Across the country the private sector, together with academic and research institutions, is working to support community development and promote prosperity.
Although the telecommunications sector is best known for innovation and technology, Kuwait’s major players are heavily involved in supporting the community in terms of events and initiatives. This extends to the youth demographic now at the heart of national economic development policy.
Ooredoo Kuwait, the country’s premier mobile operator is no exception. As its General Manager and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdullah Al Thani explains, “We have been very actively focusing on the youth here, as 41% of the population is under 25. They are very outspoken, motivated, and entrepreneurial, they want to try and do things, so we have been engaging with them to support them.”
Ooredoo also sponsors and supports the country’s major national celebrations. Hala Febrayer, as it is known in Kuwait, is a month-long festival revolving around Liberation Day. The festival extends far beyond marking the date that the US-led military coalition freed Kuwait from Iraqi occupation in 1991. Today it is a celebration of Kuwaiti culture, with concerts and events involving tens of thousands of participants.
“We have sought and will continue to seek taking a key role in Kuwait’s national celebrations. As partners, it was our pleasure to see people of Kuwait actively participating in this year’s Hala Febrayer carnival,” says Sheikh Al Thani.
Considering that Ooredoo Kuwait is a part of one of the world’s largest mobile operators, their high-profile community involvement serves as a reminder of ease of doing business in Kuwait. The country has increasingly improved its ratings in this area according to monitoring indexes.
Like Ooredoo, the Kuwait Telecommunications Company, better known as VIVA, has also become heavily involved in supporting Kuwait’s development.
“The principal focus of VIVA’s CSR (corporate social responsibility) strategy has always been based around education and development, caring for the environment, investing in healthcare, encouraging entrepreneurial thinking and strengthening our bond with society. The progress achieved by VIVA in keeping to these aims has resulted in it being seen as more than just a telecom leader”, says VIVA’s CEO, Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al-Badran.
Left: Prof. Moudi Al-Humoud, Rector, Arab Open University. Center: Eduardo Eguren, CEO, Burgan Bank. Right: Fahed Boodai, Chairman, Gatehouse Financial Group
VIVA’s contribution to healthcare, including supporting blood banks, and youth sport initiatives, touches on one of the core lifestyle issues afflicting the Arabian Gulf: diabetes. The prevalence of this disease across the Gulf has led Kuwait to focus its efforts on developing both medical and lifestyle solutions. This includes the establishment of world-class research institutions, including Kuwait’s Dasman Diabetes Institute.
New Director General of the Institute, Dr. Qais S. Al Duwairi, says community engagement is a key factor in prevention and treatment.
“We encourage community-based research in order to actively involve the community and directly benefit the people enrolled in the study. Seminars are steered to continuously keep the public up-to-date with the latest discoveries of the management and treatment of diabetes. Furthermore, we offer complimentary healthcare and medical services to the public, including the distribution of medicine and insulin pumps to those in need. I believe this is all reflective on the Kuwaiti culture entirely, as the country may be small in size, but its contributions are ones that potentially save lives.”
Promoting gender equality
Cooperation across the region in education is also having a transformational effect on lifestyle and culture, which is perhaps best exemplified by the work of Kuwait’s Arab Open University. Increasingly the university is working to change perception of gender stereotypes and increase the presence of women in leadership roles in the Arab world.
Describing the situation, Professor Moudi Al-Humoud, Rector of The Arab Open University (herself a former minister) is outspoken on the topic. As she told our correspondents, “The question of women’s empowerment is top on our agenda. In Kuwait, and in the Arab region in general, women have great potential to help in the growth and development of their societies. But, in general, governments are not taking women’s empowerment seriously. Females form the majority of the student population in universities: such resources need to be utilized more effectively.
“Therefore, there is no excuse, and the empowerment of women is irreversible. Empowering here means that women have to be more involved in the decision-making process at the government ministerial level, the undersecretary level, and consultation bodies in the country… We are trying to provide a role model; that is, Arab women can be as efficient as men. In this context, what matters is the individual person’s qualifications rather than their gender.”
Sustainable development through diversification
Underpinning the involvement of Kuwait’s private sector and civil society is of course, its economic prosperity. The discovery and development of hydrocarbons since the 1960s was instrumental in catalyzing national development. However the decline in oil prices has necessitated a vast reorientation of the economy, whereby wise investment of natural resource income into other sectors, both domestic and international, is the only means of providing long-term, sustainable dividends.
One example of this is Burgan Bank, a subsidiary of the country’s private-sector flagship the Kuwait Projects Company (KIPCO). Established almost 40 years ago, Burgan Bank has grown from a small local bank to a young financial leader, becoming one of the country’s major players. Currently it is ranked third largest in Kuwait by assets. In recent years it has actively expanded across the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey (MENAT) region by acquiring new business in these countries. These regional interlinkages allow the bank to effectively manage domestic and international operations out of Kuwait.
“Burgan Bank Group focuses highly on intergroup synergies providing direct access for our clients to regional and international markets. The bank’s majority-owned subsidiaries operate directly in five countries with arms extending far beyond. Such a network enables the Group to provide sophisticated financial solutions for both individual and corporate clients,” says Eduardo Eguren, CEO of Burgan Bank.
Like so many other businesses, Burgan’s chief executive sees a strong role for the private sector in supporting Kuwaiti society. This extends far beyond dollars and dinars, in terms of employment and financial returns, but touches on the responsibility local businesses feel towards supporting the community.
As Mr. Eguren explains, “The banking and private sectors in Kuwait are highly involved in making their operating communities better. For Burgan Bank, we have long been known to play a vital part in enhancing education and knowledge, empowering youth, talents, and persons of special needs, and in philanthropic initiatives.”
Another institution that has been committed to taking advantage of strong opportunities in Kuwait and abroad is Gatehouse Financial Group. The Group is the Jersey-based parent company of Gatehouse Bank, an investment bank based in the City of London, and Gatehouse Capital, an investment advisory firm based in Kuwait City. The Group is best known as a pioneer in real estate investment and finance, which it has taken as far afield as the United Kingdom and South East Asia.
“Gatehouse Financial Group has a strategy of creating bespoke investments and advisory solutions for clients to enter highly developed and sophisticated markets, in particular the U.K. and U.S. This is in line with our efforts to form a bridge between the vast capital available in the GCC and South East Asia, and western international markets,” says Fahed Boodai, the Group’s Chairman.
To ensure a sustainable future for Kuwait in the face of low oil prices, the nation’s banking and finance sector will have to launch new products and services to new markets to maintain strong balance sheets. Mr. Boodai is confident this can be done, stating that, “I believe that there are many places for further innovation and creating new markets and the Gulf has really been a pioneer in much of this.”