Princess Reema tells Saudi women entrepreneurs to dream big

Time: 28 June 2021

Source by Stefanie H. Ali

On June 23, 2021 the Atlantic Council’s empowerME Initiative held a workshop featuring a keynote fireside chat with Saudi Ambassador to the United States, Her Royal Highness Princess Reema Bint Bandar Al Saud, which was moderated by US Embassy Riyadh Chargé D’Affaires Martina Strong, and a panel discussion with Endeavor Saudi Arabia Managing Director Lateefa Alwaalan, 500 Startups MENA Partner Amal Dokhan, S&P Global Chief Public & Government Affairs Officer Courtney Geduldig, and UPS Vice President for Community Relations Esther Ndichu, which was moderated by empowerME Director and Resident Senior Fellow Amjad Ahmad.

This workshop was part of the Igniting Women’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Saudi Arabia program and was led by the Atlantic Council’s empowerME Initiative in partnership with the US Mission to Saudi Arabia, the American Chamber of Commerce Saudi Arabia, and Quantum Leaps. The program is bringing US entrepreneurs, experts, and business leaders together with their Saudi counterparts to build relationships, share knowledge, and develop partnership opportunities via hybrid workshops and networking sessions.

Key takeaways:
Saudi Arabia’s Changing Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

Amjad Ahmad discussed the importance of more US-Saudi partnerships and knowledge sharing to bring entrepreneurs, business leaders, and experts from both countries together to promote economic prosperity, and added that “Saudi Arabia has embarked on an essential economic transition with a substantial rise in entrepreneurship and with women playing a greater role in the country’s economy.”

Martina Strong emphasized the United States’ desire to see Saudi women equipped to take full advantage of the rapid pace of change: “In today’s Saudi economy, one can sense the dynamism, the creativity, new sectors and opportunities are being generated and expanded every single day…We want to see many more women take their rightful place of leadership in the economy and across Saudi society.”

Her Royal Highness Princess Reema Bint Bandar Al Saud emphasized that: “Vision 2030 changed everything…today, when I look at these young female entrepreneurs, the challenge isn’t regulatory anymore. The challenge isn’t really even financial anymore because the opportunities are there for financial development and support and growth. Mentorship is available. The limitation today is your dream.” She added that Vision 2030 has unlocked so many opportunities for women to not just dream but bring their dreams to fruition. “That is the profound difference” from the past, she said, and it is a “fundamental shift.”

Her Royal Highness Princess Reema Bint Bandar Al Saud also shared an anecdote illustrating the rapid pace of change in the Kingdom and the importance of timing for a business to be successful. In 2005 when she co-founded Yibreen, a women’s gym chain, she struggled to expand it because of the legal, regulatory, and cultural environment at that time. Then, a few years ago in her role working for the Saudi General Sports Authority, she was asked to deregulate that very same sector, which has enabled women’s gyms to flourish.

Lateefa Alwaalan noted that “there is a rise of a subsector of women getting into their own businesses enabled by technology, delivery apps, and e-commerce solutions to put their innovative ideas out there and start sourcing.” She added that internet penetration and digital access is also helping.

Amal Dokhan highlighted the positive funding trajectory in the MENA region and in Saudi Arabia, with the MENA region passing the $1 billion funding mark in 2020 even amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. She added that Saudi Arabia had $156 million in startup funding in 2020 and there was a 56 percent increase in startup funding in 2021 year-to-date. These trends are positive and demonstrate investor interest, Dokhan added.
Challenges for Women Entrepreneurs & Strategies to Address Them

Her Royal Highness Princess Reema Bint Bandar Al Saud discussed an ongoing challenge for women entrepreneurs: access to funding. She noted that this is an issue not just in Saudi Arabia but worldwide, since there have been more men than women entrepreneurs historically, meaning that investors are more accustomed to funding men entrepreneurs. She urged women entrepreneurs to get advice and support on structuring and running their business to ensure their endeavors are competitive and viable.

Her Royal Highness Princess Reema Bint Bandar Al Saud emphasized the importance of financial literacy and financial security for all women entrepreneurs to ensure that financial insecurity does not become a significant stress factor that derails a business endeavor.

Lateefa Alwaalan noted that, while more and more women are launching businesses, scaling and turning them into a sustainable venture is a challenge. Courtney Geduldig expanded on this point, stating that there has been a 72 percent increase in companies founded by women in the past few years, but scaling is not happening at the same rate in part because more venture capital funding goes to men. According to Geduldig, getting more women into venture capital firms will help address this issue since gender diversity brings diversity of thought no matter the field.
When asked about the percentage of women founders in the region, Amal Dokhan stated that approximately 14 percent of the MENA startups are women-led. She emphasized that there is not a lack of women entrepreneurs and that there are more and more every day, but there is a need for more women-led technology startups. According to a 2019 report, 16 percent of startup founders in Saudi Arabia are women.
Courtney Geduldig shared findings from research for her book: Where the Jobs Are: Entrepreneurship and the Soul of the American Economy. Challenges she discovered for women entrepreneurs in particular include: lack of financial literacy, lack of confidence, difficulties finding access to funding and access to loans, and the heavy burden of caregiving responsibilities. Geduldig emphasized that these challenges are ongoing in the United States and it would be prudent for us all to learn lessons from other countries working to address these issues. She added that there is a need for more access, guidance, and support focused on opening doors and creating a more inclusive network for women business founders.
Programs to Support Women Entrepreneurs

Her Royal Highness Princess Reema Bint Bandar Al Saud directed women entrepreneurs to visit the Saudi Ministry of Commerce and the General Authority for Small and Medium Enterprises (Monshaat) websites for further resources on funding opportunities for their businesses.

Esther Ndichu pointed to corporate programs such as UPS’s work with the American Chamber of Commerce in Saudi Arabia, UPS’s recently signed memorandum of understanding with the Saudi General Authority for Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) (Monshaat) to promote and engage with SMEs in Saudi Arabia, and UPS’s partnership with the International Trade Center’s SheTrades Initiative, to provide channels for women entrepreneurs around the world to access global markets. She discussed UPS’s approach to promoting SME growth around the world through three focal areas: (1) capacity building to close the gap to ensure women entrepreneurs have the skills to access global markets, such as factoring in real costs, (2) market access to bring in private sector partners, and (3) providing logistics perspectives to governments to ensure that the MENA countries’ legal and regulatory frameworks encourage women to become entrepreneurs.
Advice for Women Entrepreneurs

Her Royal Highness Princess Reema Bint Bandar Al Saud encouraged women entrepreneurs to:
Take public speaking and debate classes and get advice from experts on core business competencies in areas where they are weak. She also challenged would-be entrepreneurs to make the case for why they are the best person to take the idea forward since having a great idea is not enough.
Move forward despite rejections and recognize that rejections and “nos” from funders help hone a business idea.
Get a job in the industry related to their business idea and learn from a person in the field and develop their concept from there.

Amal Dokhan urged women entrepreneurs to look at the gaps and find a team that complements their capabilities and ask themselves if the market for their idea is big enough to scale and has enough customers. “It’s about finding the right formula,” she added.
Amal Dokhan also underscored the importance of having the courage to speak in public and share success (and failure) stories: “I meet female entrepreneurs in different parts of the world, but something repeated in every culture is that we don’t want to be out there until we are absolutely perfect. If you get the chance, allocate maybe four times a year, every quarter, to get out there and share your story, or at least offer mentorship.” She added that storytelling is critical and makes you a role model for other would-be women and men entrepreneurs and mentoring is a great way to give back and help the next generation.

Lateefa Alwaalan emphasized the importance of surrounding yourself with the right networks because those can be enablers that help an entrepreneur find success faster. She added that it is wise to build a team of co-founders and co-investors rather than going it alone, saying: “You will face roadblocks and it is good to find people smarter than you or those who complement you to help you on this journey.”

Courtney Geduldig shared that one learning from her research with women entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs in general is that they need to find opportunities for mentorship, relationship building, and insider knowledge in order to obtain not just access to finance and credit, but to leverage that access and build on it successfully.

Esther Ndichu urged women entrepreneurs to check out UPS’s Women Exporter’s Program, which provides information and builds capacity for women-led SMEs. She added that UPS has found that, in the age of tech and ecommerce, businesses can leapfrog the normal process of distribution only in the local community and go straight to global product distribution.
Poll Results

At the workshops, we polled attendees on the following questions related to women’s entrepreneurship in Saudi Arabia. As the results below indicate, the environment for women entrepreneurs in Saudi Arabia is improving, but more access to support and training is still needed.

Stefanie H. Ali is deputy director of the Atlantic Council’s empowerME Initiative. Follow her @StefHausheer.

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Saudi Vision 2030 looks to the future but Iran’s ‘vision 1979’ is regressive: Prince Khalid


  • Deputy Minister of Defense said that Iran wants to export its revolution and has “an expansionist ideology”
  • In an interview with Vice Media, he said the country was the biggest threat to the region

JEDDAH: As the leadership of Saudi Arabia works, through its ambitious Vision 2030 project, to move the country and its people forward, Iran continues to follow its “vision 1979” in an attempt to push the region backward, according to Saudi Deputy Minister of Defense Prince Khalid bin Salman.
Speaking during an interview with Vice Media, he said: “We have…this great vision, Vision 2030, where we want to reform our economy, to basically uncap the potential in Saudi Arabia, to open new sectors in Saudi Arabia, and to have a prosperous country, and to move our citizens forward.
“To be able to do that, we need a stable, secure region, a prosperous region. We need to increase our economic cooperation with neighboring countries.”
Turning to the dangers the region is facing, the minister said: “I believe the biggest threats to the region, and to international security, is basically Iran: the Iranian regime and its proxies on one side, and Daesh, Al-Qaeda and terrorist organizations on the other side.
“We believe that they’re two sides of the same coin. They believe in the same concept; not necessarily exactly the same ideology, but they both do not believe in the sovereignty of nations, they both believe in a transnational ideological state, they both do not believe in international law, and sometimes they compete with each other and they fight each other. But when it comes to us, we’re the common enemy and they cooperate.”

Asked why the Kingdom is viewed as the common enemy, Prince Khalid said it is because “we are a force of stability, a force of peace, a force of prosperity in the region.”
He added that Iran wants to export its revolution: “Iran has an expansionist ideology. Iran wants other states in the region not to be partners, but to be under the Iranian expansionist project.”
Prince Khalid highlighted US President Donald Trump’s visit to the Kingdom in 2017, his first official foreign trip after taking office, as a significant moment not only for the Saudi Arabia but the entire Muslim World.
“The Saudi-US relationship is strong and it has been strong for seven decades,” he said. “This relationship started with President Roosevelt, who was a Democrat, and has been strengthening since then with different presidents of the United States, Democrats and Republicans.”
He pointed out that this close relationship has benefited both countries economically.
“So this is a continuation of this historic, strong relationship that has protected people from both countries on the security side, and also it has on the economic side created a lot of jobs and opportunities in both countries and helped the economy,” he said. “President Trump’s visit is an important visit to the Muslim world, and I believe that it is vital for the United States to have a strong relationship with Saudi Arabia and the Muslim world.”
The prince added that the speech Trump made during his visit highlighted the fact that the most common victims of terrorist groups are Muslims.
“I think the president’s speech on that visit was very encouraging to Muslim people to see,” he said. “He spoke about counterterrorism and he said that Daesh and the terrorist groups’ victims are mostly Muslims. And it’s very important for the Muslim people to hear the President of the United States mentioning this.”

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi Arabia vows to fight graft to ensure growth


  • OIC a ‘unified voice for Islamic nation,’ say ministers

RIYADH: In its weekly session on Tuesday, the Saudi Cabinet vowed to crack down on financial and administrative corruption to achieve the goals of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030.

The Cabinet meeting, chaired by King Salman at Al-Yamamah Palace in Riyadh, commended the state budget for the fiscal year 1441/1442 H corresponding to the year 2020. The ministers said the budget showed the Kingdom’s determination to continue socioeconomic reforms and enhance the ongoing development process.
The king ordered all ministers and officials to commit to the Kingdom’s development and social programs envisaged in the budget.
King Salman briefed the Cabinet about his talks with different heads of states and key foreign officials.
The ministers also reviewed the outcome of the 40th session of the Supreme Council of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) particularly the importance of the member states’ role in ensuring the stability and security of the region in the face of current challenges.
The Cabinet welcomed the final communique of the GCC summit citing the GCC leaders’ keenness on ensuring cohesion, interdependence and unity, for the welfare of the region and its people.
In a statement issued to the Saudi Press Agency, Media Minister Turki Al-Shabanah said the ministers commended the formation of the Control and Anti-Corruption Authority to fight financial and administrative corruption.
Earlier in December, a royal order was issued incorporating the Control and Investigation Authority and the Mabahith to the National Anti-Corruption Authority and altering its name to Control and Anti-Corruption Authority.


• King Salman briefed the Cabinet about his talks with different heads of states and key foreign officials.

• Outcome of the 40th Gulf Cooperation Council summit reviewed.

• Ministers congratulated Abdelmadjid Tebboune on his election as Algerian president.

The Cabinet also hailed the signing of an agreement to set up the Unified Military Command Headquarters of the GCC in Riyadh. This reflects the determination to establish security and defense cooperation and coordination to preserve Gulf stability.
The ministers also reviewed the G20 meetings held under the presidency of the Kingdom.
Al-Shabanah said the Cabinet also reviewed regional and international developments.
The ministers congratulated Abdelmadjid Tebboune on his election as Algerian president, he added.
The Cabinet stressed the role being played by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and its relentless endeavors to strengthen the joint Islamic action.
Describing it as a unified voice for the Islamic nation, the ministers said it was an honor for the Kingdom to host the OIC headquarters.

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Female empowerment vital for Kingdom’s Vision 2030 reforms, says Saudi Human Rights Commission GM

Time: October 11, 2019  

Amal Yahya Al-Moualami has over 23 years of experience in education, training and social development. (Photo/Supplied )
  • Saudi Arabia’s positive accomplishments reflect a positive image in the Human Rights Council in Geneva

RIYADH: Amal Yahya Al-Moualami’s appointment as general manager of international cooperation and organizations at the Saudi Human Rights Commission (SHRC) is a huge step toward fulfilling the Vision 2030 reform plans in empowering women.

She told Arab News that it “clearly shows that the Kingdom’s journey toward empowering women has taken wider and quicker strides and continues to open up new doors every day.”

She was one of six women being appointed to the SHRC, representing 25 percent of its membership. They are the first women to participate on the commission.

Their appointments mark the beginning of an era where women are engaged in this field, “something that could not have happened without necessary support and patience,” she said.

“We were able to reach a stage where we could acquire the necessary expertise and gain the tools that would help us become more involved in the next stage, which is now.”

When she was appointed, Al-Moualami received an “avalanche of calls” from women congratulating her. Many of her male friends also reached out to support her in her new role. “I always say that Saudi men are the source of our national pride because they set a great example of support to their wives, daughters, female colleagues and families.”

Previously, Al-Moualami was assistant secretary-general at the King Abdul Aziz Center for National Dialogue and a member of the council of the SHRC.

A key part of the Vision 2030 reform plans is promoting the standing of women. “Today, women’s empowerment has been represented in appointing a woman leader in an important position, which is concerned with human rights in the Kingdom. It is a major issue that reflects the attention given to women,” she said.

She added that the Kingdom’s positive accomplishments should reflect a positive image in the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Al-Moualami is proud of Saudi Arabia’s legal accomplishments, such as the new Juvenile Offenders Act and the personal civil status laws, which have been developed substantially.

“These laws have helped a lot in empowering women within the context of a family. They mark the beginning of real change. When you empower a woman within her family and help her be a real mother to her children and not treat her as a child but as a fully legal and competent citizen, that is called empowerment.

“Today, women are in charge of their children, manage their affairs and apply for passports and finalize all transactions. These are great messages that should bring positive reactions at the local and global levels.”

Even with all these changes and accomplishments, she said that Saudi Arabia has “not received fair international coverage.

“We were always stuck in the position of defense and justifications. They would draw attention to certain issues and we would respond to them. This time, we will talk about progress and show our achievements to them. We will set the best practices and show them good reforms and we will say to them that we would love to know more about what they have accomplished in their own countries.”

She encourages “mutual dialogue” instead of being “stuck in a defensive position where they challenge us and we give justifications.”

Today, women are in charge of their children, manage their affairs and apply for passports and finalize all transactions. These are great messages that should bring positive reactions at the local and global levels.

Amal Yahya Al-Moualami, SHRC division manager

Her next role will be a difficult one, but she already has a plan in mind. Al-Moualami is seeking mutual dialogue on an international level through enhancing efficient interaction and engagement with all concerned organizations.

She hopes that Saudi Arabia will be successful in joining the Human Rights Council in the upcoming sessions as members and will contribute to developing the performance of the council.

“We might make mistakes and need to reconsider our approaches from time to time, which is a perfectly healthy and natural thing. If we discover at some point that a certain method has not brought about the desired results, we will reconsider and change it.”

Al-Moualami has over 23 years of experience in education, training and social development. On expanding opportunities for Saudi females, she said: “There have been great changes in the work environment and job opportunities for Saudi women as well as opportunities to complete college education.

“Education is instrumental to empowerment. The Kingdom has seen a boost in the number of young women in public education, colleges and those who go on scholarships abroad. The percentage of women studying abroad is higher than that of men and women study different, high demand fields. Female academic accomplishments are stronger.”

Al-Moualami said that Saudi men are supporting women in the country: “They are happy when they see any woman get to the top in her career. This is one of the characteristics of Saudi men, who are confident and capable of creating an environment that encompasses them and women.

“We all, as citizens, share the love of this country and the desire to build and develop it. We are capable of making a difference.”

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi Culture Ministry launches training courses for filmmakers

Time: October 10, 2019


RIYADH: The Saudi Ministry of Culture has launched a talent-development program for the film industry as part of one of the Saudi Vision 2030 programs, Quality of Life. The talent-development program includes training sessions and short workshops, in cooperation with international institutions.

The program is part of the ministry’s attempts to develop the local film sector in the Kingdom, create job opportunities, and increase the Kingdom’s cultural participation internationally.

The first phase of the talent-development initiative consists of three different programs. The first — on filmmaking in general — will be run in cooperation with the British Film Institute (BFI. The two-week program in Britain will be open to 12 students and will run from October 27 until November 11. The students will participate in an “intensive training course and Master Class” with British directors and producers, and go on a field visit to the renowned Pinewood Studios, home to the James Bond film franchise.

The second program — on film production — will run simultaneously and is open to 20 students. Once again, the BFI and Pinewood are involved and the course will cover all aspects of film production, including lighting, sound, sets and costumes, script writing and editing, directing and location management.

The third program, in cooperation with the University of Southern California (USC), focuses on acting for contemporary cinema and television and will take place in Riyadh from December 8-11. There will be places for 14-16 students.

The whole program covers the art of filmmaking, from screenwriting to post-production, through practical experience and as part of different working groups that include indoor and outdoor photography, directing actors, creating a montage, lighting, and sound.

Aspiring filmmakers wishing to apply for the training programs can register on between Wednesday, October 9, and Monday, October 14 for the filmmaking programs in Great Britain, and between October 20 and November 20 for the acting program in Riyadh.

This article was first published in Arab News

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How the Crown Prince’s visit to South Korea is advancing Vision 2030

Time: June 27, 2019  

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and South Korean President Moon Jae-in view an honor guard during a welcoming ceremony at the presidential Blue House in Seoul on Wednesday. (AP)
  • Mohammed bin Salman and South Korean President Moon Jae-in agree to a Vision Realization Office in Riyadh and Seoul
  • Business deals that redefine their traditional oil partnership include eco-friendly automobile technology and hydrogen energy

SEOUL: Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s history-making visit to South Korea has taken Saudi Arabia a step closer to achieving its Vision 2030 economic transformation following the establishment of a joint “Vision Realization Office” that will expand business cooperation between the two countries beyond their traditional oil partnership.

The crown prince met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the presidential Blue House after being welcomed by Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon at a VIP airfield in Seongnam, south of Seoul, earlier on Wednesday. It is the first visit to South Korea by an heir to the throne of the world’s largest oil exporter in more than two decades.

The crown prince, who also serves as deputy prime minister and minister of defense, stressed that he would invest more in South Korea, focusing on expanding bilateral collaboration in the fields of energy, automotive, tourism and health.

“South Korea has made tremendous success in Saudi Arabia. I hope South Korea will do the same to further improve the bilateral relationship,” the crown prince was quoted by a Blue House spokesman as saying.

“People of both countries will thrive through cooperation in the sectors of defense and economy.”

Moon pledged to provide full support for Saudi Arabia’s efforts to diversify its economic portfolio, breaking away from its dependence on the energy segment.

The two leaders discussed ways of boosting their relationship, with a focus on the new industrial sectors of information and communications technology, hydrogen energy, robots, health, medical service and culture.

Both sides “reaffirmed their strategic partnership regarding Saudi Vision 2030,” a joint press release said. “In this regard, the two leaders agreed to set up the ‘Vision Realization Office’ in both Riyadh and Seoul, respectively, as part of efforts to expedite bilateral efforts for the successful Vision 2030 partnership.”

At a luncheon hosted by Moon, South Korea’s business tycoons greeted the crown prince and other Saudi delegates.

Among the business leaders were Lee Jae-yong, vice chairman of Samsung Electronics; Chung Eui-sun, vice chairman of Hyundai Motor Group; Chey Tae-won, chairman of SK Group; LG chairman Koo Kwang-mo; and Chung Ki-sun, senior executive vice president of Hyundai Heavy Industries.

“I hope companies from both nations can set up a strategic and cooperative relationship through vibrant business activity,” the crown prince said.

Later in the day, he was invited to Samsung’s VIP guesthouse in Itaewon, Seoul, for more discussions on business partnerships with young South Korean representatives, a Samsung spokesman told Arab News.


• $8.3bn – Estimated worth of economic deals signed on Wednesday

• 16 – Number of MoUs between the two governments, including agreements related to eco-friendly automobile technology and hydrogen energy

• 15 – Number of MoUs signed by the Saudi business delegation

• $6bn – Value of the deal signed by Saudi Aramco and S-Oil, South Korea’s third-biggest oil refiner, to build refinery and downstream facilities in South Korea

• $1.8bn – Cost of developing a propane dehydrogenation and polypropylene complex in Jubail, a joint project between SK Gas and Saudi’s Advanced Petrochemical (APC)

According to the Blue House spokesman, Seoul and Riyadh signed a total of 16 memorandums of understanding (MoUs), including agreements related to eco-friendly automobile technology and hydrogen energy.

“Based on the latest MoUs with Saudi Arabia, South Korean companies will lay the groundwork for advancing into the Middle East region in the fields of green cars, hydrogen energy supply, hydrogen fuel cell and others,” Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy, Sung Yun-mo, told reporters.

On top of the government agreements, eight MoUs between companies have been signed. The value of the agreements is estimated at $8.3 billion, the minister added.

Among the lucrative business deals are Saudi Aramco’s petrochemical project with S-Oil,  South Korea’s third-biggest oil refiner. Under the $6 billion deal the refinery will build a facility to produce ethylene and other basic chemicals out of naphtha and refinery off-gas, as well as olefin downstream facilities in Ulsan, about 400 km southeast of Seoul, by 2024.

Another high-profile agreement is on hydrogen cars. “The collaboration of Hyundai and Saudi Aramco will cover not only existing projects but also future-oriented business plans,” Chung Eui-sun, Hyundai’s vice chairman, said in a statement.

“This MoU will be an opportunity to help further solidify our strategic cooperative partnership,” he added.

Under the partnership, the two companies will cooperate in establishing hydrogen-charging infrastructure in South Korea and supply hydrogen fuel-cell electric cars in Saudi Arabia.

Other MoUs include Aramco’s joint investment with Hyundai Heavy Industries to build a ship engine plant in the King Salman Global Maritime Industries Complex, and a joint project between SK Gas and Saudi’s Advanced Petrochemical (APC) to develop a $1.8 billion propane dehydrogenation and polypropylene complex in Jubail.

On a political note, Moon and the crown prince condemned terror activities harming energy security and regional stability in the Middle East, including this week’s deadly attack by Yemen’s Houthi rebels on Abha’s civilian airport in southern Saudi Arabia.

The crown prince promised to help with South Korea’s possible fuel shortages in case of supply disruption caused by tensions in the Middle East, while both leaders called for international efforts to secure energy safety at the Strait of Hormuz, where two Japanese oil tankers were struck by unidentified attacks.

South Korea imported 101.5 million barrels of crude oil from Saudi Arabia, Seoul’s biggest oil supplier, in the first four months of this year, down 2.7 percent from a year ago, according to data from state-run Korea National Oil Corp.

This article was first published in Arab News

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SaudiArabia records largest jump in CFA candidates

Time: June 17, 2019  

  • registrations grew by 21 percent in Egypt, 26 percent in Jordan and 25 percent in Saudi Arabia

LONDON: The number of Saudis enrolling for chartered financial analyst (CFA) exams has jumped by a quarter — more than in any other Gulf state.

It coincides with a push to develop the Kingdom’s financial services sector as part of the Vision 2030 blueprint for economic and social reform.

CFA Institute, the global association of investment management, said that more than 250,000 candidates have registered for the upcoming Level I, II and III CFA exams — one of the most popular qualifications for investment professionals.

“Pursuing the CFA credential is a very rigorous process, with less than one in five candidates successfully completing the process to earn the charter,” said Paul Smith, CFA, president and CEO, CFA Institute. “We are gratified to see the record number of candidates willing to put in the work continue to grow each year. Especially in new markets around the world where finance plays such a vital role in building strong economies.”

The Middle East had a strong representation in the global mix, with 6,004 investment professionals from eight GCC and Middle East countries enrolling for the CFA exams — up 5 percent on last year.

Registrations grew by 21 percent in Egypt, 26 percent in Jordan and 25 percent in Saudi Arabia.

The UAE continues to see the largest number of new candidates in the Middle East, with 2,136 individuals registering for the exam.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Dr. Hussam bin Abdulwahab Zaman, chairman of the Saudi Public Education Evaluation Commission

Time: June 16, 2019  

Dr. Hussam bin Abdulwahab Zaman

Dr. Hussam bin Abdulwahab Zaman was appointed chairman of the Saudi Public Education Evaluation Commission on June 13.

He said the commission strives to achieve the educational objectives of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 reform plan.

Zaman said the commission will continue its independent work and in partnership with the Education Ministry and universities across the Kingdom and other government departments to achieve national goals.

He vowed to take effective measures for the development of the education sector in the Kingdom and to devise a training evaluation system under a unified institutional framework.

He was the director of Al-Taif University between 2016 and 2019. He also served as director-general of the Regional Center for Quality and Excellence in Education.

Zaman was campus president of the Saudi Electronic University between 2013 and 2014. He held several positions at Taibah University between 2008 and 2013, including deputy vice president for development and quality, and dean of the law faculty.

He received the Prince Bandar bin Sultan Award for Scientific Excellence, and the Rashid bin Hamid Award for Culture and Science.

Zaman holds a bachelor’s degree in Islamic studies from Imam Muhammad bin Saudi University in Riyadh.

He received his master’s and Ph.D. in administration and policy studies from the University of Pittsburgh in the US.

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How Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ula went from being underdeveloped…to having negative unemployment

Time: May 20, 2019

More than 60 balloons take to the sky, giving rides to visitors during the Hot Air Balloon Festival. (UPI)
  • Al-Ula is home to ancient Nabatien sites and the Winter at Tantora festival which hosted Yanni and Andrea Bocelli
  • In three years it has reached a negative unemployment rate of -2 percent, showing how Vision 2030 can work

RIYADH: In almost no time, the city of Al-Ula in northwest Saudi Arabia went from being relatively unknown to a very early symbol of success for the Kingdom’s ambitious Vision 2030 reform plan.

Previously underdeveloped and mostly ignored, it has now become home to the Winter at Tantora music festival, which was sold out every night between December and February as visitors flocked to see legends such as Andrea Bocelli, Yanni, Mohammed Abdo and Majida El-Roumi perform.

Projects such as the Sharaan Resort and Sharaan Nature Reserve, which are due to open in 2023, promise to turn the city into the tourist hotspot it was always meant to be.

After all, not many places in the world can say they are sitting on 3,000 years of history, which is the case with Al-Ula, which is home to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Madain Saleh.

Recently, the Hot Air Balloon Festival presented a blueprint for adventure tourism in Saudi Arabia. Next, the Dakar Rally will take place there in 2020.

Al-Ula’s success — mostly due to the work done by a dedicated, recently formed royal commission — portrays what Vision 2030 is all about: Opening up new industries, lessening the Kingdom’s dependence on oil, capitalizing on its long-ignored historic and cultural treasures, and creating jobs for the country’s booming population.

A senior official with access to employment figures told Arab News that in less than three years, Al-Ula has achieved a negative unemployment rate of 2 percent.

This means that Al-Ula now needs to import workers from neighboring regions to keep pace with the demand for jobs.

“I’m so happy with the opening of tourism in Al-Ula. It has given us an opportunity to work and let go of some of the super-conservative beliefs that (our) people had,” said Manal Al-Budair, an Al-Ula local who works in the media.

“In the past, the only acceptable job for females was a teacher. But with the opening up of Al-Ula, much change has taken place,” she added.

“I hope we host more events. It’s truly a pleasure and an honor to welcome people from all over the world to our historical city,” she said.

“Tantora highlighted our youth’s ambitions and our willingness to work hard, prosper and succeed.”

Mirrors outside the Maraya concert hall. (Itar-Tass)

Fired by ambition, many locals say they want to work as managers or hold equivalent job titles.

The perception of some of Al-Ula’s residents is that some senior-level positions have been filled by talent from bigger cities who have more experience in fields such as hotel management and marketing.

However, the Royal Commission for Al-Ula (RCU) has a promising plan to develop skills and deepen the job market.

“The people of Al-Ula are at the heart of the Royal Commission for Al-Ula’s drive to encourage economic prosperity for current and future generations,” said the RCU’s CEO Amr Al-Madani.

“The people of Al-Ula hosted 37,000 visitors from 72 countries around the world during the first successful annual Winter at Tantora festival.”

Ahmed Alimam, a senior tourism development officer at the RCU, told Arab News: “The people of Al-Ula are hugely encouraged by the opportunities continually opening up through Al-Ula’s positioning on the (economic) map.”

He said: “Al-Ula has long been a destination that has welcomed visitors from around the world in its capacity as a historic crossroads and as a place for pilgrims to rest during their journeys.”

The Elephant rock in the Ula desert. (AFP)

He added: “Our ancestors had long guided visitors across the desert, but with the advent of modern-day transport, this role had almost disappeared. Now, we’re sharing our heritage with the world once again.”

The RCU has worked up palpable enthusiasm in Al-Ula over its potential as an outstanding destination for tourists.

Scholarships and training are broadening horizons, meaning that people in Al-Ula are learning from global best practices.

“An entrepreneurial spirit is truly encouraged, with young men and women applying for business licenses and investing in equipment, and even farmers building residential units and huts inside farms and between palm trees,” Alimam said.

The RCU has hired young Saudis from Al-Ula to be trained to become park rangers.

A Saudi park ranger. (Royal Commission for Al-Ula)

They will work to preserve and develop the wildlife in the park, which will have breeding programs for rare and endangered species that are native to the region.

“The rangers have been trained by expert rangers from the College of African Wildlife Management Tanzania (CAWM) from Mweka, which is the leading institution for professional and technical training in wildlife and tourism management in Africa,” said Al-Madani.

“Additionally, qualified and highly experienced staff are offering research and consultancy services to enhance wildlife management at Sharaan, and are now sharing their knowledge with young people in Al-Ula.”

Scholarships are a strong incentive for the people of Al-Ula to be ambitious about their career plans.

The first scholarship phase, which started in 2018, saw a total of 168 students head for studies in the UK, the US and France.

“Following a hugely successful first year, the program is being expanded. In its second year, we’re sending 300 students overseas to the existing three countries as well as Australia,” said Dr. Rami Al-Sakran, director of the RCU’s scholarship program.

“The RCU launched its scholarship program in 2018, with the objective of giving successful applicants the opportunity to pursue degrees at prestigious universities and academic institutions overseas,” he added.

“This is a key pillar in the RCU’s commitment to working with the local community to build their capabilities and empower the region’s development,” he said.

“Recently, we hosted the first midyear summit for our phase 1 students, in the US, the UK and France. We were enormously proud to see the progress they’ve made so far as they get a world-class education and actively engage in new cultures, broadening their horizons.”

Many locals, including Rawan Abdul-Rahman, an organizer of Winter at Tantora, are happy with the opportunities that have been presented to them.

“It was an amazing experience. It gave us opportunities and opened doors for us,” she said.

“Even our families, who are conservative and would’ve never approved of anything like this before, were ecstatic and encouraged us to take part in all the events. This is something unprecedented given our conservative backgrounds.”

Summing up the experience of the local population, Abdul-Rahman added: “Al-Ula not only opened us to the world, it also opened the world to us.”

This article was first published in Arab News

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Vision 2030: All you need to know about Saudi Arabia’s giga-projects

Time: May 07, 2019  

1 / 13
The Red Sea Project has been described as one of the world’s most ambitious tourism and hospitality projects, aimed at setting new standards in sustainable development and redefining the world of luxury tourism. (Supplied)
  • Huge developments aim to put Kingdom on global tourism map
  • Work on first development in $500bn NEOM zone set to complete in 2020

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is making sincere efforts towards economic, social and cultural diversification with the works in progress on giga-projects, which are designed to be places of inspiration, discovery and fruitful engagements for the millennial generation.

The biggest development projects till date: Qiddiya Entertainment City, NEOM, the Red Sea Project and Amaala resort will shape the future of tourism as an important hub to meet and satisfy the recreational, social and cultural needs of the Kingdom’s current and future generations.

Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman in 2016 mandated the development of long-term model of prosperity for the Kingdom and the result was Vision 2030, an ambitious yet attainable blueprint to ensure that Saudi Arabia is a vibrant society, a thriving economy and a progressive nation.

These developments are part of the Crown Prince’s ambitious plan Saudi Vision 2030 that aims to diversify the economy, away from a dependency on oil and society with varied and rich experience of a quality lifestyle including world class tourism.

In response to multiple societal challenges including limited entertainment options, demographic and social change, careers in a world beyond oil, and public health, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), a sovereign wealth fund owned by Saudi Arabia has been tasked with developing the series of “giga-projects.”

Qiddiya city has been named after the Aba Al-Qid road (Camel Trail) that used to connect Al-Yamama to Hijaz. (Supplied)


The Qiddiya project aims to meet these challenges by providing a destination where Saudis find excitement, inspiration, creative communities and career and investment opportunities.

Qiddiya city has been named after the Aba Al-Qid road (Camel Trail) that used to connect Al-Yamama to Hijaz. When completed Qiddiya will become a place to live, work and play, a prominent landmark and an important hub to meet and satisfy the recreational, social and cultural needs of the kingdom’s current and future generations.

Qiddiya, an important hub planned in the Saudi capital to fulfill the recreational and entertainment needs of the people, will see the launch of the construction phase this year. Qiddiya CEO Mike Reininger told Arab News in January: “2019 will see Qiddiya move from the planning and design phase to the construction phase.”

The Qiddiya site is 40 kilometers from the center of Riyadh city. When completed, this prominent landmark is expected to be the world’s largest entertainment city, surpassing Walt Disney World in Florida.

The ambitious project hopes to attract local, regional and international tourists. It includes theme parks, entertainment centers, sports amenities capable of hosting international competitions, training academies, desert and asphalt tracks for motorsport enthusiasts, water- and snow-based recreation, adventure activities alongside nature and safari experiences, and an array of historical, cultural and educational activities and events.

Visitors will have access to more than 300 recreational and educational facilities designed around five cornerstones of development that drive the strategy: Parks and attractions, sports and wellness, motion and mobility, nature and environment, and arts and culture.

The area earmarked for the NEOM project offers excellent prospects for leisure tourism, combining the Red Sea, beautiful beaches and islands and unspoiled natural beauty. (Supplied)


NEOM, is a giant zone being being developed in the northwest of Saudi Arabia with a $500 billion investment support from the Public Investment fund (PIF).

The project, which has been described as “the destination for the future of living,” will stretch across the Egyptian and Jordanian borders and aims to transform the Kingdom into an international pioneering example, through introduction of value chains of industry and technology.

The area earmarked for the NEOM project offers excellent prospects for leisure tourism, combining the Red Sea, beautiful beaches and islands and unspoiled natural beauty.

The origin of the name is a combination of the Latin word “neo” meaning “new,” and the first letter “m” of the Arabic word “mustaqbal” which means “future”.

NEOM, which was announced in 2017 and is in a pristine position on the Red Sea, is expected to focus on luxurious living, and will include high-end hotels and villas. Moreover, homes in the development will be marketed to both regional and international buyers.

Saudi Arabia announced in January this year that it will start developing the first urban area of the zone after the founding board, chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, approved the master-plan for NEOM Bay, which will include homes, lifestyle and tourist facilities, and “innovation centers.” Construction work was expected to start in the first quarter of 2019 and will be completed in 2020.

“We are now preparing for the development of NEOM Bay area, which will provide a new concept of urban living that will enable it to become a platform for attracting the world’s top minds for creating advanced economic sectors,” said Nadhmi Al-Nasr, NEOM chief executive, in January.

In late January, Saudi Arabia established a company to develop NEOM. The closed joint-stock NEOM Company will be fully owned by the PIF and will develop the vast project, which will include multiple cities, airports, a seaport, tourist areas, industrial complexes and “innovation centers.”

According to Al-Nasr, the new entity will be responsible for developing a new global destination from scratch on a huge area and a futuristic civilization that is based on sustainability and livability.

“All this aims to turn NEOM into a global center for attracting investment, knowledge, innovation and technology in order to compete with all economic capital cities,” he said.

NEOM’s economic prospects will focus on 16 sectors: Energy, water, mobility, bio-tech, food, manufacturing, media, entertainment, culture, and fashion, technology including digital, tourism, sport, design and construction, services, health and well-being, education and liveability.

The Red Sea Project will set new standards in sustainable development and redefine the world of luxury tourism with objectives to position the Kingdom on the global tourism map. (Supplied)


The Red Sea Project, one of the giga-projects announced by the crown prince in 2017, is billed as one of the the world’s most ambitious tourism and hospitality projects: An ultra-luxury destination that is being created around one of the world’s hidden natural treasures.

The Red Sea Project will set new standards in sustainable development and redefine the world of luxury tourism with objectives to position the Kingdom on the global tourism map.

Once completed, visitors will be able to explore the wonders and rich cultural heritage of Saudi Arabia’s untouched Red Sea Coast.

This is a touristic project that includes more than 50 islands located between the cities of Umluj and Al-Wajh. It covers a number of the Red Sea’s untouched islands, as well as the archaeological site of Madain Saleh and a nature reserve containing regional flora and fauna.

Situated between the cities of Umluj and Al Wajh on the west coast of Saudi Arabia, the site is strategically located at the crossroads of Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa and within eight hours’ flying time of 80 percent of the world’s population.

The vision of the project include creating an exquisite ultra-luxury destination within a pristine 28,000 sq km area that includes an archipelago of more than 50 unspoiled islands, volcanoes, desert, mountains, nature and culture.

The project is planned to set new standards for sustainable development and environmental protection, exceed expectations with the highest standards of service excellence and use technology to enable a seamless personalized experience that will position Saudi Arabia on the global tourism map.

The project offers a secure and stable environment for investors within the world’s fastest growing tourism region. In December 2018 King Salman received a team from the Red Sea Development Company (TRSDC), led by CEO John Pagano at Al-Yamama Palace in Riyadh that gave a progress report on the ambitious tourism and leisure project with a presentation detailing the master plan and its economic and developmental objectives, which aim to establish it as a leading global destination in the luxury tourism sector.

The first phase of the project, scheduled for completion in 2022, includes 14 luxury and hyper-luxury hotels providing 3,000 rooms across five islands and two inland resorts on the Kingdom’s west coast, an airport to serve the destination, and marinas, along with residential properties and recreational facilities.

By the time the project is completed, there will be 22 developed islands out of a total of 90 islands.

It is expected to create 70,000 jobs and play a significant role in driving economic diversification in the Kingdom by attracting nearly a million visitors a year and contributing SR22 billion to the country’s GDP.

Notably, plans to develop the project have been given the green light. The TRSDC has received final approval from its board of directors for the program’s master plan in January this year.

Commenting on it Pagano said: “With the master plan approved, we are now identifying investors and partners who are interested in working with us on realizing the objectives of the project and who share our commitment to enhance, not exploit, the natural ecosystems that make the destination so unique.”

Significantly, the Red Sea project ensures protection of ecology. As part of the planning process, major environmental studies were carried out to ensure that the area’s sensitive ecology was protected both during and after completion of the development.

Furthermore, the master plan is underpinned by an extensive smart destination management system that will support a wide range of personalized products and services designed to appeal to the modern luxury traveler.

The TRSDC employed the world’s first destination-scale computer simulation techniques, created in Saudi Arabia, to assess the impact of the development and future tourism on the environment. The resulting plan now targets a 30 percent net increase in biodiversity over the next two decades, a conservation equivalent to designating the site as a marine protection area.

Technology also underpins the destination’s sustainability initiatives, with a suite of sensors and monitoring devices in place to track and measure variations in environmental factors such as water salinity, temperature, visibility and tidal flows.

“The leadership of the Kingdom has shown great foresight in its insistence on balanced development of this pristine destination,” said Pagano. “Our plan not only envisions a stunning luxury destination, it also takes tangible, measurable steps to enhance that destination for future generations to enjoy and cherish.”

The Amaala resort, already being dubbed the Riviera of the Middle East, will be focused upon wellness and healthy living. (Supplied)


The Amaala project is another global destination aims to focus on ultra-luxury “wellness tourism” and the arts alongside other Red Sea mega-projects NEOM, a 26,500 square mile business zone and Saudi Arabia’s answer to Silicon Valley currently under development in the northwest of the kingdom and the Red Sea project.

This ultra-luxurious destination on the Kingdom’s northwestern coast of the Red Sea has been announced by the PIF, which is spearheading the project and will provide initial funding. Partnership and investment packages will be available to the private sector as it progresses.

The “Amaala” resort, already being dubbed the “Riviera of the Middle East,” will be focused upon wellness and healthy living. The resort will be located in the Prince Mohammed bin Salman Nature Reserve. PIF said Amaala will sit alongside NEOM and the Red Sea Project as part of a giga-projects investment portfolio, which will establish a unique “tourism ecosystem,” supporting economic diversification and creating high-value job opportunities.

Nicholas Naples, a veteran luxury hospitality and development executive, will be the CEO of the project, PIF said in September 2018.

“Amaala will awaken the world’s imagination by rephrasing the current concept of the luxury tourism experience, especially in terms integrative wellness, specialty treatments and related recreational offerings,” Naples said at the time.

“Amaala represents a unique and transformational luxury experience where full-fledged wellness tourism is integrated alongside a curated mix of arts, culture and sports offerings that are individually tailored for the ultra-luxury lifestyle, including the availability of  a fashion scene, healthy-living services, and year-round sea expeditions,” Naples added.

According to the developers, Amaala will feature “extraordinary architecture and unprecedented luxury in both hotels and private villas as well as a quaint retail village.”

It will also include an arts academy that will foster the growth and development of young artists from Saudi Arabia and the region.

PIF announced there will be cultural events, artistic performances and related conferences in a bid to bring international visitors to the region, where they can enjoy a wide array of unique and personalized holiday experiences set against stunning scenery, mountainous landscapes and diving among pristine coral reefs.

The project will include marinas and a yacht club and aims to be a destination for boutique luxury cruises.

The retail areas will include a mix of galleries, ateliers, artisan workshops and bespoke outlets along with a wide range of international and local restaurants.

As envisioned in Vision 2030, Amaala – along with the other giga-projects — will support the diversification of Saudi Arabia’s leisure and tourism industry, while promoting cultural conservation, ecological preservation and sustainability.

This article was first published in Arab News

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