Women and youth ‘will drive Saudi Arabia’s digital future”

Saudi Minister of Communication and Information Technology Abdullah Alswaha, center, Google Cloud CEO Diane Greene, right, and Arab News Editor in Chief Faisal J. Abbas at a panel discussion on "Opportunities in Abundance — Youth, Help us Make it Happen” at the Misk Global Forum in Riyadh on Wednesday. (AN photo by Ahmed Fathi)
Updated 15 November 2017

Women and youth ‘will drive Saudi Arabia’s digital future”

RIYADH: Women and young people will lead Saudi Arabia’s drive to embrace a digital future, a leading technology entrepreneur told a forum in Riyadh on Wednesday.

“The excitement and embracing of change is so palpable here,” said Diane Greene, chief executive of Google Cloud. “I’m very optimistic about what’s possible here.”

Greene said Saudi Arabia already had female experts and leaders in the field of technology, who would find no difficulty in participating in the technical future of the Kingdom.

On her first visit to Saudi Arabia, she said she was impressed by young people and their enthusiasm for change and making a difference.

Greene was speaking on the first day of the Misk Global Forum, which brings young leaders, creators and thinkers together with established innovators to explore ways to meet the challenge of change. The Misk Foundation was established by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to empower Saudi youth to take part in the knowledge economy.

The Google Cloud chief took part in a panel discussion with Saudi Minister of Communication and Information Technology Abdullah Alswaha. The session was moderated by Faisal J. Abbas, editor in chief of Arab News.

They spoke against a background of rapid change in Saudi Arabia, with an end to the ban on women driving and the crown prince’s launch this month of the $500 billion Neom “city of the future” project.

“There couldn’t be a much better time in terms of unprecedented change,” said Alswaha. “The rate of change right now is giving us a unique and a big window to leapfrog into the future.”

The digitization of the Saudi economy will be fully powered by youth, said Alswaha, with 70 percent of the population under the age of 30. “This gives the Kingdom a unique and competitive advantage powered by knowledge, entrepreneurship and innovation.”

Alswaha announced a new partnership between his ministry, Misk and the Mohammed bin Salman College for Business and Entrepreneurship to adopt 30 young local entrepreneurs and tech companies, such as Careem, the taxi app, and Telfaz, the internet TV app. “We will put them through a one-year program, get them exposure to the Silicon Valleys of the world, to the European successes in the world, introduce them to some venture capitalists and accelerators, and join hands with some big tech and knowledge powerhouses,” he said.

In September, the Saudi Communications and Information Technology Commission lifted the ban on applications that provide voice and video call services over the internet. Alswaha said the move had benefited a wide variety of people, from Saudi soldiers on the southern border to scholarship students who could now more easily contact their loved ones at home.

Communication and information technology managed to engage people and offered a better way of life, Alswaha said, and the Kingdom had a golden opportunity in the world of digital transformation. “Competitiveness relies on you,” he told Saudi youth.

The two-day forum concludes on Thursday.

Al-Ula Royal Commission launches second phase of university scholarship program

Updated 39 min 52 sec ago

Al-Ula Royal Commission launches second phase of university scholarship program

  • High-quality education will make students ‘valuable assets’ in transformation of the region
JEDDAH: The Royal Commission for Al-Ula has launched the second phase of its overseas scholarship program, giving students the chance to study at universities in the US, UK, France and Australia.
The program is intended to broaden the horizons of Saudi students, creating more rounded graduates with wider experiences of foreign cultures and practices.
The students will also learn the languages of their host countries, which will aid them in later life depending on what path they choose, and encouraging interaction and exchanges between the Al-Ula region and the rest of the world.
Rami Al-Sakran, capabilities development manager for the commission, said the Al-Ula scholarship program was one of four strands in a community development plan.
“We have four different units, sector planning and business licensing so that covers economic development, with community engagement and human capability under the social development plan,” he told Arab News.
The second phase of the scholarship program will run for five years following the positive response to the first phase, which was launched last year. The second phase has been expanded to accommodate 300 students and is open to all genders.
Last September, 165 students were sent to the US, UK and France with Australia to focus on fields such as hospitality, tourism, agriculture, archaeology and heritage.
Many residents from the area had migrated to larger cities because of the lack of job opportunities, he said, so it was important to engage and employ locals first.
“We’ll flood the equation. We’ll see people coming in and our priority is the local community and to provide them with jobs. We want these jobs that we’ll create to be filled by the locals first.
“We’ve currently provided jobs, whether directly or indirectly, some of them temporary and others permanent. At Winter in Tantora, we have volunteers, ushers, drivers as this is seasonal but we’ve established a database and some jobs are permanent, whether they’re directly employed by our CEO or some contract.”
Al-Sakran said locals were key to the success of turning Al-Ula into a major tourist destination.
“Locals, locals, locals. Without the locals, we can’t succeed. We have a very transparent relationship, it’s a two-way street with them. We cooperate with them and communicate with them on every basis. We have a strong relationship with the governor of Al-Ula and we listen to the locals.
“Whether it was our social or economical development, as you can see Winter in Tantora has a major socio-economic impact on the area and ... the locals are working everywhere here and that’s what we want. It’s theirs. We’ll unveil it to the Kingdom ... that’s the idea, to make it a strong and significant destination for all.”