Keynote Remarks at U.S.-Saudi Business Opportunities Forum

Richard Stengel
Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs 
Ritz Carlton
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
March 22, 2016

Good evening. I am delighted to be here. As Dr. Wassam said before me - my boss Secretary Kerry - I’m here on his behalf. He was determined I come here tonight because of how much he values our relationship. I want to thank Sheikh Ibraham Aljomai and the Minister of Commerce and Industry as well.

I was very impressed by the video that began the program and showed the history of the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia. I actually went and looked it up - you had a cover of Time magazine there. I was, for many years before I came to the government, the editor of Time.

On my phone I looked up that cover, and that was a cover of King Abdulaziz in 1945, the year that he met with Franklin Roosevelt. And before we did big cover headlines and the rubric under the king’s name said, “Was the camel’s nose inside the pan-Arab tent?” If anyone knows what that means, I would love to hear about it afterwards.

So, I am delighted to be here because of this very long relationship that we have. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one thing to you tonight, which is the abhorrent, dastardly attack that happened in Brussels today. Our condolences go out to the Belgian people, to the families affected, and to the families of the other nationalities who were affected as well.

But I mention it because it only illustrates how important the ties are between the United States and Saudi Arabia - because it is through our relationship that those kinds of attacks must be suppressed, must be ended, and there is so much that we can do together in the battle against violent extremism and the violence against Daesh. And if we work together the way we have worked together we will be more powerful in the future.

I wanted to talk about one thing tonight - the idea of business opportunities between Saudi Arabia and America. The companies that will succeed in the 21st century will not succeed because of technology, they will not succeed because of machinery, they will not succeed because of money. They will succeed because of one thing and that’s human capital. You’re sitting on an incredible reserve of human capital in Saudi Arabia, perhaps greater than your reserve of oil. And the reason I say that is because you have a gigantic youth bulge in Saudi Arabia.

As you know, more than half of the population is under the age of 25, and what we see about that population in Saudi Arabia is that they are more than almost any people in the world, adept on social media. More than half of all the tweets in the Middle East come from Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has the largest per capita viewership of YouTube of any country in the world.

And that is an asset, and by that I mean you have a young people who are versed in social media, who are versed in modern technology, who are versed in the information industry, which is the great industry of the 21st century. You need to capitalize on those young people and help transform business in Saudi Arabia.

One of the ways that you are already doing that is something that comes under the State Department, which is educational exchanges. Saudi Arabia has the fourth largest number of exchange students in America than any country, almost 100,000. We want to grow that to well over 100,000.

We want to send more American students to study here in Saudi Arabia. Because that does create the human capital that will make Saudi Arabia succeed in the 21st century, and we very much want to help you do that.

We also want to encourage that idea that is rife among that younger generation, which is entrepreneurship; entrepreneurship is in some ways a secret revenue that will help change businesses of the 21st century. I want to give a shout out to something that is happening this spring in Silicon Valley and that is President Obama’s “Global Entrepreneurship Summit.”

There have been a number of young Saudi entrepreneurs that have applied and we hope to see you there. Entrepreneurship will help transform and get Saudi Arabia ready for the 21st century. Education will do that as well. And that will only reaffirm and strengthen the ties that bind us; that will only reaffirm and strengthen the bonds that will end extremism and get rid of that support here and around the Middle East. And we hope to help you with that, we are ready to work with you on that, and I’m very delighted to be here tonight to support you in those efforts. Thank you very much.