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.

This article was first published in Atlantic Council

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Princess Reema highlights strong Saudi-US ties during key webinar

Time: 01 June 2021

Saudi Gazette report

JEDDAH — Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the United States Princess Reema Bint Bandar said that her goal is to unlock the Kingdom’s untapped potential, uplifting citizens and opening the country to the world socially and economically, as well as culturally.

She made these remarks carried by The Washington Diplomat, a US-based premier source of news and information for the global diplomatic community, recently during an online event, a part of the “Women in Global Leadership” webinar series.

The event, which was moderated by Susan Sloan, author of “A Seat at the Table: Women, Diplomacy and Lessons for the World,” offered a rare peek into the life and worldview of Princess Reema, who is considered to be one of the most powerful women in the Middle East.

Princess Reema, who made history by becoming Saudi Arabia’s first female ambassador, is the daughter of Prince Bandar bin Sultan. She grew up in Fairfax County, Virginia, while her father served as the Kingdom’s ambassador from 1983 to 2005.

Sharing her thoughts about her role model and the experience of her early life in the US, Princess Reema said: “My father remains, I think, the model of a Saudi diplomat. During his 23-year tenure I grew up in the United States. I was immersed in the culture of the US,” she said.

She added: “I’m lucky to have experienced life in both countries because it prepared me not only to work in the kingdom and bring dreams and aspirations of things I saw here but also allowed me to represent my nation.”

Princess Reema as an experienced diplomat emphasized her bipartisan approach with regard to American politics said: “The people I went to school with are now senators and congressman, CEOs, leaders of their countries. But the America I grew up in was not a diplomatic world, because my father did not include us in that.

“We didn’t know who was a Republican and who was a Democrat. We knew them as family,” Bandar said, admitting a shocking revelation: her family was fans of the Dallas Cowboys, not the Redskins, she added.

The Saudi ambassador to the US also talked about how unmindful she was about her Arab background while growing in the US, pointing out she still relishes memories of those times.

“I remember the onslaught of the cicadas. I remember ‘Hands Across America’ and the best of the music and the culture of the 1980s,” Princess Reema said Bandar, adding that she didn’t even know there was an Arab community in the Washington metro area until the age of 15. “My memories of America are memories of joy.”

She said things changed dramatically in the US after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which caused some misgivings but our bilateral relations were too strong to be affected.

“Our partnership has been tested at times,” said Princess Reema, adding: “When I took up my diplomatic post, my father took me aside, and he told me that today’s times are different. He advised me to keep in mind every day what’s at stake, and the responsibility I had to oversee, preserve and strengthen a relationship not bound by any single administration, or defined by any single issue.”

Vowing to further strengthen Saudi Arabia’s relations with the US, Princess Reema said: “It is my goal to explain to the American people why this alliance between our two nations is even more important now than ever before.”

Unfortunately, she said, American views of Saudi culture are often misunderstood, leading to stereotypes and negative publicity — especially when it comes to the country’s abysmal human rights record, its treatment of women, and its strict interpretation of Islam.

“We can’t wait for change to happen. We have to make it happen,” Princess Reema said. “In Saudi Arabia, we’re transforming faster than anyone had ever imagined, and that reform process is real, and it’s here to stay.”

Dismissing concerns over Saudi Arabia’s relations with the current US administration led by President Joe Bide, the Saudi ambassador said: “I very much look forward to working with the Biden administration.”

Princes Reema during the webinar also highlighted the Kingdom Vision 2030, a strategic framework to reduce Saudi Arabia’s dependence on oil, diversify its economy and improve health, education, infrastructure and tourism.

“If we’ve done our job right, after 2030 you’re going to see a country that has a diversified economy, having stepped away from fossil fuels,” she said.

She also referred to Neom, a $500 billion futuristic urban project to house more than a million people on a 10,200-square-mile piece of desert in northwestern Saudi Arabia.

“Neom is the city of the future. That doesn’t mean we’ll have robots walking around, but a clean lifestyle,” Princess Reema said.

“Our future doesn’t have to be bleak. As we’ve seen with COVID-19, all this digital revolution has done is isolate us from each other. Coexistence with people and nature is really what we need.”

This article was first published in Saudi Gazette

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Saudi anti-concealment law to protect consumers and small businesses

Time: 09 March 2021

An aerial view shows a deserted highway due to the COVID-19 pandemic, on the first day of the Eid al-Fitr feast marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, in the Saudi capital Riyadh, on May 24, 2020. – Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s holiest sites, began a five-day round-the-clock curfew from May 23, in a bid to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus. (Photo by FAISAL AL-NASSER / AFP)

The regulations support the reporting of crimes and violations by protecting whistleblowers and motivating them through rewards. (File/Shutterstock)

The measures relate in large part to the business relationship of Saudis and foreign investors and aim to ensure that they do not circumvent the Kingdom’s commercial law

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s “anti-concealment” laws aim to protect consumers and small businesses from financial crime according to the Ministry of Commerce, Al Arabiya reported.
The measures relate in large part to the business relationship of Saudis and foreign investors and aim to ensure that they do not circumvent the Kingdom’s commercial law about how such partnerships are created and what happens when they are dissolved.
The regulations support the reporting of crimes and violations by protecting whistleblowers and motivating them through rewards.
Talat Hafiz, a Saudi economist, financial analyst, and board member of the Saudi Financial Association, said commercial concealment is a major financial crime that “works against fair and unjustifiable commercial trading and causes significant harm to the economy and to its gross domestic product.”
“The government of Saudi Arabia has been alerted to such risks and consequences of commercial concealment, and has introduced a very powerful national program to combat such economic and commercial disease,” he added.
Several government bodies are combating concealment besides the Ministry of Commerce, including, the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs and the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development.

This article was first published in Arab News

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