Published on Arab Voices

Kuwait should focus on youth and women transitioning to a knowledge-based economy

Photo of artist sketchbook of hourglass and professional camera. Photo of artist sketchbook of hourglass and professional camera.

Kuwait's government has a goal to diversify its economy away from oil, as articulated in its National Vision "New Kuwait 2035."  While Kuwait has made some progress in its social and economic indicators, there is a broad consensus that it continues to perform below its potential and behind neighboring economies and OECD countries, mainly due to the weakness of its public sector.

The Government of Kuwait acknowledges that improving Knowledge Management (KM) is key to improving the performance of the public sector and could help it play an important role in stewardship over the whole economy.  Almost every economy that has sustained fast growth over several decades has had a high performing public administration built on solid Human Resource Management (HRM) and good KM practices.

The Government of Kuwait partnered with the World Bank on an innovative initiative to measure public sector capacity to support building a knowledge economy and formulating a National KM Index for the public sector (called KIPS). To identify the main KM gaps and barriers challenging the transition from an oil-dependent economy to a diversified knowledge-based economy, a questionnaire with 50 questions was developed and distributed to 20 public sector agencies. The objective was first to review the HR and KM practices in the public sector and gauge their impact on the production, access, storage, and degree of the flow of knowledge, and second to gauge how KM is valued and supported in the public sector.

The KIPS survey results indicate that though KM remains largely neglected in the day-to-day work of Kuwaiti officials there are "islands of excellence," where Kuwaiti organizations have adopted world-class KM practices.  Examples include many public sector oil companies. Their HR strategies recognize staff as the organization's most important asset by investing in training and development, nurturing a positive working environment, and rewarding outstanding performance.

The Kuwait Investment Authority is another success story. The sovereign fund has a strong IT base that supports the critical aspects of running the business and covers infrastructure, financial business systems, support systems, and maintaining information security.  The Central Bank of Kuwait is another role model for driving improvements through technology by implementing a dynamic certification system and adopting cybersecurity measures to safeguard the stability of the Kuwaiti financial sector.

The KIPS survey shows that women and youth are sometimes left behind in the push for improved knowledge management. Women generally held less favorable views about the working environment, training opportunities, and promotion prospects.  Given that women constitute the majority of civil service workers, the shift toward better KM practices will need more gender-equitable policies.

The “OECD Women in Public Life: Gender, Law, and Policy in MENA 2014 Report” has good examples of gender equality in the public sector. For example, Bahrain, Egypt, and Morocco conduct regular assessments of the gender balance of the central government workforce. Morocco integrated gender targets into performance agreements for top management to ensure equal access to leadership opportunities. Kuwait’s public organizations can thus use private sector techniques such as annual pay assessments to eliminate the gender pay gap and adopt gender-inclusive recruitment processes.

The survey also showed that younger staff are more tech-savvy than their older colleagues. Young professionals prefer informal meetings and channels of communication and are keen to share their knowledge. Research shows that successful organizations can match older and more experienced staff with younger staff to ensure they are included in decision-making, feel empowered, and engage in mentoring activities.

The Kuwait Integrated Petroleum Industries Company (KIPIC) is an excellent example of a pro-youth culture. The downstream oil and gas enterprise established in 2016 is a melting pot of industry-specific experiences and knowledge from the oil sector. It adopts an open data policy to share knowledge. There is a strong push for creativity and innovation driven by the young talent pool and supported by top management. KIPIC’s strong culture of diversity is a driver for change and knowledge sharing.

The elaboration of a KM roadmap will require careful government oversight to set priorities and focus on implementation. But what we can fully ascertain is that the public sector should focus on eliminating gender-related barriers, empowering women's capacity, and utilizing youth and young talent to create an innovative national ecosystem. In the end, as mentioned in a World Bank report on Building Knowledge Economies countries need to focus on  "grey matter,” or the minds of its human capital through knowledget management as their most durable, main resource. The Government of Kuwait will continue its partnership with the World Bank in implementing its KM roadmap, translating goals into into concrete policies and a practical reform program.


Nadia Karam

Operations Officer for Urban, DRM, and Land for MENA Region, World Bank Group,

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