RIYADH: The outgoing country director at the British Council in Saudi Arabia has praised the “warmth, hospitality and affection” he experienced during his three years in the Kingdom. “I’ve been lucky to meet so many different people from the rich fabric of Saudi society, which has turned into numerous friendships that I cherish and will take with me,” Amir Ramzan, who will be the council’s new country director in Pakistan, told Arab News.
“I’ll certainly miss my amazing team at the British Council who work so hard to fulfil our purpose by creating friendly knowledge and understanding between the peoples of the UK and Saudi Arabia,” he said.
“We do this by making a positive contribution to the UK and the countries we work with, creating opportunities, building connections and engendering trust,” he added.
“It has been a time of unprecedented change in Saudi Arabia over the past three years,” Ramzan said. The Kingdom “has probably changed more in the past three years than the last 30, and I feel very fortunate to have been here to experience it and to support Saudi Arabia through our work in education and culture.”
He recalled that within a month of arriving in Saudi Arabia, he attended in Jeddah “one of the first public dance/music performances in the Kingdom” with Faisal J. Abbas, editor-in-chief of Arab News.
Ramzan also recalled the “elation” he witnessed due to the lifting of the ban on women driving.
“Cinemas, concerts and sports events have all contributed to a much more colorful and vibrant society,” he said, adding that the British Council faced the challenge of “deciding where to prioritize our efforts in such a fast-changing environment.”
He said: “We decided that it was best to do it in consultation with our partners in Saudi Arabia. For example, education is a huge area and there’s work going on across the sector in Saudi Arabia.”
This “made working out where the UK could best add value a bit of a daunting task,” he added.
During the crown prince’s visit to the UK in March 2018, a UK-Saudi education steering committee was established to foster cooperation in this field.
“We worked together to identify priorities for UK collaboration and took them forward. Without such mechanisms, it would’ve been a challenge,” Ramzan said.
“I see a bright future for students in Saudi Arabia. The educational reforms will ensure they are ‘future-fit’ in terms of skills and knowledge,” he added.
“The diversification of the economy is creating myriad new job and business opportunities in new sectors such as tourism, entertainment, renewables and much more,” Ramzan said.
“I was fortunate to visit AlUla recently, and I just know it’s going to become a huge magnet for tourism that will require a workforce to service the demand, as will the other projects being implemented across the country,” he added.
“I’d like to thank, from the bottom of my heart, Saudi Arabia and all the wonderful people my family and I met during our time here. It has been a great experience that we’ll relish forever,” Ramzan said.
“I hope to be a regular visitor to Saudi Arabia in the coming years, so I look forward to catching up with old friends then.” His successor is Eilidh Kennedy McLean, who led the economic and prosperity team at the British Embassy in Riyadh for the past two years. They worked closely together during that time.
“Eilidh knows the work we do well, which is partly what attracted her to apply for the role,” said Ramzan. “She’ll do a great job.”