SOURCE: Arab News
Time: April 19, 2016
RABIGH: Princess Reema bint Bandar Al-Saud, founder and chief executive officer of Alf Khair, has expressed optimism about the future of entrepreneurship in the Kingdom and Arab world.
She made the comments during an interview with Arab News at the MIT Enterprise Forum (MITEF) Arab Startup Competition at King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) at Rabigh, where she was one of the judges and speakers.
The daughter of former Saudi ambassador to the United States Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Princess Reema is the granddaughter of the late King Faisal. Raised and educated in Washington, D.C., the princess earned a bachelor’s degree from George Washington University.
Following are excerpts from the interview:
Q: What are your impressions of this MIT Enterprise Forum (MITEF) event?
A: I am so thrilled and proud that this event is happening in Saudi Arabia and honoring all young Middle Eastern entrepreneurs. I am also very proud of the quality of talent that has been exhibited today. As some of our speakers at the conference were saying, we keep looking out far, far away when we should be looking right around the corner. Sometimes these programs are not just around the corner, they are right in front of us. This excites me. The caliber and quality that I am seeing is equal to what I have seen outside.
Q: The young and bright Saudis that you see here engaged in innovation is an exciting development as well, isn’t it?
A: What I am seeing is not just innovation from a digital point of view because that would be shortsighted. The digital innovation must happen but there must be social innovation as well. If we do not innovate minds and grow with our capabilities it does not matter how many digital apps or programs we have, we are not going to be able to maximize the opportunity that they will provide us to innovate further. So, it is A plus B plus C equals something fantastic. But if we don’t have all of the elements and if we forget human capacity, honestly, no amount of digital platforms will make any difference.
Q: What about the young women entrepreneurs at the MITEF conference?
A: What I am really intrigued about is that people are finally seeing that a man can innovate for a woman and that a woman can innovate for a man and you do not have to innovate exclusively only for your gender. That makes me very happy.
Q: This MIT Enterprise Forum (MITEF) Arab Startup Competition event is supported by two corporate giants, Abdul Latif Jameel and Zain. What message would you want to convey to others out there in the corporate world?
A: To the corporate sector, I would say you have got two amazing examples of generosity of time, generosity of efforts, spirit and money. What Abdul Latif Jameel and Zain have shown us today is that big business does care and when business cares it is good for their business.
Q: We have seen here students, researchers and top academics from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), Effat University and Dar Al-Hekma University. What is the takeaway for Saudi institutes of learning and government institutions from such top-notch conferences, events and competitions?
A: Our universities, government institutions and the private sector should offer more resources, more time and more efforts to promote entrepreneurship. Efforts should be made to ease regulations. It is these regulations that slow down entrepreneurial capabilities. I am talking of administrative regulations, bureaucratic regulations. In order for innovators to innovate, they need freedom of space. Regulations that were created for businesses 10 years ago might not be applicable today. I would like universities that are incubating this kind of talent to be advocates for individuals engaged in innovation.
Q: The Arab world, especially Saudi Arabia, always had talent. Is it only now that we are seeing them come upfront?
A: It was a different kind of talent in the past. I think each time curates its own talent for the needs it has. The capabilities that young people have today are more technologically advanced than before. This does not mean that the innovation that was created before was less valid. It was profoundly valid. Each innovation lives on top of the previous innovation. It is the key that opens the next door. If we want the future doors to open, we have to realize we need to be lighter, leaner, more progressive and more proactive in the regulations that are made.
Q: Many of the speakers here spoke about how people, even closest relatives, laughed at their ideas when they first floated them and they spoke about how they persisted and persevered and ultimately succeeded. What is your message to the budding entrepreneurs out there?
A: I would tell them to look at the negative criticism as information and data. Find out what is driving that negative criticism and then reframe it into positive information. All feedback, positive or negative, is data. Take it, use it and reframe it. If you are going to disregard it, then you are disregarding somebody who is saying, ‘You have a problem, I don’t believe in your product.’ You didn’t connect with them. So was it a messaging issue then? You need to address that. Or is it a marketing issue? A product issue? Try to place it in the right bucket because that content will inform the next decision that you will make.