Digital transformation to play key role in post-pandemic world, G20 ministers say

Saudi Minister of Education Dr. Hamad Al-Asheikh. (SPA)
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Saudi Minister of Education Dr. Hamad Al-Asheikh. (SPA)
The working session of the #G20 Research Ministers’ Meeting in Trieste at work. (Twitter photo)
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The working session of the #G20 Research Ministers’ Meeting in Trieste at work. (Twitter photo)
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Updated 07 August 2021

Digital transformation to play key role in post-pandemic world, G20 ministers say

Saudi Minister of Education Dr. Hamad Al-Asheikh. (SPA)
  • Al-Asheikh added that the COVID-19 pandemic is an opportunity to be seized, and “not just a passing crisis”

JEDDAH: Digital transformation will play a key role in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, a G20 meeting of research ministers in Italy has said.

Saudi Minister of Education Dr. Hamad bin Mohammed Al-Asheikh, who attended the Friday meeting, stressed the importance of analyzing and evaluating the impact of rapid digital transformation and technologies on education and society as a whole.

He added that the pandemic continues to cast a “deep and direct shadow on the world at the social and economic levels,” which will accelerate the digital transformation of societies.

This requires a need to test the flexibility of educational systems and their resilience and recovery and adopt new and innovative educational methods, he said.

Al-Asheikh added that the COVID-19 pandemic is an opportunity to be seized, and “not just a passing crisis.”

The ministerial meeting aimed to link the academic community with continuous digital transformation, improve the link between higher education and the digital economy, enhance the role of university education in managing societal change, and prepare university education institutions to perform their tasks in education, research and innovation.

“The emerging opportunities stimulate our awareness and the need to withstand and meet new challenges,” said Al-Asheikh.

He added that a successful leadership is one that sees the need to involve every member of society, gain their confidence and encourage them to adopt digital transformation and innovative technologies so as to be part of this transformation, in education and work.

The Saudi minister noted the importance of the data we choose, uproot and build on our new communities stressing the need to ensure that data protection and cybersecurity systems are able to protect citizens, their privacy, rights and aspirations.

In his speech, Al-Asheikh addressed the Kingdom’s investment in digital transformation, linking it to Vision 2030.

He reviewed the country’s investment in study programs and degrees in advanced digital skills, information and communication technology, cybersecurity, data science and artificial intelligence, as well as investment in innovation, entrepreneurship and research.

Al-Asheikh said that the Kingdom now ranks second globally among countries committed to cybersecurity at the global strategic level, and ranks first in the Arab world and 14th globally for the amount of research published on the COVID-19 pandemic.

“These are key achievements showing Saudi Arabia’s commitment to progress and evidence-based development,” said Al-Asheikh, adding that 84 percent of the research conducted in the Kingdom took place within public universities.

The Saudi minister added that the Kingdom is keeping in line with the transition the world is going through by focusing on research and innovation to ensure that the developments of the Kingdom’s new digital economy move into the future in line with Vision 2030.

Al-Asheikh called on countries present in the meeting to work together to maintain dialogue, exchange experiences and create solutions to put “human capital, rights, respect and dignity at the heart of all operations.”

He thanked Italy and the president of the G20 for establishing the event as a new working group, and praised the efforts of professor and Italian Minister of University and Research Dr. Maria Cristina Messa for chairing the meeting.


Digital infrastructure enabled Saudi Arabia to confront pandemic

Digital infrastructure enabled Saudi Arabia to confront pandemic
Updated 26 September 2021

Digital infrastructure enabled Saudi Arabia to confront pandemic

Digital infrastructure enabled Saudi Arabia to confront pandemic
  • Kingdom’s technological progress contributed to raising level of transparency, efficiency, says Saudi envoy to UN

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s strong digital infrastructure has enabled the public and private sectors to meet the devastating challenges of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, the Kingdom’s envoy to the UN has said.

“Guided by the national transformation program, the Kingdom’s technological progress has contributed to raising the level of transparency and digital efficiency,” said Abdallah Al-Mouallimi, Saudi Arabia’s permanent representative to the UN.

Al-Mouallimi made these remarks during a high-level side event organized by the Digital Cooperation Organization under the theme “Shaping a Comprehensive Digital Age,” a recently established global organization working toward achieving “digital prosperity for all.”

The DCO works with governments, the private sector, international and nongovernmental organizations and civil society to push for an inclusive digital transformation and the growth of digital industries.

The DCO’s seven-member body includes Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Nigeria, Oman, and Pakistan. It accounts for a population of 480 million, 80 percent of which are under the age of 35. It said it is open to any new member that shares the same goals of “empowering youth, women, and entrepreneurs and leapfrogging the digital transformation.”  

In his remarks, Al-Mouallimi highlighted the Kingdom’s digital achievements and the efforts of the DCO during the pandemic. 

“They helped to make it possible to work remotely and adapt to the new conditions imposed by the pandemic,” said the ambassador, adding that the world is undergoing a shift towards digital transformation at a faster pace than ever before. 

“Digitization creates opportunities and challenges that go beyond borders, making digital collaboration an essential element in facilitating digital transformation at the international level, so that our digital future must be more inclusive and global efforts ensure that technology is available to all.”

Al-Mouallimi underlined that multilateral cooperation is necessary to meet digital challenges and opportunities. Countries must harness their full potential to integrate into the digital age, mainly dependent on global collaboration.

Al-Mouallimi said it is clear that the DCO emphasizes promoting digital cooperation to meet the current challenges.

“The core objectives of the DCO are about accelerating the growth of the digital economy, as well as promoting social prosperity to include all,” the envoy said, adding: “The organization also seeks to develop an ambitious model for promoting global digital efforts, making us, as members of the organization’s coordination office, forced to exert all efforts to reach our goals and objectives.”

He said that the Kingdom accelerated the growth of the digital economy in the region and around the world as a member of the DCO, stressing that the Kingdom will continue its commitment to maximizing digital capabilities at the national and international levels.

He added: “The Kingdom has put digitization at the forefront of the technological progress it seeks, and as a result, several outstanding achievements have enabled Saudi Arabia to make significant progress in global indicators, ranking first among the G20 countries in digital competitiveness according to the European Centre for Digital Competitiveness.”


Taste of history as Saudi turns old police station into heritage eatery

Taste of history as Saudi turns old police station into heritage eatery
Updated 26 September 2021

Taste of history as Saudi turns old police station into heritage eatery

Taste of history as Saudi turns old police station into heritage eatery
  • Abha restaurant draws visitors from around the Gulf with traditional southern flavors

ABHA: A young Saudi “jack of all trades” has used his creative talent and love of cooking to transform a former police station in Abha into a traditional restaurant.

Now Ibrahim bin Mansour Bashashah Al-Asiri’s Al-Hosn Al-Turathi — or Abha castle heritage restaurant — has become a landmark attraction, serving up traditional southern flavors to tourists visiting the historic southwest Saudi city.

Diners from around the Kingdom and Gulf states regularly visit the eatery for a taste of southern hospitality.

Al-Asiri, a plastic artist, and gift and flower designer, told Arab News that the restaurant was previously a coffeeshop owned by his brother.

“The building was originally the Asir police station. I did not favor strong additions and alterations that would erase the designs that characterize the building,” he said.

“My main objective was for the visitor to be able to sense the history of a place that is 40 or 50 years old.”

Being a jack of all trades, Al-Asiri decided to invest his talents and help preserve the city’s heritage by turning the coffeeshop into a restaurant.

He used his talent with lighting and art to transform the site into a heritage icon that takes diners back in time.

Initially, the restaurant served only breakfast, but the menu quickly expanded until meals became available throughout the day. 

Ibrahim bin Mansour Bashashah Al-Asiri, owner of Al-Hosn Al-Turathi. (Supplied)

One form of art found in the restaurant is Al-Qatt Al-Asiri, a traditionally female interior wall decoration and ancient art form considered a key element in Asir’s history.

Al-Hosn Al-Turathi restaurant relies on the work of two people — Al-Asiri, who cooks and oversees artistic tasks, and his brother, who handles management.

“There aren’t many restaurants that offer popular southern meals, especially in Abha, while there are many popular restaurants in Khamis Mushayt,” he said.

Menu favorites offered at Al-Hosn Al-Turathi include al-arika, a traditional dessert in the southern region made with brown flour mixed with warm water, oil and ghee to form a dough, and flavored with a drizzle of honey and cardamom.

The restaurant is the first to serve “miva” or southern “tannour” bread, Al-Asiri said, adding that he is the first Saudi in the Kingdom to cook while wearing a traditional Saudi outfit.

Al-Asiri also launched the Asiri bouquet, a collection of local plants with aromatic scents, gifting them to a number of princes and other high-profile personalities.

Al-Hosn Al-Turathi heritage restaurant supports local productive families. A coffee and hot beverages corner is managed by one of the sisters, Umm Joud, who holds a master’s in business management, and supervises the preparation of hot drinks using traditional ingredients.

Al-Asiri urged Saudi youth to work hard, saying Saudi Arabia offers many opportunities to realize the objectives of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030. “We need to be patient and active, and try to reach the top with the capabilities that we have. So we need to be persistent and work hard,” he said.


Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE, Greece complete military exercises

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE, Greece complete military exercises
Updated 26 September 2021

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE, Greece complete military exercises

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE, Greece complete military exercises
  • The drills are part of a program to enhance military cooperation between friendly countries

RIYADH: Special security forces of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Greece and Egypt completed joint drills in the Greek capital, Athens.

Taking part what was hailed as further cooperation between allied states were the Royal Saudi Land Forces paratroopers, Emirati Special Forces, the Egyptian Army’s El-Saa’ka (Thunderbolt) Forces and Paratroopers and the Greek Joint Special Operations Forces.

The drills are part of a program to enhance military cooperation between friendly countries, to exchange training and experience and to increase the level of combat readiness to confront challenges in the region.

The training plan was conducted by the Royal Saudi Land Forces to maintain a high level of performance, training and combat efficiency as part of the annual training programs that are implemented with friendly countries.

The drills were observed by the Greek Deputy Minister of Defense, the Chief of the Hellenic National Defense General Staff, the commanders of the Greek Ministry of Defense’s forces, the Saudi ambassador in the Republic of Greece, Saad bin Abdul Rahman Al-Ammar, and the Assistant Commander of Paratrooper Units and Special Security Forces Major General Sultan Islam.


Saudi content creators set up local production studio

Saudi content creators set up local production studio
Updated 26 September 2021

Saudi content creators set up local production studio

Saudi content creators set up local production studio
  • The idea of Karkand is to have a studio space for social media influencers

JEDDAH: Making social media videos is a competitive business, and for content creators and entrepreneurs the stakes are high.

Saudi social media content creators Sultan Al-Saggaf and Ahmed Al-Kiyadi have made this process easier with the opening of “Karkand” rental studio.

For content creators, videos are what attract viewers and must be done well. Issues of background noise, poor lighting and finding the right setting can be intimidating for those starting out in the business.

The idea of Karkand is to have a studio space for social media influencers. According to the founders, whether the videos are about gaming, unboxing gifts, beauty and makeup tutorials or fashion, anyone can visit Karkand Productions and create a professional clip.

“Located in Jeddah, we launched Karkand Productions when we realized that we don’t have a professional space for content creators. As YouTubers we struggled to make professional videos and we thought that there must be a lot of creators who are struggling too,” Al-Kiyadi, Karkand co-founder, told Arab News.

Fellow co-founder, Al-Saggaf, said that Karkand provided a comfortable space for creators. “Basically the creator can book a room per hour and this room is equipped with soundproof walls, microphones, cameras, and we can edit anything for the creator,” he said. “After we finish producing the video, we email it to the creator.”

“We have the technology, just bring your idea and come.”

HIGHLIGHTS

• For content creators, videos are what attract viewers and must be done well. Issues of background noise, poor lighting and finding the right setting can be intimidating for those starting out in the business.

• According to the founders, whether the videos are about gaming, unboxing gifts, beauty and makeup tutorials or fashion, anyone can visit Karkand Productions and create a professional clip.

Al-Kiyadi said that they were trying to create an environment and space for online content creators who struggled to find a place to film their content, and Karkland provided professional video and audio solutions using their experience in multimedia.

The idea behind the name was to have an identity based on a creature. “Since we also do a lot of video cutting during the post-production phase, we wanted a unique name that is both Arabic and easily pronounced in English. The closest name we could come up with was the lobster, which translates in Arabic as karkand.”

Al-Saggaf said that one of the obstacles they enountered had been price range. “As this is our first business venture, the normal obstacles were faced and many lessons were also learned. Understanding market pricings and scoping down our real value compared to the local market, and finding the right location, were important to get the right footing as soon as we launched.”

“Karkand is a first of its kind locally, we can say that it is a monopoly, and we try to be more flexible with timings and restrictions since we are dealing with a creative field.”

Al-Saggaf said that aside from their primary target audience — online content creators — they also welcomed business owners who sought to advertise their products and services.

Vision 2030 had made people aware of media and content creation, he said. “The interest in developing online content is growing among people, and there are a lot of upcoming YouTubers, including many Saudi women, who are entering the field of online content. They are more than welcome to book a room with us, the price range is affordable, ranging around SR300 ($80) per hour.”

Al-Saggaf advised young content creators to start with a small sum to “scope your strength and find your weakness, follow your passion, and specialize in one field.”


Who’s Who: Abdullah bin Zaraa, head of Saudi executive office at IMF

Who’s Who: Abdullah bin Zaraa, head of Saudi executive office at IMF
Updated 26 September 2021

Who’s Who: Abdullah bin Zaraa, head of Saudi executive office at IMF

Who’s Who: Abdullah bin Zaraa, head of Saudi executive office at IMF

Abdullah bin Zaraa was recently appointed as head of the Saudi executive office at the International Monetary Fund by Saudi Minister of Finance Mohammed Al-Jadaan.

Saudi Arabia’s executive office is a permanent member of the IMF’s executive board, where it represents the Kingdom independently.

Bin Zaraa was appointed due to his extensive experience and in-depth knowledge in a number of financial and investment fields, public debt management, credit and asset management, corporate finance, and banking.

He expressed his thanks and appreciation to the leadership and Al-Jadaan for their trust, which Bin Zaraa said was an incentive to make greater efforts to serve the country and strengthen the Kingdom’s regional and worldwide financial leadership.

Bin Zaraa was chief operating officer and CEO of the National Debt Management Center from March 2021 where he oversaw the entire debt portfolio in various currencies, maturities and debt repayments and oversaw the credit rating process. 

He also served as the head of operations and resources from September 2018 until June 2021, and the head of credit ratings and external relations from November 2017 until June 2021 at the debt management office.

He was a senior relationship manager of financial institutions at the Saudi British Bank. He also worked as an international brokerage manager at HSBC Saudi Arabia from March 2009 to September 2015. Bin Zaraa served as a head of GCC/MENA equity markets at SABB from January 2008 to February 2009.

He received a master’s degree in business and management, specializing in finance, from the University of Plymouth, England, in 2014.