An exemplar of Saudi Arabia’s progress in women’s economic inclusion and empowerment

The Saudi government is working directly with companies like Serco to hire more local staff and promote equal opportunities for women in the Kingdom. (AFP/File Photo)
The Saudi government is working directly with companies like Serco to hire more local staff and promote equal opportunities for women in the Kingdom. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 04 March 2021

An exemplar of Saudi Arabia’s progress in women’s economic inclusion and empowerment

The Saudi government is working directly with companies like Serco to hire more local staff and promote equal opportunities for women in the Kingdom. (AFP/File Photo)
  • As country director of Serco, Mona Althagafi is in charge of operational delivery of services company’s core offerings
  • The Saudi national is playing an important role in establishing and growing the citizen services business in the Kingdom

DUBAI: Saudi women are playing a pivotal role in the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 transformation strategy, seizing new opportunities in higher education, traditionally male-dominated professions and, perhaps most importantly, in leadership.

Furthermore, it is Saudi nationals themselves who are taking the reins in the Kingdom’s big industries and institutions — in place of the many foreign experts previously relied upon to play these high-powered roles.

As a Saudi citizen and the first woman to be appointed as country director for Saudi Arabia for the international services company Serco, Makkah-born Mona Althagafi embodies this transformative national agenda.

“Saudi Arabia has changed,” Althagafi told Arab News. “In just a few years, the Kingdom has made very significant progress at so many levels, from social and economic to cultural, and what used to be taboo is now the new norm in the Saudi way of life.”

As country director, Althagafi has taken over responsibility for the operational delivery of Serco Middle East’s core offering of data, asset and workforce management and is driving new business growth in 2021 for both Serco Saudi Services and Serco Saudi Arabia.

The British outsourcing firm employs more than 4,500 people in the Middle East across four countries, including Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar and Iraq, covering transport, healthcare, citizen services, defense, justice and immigration. Women are estimated to constitute 40 percent of Serco’s employees in the Middle East.




Saudi women are playing a pivotal role in the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 transformation strategy as reforms take shape. (AFP/File Photo)

Althagafi is also playing an important role in establishing and growing the citizen services business in the Kingdom, to support Vision 2030 with a commitment to service excellence and customer experience, strengthened through the company’s ExperienceLab division.

With more than 20 years’ experience, Althagafi previously served at the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology in Riyadh, where she led the planning of the Smart Government Strategy, as well as the planning and execution of the e-government program strategy in line with Vision 2030.

“Mona is a passionate Saudi national and government services expert who we are delighted to have at Serco to lead our Saudi operations,” said Phil Malem, CEO of Serco Middle East, shortly after Althagafi was appointed in November.

“She has a wealth of local knowledge and experience supporting key businesses, ministries and governments, and combined with our international expertise, she will continue her excellent track record with Serco.”




Makkah-born Mona Althagafi is the first woman to be appointed as country director for Saudi Arabia for the international services company Serco. (Supplied)

The Saudi government is working directly with companies like Serco to hire more local staff and promote equal opportunities.

“Investing in the leaders of tomorrow will be a big priority, with nationalization continuing to be a priority across UAE and KSA,” Malem said in a company statement last month.

“What will be important in our role as leaders in the private sector, is how we can support this, by creating a localized workforce, but with international expertise.

“By investing in training and development that has an international flavor and focus, we are not only enhancing the skill-sets of our workforce, but we are also helping to create global citizens that have the future skills we need from the leaders of tomorrow.”

INNUMBERS

Women, Business and the Law 2021 report of World Bank Group

 

* 80 - Saudi Arabia’s score on 1-100 scale in progress in women’s economic inclusion and empowerment.

* 5 - Areas in which Saudi Arabia scored particularly well as per the report.

 

Althagafi says she is thrilled to be playing a part in this transformation.

“I’m excited to contribute to this important work and lead some of the best local talent and teams in the region, to help shape the transformation of different sectors,” she said.

“I’m also looking forward to driving new business growth and supporting the delivery of essential services in Saudi Arabia in 2021, which will make a positive difference to the region.

“I am also proud to be part of an organization that works to transform operations while focusing on Saudization of those operations through the many nationalization programs.”

Although she is Saudi by birth, Althagafi spent most of her childhood in the US state of Michigan. But, after graduating from the University of the Pacific in California, she decided to move back to Saudi Arabia, where she spent a year working in the management team of a private hospital in Jeddah.

“At the time, in the 1990s, there were not many opportunities for women to work,” she said. “From there, I pivoted into managing roles in the private sector, semi-government and government institutions and, later on, in some NGOs as well.”

Althagafi always hoped she would return to the Kingdom someday, both for her own personal development and to contribute something meaningful to her country of birth. That contribution came in the form of citizen services.




Saudi women take photographs with their mobile phones pior to the 2018 Saudia Ad Diriyah E-Prix Formula E Championship in Riyadh. (AFP/File Photo)

“Throughout my career, the projects and programs I worked on were mostly around citizen services, whether it be through employment programs, designing and launching government products or supporting NGOs,” she said.

Her most recent work with the Saudi government focused on digitization, another Vision 2030 priority, and the expansion of e-government.

“The challenge with e-government strategy is getting the entire government on board, and this will be done through a governance model across our government, and will be implemented hopefully soon by the e-government program,” she said.

Althagafi believes her work is already making a significant impact on how the Saudi population digitally engages with state and private institutions.

“This will not only enhance their lives but enhance the lives of generations to come,” she said. “I wanted to be a part of that journey in terms of improving the lives of citizens, whether it’s the government or even in the private sector.”

One area she has given particular attention is the design and launch of a digital platform for working mothers. She also worked on platforms designed to help women find work during the period before 2018 when Saudi Arabia lifted the ban on women driving.

“There is still a percentage of women who don’t drive and still need that support to go to work, so this facilitated the lives of women in the workforce,” Althagafi said.




Mona Althagafi is confident the best is yet to come for women's empowerment in the Kingdom and Saudi Arabia’s transformation. (AFP/File Photo)

Although Serco has only a small-scale presence in the Kingdom, it has ambitions to develop the Saudi digital service sector.

“Our goal is to support Vision 2030 with customer experience and operational optimization,” Althagafi said.

“We are looking to increase the footprint in Saudi Arabia and align our programs with the Kingdom’s vision in different areas, such as general operations, maintenance, data management, workforce management, digital asset management and others.”

With the growth of mega projects like Saudi Arabia’s NEOM smart city, Althagafi expects customer experiences to improve rapidly over the next five years. In the meantime, she plans to hold workshops with government ministries and private sector leaders to identify opportunities.

She is confident the best is yet to come for Saudi Arabia’s transformation. “This is because things are progressing very fast,” she said.

As for young Saudi women exploring their career options, Althagafi’s advice is as clear-cut and logical as the programs she has spent part of her working life designing.

“Planning your future is the first step. Envisage where and what you want to be and put an achievable plan towards it. Break your plan into a short-term monthly plan as well as a long-term annual plan,” she said.

“Keep the plan flexible to accommodate any changes. But your plan should put you on track.”

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Twitter: @CalineMalek


Saudi Arabia records 11 COVID-19 deaths, 842 new cases

Saudi Arabia records 11 COVID-19 deaths, 842 new cases
Updated 12 April 2021

Saudi Arabia records 11 COVID-19 deaths, 842 new cases

Saudi Arabia records 11 COVID-19 deaths, 842 new cases
  • The Kingdom said 706 patients recovered in past 24 hours
  • 18 mosques have been closed after 18 worshippers tested positive for COVID-19

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia recorded 11 new COVID-19 related deaths on Monday, raising the total number of fatalities to 6,765.
The Ministry of Health confirmed 842 new confirmed cases reported in the Kingdom in the previous 24 hours, meaning 399,277 people have now contracted the disease. 
Of the total number of cases, 8,485 remain active and 950 in critical condition.
According to the ministry, the highest number of cases were recorded in the capital Riyadh with 365, followed by Makkah with 150, the Eastern Province with 147, Asir recorded 34 and Hail confirmed 32 cases.

The ministry also announced that 706 patients had recovered from COVID-19, bringing the total number of recoveries in the Kingdom to 384,027.
The ministry renewed its call on the public to register to receive the jab, and adhere to the measures and abide by instructions.
It also launched a priority rapid vaccination service for citizens and residents aged 75 and over, without the need to register or make an appointment.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs temporarily closed 18 mosques in eight regions on Monday after 18 worshipers tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of mosques closed to 570 within 64 days, 542 of which have been reopened after being sterilized.
The coronavirus pandemic has affected over 136 million people globally and the death toll has reached around 2.94 million.


Saudi Arabia’s King Salman calls on Muslims to reject differences and discord

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman calls on Muslims to reject differences and discord
Updated 21 min 40 sec ago

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman calls on Muslims to reject differences and discord

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman calls on Muslims to reject differences and discord

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Monday called on Muslims to reject differences and discord, and to arbitrate the language of reason.
In a speech on the occasion of the start of the month of Ramadan, the king said the Kingdom has achieved great efforts in confronting the coronavirus pandemic.
“We hope that everyone will adhere to the preventive measures and apply for the vaccine,” the king said.
He also said that the Kingdom was proud in the measures and modern technologies it has adopted to ensure safety of those visiting the Two Holy Mosques.
King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman exchanged cables of congratulations with leaders of Islamic countries on the advent of Ramadan. 
This will be the second year when Ramadan will be observed under coronavirus pandemic precautions


Ramadan 2021 will start on Tuesday: Saudi Arabia

Ramadan 2021 will start on Tuesday: Saudi Arabia
Updated 12 April 2021

Ramadan 2021 will start on Tuesday: Saudi Arabia

Ramadan 2021 will start on Tuesday: Saudi Arabia

RIYADH: The first day of Ramadan will be on Tuesday, Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court announced on Monday.
The crescent department held a meeting on Shaban 30, according to the Umm Al-Qura lunar calendar, to sight the new moon.
The decision was made following careful review and after a number of witnesses also confirmed the sighting.
The Supreme Court extended its wishes to King Salman, the crown prince, citizens and residents, and all Muslims on the advent of Muslim holy month.
This will be the second year when Ramadan will be observed under coronavirus pandemic precautions.

READ MORE

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman approves Tarawih prayers in Two Holy Mosques Read more here.

Only vaccinated or immune worshippers will be allowed to enter the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah and that pilgrims who perform Umrah at the Grand Mosque in Makkah without a permit during Ramadan will face a hefty fine in a bid to prevent the spread of the virus.
Umrah permits and visit permits for the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque will increase operational capacity during the month of Ramadan.

The permits will be granted to those who have received two vaccination jabs, those who have received their first jab and 14 days have passed, or those who have had the virus and recovered.

With more than 5 million vaccinated, the order means that more people will be able to attend the holy sites than a year ago.

READ MORE

Hajj Ministry announce Ramadan guidelines for Umrah and prayers Read more here.


Before the pandemic, Makkah and Madinah filled with visitors each year during Ramadan as pilgrims from across the globe arrived in the Kingdom seeking the blessings of worshipping at the holy mosques.

More than 1.6 billion Muslims around the world will mark the month, during which believers abstain from eating and drinking from dawn until sunset.


Saudia airline getting ready to operate on May 17

Saudia airline getting ready to operate on May 17
Saudi Arabia’s flagship carrier is getting ready to fly on May 17. (SPA)
Updated 12 April 2021

Saudia airline getting ready to operate on May 17

Saudia airline getting ready to operate on May 17
  • Saudia was ranked among the top 10 airlines worldwide for its health and safety measures and received the highest certification by APEX Health Safety in January

JEDDAH: The Kingdom’s flagship carrier is preparing for full-capacity operations ahead of the lift of the travel ban next month, with Saudis eager to safely return to traveling during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
Saudi Minister of Transport Saleh Al-Jasser chaired a meeting with the Saudia airline board of directors to discuss preparations for the return of international flights on May 17.
The date will mark the end of the suspension of international travel for Saudi citizens by land, air, and sea.
The minister expressed his thanks for the efforts made to safely continue domestic flights by limiting the spread of COVID-19.
Saudia was ranked among the top 10 airlines worldwide for its health and safety measures and received the highest certification by APEX Health Safety in January.
Saudis are feeling more comfortable with the idea of traveling abroad again.
Ismail Ayoub, 30, said he will travel as soon as the opportunity strikes, with Dubai being his first choice due to their high safety standards. “Safety is one factor, another reason is I have good contacts in Dubai and in the region, so this is an opportunity to reconnect with them,” Ayoub told Arab News.
“The closeness of Dubai to the Kingdom makes it very convenient as well,” he added.
Ayoub said he will travel to countries where tourism offerings follow the strict COVID-19 safety guidelines. “I would avoid countries with unmanaged crowds. I want to enjoy my trip while staying safe.”

Saudis are feeling more comfortable with the idea of traveling abroad again. (SPA)

Software engineer Alia Al-Sadat, 27, said she is glad to have the option to travel but would rather postpone her international flight plans until the global cases drop.
“I feel very safe in the Kingdom. I’m happy to simply travel between Jeddah and Riyadh, or even go and explore AlUla,” Al-Sadat told Arab News.
She highlighted that the travel restrictions were a good opportunity to explore the Kingdom.
“Many people do not know it, but Saudi Arabia has some spectacular destinations. This year made me want to explore places like Abha, Taif and of course Umluj,” she added.


Saudi authorities urge public to follow precautions to ensure safe Ramadan

Saudi authorities urge public to follow precautions to ensure safe Ramadan
Dr. Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly. (SPA)
Updated 12 April 2021

Saudi authorities urge public to follow precautions to ensure safe Ramadan

Saudi authorities urge public to follow precautions to ensure safe Ramadan
  • There are 8,360 active cases, 915 of them are critical

JEDDAH: With a few days to go before the start of Ramadan, Saudi health authorities are warning the Kingdom’s residents to remain vigilant and stick to safety precautions put in place to reduce the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
During a press conference on Sunday, Ministry of Health (MoH) spokesman Dr. Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly reminded residents of the importance of following the precautions.
“Last year’s Ramadan was unlike any other Ramadan that we have experienced,” he said, adding that visitors to mosques would need to follow set guidelines, such as bringing their own prayer mats, attending prayer on time, socially distancing and staying clear of overcrowding.
He also highlighted the importance of following precautions during family gatherings. “We are used to family gatherings during Ramadan — they are special and bring the family together — but we must limit the number of visitors in gatherings.”
On Saturday, the MoH announced it would be postponing second doses of COVID-19 vaccines in order to ensure more people receive their first dose.
“The challenges are a race against time. We want to ensure that the most vulnerable are prioritized and receive their first vaccine to gain immunity,” Al-Abd Al-Aly said, adding that cancelled slots would be rearranged automatically.
“The second dose acts as a booster to the immunity one develops after the first dose,” he said.

INNUMBERS

398,435 Total cases

383,321 Recoveries

6,754 Deaths

8,360 Active cases

A total of 799 new cases of COVID-19 were recorded in the Kingdom on Sunday, meaning 398,435 people in Saudi Arabia have now contracted the disease.
There are 8,360 active cases, 915 of them are critical.
In addition, 548 new recovered cases were announced, taking the total number of recoveries to 383,321. The Kingdom’s recovery rate is holding steady at 96.2 percent.
Seven new COVID-19 related deaths were reported, raising the death toll to 6,754.
Saudi Arabia has administered more than 6.25 million COVID-19 vaccine doses so far. A total of 58,897 PCR tests were conducted in the past 24 hours, raising the total number of tests conducted in the Kingdom to 15,797,442.
Elsewhere, 30,054 violations of precautionary and preventive measures were reported over the past week. The highest numbers of violations were in Riyadh (11,162), Makkah (5,883), and the Eastern Province (4,183). Jazan (155) and Najran (132) had the lowest number of reported violations.
The Ministry of Interior stressed that citizens and residents must continue to adhere to the preventive measures and instructions issued by the authorities for their own safety and the safety of fellow citizens and residents.