Saudi Youth Exchange Programme

By March 17, 2019 September 6th, 2019 Solution


The Arab States region has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world, having reached 11.8 per cent between 2008 and 2013 compared with the global average of 6.1 per cent. (UNDP, Human Development Report 2015: Work for Human Development.) The working population is made up mainly of men, with only 23 per cent of working-age females (age 15 and older) in the labour market. Unemployment is concentrated among youth (between the ages of 15 and 24). Between 2008 and 2014, the youth unemployment rate in the Arab States was 29 per cent, by far the highest of any region, while the global average was 15.1 per cent. These figures are more likely to rise as the youth population grows. It is expected that by 2040, the youth population will account for 66 per cent of the region’s total population. (UNDP, Green Jobs for Women and Youth: What Can Local Government Do?, May 2013.) Reflecting this regional trend, youth unemployment is also a challenge in Saudi Arabia, where it was almost 30 per cent in 2013. (World Bank, World Development Indicators, based on ILO data.) Young Saudi women are experiencing much more serious challenges, with an unemployment rate of 55 per cent compared with 21 per cent for young Saudi men.

Towards a Solution

The Government of Saudi Arabia considers unemployment a major issue and is introducing programmes that develop and strengthen youth capacity and empower youth to become active leaders in their local communities, with future job prospects. One example is the Youth Exchange Programme, a joint initiative between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and UNDP. The aim of the project is to expand youth participation in local community development and increase their leadership capacities in international forums through South-South and triangular exchanges.

More than 10 youth exchange visits took place with various countries (Brazil, China, India, the Republic of South Korea, Spain and the United Republic of Tanzania) with experiences in different fields, such as renewable energy, e-education, sustainable cities, biodiversity conservation, slum management, information and communication technology (ICT) for development, medical research and architecture. More than 200 Saudi youth (between the ages of 17 and 27) participated in these exchanges. The programme ensured that an equal number of males and females were involved while targeting students from minority groups. It promoted professional and cultural dialogue through peer-to-peer learning, interaction, exchanges and field visits. It also fostered the acquisition and dissemination of practical knowledge and experience obtained in host countries and the adoption and adaptation of best practices in home countries.

As a result, the programme helped to:

  • Expose Saudi youth to development models used in leading Southern economies and developed countries in many regions. This has translated into a new vision among youth of how similar innovations can arise in Saudi Arabia and potentially be shared with other developing countries;
  • Create solidarity among emerging youth leaders in their respective fields of practice within strategically important countries across the South. Maintaining connections with and among these future leaders could be important for future South-South cooperation partnerships and strategic collaborations; and
  • Facilitate the exposure and transfer of knowledge and solutions in several key areas of strategic importance not only to Saudi Arabia but also to the Arab States region in general. Capturing and documenting solutions and technical know-how on issues such as sustainable energy, sustainable cities and ICT for development would enable regional users to access key information for enhanced decision-making. Knowledge management and dissemination coupled with regular regional meetings of young experts could be a complementary component in bolstering the region’s competitiveness in responding to common challenges.

In addition to the positive results from helping youth to enter a career track in a chosen area of study, young participants in the programme generated inspiring and innovative ideas for the Government to explore. For example, after one youth group had returned from India having learned about the country’s ICT projects, it formulated a proposal for the Government on how Saudi Arabia could introduce a new web-based crowd-sourcing platform for citizen support to global development. With the goal of channelling assistance ‘from the people to the people’, this initiative focused on developing a new strategic partnership to expand the role of Saudi Arabia in providing assistance to global development efforts for achieving Agenda 2030. The idea was well received by the Government and has received $1 million for initial activities to design the crowd-sourcing platform and related steps. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia asked UNDP to implement this initiative.

In order to ensure its sustainability, the Youth Exchange Programme was fully aligned with national development priorities while ownership rests firmly in the hands of the Government, which has committed to scaling it up to address other youth-focused interests. The outcome document from the programme serves as a basis for other potential South-South and triangular cooperation initiatives on specific topics of bilateral interest among countries.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia worked actively with UNDP to formulate, design and implement the programme. In addition, the private sector provided seed funding at the beginning of the programme. Youth foundations and organization committees for youth were involved in identifying potential youth candidates who had shown leadership attributes within their own committees. Universities and academic institutions contacted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs also assisted in identifying young students who had excelled in their area of study.

Sustainable Development Goal targets: 1.1, 10.2, 11.3, 16.b

Countries / territories involved: Saudi Arabia, in exchanges with Brazil, China, India, Republic of Korea, South Africa, United Republic of Tanzania

Supported by: Government of Saudi Arabia, the private sector

Implementing entity: UNDP

Project status: Ongoing

Project period: 2010 – 2016

URL of the practice: development/74767.html


Name: Ms. Haifa Al Mogrin, Project Manager

Email: haifa.almogrin@undp.orgouth-forum Saudi Young Leaders Exchange Programme.