Sustainability, gender equality firing Saudi Arabia’s tourism ambitions: Norwegian environmentalist

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Brigit M. Liodden, owner of the world's first floating lab for entrepreneurs, crossed Europe in a hydrogen-powered car and made several stops in Middle Eastern countries. Saudi Arabia left a lasting impression on her. (Supplied/Brigit M. Liodden)
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Brigit M. Liodden, owner of the world's first floating lab for entrepreneurs, crossed Europe in a hydrogen-powered car and made several stops in Middle Eastern countries. Saudi Arabia left a lasting impression on her. (Supplied/Brigit M. Liodden)
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Brigit M. Liodden, owner of the world's first floating lab for entrepreneurs, crossed Europe in a hydrogen-powered car and made several stops in Middle Eastern countries. Saudi Arabia left a lasting impression on her. (Supplied/Brigit M. Liodden)
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Brigit M. Liodden, owner of the world's first floating lab for entrepreneurs, crossed Europe in a hydrogen-powered car and made several stops in Middle Eastern countries. Saudi Arabia left a lasting impression on her. (Supplied/Brigit M. Liodden)
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Brigit M. Liodden, owner of the world's first floating lab for entrepreneurs, crossed Europe in a hydrogen-powered car and made several stops in Middle Eastern countries. Saudi Arabia left a lasting impression on her. (Supplied/Brigit M. Liodden)
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Brigit M. Liodden, owner of the world's first floating lab for entrepreneurs, crossed Europe in a hydrogen-powered car and made several stops in Middle Eastern countries. Saudi Arabia left a lasting impression on her. (Supplied/Brigit M. Liodden)
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Updated 19 March 2020

Sustainability, gender equality firing Saudi Arabia’s tourism ambitions: Norwegian environmentalist

DUBAI: For Brigit M. Liodden, owner of the world's first floating lab for entrepreneurs, it has been a lifelong mission to help the new generation drive change in the maritime sector and promote gender equality in one of the world's oldest industries.

On her latest endeavor, the Norwegian national and founder of the Ocean Opportunity Lab set off on a month-long trip on Feb. 14, aiming to solely use eco-friendly modes of transportation.

After crossing Europe in a hydrogen-powered car, she made several stops in Middle Eastern countries. Saudi Arabia left a lasting impression on her.

“My aim is to work toward an emission and waste-free ocean industry,” Liodden said in an exclusive interview with Arab News in Dubai. “Given our current situation with climate change, we have no choice but to make all transportation zero emission, and we can only achieve this sort of sustainability through diversity and collaboration across genders, borders, cultures and religions.”

Her trip, which was supported by Toyota Saudi Arabia as part of its global Environmental Challenge 2050, began when she left her home city of Oslo in Norway, driving through Europe and traveling by ship to Israel in late February.

Liodden drove to Jordan, followed by Saudi Arabia in a hybrid car. She then took a bus to the UAE.

She intended for her final destination to be Mumbai, where she was expected to chair the country's first industry conference on gender equality, the “Maritime CEO conference,” on March 20.

Her plan to complete the trip ‘plane-free’, however, came to an end in Dubai when travel restrictions due to the worldwide coronavirus outbreaks forced her to take a flight home on March 12.

Recalling her arrival in Saudi Arabia on March 3, Liodden said she was pleasantly surprised to witness the strides made in the sustainability sector and was supportive of the push toward gender equality in the Kingdom. 

From Neom to AlUla, she toured some of the country’s latest projects while interacting with a diverse group of experts, officials and Saudi citizens from different walks of life.

Liodden's first stop was at the mega Neom project located in Tabuk, in northwestern Saudi Arabia, where she was taken on a thorough tour around the site.

“The Neom project surpassed my expectations,” she said, referring to the environment-friendly approach implemented in building the cross-border city.

“The level of commitment to driving sustainability in the Neom project was the biggest surprise for me in the whole Saudi Arabia visit,” Liodden added.

The $500 billion project, which is backed by the Kingdom's Public Investment Fund, will include multiple cities, airports, a seaport, tourist areas, industrial complexes and innovation centers.

Spanning 26,500 km2, the transnational megacity will operate as an independent economic zone powered solely by regenerative energy.

On day two of her trip in Saudi Arabia, Liodden used a hybrid car to drive down to the ancient city of AlUla, where she once again was pleased to see sustainability and gender equality in practice.

During a tour with Dr. Sultan Al-Shareef, sustainability expert at the Royal Commission for AlUla, Liodden explored the site's rich history and discussed the country's targets for gender equality and the inclusion of female employees in major projects.

Advancements in women's empowerment was also reflected in the World Bank's 2020 “Women, Business and the Law” report, which highlighted Saudi Arabia's rapid progress towards gender equality since 2017, ranking it as the top reformer and the top improver among 190 countries.

The report gave the Kingdom an overall score of 70.6 out of 100, placing it first among Gulf Cooperation Council countries and second in the Arab world.

Improvements in Saudi Arabia's score were noted in six of the eight indicators, including mobility, workplace, marriage, parenthood, entrepreneurship and pension.

According to Liodden, equality and diversity are quickly becoming the “key requisites” driving innovation in some of Saudi Arabia's major projects.

“As the country opens up for international tourism, success means building the sector here in an entirely different way than we would normally see,” said Liodden.

She emphasized the importance of protecting fragile areas of the country, including heritage sites, from damage in the coming decade.

Saudi youth also have a role to play in contributing to the country's sustainable efforts, added Liodden, who interacted with youngsters volunteering at the AlUla heritage site.

She was also welcomed by a small community during her stop in Buraydah, the capital of the Al-Qassim region in northcentral Saudi Arabia.

There she visited an organic strawberry farm run on solar power and was informed of the smart features used to cut down on emissions and reuse both energy waste and water.

Liodden also attended a traditional local festival and was invited to an all-girls setting, where she engaged with young Saudi women and discussed the changes that have emerged over the last two years in the country.

On her final day in the Kingdom, Liodden visited Riyadh, where she spent the day at the Special Olympics Federation. She took part in a round-table discussion with female sports personalities, including the country's first Formula One driver, Aseel Al-Hamad, and the first certified female boxing coach, Rasha Al-Khamis.

Liodden praised the sportswomen of Saudi Arabia as “inspirational” and as “making history” in their efforts to increase female engagement in a male-dominated field.

She also commended the spirit of unity and commitment in the country in contributing to the Vision 2030.

“The ground-level commitment that I've seen in different parts of the country and across different people of all age groups is heartwarming and makes me really believe that the Vision 2030 goal is reachable,” she said.

Liodden's journey across two continents proved to be eye-opening in more ways than one.

She expressed her belief in the necessity of building bridges with the “new generation of problem-solvers” in order to achieve sustainability.

“I am absolutely certain that we will have zero emission aviation in the future,” she said. 


How Saudi Arabia is emerging as a MENA cloud-data hub

Updated 7 min 32 sec ago

How Saudi Arabia is emerging as a MENA cloud-data hub

  • American information technology firm Oracle’s cloud data center is one of 20 global offices of its kind
  • Focus is on digital security technologies and innovations including virtual simulation of evolving threats

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia is one step closer to becoming a global cloud-data hub with the launch of a data center by Oracle, a leading computer technology corporation based in the US. The Kingdom has been designated as the company’s regional cloud-data hub in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

The center in Jeddah will focus on digital security technologies and innovations, including virtual simulation of evolving threats. It is yet another step in Saudi Arabia’s digital transformation, in line with Saudi Vision 2030’s goal of upgrading the country’s information and communications technology infrastructure.

In emailed comments to Arab News, Dr. Muhammad Khurram Khan, CEO of the Washington-based Global Foundation for Cyber Studies and Research and cybersecurity professor at King Saud University, said: “Being one of the leading and fastest-growing digital powers in the region, Saudi Arabia is in great need of technological innovations, solutions and services to cater to its requirements for smart cities, industry 4.0, cloud computing, 5G, cybersecurity, the Internet of Things, blockchain, and artificial intelligence.

Participants attend a hackathon in Jeddah on August 1, 2018, prior to the start of the annual Hajj pilgrimage in the holy city of Makkah. (AFP/File Photo)

“To meet this massive demand for digital transformation by public- and private-sector organizations, the cloud data center by Oracle in the Kingdom will play a pivotal role in accelerating innovation, generating new horizons of digital services, creating competition and providing customers with incredible experiences in the thriving market.”

He believes the move will also pave the way for job creation and spawn new business opportunities for local talent. “The presence of the cloud data center in the Kingdom will enable organizations to scale up their digital services faster than ever before,” Khan wrote in the email. “It may also provide them with cheaper in-country services, better data management, a more secure and resilient environment, data sovereignty controls, and on-demand customer service for more efficient business operations.”

Khan cited additional likely benefits from the center, including the empowerment of local start-ups, entrepreneurs and innovators enabling new products and services to enter the market faster.

A person works at a computer during the 10th International Cybersecurity Forum in Lille on January 23, 2018. (AFP/File Photo)

“The development could underpin the efforts of Saudi Arabia to be among the leading nations that are bracing for the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” he said.

Khan pointed to skyrocketing demand for cybersecurity solutions and services in the Kingdom — which ranks in the top 10 countries most targeted by “significant” cyberattacks. “Cyber threats faced by public- and private-sector organizations are growing exponentially due to the Kingdom’s geopolitical importance in the region and its fast-paced digital transformation,” he said.

A recent report on the cybersecurity sector in the Middle East and Africa estimates that Saudi Arabia’s market may grow to $5.5 billion by 2023. “This huge cybersecurity demand could be efficiently met by the local deployment of cloud-based cybersecurity services,” Khan said. “The role of cloud computing is of paramount importance to predicting and defeating cyberattacks, which leverages AI, big data and instant analytics in real time to address threats and suppress vulnerabilities that seek to undermine security.”

People work on computers on January 22, 2019 in Lille, during the 11th International Cybersecurity Forum. (AFP/File Photo)

In his comments, Khan further pointed to the interest shown by regional and local organizations in the cloud-based security operations center, and cost-effective solutions for security orchestration, automation and response, security information, and event management.

The move is timely too, as a new report revealed that 95 percent of businesses in the Kingdom have been hit by at least one cyberattack in the past year. According to “The Rise of the Business-Aligned Security Executive,” released by Tenable and conducted by Forrester Consulting, the majority of businesses in Saudi Arabia have witnessed a rise in cyberattacks over the past two years.

“More than ever, Saudi Arabia must make a specific tailor-made solution for its sovereign requirements to include digital security and virtual simulation,” said Matthew Cochran, CEO and co-founder of URS Laboratories in the UAE. “Post COVID-19, the region will look to the Kingdom for alignment and leadership on these issues.”

He described the developments as the culmination of decades of planning for scenarios that are becoming increasingly likely due to global circumstances.

“Pre COVID-19, the future of digital security and virtual simulation in the region was important,” he told Arab News. “Now, it is vitally important, if not life-saving, to have it in place — not tomorrow, today. The future is at stake and we must meet the challenges together.”

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Commentators have said that the Saudi center will allow Oracle to facilitate in-country or in-jurisdiction disaster-recovery capabilities and allow their clients to meet their obligations on data security in the country.

“Oracle has a strong presence within the GCC region, particularly in the UAE and Saudi Arabia,” said Dean Mikkelsen, an independent IT and cybersecurity consultant working with UAE-based Hannibal Global Insight. “Companies are moving more and more data to the cloud within the GCC. These nations also require that data be kept within their own country, as it relates to privacy and data-security issues.

In the Kingdom, provisions in the Cloud Computing Regulatory Framework state that cloud clients must ensure that no customer content — including sensitive content from public authorities — is transferred outside the Kingdom.

“The Essential Cybersecurity Controls issued by the National Cybersecurity Authority in the Kingdom — which are all applicable to Saudi government entities — require that information be hosted and stored in-country,” Mikkelsen told Arab News. “With Oracle developing this capability in-country, they are meeting the requirements necessary to protect data in the nation.”

Saudi Arabia is one step closer to becoming a global cloud-data hub with the launch of a regional data center by Oracle, a leading computer technology corporation based in the US. (AFP/File Photo)

As Saudi Arabia continues to move away from a petroleum-based economy, it has allowed its technology sectors more room for growth.

“With Oracle moving further into Saudi Arabia, it matches the Kingdom’s vision to become an international leader in science and technology,” said Mikkelsen. “There has been, over the past few years, a large-scale migration of data to the cloud and making sure that data is secure is very important.”

He said data breaches are becoming more widespread, be they from phishing attacks or malware, in a potentially costly development for businesses. UAE-based cybersecurity company DarkMatter recently stated that breaches are “widespread and frequently undetected” in the Middle East.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a spike in network spoofing and phishing attacks, as cyber attackers look to exploit the unfamiliar current climate for their own nefarious purposes,” Mikkelsen said.

“Through regulatory environments and legislation, such as those defined in Saudi Arabia or the UAE, companies and governments are working together to protect the digital assets of individuals, corporations, and their critical infrastructure. With the move made by Oracle in Saudi Arabia, the Kingdom is saying it is open for business and that anyone’s data will be safe and secure.”

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Twitter: @CalineMalek