INTERVIEW: A Saudi woman’s take on the coronavirus crisis

INTERVIEW: A Saudi woman’s take on the coronavirus crisis
Illustration by Luis Grañena
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Updated 24 March 2020

INTERVIEW: A Saudi woman’s take on the coronavirus crisis

INTERVIEW: A Saudi woman’s take on the coronavirus crisis
  • Accenture executive says the Saudi government’s actions have kept it well ahead of the game
  • “Closing the two holy cities of Makkah and Madinah was a very big move, but it was necessary,” Samar Alamro tells Arab News

DUBAI: The critical challenges posed by the coronavirus outbreak will require huge economic and financial resources, but it will also test Saudi Arabia’s professional and administrative skills to the limit.

In this unique situation, the talents of dedicated professional women such as Samar Alamro are at a premium.

She has developed a career in medical administration and digital communications that will serve in good stead in the difficult months ahead as the Kingdom, and the rest of the world, tackle the unprecedented challenges the virus presents.

Alamro, a 48-year-old mother of three from Riyadh, spent 14 years as an operations executive at King Abdul Aziz Medical City, the facility in the capital that provides medical services to the National Guard.

She has since moved to the private sector, and is now director of strategic operations at the international consultancy Accenture — the first Saudi woman on the firm’s executive council.

Accenture’s health care specialists are working hard on the issues thrown up by coronavirus, and Alamro has an expert take on what will be required as Saudi Arabia grapples with it.

“I can’t praise the government enough for the measures they’ve taken so far. We’ve been ahead of many other places, in the Middle East and the world,” she told Arab News.

“Of course we’re part of the world which has been affected by the virus, and we can’t avoid it. But we have excellent facilities here and we’re taking it very seriously,” she said.

“The measures to contain it have been taken very early and are very strict. Closing the two holy cities of Makkah and Madinah was a very big move, but it was necessary,” she added.

“Now malls, shops, other public places and entertainments have been closed too. It will create frustrations, but that’s inevitable if we’re to get through.”


BIO

Born: Riyadh, 1972

Education

  • Institute of Public Administration, Saudi Arabia
  • Bachelor of Business Administration, Arab Open University

Career

  • Operations director, Ministry of National Guard Health Affairs
  • Senior specialist in digital government relations for MENA
  • Associate director, Middle East and Turkey, Accenture

     


Alamro was speaking after a week when the government had closed some public sector operations altogether to limit the risk of infection, telling people to work from home instead, and put restrictions on the private sector to ensure only essential skeleton operations in industry and manufacturing continue.

Saudi Arabia also banned air travel with the rest of the world, and stopped all mass land travel in the Kingdom — trains, buses and taxis. It is not officially a curfew — yet — but physical movement has become severely restricted.

These measures have resulted in a comparatively low level of infection as testing has been ramped up and medical facilities expanded throughout the country. But how will people as gregarious and family-oriented as Saudis take to the new regime?

“We’re still gathering in small family groups — that’s our culture. There are some worries: How seriously are other people taking it? Are they really following the government’s instructions to limit contact between people? But as far as I can see, there’s a good spirit among us,” Alamro said.

Responding to the challenges will also require close cooperation between the public and private sectors in the Kingdom at a time of great change to its economic structure.

Under Vision 2030, the plan to diversify the economy away from oil dependency, the strategy is to strengthen and extend the private sector economy, which has hitherto been dependent to a large degree on government spending. Alamro’s career spans both sectors seamlessly. Her father worked for Saudi Aramco, often regarded as the most modern and progressive corporation in the country, and she credits his influence as a big factor in her professional life.

“He was open-minded and visionary. When I graduated in the 1990s, the opportunities on offer for women were limited. It was only public sector, and basically limited to health care, education and banks. But it was still tough to be in a mixed-gender environment,” she said.

She widened her worldview with a spell in the US while her husband studied there, before returning to Saudi Arabia for higher education and her own career.

“My father had thought I should be a lawyer, but that option wasn’t really available at that time. I didn’t feel I’d be a good teacher — that’s not really my personality,” Alamro said.

“But the medical field was attractive, and I was lucky enough to get a job with the National Guard hospital, in public and government relations, later moving on to operations and logistics. It’s a very progressive organization, and at that time they were investing a lot in the expansion of medical facilities.”

In 2010, she moved to the private sector as an executive with responsibility for government relations and health care with SAP, the global software business.

It was a bold move for a woman in a workforce largely made up of well-paid and secure government jobs.

“I’ve always been excited about taking on new challenges, and I wanted to grow my career and advance my prospects,” she said.

“I was one of the founders of the SAP business in the Kingdom, and it was a good learning experience. When I left in 2018, it was a well-established team, and I felt like the mother of the office.”

She had worked with Accenture as a business partner while at SAP, and had little hesitation joining the organization when it approached her.

“I was the first Saudi female to join the executive team in the Kingdom, which was a big challenge,” Alamro said.

“But Accenture is a very progressive organization on gender issues, and it likes to empower women. It’s a complex and complicated company, but after two years I feel as though I’m getting on top of it.”

Increasing the proportion of women in the Saudi workforce is one of the main aims of Vision 2030, an ambition that coincides with Accenture’s own corporate vision.

Currently, some 47 percent of its workforce is female, very close to the goal of global gender equality.

Although the proportion is lower in Saudi Arabia, Accenture is still higher than the national average, and the company is pushing toward the equality goal.

It is a knowledge partner in the W20, the women’s pillar of the G20 organization that will hold its summit in Saudi Arabia later this year and is planning a “virtual” summit of leaders next week.

Accenture has won awards for its work on gender equality and as an employer of talented women.

Its chief executive is a high-flying American woman, Julie Sweet, named by the New York Times as “one of the most powerful women in corporate America.”

Alamro believes that women still face challenges in the workplace and in society. “When I started in my career, women were already empowered to some extent in the workforce. There were more social and cultural restrictions, but in the workforce I always felt respected,” she said.

“As a woman, if you know how to use your positive attributes you’ll do well. I’ve always felt myself to be the equal of any man — I can do it as well as they can, in fact I can do it better than most.”

Does she think young Saudis entering the workforce will look to the private sector rather than less demanding jobs in government positions?

“Yes, in fact it’s already happening. Accenture already has a large number of Saudis in the workforce, and it’s growing all the time. We want to have more Saudis,” she said.

“Sometimes you have to work harder and longer in the private sector, but I’m a workaholic and it has never been a problem to motivate myself.”

As a wife and mother with a demanding fulltime job, she understands the challenge of striking a balance between work and other aspects of everyday life, such as family and leisure time.

“My husband has always encouraged my career, and I’ve been lucky to have the support of an extended family,” Alamro said.

“I felt no guilt about working fulltime, and never felt the need to leave the children with a nanny all the time. But I’m dedicated to them, and when I stop work, I make sure I devote time to them and the rest of the family.”

Her skills as a professional strategist, and as a mother, will be in full demand in the months ahead, but she is convinced that Saudi Arabia will get through the coronavirus crisis. “As an Islamic society, we always have faith in God, and He won’t let us down,” she said.


Egypt wants to export surplus gas to Europe through Greece

Egypt wants to export surplus gas to Europe through Greece
Updated 40 min 23 sec ago

Egypt wants to export surplus gas to Europe through Greece

Egypt wants to export surplus gas to Europe through Greece
  • It is part of a wider push to boost cooperation across energy and electrical grid interconnection across the island of Crete

RIYADH: Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly said he wanted to work with the Greek government to export surplus natural gas to Europe.
It is part of a wider push to boost cooperation across energy and electrical grid interconnection across the island of Crete, which lies midway between the North African country and mainland Greece.
He made the disclosure during talks in Cairo on Monday between Egypt and Greece, co-chaired by Madbouly and his Greek counterpart Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Al Arabiya reported.
A number of recent offshore gas finds in the Eastern Mediterranean are rapidly redrawing Europe's energy landscape and shifting the balance of power as more countries move towards self-sufficiency in gas.
At the same time some countries in the region are also exploring the potential to link their power grids to allow the movement of electricity across borders.
It could potentially lead to Gulf Arab states exporting power north to Europe during the winter months when demand is high for heating and for European countries to share their excess power in the summer months, when demand rises in the Gulf, driven by rising air conditioning consumption.


Iraq is in talks with Saudi and UAE firms to deliver clean energy, minister says

Iraq is in talks with Saudi and UAE firms to deliver clean energy, minister says
Updated 43 min 5 sec ago

Iraq is in talks with Saudi and UAE firms to deliver clean energy, minister says

Iraq is in talks with Saudi and UAE firms to deliver clean energy, minister says
  • There are also discussions with Saudi ACWA Power, to implement renewable energy projects

RIYADH: Iraq is in talks with Masdar to implement solar energy projects targeting an electricity capacity of up to 2 gigawatts, Oil Minister Ihsan Abdul Jabbar told Asharq Business.
There are also discussions with Saudi ACWA Power, to implement renewable energy projects, he added.
"It is expected to sign contracts for renewable energy until 2025 targeting the production of between 10 and 12 gigawatts, representing about 25 percent of Iraq's electricity needs, which exceed 40 gigawatts," he said.
"We are working on a full entry into this production of energy gradually until 2030," he added.
An agreement was signed with Total to implement renewable energy projects in the southern and central regions aimed at generating electricity equivalent to 1 gigawatt, which has entered into force, the minister said.
Production is expected to start at about 500 megawatts by the end of 2022, with the stations implemented by Total reaching full production capacity during the year 2023.
Projects to generate electricity from solar energy in Karbala and Alexandria with a capacity of 525 megawatts were approved with a Norwegian company, according to Abdul Jabbar.
Other projects were awarded to small companies in Muthanna, Samawah and Al-Khidr, bringing the total energy generated from those projects to 750 megawatts, he said.


PIF-backed Noon hires more Saudi youth as it expands KSA operations

PIF-backed Noon hires more Saudi youth as it expands KSA operations
Updated 22 June 2021

PIF-backed Noon hires more Saudi youth as it expands KSA operations

PIF-backed Noon hires more Saudi youth as it expands KSA operations
  • Noon aims to create opportunities for young people to participate in the digital economy

DUBAI: Top regional e-commerce platform Noon said it was expanding its customer service operations in Saudi Arabia, creating hundreds of jobs for Saudi youth.
Backed by the Public Investment Fund, Noon aims to create opportunities for young people to participate in the digital economy, it said in a statement.
Its customer service operations are already driven by a local workforce, Noon claimed, and the expansion will support its rapid growth in the Kingdom.
“Boosting our on-the-ground resources with local hires will amplify our customer excellence mission in the Kingdom,” Ahmed Gadouri, Noon’s general manager in Saudi Arabia said.
The Saudi customer service team will be made up of local hires, mainly working in Riyadh, but there will also be remote employees across the Kingdom.
Noon, which started operations in the UAE, expanded to Saudi Arabia in December 2017.


Saudi mall operator Arabian Centres reveals total COVID-19 exposure more than $154m

Saudi mall operator Arabian Centres reveals total COVID-19 exposure more than $154m
Updated 37 min 50 sec ago

Saudi mall operator Arabian Centres reveals total COVID-19 exposure more than $154m

Saudi mall operator Arabian Centres reveals total COVID-19 exposure more than $154m
  • The retail giant on Tuesday reported a 24 percent decline in full-year net income to SR486.7 million as overall sales fell more than 15 percent to SR1.86 billion

RIYADH: Saudi mall operator Arabian Centres revealed its total COVID-19-related exposure to revenues was about SR579 million ($154.2 million).
The retail giant on Tuesday reported a 24 percent decline in full-year net income to SR486.7 million as overall sales fell more than 15 percent to SR1.86 billion.
It said the decrease in earnings was driven by discounts extended to tenants whose business had been disrupted by the pandemic. At the same time it was hit by a reduction in rental rates applied to leases renewed during the year
The mall operator said it extended SR 241.2 million in non-recurring, COVID-19-related discounts during the year on top of the extension of SR20.4 million in such discounts during the final quarter of last year.
Arabian Centres operates 21 sites in 11 cities around the Kingdom that together have 4,300 stores and which attracted 109 million visitors annually before the pandemic hit.
Despite its devastating impact on the retail sector in the Kingdom and worldwide, CEO Faisal Al-Jedaie said that the recovery was gathering pace.
“As the economy recovers and decisive progress is made against COVID-19 in the quarters ahead, we expect our efforts to begin bearing fruit, leading to a significant recovery in performance and unlocking the next stage of the company’s value creation journey,” he said.
After suspending all lease increases for this year and last, the company said it hoped to re-activate lease contract escalations from the last quarter of next year.
The company said it had opened cinemas at 10 of its 21 locations, with the largest of these located at its Mall of Dhahran. It expects to launch new cinemas at a further nine locations by the end of the year.


Qatar has no need to sell bonds after first quarter surplus, says finance minister

Qatar has no need to sell bonds after first quarter surplus, says finance minister
Updated 22 June 2021

Qatar has no need to sell bonds after first quarter surplus, says finance minister

Qatar has no need to sell bonds after first quarter surplus, says finance minister
  • The minister said the country continued to focus on diversification and was studying the possible future introduction of value added tax

DOHA: Qatar has no need to tap bond markets for budget-balancing reasons after a better than expected oil price boosted its revenues, Finance Minister Ali Al-Kuwari said.
He told Bloomberg TV that the country would only consider raising fresh debt for opportunistic reasons such as attractive yields.
“When we did the budget we ran very conservative numbers (based on) $40 oil and the expectation was around 34 billion Qatari riyals of deficit for the year however we had an excellent first quarter and oil prices moved in the right direction,” he said.
The minister said the country continued to focus on diversification and was studying the possible future introduction of value added tax.
Al-Kuwairi said that investigations into former finance minister Ali Shareef Al-Emadi were continuing and that once the outcome of those enquiries was known it would be made public.
Al-Emadi was arrested earlier this year over allegations of abuse of power and misuse of public funds.
“Qatar has a very transparent legal system and once we have the full details of the investigation and outcome I am sure the public will know what is going on,” said Al-Kuwari.