs) in offices of the United Nations around the globe. Through this programme, we aim to develop the talents of Kuwaiti youth by gaining work experience in the United Nations system.

In our 2012 celebration of International Youth Day, we hosted an open discussion on the challenges of youth economic empowerment. It was clear that Kuwaitis have a traditionally strong entrepreneurial spirit and Kuwaiti youth are very smart and determined. With the right training and programs to channel this spirit into positive outcomes, youth will reach their full potential and the Kuwaiti economy will too. The Youth Programme, a component of the democratic governance unite at UNDP Kuwait is relatively new. It started 2011 and was able to achieve the following:

  • The National Youth Survey: started late 2011 and the results were submitted to the office by Jun 2012 from ARA Research and Consultancy. The information was collected from over 750 respondents ages 15 to 30 in all 6 governorates consulting both men and women. The data is disaggregated according to these survey units.
  • Compilation of a data base for youth and youth led organizations and activists .(2011)
  • Conducted seven focus groups meeting for youth from all age categories and social and educational backgrounds (2011). The purpose of those meetings resulted in a report on the Kuwaiti youth priorities.
  • Organizing a solution-oriented roundtable discussion around the challenges towards youth economic empowerment in Kuwait (August 2012). Panelists brought together representatives from the government, private sector, civil society and young entrepreneurs. A group of young volunteers were involved in the preparations and planning of this annual event.
  • Supported Ministry of Youth Affaires (MOYA) to develop the national framework for youth engagement and empowerment (July 2013)
  • Planning to host a stakeholders meeting, in partnership with MOYA, to explore the way ahead for developing a full-fledged national youth strategy (tentative: second week of September 2013)


I am also expected to advise on the kind of jobs you may aim at as the youth of the country.

To begin with, today’s job market is different than that of a generation ago; jobs for life don’t exist anymore, and there isn’t a clear boundary between the time you study and, once that is done, the time you work. Nowadays you always study, and you start working when you are still studying (internships, etc) to gain valuable work experiences.

One has to reflect on her/ his strengths and interests, and choose a career path accordingly. Passion and inner motivation are key drivers of success. As I mentioned earlier, I could have followed my parents’ footsteps and become a businessman; but I think I would be dissatisfied, and probably not very successful; so I chose public health out of passion, I am happy with what I do every day I go to work. It is important that you should do a job that you would gladly do for free: and if you have that type of passion for it, then you typically end up doing quite well, and if you are in the right country like Kuwait, you also make a decent living out of it.

On a different level, the global job market is also changing. While realities vary enormously country by country, common features include:

  • Diminishing manufacturing jobs and a growth in the service industry and in high-tech.

  • A mismatch between contents of training and needs in the job market, resulting in the paradox of firms failing to find suitable entry level candidates and high youth unemployment. In this respect, you may have come across an article in a recent issue of the Economist, whose title was, quite fittingly, “generation jobless”. According to the Economist the Middle East is the region with the highest rate of youth unemployment globally.

Specifically for being the youth of a country that has primarily an oil based economy, you may consider diverse areas and innovative pathways of developing and shaping your professional careers that will not only bring success and motivation to you as individuals but would also be beneficial to the country in the long term. You will agree there is a chance that eventually technology will develop a way to find cheaper sources of energy than oil (whether it is fracking, wind/ solar, or something that we cannot even imagine at this point), so acquiring skills that can give you a place in diverse national and global job markets is an important safety net even in a country that, as of now, should not have financial worries.

At last but not least, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Government of Kuwait, its leadership and our counterparts (SCPD) whose unstinting support has enabled us to strengthen our efforts in working towards the fulfillment of the UN mandate in Kuwait. With your support, we will continue to draw on the global expertise and experience of the United Nations to address the needs of Kuwait and her people. It has indeed been a great pleasure taking part of this very important event; I wish you the best of luck in achieving the forum’s objectives.

Wa Assalamo Alaykom Wa rahmato Allah wa Barakatoh