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


Chips with everything: Saudi restaurant where waiters are robots

Chips with everything: Saudi restaurant where waiters are robots
Updated 21 April 2021

Chips with everything: Saudi restaurant where waiters are robots

Chips with everything: Saudi restaurant where waiters are robots
  • Room is fitted with strategically placed sensors that allow the machines to move about and take food to customers

MAKKAH: We’ve all been there … you order a meal in a restaurant, and the waiter arrives with a pasta salad instead of a chicken biryani.
There are no such issues at Restaurant Robot in Jazan. As the name suggests, the waiters are not fallible human beings, but robots powered by sophisticated artificial intelligence.
Six robot assistants are operating in the city center restaurant to deliver trays of Asian dishes to patrons. The system was originally set up as a precaution to reduce human contact during the coronavirus pandemic, but it has proved a hit with visitors.
In a system designed by young Saudi engineer Reham Omar, the restaurant interior has been fitted with strategically placed sensors that allow the robots to move about and take food to customers.
“Thanks to the sensors, the robots can sense anything standing near them, allowing them to stop walking or change their routes accordingly,” she told Arab News
“Each robot has had a map of the restaurant interior and the location of each table programmed into their memory. When the robot gets to the targeted table, customers can pick up their food and order the robot to leave.”
Omar said the idea had been developed by drawing on the experiences of other countries, and with support from the Saudi government for the food industry.
“We are proud of our project, as small as it is,” she said. “Customers are loving the robots and are impressed with the idea.
“Cultures are changing, and people are now eager to discover new technologies that can improve their quality of life.”


Saudi Arabia re-elected to Chemical Weapons watchdog’s Executive Council

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) held the 25th Session of the Conference of the States Parties in The Hague, Netherlands. (Twitter/@OPCW)
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) held the 25th Session of the Conference of the States Parties in The Hague, Netherlands. (Twitter/@OPCW)
Updated 21 April 2021

Saudi Arabia re-elected to Chemical Weapons watchdog’s Executive Council

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) held the 25th Session of the Conference of the States Parties in The Hague, Netherlands. (Twitter/@OPCW)
  • OPCW oversees the implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention
  • The Kingdom has been a member of the council since 1997

LONDON: Saudi Arabia has been re-elected as a member of the Executive Council of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), in the Asia section, until 2023.
It happened at The Hague, in the Netherlands, on Tuesday during the 25th Session of the Conference of the States Parties, which oversees the implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).
Ziyad Al-Attiyah, the Saudi ambassador to the Netherlands and the Kingdom’s permanent representative to the OPCW, thanked the nations that supported the re-election of his country, and said that it is a reflection of Saudi Arabia’s status under the leadership of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. 
The Kingdom looks forward to working with the rest of the council’s members to enhance the implementation of the CWC, he added.
Al-Attiyah affirmed his country’s desire to strengthen cooperation as part of the efforts to prohibit weapons of mass destruction and prevent their proliferation, and to ensure the Middle East becomes a region free of such weapons to enhance international peace and security.
He added that the Kingdom’s chemical industries sector is one of the largest in the region and growing steadily, which makes it one of the leading countries in this field among the membership of Executive Council.
Saudi Arabia has been a member of the council — the main body of the OPCW — since its inception in 1997. It’s membership is made up of 41 countries, representing five geographic areas, that are elected for terms of two years at a time.


Saudi Arabia calls for Iran to engage in talks, avoid escalation

Saudi Arabia calls for Iran to engage in talks, avoid escalation
Updated 21 April 2021

Saudi Arabia calls for Iran to engage in talks, avoid escalation

Saudi Arabia calls for Iran to engage in talks, avoid escalation

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia renewed its call for Iran to engage in ongoing negotiations in Vienna, avoid escalation and not expose the region to more tension.
This came following a council of ministers meeting, chaired by King Salman on Tuesday.
The cabinet also urged the international community to reach an agreement with stronger and longer determinants that are implemented through monitoring and control measures to prevent the Iranian regime from obtaining nuclear weapons and developing the necessary capabilities.

 


Saudi Arabia’s virus cases surge past 1,000

Saudi Arabia’s virus cases surge past 1,000
The authority reiterated that it was continuously monitoring the safety of the vaccines available in Saudi Arabia by studying cases of side effects. (SPA)
Updated 21 April 2021

Saudi Arabia’s virus cases surge past 1,000

Saudi Arabia’s virus cases surge past 1,000
  • The ministry said 940 people recovered from the virus over the past 24 hours, meaning 390,538 people have made full recoveries

JEDDAH: The Saudi Food and Drug Authority (SFDA) on Tuesday confirmed 34 cases of blood clots or thrombosis and low platelet count among people who received the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
“The authority suggests the existence of seven possible cases of thrombosis that are related to the vaccine, due to the absence of other reasons for the appearance of clots in them,” the SFDA said in a statement.
However, the authority also said that thrombocytopenia and blood-clotting immune response associated with the AstraZeneca vaccine is yet to be confirmed in these cases.
It said based on the local reports received, the rate of occurrence of these symptoms in conjunction with the administration of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in the Kingdom is “very rare.”
The SFDA said that all approved vaccines for the coronavirus (COVID-19) being used in the Kingdom are safe. It stressed that the desired benefits of the vaccine in question outweigh the potential risks.
The authority reiterated that it was continuously monitoring the safety of the vaccines available in Saudi Arabia by studying cases of side effects along with the local and international scientific evidence and data available.

FASTFACTS

• The Kingdom reports a 55 percent increase in the number of cases among women.

• 1,070 new infections were reported on Tuesday.

The SFDA advised recipients of the vaccine to consult a doctor or go to the nearest health center if any of the following symptoms appear or continue for more than three days after receiving a vaccine: Dizziness, severe and persistent headache, nausea or vomiting, issues with vision, shortness of breath, severe pain in the chest or abdomen or coldness in the extremities, swelling of the legs, small blood spots under the skin other than the injection site.
Dr. Abdullah Asiri, an infectious diseases consultant at the Saudi Ministry of Health, allayed public fears following the reports.
“How can a wrong conclusion deduced from a generalization become the most circulated news?” he wrote on Twitter. “In short, not every blood clotting after vaccinations is due to vaccinations. Thanks to vaccines, lives are saved every day. We have not yet had confirmed cases of platelet deficiency and blood clotting immune responses associated ‘hypothetically’ with COVID-19 vaccines.”
Dr. Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly, a Ministry of Health spokesman, said: “We are still monitoring an increase in the number of COVID-19 infections, which is the highest since the beginning of this year. There has also been an increase in cases among females by 55 percent.”
The Ministry of Health reported 1,070 new confirmed cases in the Kingdom over the past 24 hours, meaning 407,010 people have now contracted the virus. Of the 9,626 active cases, 1,105 were in critical condition. There were 12 fatalities, which brought the national death toll to 6,846.
The ministry said 940 people recovered from the virus over the past 24 hours, meaning 390,538 people have made full recoveries.


Experts say Ramadan is the best time to shape up and gain fitness

Experts say Ramadan is the best time to shape up and gain fitness
The Saudi Sports for All Federation launched a campaign encouraging people to walk or run 20 kilometers for 20 days during Ramadan. (SPA)
Updated 20 April 2021

Experts say Ramadan is the best time to shape up and gain fitness

Experts say Ramadan is the best time to shape up and gain fitness
  • The Saudi Sports for All Federation launched ‘Step Together’ campaign to help people stay active during the holy month

JEDDAH: While consuming excessive food during the month of Ramadan goes against the purpose of the holy month, for many Saudis and people of the region, it is a time to indulge in special foods, which often leads to overeating.

For years, Saudis have been facing problems with obesity, with unhealthy diets leading to a variety of poor health conditions. While numerous campaigns have been launched to combat this issue, including by the Saudi Sports for All Federation (SFA), their advice seems to fall on deaf ears during Ramadan.
Arab News spoke to experts — nutritionists and fitness trainers — who discussed their tips to help curb hunger and maintain a healthy weight.
Saudi fitness trainer Nouf Hamadallah, 37, explained that there is no best time to exercise during Ramadan; rather, the time and intensity of the workout can vary from person to person.
“Exercising during Ramadan depends on the flexibility of one’s schedule. There’s no specific time to work out. Most people who believe this are misinformed by what they read,” she told Arab News.

FASTFACTS

• A nationwide cross-sectional survey conducted over phone interviews across 13 regions of the Kingdom in June 2020 showed that the national weighted prevalence of obesity was 24.7 percent.

• It highlighted that obesity was significantly associated with Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and hypertension, among other diseases.

“One common bit of advice in popular articles says that if people work out before iftar, they will burn calories and lose weight. But this depends on their goals and calorie
intake. Some people cannot work out while fasting because they feel sick and nauseous, and their blood sugar drops. Then they become discouraged from exercising, not knowing that all they have to do is change the timing and nature of their workout. There is no one-size-fits-all approach.”
She added that it is easy to lose muscle mass if people do not choose the right foods for iftar and sahoor, also stressing that it is essential to hydrate during breakfast. Should one choose to work out right before iftar, a protein shake and a nutrient-dense meal with few carbs are advised in breaking fast.

If anyone wants to adopt healthy habits or break bad ones, Ramadan is an excellent chance to do so.

Arwa Bajkhaif, Dietician

“What you eat for sahoor will determine your energy levels for the next day, too. It should be a meal with a good amount of protein and vegetables,” said Hamadallah. “When your body is depleted of energy, the first thing you look for is sugar, and that’s what we want to avoid.”
Digestive problems such as acid reflux also occur due to poor eating habits in Ramadan, she added, and people with such digestive issues need to take note of the specific foods that irritate their stomachs.
She recommended that they avoid these foods if they are planning to exercise and instead have a few dates, soup and maybe a cup of coffee before beginning their workout, saving a full meal for afterward.
Iftar and sahoor also need to be divided into portions to avoid digestive problems, she added.
Saudi clinical and sports dietitian Arwa Bajkhaif, 29, said Ramadan is a “golden opportunity” to fast and practice self-control. If anyone wants to adopt healthy habits or break bad ones, Ramadan is an excellent chance to do so.

What you eat for sahoor will determine your energy levels for the next day.

Nouf Hamadallah, Fitness trainer

“People should know their dietary requirements and follow a suitable diet for their particular health situation during the holy month of Ramadan,” Bajkaif told Arab News
“For individuals with chronic diseases such as diabetes, I recommend seeing an endocrinologist for insulin and medication adjustments and a clinical dietitian for follow-ups to adjust the amount and type of carbohydrates accordingly.”
As for changing one’s eating habits, she suggested that people should not adopt more than three easy and healthy habits. “Being realistic and specific is key to achieving health goals.”
Saudi dietitian Alaa Gotah advised people to drink plenty of water between iftar and sahoor, avoid sugary drinks especially during iftar to maintain insulin levels, and eat plenty of hydrating food such as salads while limiting the intake of carbohydrates and sweets.
She stressed that fasting cleanses the body of toxins and forces cells into processes that are not usually stimulated when a steady stream of fuel from food is always present.
“Sahoor should include a healthy amount of fiber, which stays for a long time in the intestines. To reduce the feeling of thirst and hunger, it’s recommended to eat fruits that contain dietary fiber and magnesium, such as bananas, dates and watermelon,” Gotah told Arab News.  
A nationwide cross-sectional survey conducted over phone interviews across 13 regions in June 2020 titled “Obesity in Saudi Arabia in 2020: Prevalence, Distribution, and its Current Association with Various Health Conditions” showed that the national weighted prevalence of obesity was 24.7 percent.
The study highlighted that obesity was significantly associated with type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and hypertension, among other diseases.
The Saudi Sports for All Federation launched a campaign to help people stay active during the holy month, presenting the Ramadan edition of “Step Together,” where people are encouraged to walk or run 20 kilometers for 20 days during Ramadan.