Forget oil, 'human capital is the new currency' for Saudi Arabia

  • Reema bint Bandar Al Saud said: "Please just don't look at us as oil… Human capital is the new currency and I really would encourage you to look at us that way."
  • While the shifting social dynamics would be "necessary" to improve the Saudi economy, it was also the "right thing to do" she said.
HRH Princess Reema Bint Bandar Al-Saud speaks onstage during Fast Company Innovation Festival 2016 - HRH Princess Reema Bint Bandar Al-Saud at Skirball Center, NYU on November 3, 2016 in New York City.
Brad Barket | Getty Images for Fast Company
HRH Princess Reema Bint Bandar Al-Saud speaks onstage during Fast Company Innovation Festival 2016 - HRH Princess Reema Bint Bandar Al-Saud at Skirball Center, NYU on November 3, 2016 in New York City.

Saudi Arabia's modernizing reforms show human capital is the new currency for the Arab kingdom, a member of the royal family said Thursday.

During a panel at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, Reema bint Bandar Al Saud said: "Please just don't look at us as oil… Human capital is the new currency and I really would encourage you to look at us that way."

The role of women in Saudi's economic transformation beyond a predominantly oil-based economy was critical to its success, Al Saud said.

"What is now happening is a woman has the choice to breathe, a woman has the choice to dream and she can (take) action."

Al Saud said reforms aimed at improving the integration of both men and women in society would also translate into how people spent their money. Ultimately, while the shifting social dynamics would be "necessary" to improve the economy, it was also the "right thing to do."

'Post oil-era'

While Saudi Arabia has long been seen as one of the world's most restrictive places for women, the government's modernizing reforms have seen some issues improve in recent years.

A combination of social custom, religion and government regulation dictates what Saudi women wear. It had also banned women from driving, traveling as they wish and holding a range of jobs.

In recent months, the kingdom's attempts to loosen some gender restrictions has meant women in the country are now able to drive, go to the cinema and attend sporting events.

Al Saud said the royal decree allowing Saudi women to drive was a "monumental change by a leader listening to the community."

On Tuesday, Fahd al Rasheed, managing director and chief executive of King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC), the world's first publicly listed city, told CNBC: "The message is that we are entering a post-oil era in which we are diversifying the economy.

"We had a hard 2016 to 2017 in terms of economic growth, but I think 2018, with the highest ever government budget announced in the kingdom's history, (it should improve)."