Kuwaiti businesswoman and filmmaker nurtures entrepreneurial spirit in the youth

By: Editor In Chief
Wed 21 January,2015

Al-Zain Al-Sabah_1
Sheikha Al-Zain Sabah Al-Naser Al-Sabah Undersecretary of the Ministry of State for Youth Affairs of Kuwait.

Filed Under: Youth Development

A member of the Kuwaiti ruling family, Sheikha Al-Zain Sabah Al-Naser Al-Sabah is the Undersecretary of the Ministry of State for Youth Affairs of Kuwait.


One of Kuwait’s best known social entrepreneurs and pioneering film/TV producers, she is charged with conceptualizing and running operations for the newly established ministry.


Prior to this distinguished appointment in May 2013, Sheikha Al-Zain Sabah Al-Naser Al-Sabah was the Chairperson and Managing Director of Eagle Vision Media Group KSCC, which she established in 2002. She co-produced the film “Journey to Mecca,” which had a long-running showing at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington DC, and also organized worldwide workshops to raise awareness on the peaceful nature of Islam. She furthermore co-produced the multiple award-winning film “Amreeka,” which was part of the official selection at the Cannes Film Festival, Sundance Film Festival, and Cairo Film Festival in 2009. She is the recipient of numerous international film and television awards. 


This young Kuwaiti woman has made it her mission to provide a creative haven for talented regional youths and is a vocal proponent of new sector and job creation. Prior to leaving her company to join the Ministry of State Affairs, she oversaw the completion of EVMG’s new multi-media studio complex in Kuwait, which today houses the company’s Youth Outreach Program, an initiative she founded in order to aid in the integration of talented Kuwaiti youth into a myriad of regional media sectors. 


Shkh. Al-Zain also serves on the board of a number of media and youth organizations; including UNDP’s Development Program Advisory Board and Boston University’s COM board. 


At the start of her career Sheikha Al-Zain worked for ABC News’ World News Tonight with Peter Jennings in New York, and has also produced and directed a number of acclaimed political talk shows for a number of regional networks.


A MELI fellow at the Aspen Institute in the US, Sheikha Al-Zain earned an M.F.A. from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts and a B.S. in Journalism from Boston University, where she was awarded the prestigious Distinguished Alumni Award.


It is estimated that the youth demographic makes up roughly 60% of the total Kuwaiti population.  In September 2014, the State of Kuwait launched its national youth strategy, aiming to provide quality services to the youth community and utilize modern and effective means to incubate and sustain a positive youth development environment.


In an interview with LEADERS Middle East, Sheikha Al-Zain Sabah Al-Naser Al-Sabah talks about the ways Kuwait is mobilizing the youth as an economic and social resource, with the aim of sustaining the stability and economic growth of the country.


Kuwait has recognized the importance of youth development, placing it at the top of Government agenda. What are some of the initiatives in place that give evidence to your commitment to youth development? How crucial is Youth development for the overall growth of Kuwait.

Kuwait has been and will continue to be an ambitious state striving to foster all means of decent living for all age groups. However, in the last few years, the Kuwaiti government, along with its key stakeholders in both the private and public sectors, has come to realize the importance and impact of the youth demographic in particular.  Making up a significant percentage of the overall Kuwaiti population, youth as a segment are now regarded as essential assets with unique attributes, vibrant potency, and incredible potential that need to be nurtured and supported effectively. As a result, the Ministry of Youth Affairs (MYA) was established to promote positive youth development and serve as a facilitating, enabling, and empowering platform for the youth community.  Through its formation, the ministry provides services, opportunities, and a supportive environment for youth engagement across a myriad of different fields.  Essentially, the ministry has arisen from the youth themselves, and is run by and for the youth. With departments specializing in leadership development, capacity building, volunteerism, entrepreneurship, research/development, and creative content creation, the ministry’s very structure has been developed according to the needs of its community.


In its first year alone, it has supported the development of upwards of 150 youth initiatives in the fields of science, education, art, health, leisure, and business. It has also partnered with key stakeholders in the public, private, and civil sectors on a number of youth-driven capacity-building projects.  It has also worked with the country’s top universities on educational programs and campaigns to address a number of societal issues affecting both the youth community and the country at large. On the cabinet level, a special ministerial committee has been formed comprising the ministries directly concerned with services pertaining to youth needs and development.


To engage youth even further in national policy, MYA is working closely with key decision-makers on the formation of a National Youth Council.  This council will be charged with drafting key changes to some of the nation’s dated legislative mandates in a number of different fields.  In addition, through its programs and interventions, MYA is striving to systematically address critical constraints to youth development, such as labor market controls, business regulation limitations, an ill-serving public educational system, and a bureaucratic and dated administrative infrastructure.


Now in its second year, the ministry is hard at work, setting the framework for a National Youth Policy that will set the precedent for statewide inter-sectorial and inter-governmental alignment and participation on all youth development projects.  This is a challenging process that is integral to the development of both the ministry and the country as a whole. Not only will the National Youth Policy allow for further incubation and empowerment of the youth community across all sectors, but it will shift the nature of the current reactionary national policy to a more cohesive pro-active and action-driven system that may effectively promote a holistic and multi-sectorial environment for comprehensive and sustainable positive youth development.


In summary, these efforts have been formulated to facilitate youth inclusion, thus mobilizing the youth generation as an economic and social resource, which can directly contribute to sustaining the stability and economic growth of the country.


Youth Ministry Family


Kuwait is known for being a welfare state, where everything is given to Kuwaitis from free education, health, even jobs. Does this play against you when it comes to developing an entrepreneurial spirit in the Kuwaiti youth? What types of projects are being implanted for incubating and developing entrepreneurs?

Being a welfare state doesn’t necessary play against developing an entrepreneurial spirit in Kuwaiti youth.  It is due more to labor market restrictions, business regulation controls, poor administrative infrastructures, and the lack of viable incubators and venture capital injection, that Kuwait has a low level of new industry creation. Governmental and quasi-governmental organizations absorb a large part of the youth work force and the remainder aspires to revered professions requiring university level education. Interviews with youth suggested that regulations and poor administrative structures are the major challenges facing young Kuwaiti entrepreneurs.


However, findings also indicated that the complex nature of regulations governing the practices in business and perceptions to job security by youth contribute to increased interest in entrepreneurship.


One of my major roles in the ministry is to encourage young entrepreneurs to solve the issues we face using innovative solutions that may inevitably challenge the status quo, and allow for the creation of new sectors, jobs, competition, and social enterprise.  For instance, many of the infrastructural problems we face today may be easily solved when we couple vision with drive.


And who better to possess these attributes than the youth themselves.  The Ministry of Youth Affairs, as a whole, is incubating social entrepreneurs as they drive social innovation and transformation in various fields including education, the arts, healthcare, environment, and enterprise development.


But I must also stress that we have the good fortune of working with a youth community that is entrepreneurial in its very spirit and nature.  Kuwaiti young men and women have been raised by an older generation of pioneers in a number of different fields.  Our ancestors have had a profound effect on our society and many of the lessons learned from this older generation continue to have positive transformative effects on our society today. 


What we see happening now is the passing of the torch from one generation to the next.  Our young entrepreneurs today share the same resilience and love for adventure inherited from our forefathers, but now they have coupled these factors with modern-day technology and advanced business models and tools. 


Today, we are seeing young Kuwaiti entrepreneurs use innovation, creativity, and passion to solve major problems and build strong and sustainable organizations.


To encourage the entrepreneurial spirit in Kuwait, the Ministry continues to support and deliver a multitude of enabling projects in the SME creation and incubation fields. It recently launched its Entrepreneurship Department and is working closely with a task force, comprising top young entrepreneurs from a myriad of different sectors, to further develop the department and launch its highly anticipated action plan. 


The ministry also works closely with the country’s other government entities to allow for more cohesive inter-governmental participation in the SME development fields; more recently partnering with the Ministry of Social Affairs and a group of young Kuwaiti business-minded volunteers to launch the first fully integrated Entrepreneur Customer Service Center in the state.  To date, 230 young entrepreneurs have registered their newly formed companies in the center’s database.


Still, I strongly believe that, in this era of globalization, the country’s success on the entrepreneurial incubation front be will quite lacking if it does not learn to compete internationally.  However, before we can compete internationally, we must be aware of our strengths and weaknesses.


To rate its current ranking worldwide and accumulate valuable data for the further development of its youth community, MYA has joined the prestigious GEM consortium.  This membership allows our team to measure where we stand when compared to the entrepreneurial activity of other countries, and uncover crucial factors that we may utilize to suggest policies to enhance the national level of entrepreneurial activity.  


It is obvious that there is much to be done in terms of providing adequate infrastructure, legislation, and incubation for the entrepreneurial spirit to flourish without obstruction and take flight in Kuwait.  I am confident that by working closely with the youth community, MYA will be able to sow the seeds and harvest the type of grass roots support needed for a comprehensive and healthy entrepreneurial growth to take place and harvest new sustainable industries in a number of new and exciting fields.   


With the interest of positioning Kuwait as a Knowledge based Society. What is the position that Kuwait has in terms of Education, Innovation and Creativity?

The Kuwait Development Plan for 2035 aims at transforming Kuwait into a financial and international hub.  But in order to do so, we must revisit the nation’s existing educational system and overall human development plan.


With today's dynamic global economy centered on the development and exchange of knowledge and information, the State must invest in capacity building and knowledge transference.  Individuals and human capital need to develop multifaceted expertise. Skills must be fostered and nurtured to meet both the demanding needs of modern-day life as well as the innovation-driven global arena.  We must recognize the importance of knowledge in value creation, enable a society of life-long learners, and encourage out-of-the-box thinkers and innovators to hold key decision-making positions in government.


We must also invest in research and development across all sectors, and highlight the importance of a comprehensive educational backbone when re-structuring our much neglected and dated public educational system.  In addition, we must build platforms for creativity and expression; areas where new ideas and possibilities may be freely challenged and explored.


You founded Eagle Vision Media Group, producing a very successful film showing insight into Islam.  How were you involved? What did you gain from this experience?

Whether it is through my writing, or my TV shows, or my films, content creation has always been my passion.  When I have a message that needs to be shared, I do so using universal themes that transcend language and cultural barriers.


In addition, I have always been an advocate of new industry creation in general, whether it is in digital content, film, or otherwise.  The positive domino effect it would have on job creation and the economy at large is incredible.   And it is this belief that drove me to found Eagle Vision Media Group KSCC (EVMG) in 2003. 


I struggled with the same regulatory issues crippling many of our young entrepreneurs today, but I was driven and motivated to create a space where visual artists and storytellers can unite under one roof and produce their content. So I formed a great support team that shared the same drive and energy to make this dream come true, and we went to work.


Before leaving EVMG to join the Ministry of Youth Affairs, I am proud to say that we succeeded in building the region’s largest independent studio and multi-media facility right here in Kuwait.  EVMG is now a place where all the country’s aspiring visual storytellers may exchange and experiment with new production ideas. Under the EVMG banner, I had the good fortune of producing a number of regionally celebrated TV shows, and internationally acclaimed feature films. 


One of those films, “Journey to Mecca,” was the result of an international production team working together towards a common vision.  The key messages of this film were simple; compassion, resilience, and humanity.  My involvement in this film stemmed from the simple fact I wanted this story to be told.  Working with the production team, ranging from 22 different countries, in a number of international locations, was a wonderful experience in and of itself.  It enforced the importance of knowledge-transference and innovation when it comes to the formation of a successful project. 


More importantly, through this experience, I learned about the extent to which the lack of world-class film and media content about this part of the world is limiting our cultural and academic growth. 


Our messages are simply not transcending our own borders because we have not cultivated the proper skills and invested in the human capital needed to make this happen.  And unless this changes, we will continue to see our stories, culture, and heritage, and all the societal and political issues that arise as result, be downplayed, and sometimes be completely downgraded, by the global society at large.


A MYA strategy presentation_1


Can leadership be taught in a classroom? How can Kuwait nurture future leaders?

Leadership is not a curriculum; it is a complicated term that is not confined to titles or privileges. Leadership is about full citizenship and active engagement in different spheres of life. It resides in pathways that connect experiences, and unites opportunities that may then provide the road map for a coherent journey towards meaningful action and achievable dreams.


Future leaders may be nurtured in a number of different ways.  At MYA, our National Leadership Department aims to develop the youth community’s potential and empower future leaders by investing in their strengths, tending to their areas of interest, sharpening their skills, and engaging them in the decision-making process.  In parallel, we are working to ensure that a healthy infrastructure and regulatory business and legislative environment are put into place by the state at large. 

That said, I must stress that the ministry can only do so much.  Creating leaders is a process that requires the full participation of the government, the civil sector, the private sector, the people of Kuwait, and the future leaders themselves.  Across all levels, we must invest in positive youth development and all that the term entails. We may do so, and lead Kuwait to economic and social reform, by focusing on developing the youth community’s skills, increasing their productivity, installing values of cooperation and team work, instilling national pride, encouraging participants to continue education and self-development, and linking personal goals to national dreams.