Following the collapse of oil prices in mid-2014 and the pressure to balance the fiscal budget, the Saudi leadership headed by King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed launched Saudi Vision 2030. Saudi Vision 2030 aimed to reduce Saudi Arabia’s dependence on oil revenue, transform and diversify the economy, and improve public sector services ranging from enhancing the quality of life of the country’s citizens and increasing employment among them, to improving health, education, recreation, tourism, e-government services, and infrastructure. Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman observed that Vision 2030 is an ambitious yet achievable blueprint which expresses Saudi Arabia’s long-term goals and expectations and reflects the Kingdom’s strengths and capabilities. Achieving Vision 2030 is based on three strong pillars: a vibrant society, thriving economy, and ambitious nation.
The strategic concept of Vision 2030 in its infancy called for change to endure the inevitable challenges brought about pressure to balance the fiscal budget and address the collapse of oil revenues.
Knowing the problem is half of the solution, so the leadership consulted international consultants to deliver strategies to achieve the ambitious long-terms strategy of Saudi Vision 2030. Consultants and experts delivered a state-of-the-art strategy. One challenge is who will execute and deliver the strategies, programs, and initiatives of Vision 2030. The long-term vision requires agile, efficient, motivated, well educated, and experienced key people to strengthen and achieve the programs and initiatives.
Part of the launch of Saudi Vision 2030 involved programs and initiatives such as the National Transformation Program (NTP), and the establishment of Vision Realization Offices (VROs) in Ministries, as well as merging various government institutions to support their efficiency and capability in delivering change, and an agile strategy to achieve the goals and objectives of the long-term strategy.
Prior to the launch of the long-term vision, the background of the public sector services did not meet the expectations of the country’s citizens in delivering satisfactory services.
To achieve the goals and objectives of Saudi Vision 2030, the leadership trained civil servants and employees and recruited private sector executives to lead the transformation in delivering the vision’s strategic programs and initiatives.
Recruiting private sector executives for leadership positions in the public sector reflected the strategic objectives to promote a new approach in the public sector and to enhance the public-private network and partnerships.
The transition of private sector executives to the public sector requires considerable motivation for them to adjust to various organizational, cultural, and personal challenges that differ from what they are used to in the private sector.
Some of the motivational factors that enabled private sector leaders to transition into the public sector were that they saw the opportunity to be part of the transformation that would impact on the country and region. They wanted to be part of a team that is building a future for the new generations to come. And they saw significant opportunities to learn and grow by being a part of government.
The challenges that face private sector leaders moving to the public sector are extensive processes, policies, and procedures required to get anything done in the public sector. They need to learn and re-learn government office protocols and communications. They need to learn the procedures for getting approval from multiple levels of the government’s chain of command. And, finally, they need to learn how to work with public sector stakeholders.
Achieving Saudi Vision 2030 and the associated restructuring of government institutions have led to several dramatic shifts in public sector institutions.
The policy shift on organizational change in achieving the goals of Vision 2030 is the image of stereotyping civil servants: that they work fewer hours and are less productive than private sector workers. The current civil servants and young people who are motivated work long hours and want to be part of Vision 2030’s success.
Now, institutions have reformed and are providing outstanding services with a lot of dignity to service receivers. Examples: passports, Saudi national ID, driver’s license, resident ID, health services, legal services (marriages, divorce, power of attorney), establishing a company. The previous bureaucratic proves was removed because the government provided e-services to citizens and residents. Now it is all available online.
There are differences in organization culture between the public sector and the private sector. In the public sector, making no decision is preferable to making the wrong decision. Additionally, the concept of mujamala (accepting something out of politeness) and the tendency by some long-term legacy government employees to adopt an “us versus them” attitude toward private sector recruits are still evident, according to research by the Misk Foundation and the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) Private-to-Public Transition.
The culture in public sector jobs is attractive because of the shorter working hours, less work pressure, and more job security, while the private sector culture is a place for professional development. People who prefer private sector jobs therefore tend to be more dynamic and talented than those who choose to work in the public sector.
However, there have been successes in the public sector, with civil servants becoming better public servants, and agile leaders, and an increase in coordination among various institutions. The shift in civil servants’ capability and capacity to deliver programs and initiatives has been enormous. We can see the success reflected in public health, e-services and e-commerce, and good information technology. What Vision 2030 brought is coordination and support of each other.
The participation of stakeholders is paramount to the success of Saudi Vision 2030. Achieving the goals and objectives of the long-term vision requires the coordination and cooperation of the private sector, public sector, and the engagement of citizens. Stakeholder engagement is one key for success in the delivery of programs and objectives.
Some of the successes of Saudi Vision 2030 are manifested by the leadership’s dedication to delivering successful programs increasing the quality of life of the country’s citizens and residents. This is evident in the recently published 2021 World Happiness Report, as Saudi Arabia ranks 1st in the Arab world, and 21st globally, according to the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network.
Saudi Arabia has maintained high levels of confidence as one of the most trusted governments in the world, according to the results of Edelman’s 2021 Trust Barometer report. The levels of confidence in the performance of Saudi Arabia’s government increased from 78 percent in January 2020 to 82 percent in January 2021, adding 4 percentage points, which qualified it to be at the forefront of the 28 countries included in the index as the highest government in the world with confidence in its performance.
All told, Saudi Vision 2030 has been a success so far, and we look forward to this continuing.
Dr. Turki Faisal Al-Rasheed is the co-author of “Public Governance and Strategic Management Capabilities: Public Governance in the Gulf States” with Paul Joyce. He is now writing “Saudi Arabia’s Transformation: Sustainability and Uncertainty” together with Joyce. It is due to be released during the first quarter of 2021.