Saudi women seize new business opportunities

Saudi women seize new business opportunities
Wafaa Al-Ashwali launched Serviis, an app that connects consumers with over 2,500 service providers across the Kingdom. (Supplied image)
Updated 01 November 2017

Saudi women seize new business opportunities

Saudi women seize new business opportunities

LONDON: With a 130 percent increase in the number of women employed by the private sector in Saudi Arabia over the past four years, the Kingdom’s workforce is undergoing a transformation aimed at ushering in a new economic era.
When Wafaa Al-Ashwali launched a startup in Saudi Arabia earlier this year, she tapped into a burgeoning community of established female entrepreneurs.
Stepping into a sphere traditionally reserved for men, she has had to work harder and be more enterprising than male counterparts, but five months later her app Serviis, which connects consumers with more than 2,500 service providers across the Kingdom, has a steady client base of more than 700.
Her success speaks for the business opportunities unfolding for women in KSA, where there has been a 130 percent increase in their number in the private sector during the past four years.
“There has been a push from government to empower more female entrepreneurs,” Al-Ashwali said.
Almost 40 percent of the startups launched in 2016 were owned by women — an indication of the social and economic evolution that is underway as the Kingdom pursues ambitious aims outlined in its Vision 2030.
Speaking to Arab News earlier this month, the governor of the General Authority for Small and Medium Enterprises, Ghassan Al-Sulaiman pinpointed startups as a particular focus for development.
With plans to boost the proportion of women in the workforce to 30 percent by 2030, Saudi Arabia’s once-sidelined female population is being harnessed to facilitate this growth.
At a recent job fair attended by 43,000 women and hosted by Saudi women’s recruitment agency Glowork, more than 86 local and international organizations gathered seeking to source female talent for their KSA operations.
“They were there purely to hire Saudi women and it showed the appetite of the organizations to get women into their industries at all levels,” said Khalid Al-Khudair, founder of Glowork, itself a startup.
Previously, companies in Saudi Arabia hired women to fill compulsory quotas. Now, Al-Khudair said, “it has become something that makes business sense for organizations,” with women taking on a greater number of roles across different sectors.
“Saudi females represent a talented, well-educated pool of labor. Today, more Saudi women than men are attaining university degrees,” said David Hunt, founder of Dubai-based company Lynwood Consulting.
“The educational reforms have produced a new generation of women with a high degree of training, education and knowledge who are assuming their rightful place in society.”
Across the Middle East, women outnumber men in universities but countries are largely failing to utilize their female talent pools with women’s participation in the workforce across the region among the lowest in the world, according to Reuters.
The upshot is a failure to fully reap the so-called “demographic dividend” that would fuel economic growth, as well as a drag on programs aimed at empowering women in order to fulfil the economic agenda set by government.
Currently, just 1.9 million of the 13.1 million women in Saudi Arabia participate in the workforce, giving it the largest gender imbalance in labor force participation among G-20 countries, according to the “G-20 Saudi Arabia Labour Market Report 2016.”
New initiatives aim to redress this imbalance such as the launch of the first all-female business process services center in Riyadh by Saudi Aramco, General Electric and Tata Consultancy Services to provide employment for more than 1,000 women and the first all-women business and technology park, which aims to provide employment for 20,000 women over the next decade.
“Saudi Arabia has already invested heavily in education for women,” said Jane Kinninmont, deputy head of the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House in London.
“Enabling more women to enter the workforce allows the economy to earn a return on that investment,” she added.
“Having women in business is good for diversity and there is significant research being done internationally on the positive impact of gender diversity on management and innovation.”
Doors are opening these days with more women entering the workforce, and the once male-dominated business environment is becoming a more equal place.
Hunt noticed the change during a recent trip to Riyadh. “I visited the operations of one of the leading insurance companies,” he said. “In the past women would have been working behind closed doors in separate sections with separate lifts. Now men and women work side by side in large open-plan spaces.
“It was also pleasing to see women taking on more senior roles,” he added, pointing to the appointment of several women to high-powered positions in KSA.
Rania Nashar became the first woman to head a commercial bank in the Kingdom earlier this year when she was named chief executive of Samba Financial Group. Latifa Al-Sabhan serves as the chief financial officer of Arab National Bank, while in February Sarah Al-Suhaimi, CEO of NCB Capital, became the first woman to chair the Saudi stock exchange.
Opportunities are also opening up lower down the ladder as Saudi women seize the moment in the wake of the latest round of reforms.
“The policy environment is becoming more favorable to women working — the recent decision (to lift the ban) on women driving is an important symbol of that,” Kinninmont said.
An earlier move that means women no longer need a guardian to access government services has helped to lift the number of women establishing SMEs, she added.
However, hurdles remain, particularly when it comes to networking. “Saudi Arabia is a conservative country and we still have segregation between men and women,” said Al-Ashwali.
“Business development, which relies on being there in person to access funds and engage with the business community, is a challenge.” Male entrepreneurs can attend the meetings and events necessary to build a business but for women, it is still a “closed community,” she said.
But the balance is shifting as economic demands compete with cultural practices that traditionally consigned women to the domestic sphere.
“I’ve been visiting Saudi Arabia for more than a decade, and throughout that period young middle-class Saudis have been telling me that their peers aspire to have families where both the man and the woman work, partly because of the rising cost of living,” Kinninmont said.
Nouf Al-Saleem, founder of Mathaqi, a meal delivery app launched last year, spoke of the social development that has taken place with women “more welcome in the market, especially when it come to supporting productive families.”
“We can see women-owned businesses rising in all areas, including the food and retail industries and many others,” she added.
Al-Ashwali is confident of further progress. “I think we’ll see more reforms. What’s needed next is to remove the barrier for capable women who have what it takes to do business but are held back by a male guardian.
“Many government organizations are working hard to support individuals in starting their own business,” she said, adding that seeing women empowered by recent reforms “will encourage and inspire more to pursue their business ambitions.”


Emirates may need to raise cash if air travel does not pick up

Emirates may need to raise cash if air travel does not pick up
Updated 44 min 45 sec ago

Emirates may need to raise cash if air travel does not pick up

Emirates may need to raise cash if air travel does not pick up
  • Emirates has resumed flights with all of its 151 Boeing 777 jets
  • Emirates lost 12.6 billion dirhams in the first half of the year

DUBAI: Emirates may need to raise more cash this year, possibly through another equity injection from the Dubai government, if demand for air travel does not pick up soon, its president said on Wednesday.
The state carrier had hoped the global vaccine rollout would renew confidence in air travel but demand remains at very low levels, leaving many airlines to ground planes or fly them near-empty.
“We are good for another six, seven or eight months in terms of cash. We have sufficient cash coming in to be able to keep the day-to-day operation at a neutral basis,” Tim Clark told the online World Aviation Festival.
“But like everybody else, if in six months global demand is where it is today then we are all going to face difficulties. Not just Emirates“
Emirates, which lost 12.6 billion dirhams ($3.4 billion) in the first half of the year, got $2 billion in equity in 2020 from the Dubai government, its sole shareholder.
The airline would make a recommendation to the government on raising cash, Clark said without saying exactly when that would be done.
The recommendation could be for equity injection, or for the airline to raise debt or to take other measures, he said without specifying.
“The balance sheet is pretty strong regardless of what has happened.”
The cash situation, however, could be turned around by September-October as long as demand picks up, Clark said, adding that he hoped the airline would not have to seek cash.
Emirates has resumed flights with all of its 151 Boeing 777 jets which are mainly carrying cargo, with about 20,000 to 30,000 passengers a day.
Clark said the airline could retain some of its older 777 passenger jets that are due to retire and instead convert them into cargo-only planes as freight demand remains high.
He said that he expected there would be demand for business class travel post-pandemic even if corporate travel does diminish through executives opting to hold meetings online instead of traveling.
Demand would likely be supported by cheaper fares to fill business class seats if corporate travel does not rebound, he said.
Clark, who was due to retire last year, said he wanted to set the airline on its future course before he retires, but added he no longer knew when that would be.


Beautiful Game 1 Super League 0: Gulf footie fans rejoice as shares fall

Beautiful Game 1 Super League 0: Gulf footie fans rejoice as shares fall
Updated 50 min 10 sec ago

Beautiful Game 1 Super League 0: Gulf footie fans rejoice as shares fall

Beautiful Game 1 Super League 0: Gulf footie fans rejoice as shares fall
  • Shares in publicly traded Manchester United and Juventus fell on the news as the prospect of a multi-billion dollar pay day for the breakaway clubs was drowned out

DUBAI: Shares in European football clubs fell after plans for a European super league lay in tatters following a global football fan backlash.
In what must rank among the most extraordinary 48 hours in the history of the modern game, 12 of the continent’s most powerful clubs attempted to create a brand new elite league before its would-be founding members began to break ranks one by one.
By early Wednesday all six Premier League teams linked to the project had withdrawn.
Gulf-based football fans rejoiced at the news on supporter club social media.
“We stand firmly behind all supporters groups calling for the ESL to be scrapped,” tweeted the Dubai Reds, the official Liverpool supporters club in the emirate.


Shares in publicly traded Manchester United and Juventus fell on the news as the prospect of a multi-billion dollar pay day for the breakaway clubs was drowned out by a global outcry that appeared to unite fans, pundits and even some of the managers of the clubs involved.
US investment bank JP Morgan had planned to finance the new league, providing a €3.5 billion ($4.2 billion) grant for the founding clubs to help recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic which has drained revenue from clubs worldwide, Reuters reported.
The collapse of the project has exposed the sometimes bitter rifts between the fans and owners of some of Europe’s biggest clubs. It also leaves a potential legal mess behind as withdrawing clubs risk being sued, the Telegraph reported on Tuesday.
Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli said that the league could no longer go ahead after six English clubs withdrew.

The founding members of the league were English clubs Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur, Italy’s Juventus, Inter and AC Milan, and Spain’s Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico.


World’s first fully Islamic Shariah-compliant digital bank launched in UAE

World’s first fully Islamic Shariah-compliant digital bank launched in UAE
Updated 21 April 2021

World’s first fully Islamic Shariah-compliant digital bank launched in UAE

World’s first fully Islamic Shariah-compliant digital bank launched in UAE
  • Long-term, the lender aims to scale up operations worldwide via strategic partnerships with banks and financial institutions

DUBAI: The UAE is set to be home to the world’s first fully Islamic Shariah-compliant digital bank, it was announced on Wednesday.

Set up by Zurich Capital Funds Group and branded as RIZQ / BARAKA, the new lender will provide all banking services according to Islamic law.

It will operate all digital banking services through mobile phones and computers, and its app can be downloaded via Apple Store, Google Play (Android stores), and many communication sites and social media networks.

RIZQ / BARAKA is launched from the UAE but aims to target customers in the Middle East and North Africa.

Long-term, the lender aims to scale up operations worldwide via strategic partnerships with banks and financial institutions in India, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, the UK, Australia, Brazil and Mauritania.

Dr. Fahed Al-Merhebi, chairman of Zurich Capital Funds Group, said the bank is the latest in its digital ambitions, having already launched a Shariah-compliant digital crypto exchange platform called the SUSTAIN EXCHANGE, and a range of sports digital currencies that were listed on the exchange.

Earlier this month, Dubai businessman Mohamed Alabbar announced that he is to lead a new digital bank set to be launched soon in the UAE.

Zand is being billed as “the world’s first combined digital corporate and retail bank,” and is going through final approvals ahead of its launch.

Alabbar, founder of Emaar Properties — the Dubai developer behind The Dubai Mall and Burj Khalifa — teamed up with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund to launch the Noon online shopping platform in 2017. He will take on the role of chairman of Zand.

“The UAE combines progressive regulations with commercial, financial, and technology hubs. This provides the perfect environment for a world-leading digital bank that can launch in the UAE and scale beyond,” Alabbar said.

“As the first fully independent digital bank in the country, with a full UAE banking license, Zand will provide innovative, effective financial solutions that help simplify businesses and lives, addressing the needs of both retail and corporate customers.”

Online banking has become increasingly popular in the UAE. In a survey by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) last October, 70 percent of respondents said they are actively searching for a new bank, and 87 percent said they would be willing to open an account with a branchless digital-only lender.


Dubai to build Gulf’s first blockchain-backed precious metals refinery

Dubai to build Gulf’s first blockchain-backed precious metals refinery
Updated 21 April 2021

Dubai to build Gulf’s first blockchain-backed precious metals refinery

Dubai to build Gulf’s first blockchain-backed precious metals refinery
  • The facility will refine and store precious metals including gold, silver, platinum, palladium and rhodium

DUBAI: The Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC), a free zone authority in the emirate, has completed a deal that involved plans for a precious metals refinery and storage facility enabled by blockchain technology – the first in the region.
The facility will refine and store precious metals including gold, silver, platinum, palladium and rhodium, which will be tokenized on goldexchange.com, a secure trading platform, it said in a statement.
“Blockchain technology can enable more transparent and accurate tracking of precious metals, ensuring there is no ‘dirty gold’ in circulation and illicit trades,” REIT Development CEO Mike De Vries said.
REIT Development acquired industrial land in DMCC’s Jumeirah Lake Towers, where the 100,000 square feet facility will be built and is expected to open in the last quarter of 2022.
The facility will create a decentralized record of all transactions, making it possible to track all precious metals that are refined and eventually sold to over 150 countries.


Saudi trade name requests jump amid signs of FDI rebound

Saudi trade name requests jump amid signs of FDI rebound
Updated 21 April 2021

Saudi trade name requests jump amid signs of FDI rebound

Saudi trade name requests jump amid signs of FDI rebound
  • Requests for trade names increased by 19 percent in the first quarter of 2021

RIYADH: Saudi commercial chiefs have reported a rise in trade name requests, the latest indicator of a rebound in business activity in the Kingdom.
Requests for trade names increased by 19 percent in the first quarter of 2021, compared to a year earlier, SPA reported.
The Ministry of Commerce received 78,056 requests for trade names in the first quarter of 2021, compared to 65,716 requests a year earlier.
Most of the applications were for restaurants, cafés, contracting and foodstuffs activities — an encouraging sign from sectors that have been especially hit hard by the pandemic.
The rollout of vaccines across the Gulf states is helping businesses in some sectors get back to normal, however continued travel restrictions and the resurgence of the COVID-19 coronavirus in countries such as India has tempered earlier expectations of a strong and swift global recovery.
Still, there are also sign of rebounding foreign direct investment activity.
Sovereign AEI, a company that assists foreign investors establish a presence in the country, has also reported an increase in activity and expects to record a 50 percent rise in registrations at the Ministry of Investment of Saudi Arabia this year.
“The Saudi market presents tremendous opportunities,” said Paul Arnold, managing director of Sovereign Saudi Arabia. “We continue to see a growing interest and increasing shift of client focus toward KSA, as the country continues to unveil new strategic initiatives.”
The Kingdom has accelerated efforts to attract foreign investment this year as the pandemic created new challenges for regional economies seeking to diversify, modernize and create jobs for citizens.
In February the government announced it would stop signing contracts with foreign companies from 2024 unless their regional headquarters were based in the Kingdom.