Startup of the Week: Offering quality mementos, souvenirs representing the spirit of Two Holy Cities

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Updated 14 April 2020

Startup of the Week: Offering quality mementos, souvenirs representing the spirit of Two Holy Cities

  • Located in Jeddah, Salam Gifts aspires to reach out internationally to the 1.8 billion Muslims around the world

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia receives millions of foreign pilgrims every year for Hajj and Umrah and many return home bearing gifts for their families and friends.
Salam Gifts (@salamksa) is a Saudi startup that aims its products at the tourist and pilgrim markets with a range of quality mementos and souvenirs that represent the spirit of Makkah and Madinah.
Driven by a passion for design and creativity as well as dissatisfaction with the Kingdom’s Islamic souvenir market, Mahmoud Naseem (@mahmoudnaseem) founded Salam Gifts with the aim of enriching the bond between Muslims and their Islamic culture through products with a unique contemporary design.
The company is named after the word “peace” in Arabic and its products are designed to remind customers of special memories while reflecting on the peacefulness of Islam as a religion and the two holy cities.
“It is also a part of our daily greeting, assalamo alaykum, which is a widely used word even by non-Muslims,” CEO Naseem told Arab News.
The 34-year-old Saudi entrepreneur said that 95 percent of the souvenir market for pilgrims consisted of unorganized shops that offered low-quality goods. “We belong to the 5 percent who are trying to bring Islamic heritage and souvenirs in a funky casual way to be part of users’ daily life.”
Salam Gifts offers a wide range of products to all ages and genders at affordable prices, with most products costing less than SR100 ($27).
Inspired by the sights and scenes of Makkah and Madinah, the venture’s design range includes prayer mats and beads, bracelets, necklaces, bags, keychains, and magnets.
“We offer products with unique design, good quality and affordable price — these are the main factors that distinguish us from competitors,” Naseem added.
The startup is looking to expand its product range with fashion, perfume, dates and luxurious jewelry items and although focused mainly on spiritual tourism it is also working on other products for tourists reflecting Saudi Arabia’s culture and heritage.
“We were criticized when we first began in 2017, because the market depends on cheap merchandise, but we wanted to prove the high potential of our products and offer something that we believe is appropriate to represent this country and these holy places,” he said.
Located in Jeddah, Salam Gifts aspires to reach out internationally to the 1.8 billion Muslims around the world. “We are not targeting Saudis or people coming to Saudi Arabia, our focus is much wider and we know that there is a high demand for such products in the international market, especially in places with large Muslim communities such as Malaysia and the UK.”
Naseem and his two partners, Loai and Iyad Naseem, hope to open 20 branches around the Kingdom and internationally within the coming years.

“We believe we are still in our beginning stages, and we have to continue being creative and patient.
“People are looking for innovative and unique products … we noticed that our targeted customers are extremely satisfied with our products — we always receive encouraging comments,” added Naseem.
As a new local brand in a huge market, Salam Gifts faced challenges regarding the local manufacture of its goods and store rental prices.
“We do our best to support local factories, but it is not always available in the quality and price range we need. Although we try, we currently cannot manufacture all of the products 100 percent in Saudi Arabia. Rents are extremely high in holy areas too,” he said.
80 percent of the company’s sales are online, but its products are also available at Virgin Megastores and other concept outlets throughout the Kingdom, as well as at airports, and the opening of an independent store in Madinah is in the pipeline.
Products are available at salamgifts.sa, as well as other platforms such as Dokkan Afkar and shipments can be made worldwide.

 


Saudi T20 task force coordinators in action and thinking big

Updated 30 October 2020

Saudi T20 task force coordinators in action and thinking big

  • Saudi Arabia holds the presidency of the G20 this year, and the group’s annual summit is due to be held in Riyadh in November
  • Think 20 (T20) is one of its independent engagement groups

RIYADH: This year, 11 workers at two Saudi research centers, backed by an army of researchers, took on the daunting challenge of delivering results that meet the high expectations for the G20’s “ideas bank” — and their work is almost done.

Saudi Arabia holds the presidency of the G20 this year, and the group’s annual summit is due to be held in Riyadh in November.

The Think 20 (T20) is one of its independent engagement groups, led by organizations from the host country, which focus on different sections and sectors of society. Considered the G20’s intellectual backbone, it connects and collaborates with think tanks from around the world to develop fact-based policy briefs that contain recommendations for ways to tackle a number of important global issues.

This year’s T20 is jointly led by the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center (KAPSARC) and the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies (KFCRIS).

It has adopted some key policy recommendations developed last year, when Japan held the presidency, and developed new ones designed to address the latest global developments and issues.

The success of this year’s T20 can, to a large extent, be attributed to the months of dedication and hard work by 11 task force coordinators, and the army of colleagues who backed them up every step of the way.

PUBLICATIONS

The T20 published 146 policy recommendations this year, compared with 104 last year. All of them were produced by a team of researchers who worked for more than a year to develop concise and fact-based recommendations.

To achieve this, the T20 set up 11 task forces. Each of them was led by a researcher, affiliated with KAPSARC or KFCRIS, who coordinated the work of authors and co-authors and the lead co-chairs, among other tasks.

Many of the coordinators were handed responsibility for task forces covering issues that were initially unfamiliar to them, but showed great initiative and took control of the work flow in a highly professional manner. Adding to the challenge, many of the people they were working with were relatively young, with limited experience in their fields.

“It wasn’t easy for us, to have a team of juniors participate with us,” said Turki Al-Shuwaier, one of two T20 deputy sherpas. “But we believed in them. Our recruitment was very carefully done, based on character and attitude and the nature of their ambition, which helped a lot.”

Each member displayed the initiative that was needed to create change, he added, and worked very hard to achieve their goals, even when faced with initial problems due to lack of experience.

“Communication was done the right way and we were able to solve our problems quickly that way, building a strong link with them via continually updated tools, weekly communiques and so on,” said Al-Shuwaier.

“Maybe if we’d had a team of seniors we would not have had to put in so much effort, but it has been worth it because we loved to do it.”

SELECTION PROCESS

When speaking to the 11 task force coordinators about their work, it becomes clear that the emphasis placed on good communication was a key to the success of the endeavor. They worked across time zones to connect with hundreds of authors and co-authors of the proposed policy briefs, assembling a first-class team that not only investigated the issues, but provided cohesive, universal and adaptable recommendations.

The rigor and relevance of the research are important factors in the development of effective policy briefs, said the T20’s other deputy sherpa, Brian Efird. Coordinators, policy and research experts, action-team members and other participants from KAPSARC and KFCRIS collectively managed more than 700 researchers and more than 100 think tanks worldwide, he added.

The 11 coordinators have their own areas of specialist expertise, but the focus of the task force each was assigned to was unfamiliar to them. This did not hinder them, however. With the help of task force lead co-chairs, each coordinator rose to the occasion, overcoming communication problems, linguistic issues and other challenges along the way.

Emere Hatipoglu, a research fellow at KAPSARC and a member of the T20 action team, said that most of the hard work was done by the junior members. With help from the action team, he added, the coordinators reviewed many proposals to “up the quality of the peer reviews.”

COVID-19

When the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus outbreak had become a pandemic in March, the T20 coordinators rose to the additional challenges this created by working with their authors to ensure the effects and implications of the pandemic were reflected in the proposed policy briefs, so that they would fully meet the expectations of the T20 secretariat.

The coordinators described the rapidly evolving situation they found themselves in as challenging, hectic, dire and, ultimately, fruitful. Ensuring that their work took into account the effects of the COVID-19 crisis proved to be an invigorating experience that encouraged them to push their own limits and learn new skills to meet the demands placed upon them.

The number of proposals they came up with grew along the way, and a series of online meetings were organized while many nations, including Saudi Arabia, were in lockdown.

As one coordinator said: “Give a researcher a task and you can be sure they’ll get the job done in the most efficient way.”

Still, the coordinators often found themselves faced with problems they could never have imagined before the pandemic. Simply getting in touch with their authors was suddenly a challenge, as some were infected by the virus and others found themselves stuck in COVID-19 hotspots in Europe.

The coordinators were obligated to be sensitive and help their team members in whatever ways they could, while also trying to ensure the work continued to push forward.

“Transitioning from physical events to virtual ones was a sign of maturity,” said Efird. “To manage this huge process by rewriting the plan in the middle of (the pandemic was) nice to see.”

DELIVERABLES

With the help of their policy and research teams, the coordinators were able to arrange discussions covering a wide range of topics, coach authors throughout the process and ensure that the proposed policy briefs delivered long and short-term solutions. Eventually each task force settled on a final list of recommendations, ahead of the T20 Summit on Oct. 31 and Nov 1.

Because the coordinators are also researchers, they had the general skills they needed to select speakers for webinars, choose abstracts and carry out the other tasks required of them. As one coordinator put it: “I spoke the same language as the authors of the policy briefs.”

Faris Al-Sulayman, a KFCRIS research fellow and member of the T20’s Policy and Research Committee said: “A set of criteria was established from the very beginning. Each topic was relevant to the task force themes and went through a rigorous process.

“The team effort made it easier and more concise. Even as we became used to working remotely, it served as beneficial to the process.”

The coordinators were able to systematically address all problems that arose, thanks to the expertise they had developed working at KAPSARC and KFCRIS, according Anvita Arora and Axel Pierru, who are also members of the Policy and Research Committee. The coordinators were able to get the best out of the authors by ensuring that the process was as enriching as possible for all the researchers, they added.

“Five to 10 years down the road, you’ll see that the Saudi T20 served as a critical juncture in how the T20 works,” Hatipoğlu said.