JEDDAH: King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), alongside strategic partners the Makkah Cultural Forum, Ministry of Hajj and Umrah and the Doyof Al-Rahman Program (DARP), confirmed on Wednesday that 1,306 applications from 34 countries were submitted to the first edition of KAUST Challenge – Ideas and Solutions for Hajj and Umrah.
The comprehensive multi-stage selection process, lasting over a month, resulted in the shortlisting of 33 finalists.
In line with Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, the first edition of the KAUST Challenge focused on improving the Hajj and Umrah experience for pilgrims from all over the world, and advancing efforts to make Makkah a smart city.
The challenge is focused on three themes: Healthcare, mobility, and crowd management, which were all selected after extensive research on the most pressing issues facing Hajj and Umrah pilgrims.
Eleven finalists for each theme were selected for the finalist pool.
An expert panel of over 30 judges evaluated the ideas and solutions proposed by the finalists. The winners, who could receive up to SR1.3 million ($346,645) in cash and other prizes, will be announced at the award ceremony to be held on March 28 at the Emarah Foyer in Jeddah.
Prince Khalid Al-Faisal, governor of Makkah, along with Dr. Tony F. Chan, president of KAUST, and Dr. Najah Ashry, vice president for strategic national advancement at KAUST, will host the award ceremony.
Speaking on the success of the inaugural edition, Ashry said: “We are proud that more than 1,300 innovators were inspired to submit applications to this first KAUST Challenge and that more than 300 of them are based in Saudi Arabia.”
She added: “Many of the out-of-the-box hi-tech solutions that the applicants proposed are viable ideas that could enhance the experience of Hajj and Umrah pilgrims. The winning ideas and solutions will require cultivation across Saudi Arabia’s research-development-innovation ecosystem. By encouraging continued collaboration of KAUST Challenge winners with ecosystem players in the Kingdom, we will ensure that the outcomes from the KAUST Challenge have real-world impact for the people for whom they are designed.”
KAUST also announced the selection six sponsors for the challenge: Johns Hopkins Aramco Healthcare (JHAH) for the healthcare prize, SAUDIA (formerly Saudi Arabian Airlines) and the Saudi Railway Company (SAR) for the mobility prize, and Saudi Ground Services (SGS) for the crowd management prize.
Microsoft was selected as the technology sponsor, and Arab News as the event’s media sponsor.