Zain Group CEO Bader Nasser Al Kharafi, who, at 40 years old, says he is driven by a passion to help young people advance their careers, empower women, and build a better future for the region
Bader Nasser Al Kharafi is already known throughout the region as a pioneering businessman in the rapidly evolving regional telecoms industry.
But among his most important work, he says, is preparing today’s young people to succeed in business and help bring a brighter future to Kuwait and the greater Middle East.
At just 40, Al Kharafi is already one of Kuwait’s best known business personalities. Besides being the CEO and vice chairman of Zain – which recorded $3.6bn in revenues in 2016 with approximately 46.1 million active customers in eight countries at a time – since 2007 Al Kharafi has also been chairman of Gulf Cables & Electrical Industries, and is a board member of both Kuwait’s Gulf Bank and Foulath Holding, and is on the Middle Eastern Advisory Board of Coutts Bank and the Kuwait-British Friendship Society.
Helping young people to help themselves
Still young, Al Kharafi is well known for his role as an advocate for Kuwait’s youth, and has spoken out about what he believes are flaws in the country’s education system that stymie a spirit of creativity and lead to a lack of empowerment in particular for women in the Kuwaiti workforce – both of which he believes are holding Kuwait and the region back from its potential.
In a bid to help his country’s young people achieve success as he has, in 2016 Al Kharafi oversaw the creation of Zain’s Generation Z programme – a “youth empowerment initiative” aimed at helping to develop the careers of entrepreneurially-minded young Kuwaitis, while at the same time injecting a youthful startup mindset into Zain’s workforce.
“To be honest it’s part of our duty to help develop future leaders,” Al Kharafi tells Arabian Business. “I want [the Generation Z programme to become an accelerator for young Kuwaitis,” he notes. “The other crucial element is the feedback we get from these fresh minds about our business; the insights and uncontaminated mind are priceless.”
Aside from his efforts to help young people succeed within his own company, Al Kharafi is also particularly proud of his work as vice chairman of INJAZ, a non-profit organisation aimed at preparing young people for entrepreneurship and financial leadership. Since its inception in 1999, more than two million young people have graduated from the programme, which works with 14 education ministries across the region in over 3,000 schools and 418 universities.
Inculcating a sense of business and entrepreneurship, Al Kharafi adds, is vital for the long-term future of a region in which – according to YouGov statistics – nearly 60 percent of the population of the Arab World is under the age of 30, and in which youth unemployment often remains worryingly high. In Kuwait’s case, youth unemployment hovers at just under 20 percent, according to recent statistics.
“With the scarcity of critical skill sets, such as digital readiness, coding, research and data analytics, coupled with soft skills including effective collaboration and creativity, we knew, at Zain, that we wanted to place more effort on skill development and job creation,” he says.
“Generation Z is indeed a platform with aims not only to up-skill Kuwait graduates, but introduce them to thematic experiences that cultivate tenacity,” he adds.
Aside from empowering young people, one of the issues about which Al Kharafi is most passionate about is gender diversity. This passion led to the recent launch of the Zain Women Empowerment Programme, a 12-month plan that focusses on bringing gender diversity to the workplace and encouraging female entrepreneurs.
“We should understand the needs of women,” he says. “That’s an initiative that has become embedded in our values within Zain. At the end of the day, research has shown that gender equality has an incredible impact on the function of the business and even improves the bottom line. Similarly, it improves the GDP of a country. That’s why it’s essential to have policies and procedures in place to ensure equality in wages and more women as executives and managers.”
He adds: “In my company, that will definitely happen. In the country, and the region, I hope it happens. We must look at your company first, then at the country. We still have a long way to go.”
A message to youngsters
When asked what advice he would give the young would-be businessmen of tomorrow, Al Kharafi answers without hesitation – they should avoid a fear of failure. “Obstacles are just a pathway to a new direction. In Kuwait, the education system taught us a fear of failure. Young people always fear that they will not succeed in their education, or will fail exams. Schools kill creativity and innovation. They instill a fear of failure, which is a crucial part in the journey of success.”