CEOs, investors and policymakers debate how to ‘invest in humanity’ at FII conference in Riyadh

CEOs, investors and policymakers debate how to ‘invest in humanity’ at FII conference in Riyadh
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Updated 26 October 2021

CEOs, investors and policymakers debate how to ‘invest in humanity’ at FII conference in Riyadh

CEOs, investors and policymakers debate how to ‘invest in humanity’ at FII conference in Riyadh
  • Future Investment Initiative summit to identify avenues for contributing in a way that creates both value and impact
  • Annual event provides platform for global leaders, investors and innovators to explore solutions to society’s challenges

RIYADH: At the first Future Investment Initiative (FII) forum in Riyadh in 2017, one of the attending billionaire entrepreneurs urged Saudi Arabia, then just embarking on the Vision 2030 strategy of transformation, to follow the example of Nike and “just do it.”

On Tuesday, at the start of the fifth FII, the Kingdom, and the FII itself, has certainly gone for “it” in a big way.

Despite the challenges of the pandemic and other global issues, in the past five years there has been a big change in the Saudi economic scene, with the pace of the Vision transformation accelerating as social, cultural and economic measures take effect in the Kingdom.




Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman speaks during the FII conference in a virtual session in the capital Riyadh, on Jan. 28, 2021. (File/AFP)

The FII itself has also undergone a transformation, becoming a permanent institute and a fixture on the international forum scene, though still under the auspices of the Public Investment Fund (PIF), Saudi Arabia’s multi-billion-dollar sovereign wealth fund.

At the first FII, as billionaires, entrepreneurs and senior policymakers from around the world made their way to the Ritz-Carlton, Riyadh, and the adjoining King Abdulaziz Conference Center, some smart commentator with an eye for a catch-phrase came up with “Davos in the Desert” to describe the scene.

Despite the annoyance of the World Economic Forum, which organizes the extravaganza in the Swiss mountains, the phrase stuck, and FII has increasingly taken on the trappings of the annual Alpine gathering.

Among the nearly 4,000 attendees were such luminaries as then-IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and Larry Fink, chief executive of giant investment group BlackRock, who remains a regular at FII — all inquisitive to learn details of the Vision 2030 strategy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had unveiled the previous year.


The crown prince set the tone for the event, and for subsequent years, with a keynote speech that unveiled the central message of what life would be like in the Saudi Arabia of the Vision 2030 era.

He promised a “return to moderate Islam that is open to all religions,” and to eradicate promoters of extremist thoughts, adding: “We are returning to what we were before — a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world.”

The show-stealer of that first forum was Masayoshi Son, the chairman and CEO of Japan’s SoftBank. Earlier in the year, Son had unveiled the Vision Fund, the biggest start-up investment enterprise in the world, with a budget of $100 billion — including $45 billion from the PIF — to invest in cutting-edge technology that would transform the world.

Sharing a stage with Sophia the Android, the first robot to be “awarded” Saudi citizenship in a light-hearted ceremony, Son told the audience: “Every industry will be redefined. These computers, they will learn, they will read, they will see by themselves. That’s a scary future but anyway that’s coming,” he said.




‘Sophia the Robot’ of Hanson Robotics reacts during a discussion about Sophia’s multiple intelligences and artificial intelligence (AI) at the RISE Technology Conference in Hong Kong on July 10, 2018. (File/AFP)

The first FII was also notable for two other landmark announcements which have left an enduring mark on the Saudi economy and the global investment scene.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman unveiled the master concept of NEOM, the $500 billion city-of-the-future to be built in the northwest of the Kingdom, which has since become the flagship project of the Vision 2030 strategy.

Carbon neutral and sustainable, the new metropolis would be served by an army of robots and driven by state-of-the-art digital technologies and artificial intelligence.

It would also create a new urban hub for innovation and enterprise in an under-populated part of Saudi Arabia. Other mega-projects followed, like the Red Sea development, the Qiddiya resort complex, the AlUla desert oasis with its historic cultural roots, and the Diriyah Gate development on the outskirts of Riyadh.

The second big announcement of that first FII was the unveiling of a financial road map for the PIF, aiming to make it the biggest sovereign wealth fund, with a target of $2 trillion assets under management by 2030.




Saudi CEO of NEOM Nadhmi Al-Nasr speaks during the last day of the FII conference in the Saudi capital Riyadh on Oct. 25, 2018. (File/AFP)

The PIF was to be the main vehicle for the implementation of the Vision 2030 transformation, and also raise significantly the Kingdom’s profile in the international financial community.

The second FII forum, in October 2018, was overshadowed to some degree by the tragic murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul earlier in the month, which led some top-level executives and media organizations to stay away, but for which regrets and condemnation were expressed by the crown prince from the stage at the opening keynote.

It was difficult for a visitor to see much difference. The attendance figures were as good as the inaugural launch; while some familiar faces were missing from the big set-piece plenary sessions, an army of more junior executives from many of the big banks, financial institutions and other global investors were happily doing deals at the event.

Some $60 billion in deals and Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) were signed in 2018, across a range of sectors including energy, housing, health and technology.

The 2018 event attracted eight heads of state, 20 international ministers and was watched by 2.8 million viewers worldwide.




Delegates attend a debate during the fourth edition of the FII conference at the capital Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton hotel on Jan. 27, 2021. (File/AFP)

By 2019, when Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the PIF governor, declared the FII to be “one of the top three gatherings in the world,” it was business as usual, with an even bigger turnout of around 6,000 at the event and millions more tuning in worldwide from more than 110 countries.

Like most international events of last year, FII 2020 was impacted by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, which prevented it from being held in its customary October slot.

Instead, the fourth FII was held virtually in January this year, organized from Riyadh with the help of satellite hubs in New York, Paris, Beijing and Mumbai.

The theme was “The Neo Renaissance,” referring to the rebirth of global economic life after the shock of the pandemic the previous year. The event also developed what was to be an enduring theme, and a prominent element of the fifth event starting today in Riyadh: The importance of ESG — environmental, social and governance — standards in global finance.

In the five years since the first “Davos in the Desert,” much has changed. The FII itself is now a non-profit organization run by the PIF under Chief Executive Richard Attias, who is a prominent figure at the annual events.




Mask-clad participants stand next to a sign annoucning the next panel during the fourth edition of the FII conference at the capital Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton hotel on Jan. 27, 2021. (File/AFP)

Its one-item agenda consists of “Impact on humanity.” Meanwhile, the Saudi economy has developed and progressed with the FII.

It has emerged from the shock of the pandemic last year, and, in particular, Saudi Arabia has helped steer global energy markets through their most severe crisis for many years through its leadership, along with Russia, of the OPEC+ organization.

All the economic indicators in the Kingdom are heading in the right direction, with GDP this year forecast to show a strong recovery from the doldrums of the pandemic recession.

Higher oil prices will make a big contribution to stronger government revenues, which can also be used to finance the ongoing Vision 2030. Non-oil growth is also expected to rise sharply.

Despite the challenges of the past two years, the FII has become an integral part of the global investment scene and the international forums circuit.

The FII has “just done it,” and will do it again in Riyadh starting on Tuesday.


TASI rises as investors await earnings, assess rising inflation: Closing bell

TASI rises as investors await earnings, assess rising inflation: Closing bell
Updated 15 sec ago

TASI rises as investors await earnings, assess rising inflation: Closing bell

TASI rises as investors await earnings, assess rising inflation: Closing bell

RIYADH: Saudi stocks ended Monday’s session higher, as investors awaited more earnings reports while trying to assess the impact of rising inflation.

The Tadawul All Share Index edged up 0.23 percent to finish at 12,543, while the parallel market, Nomu, gained 0.31 percent to end at 22,110.

Wafrah for Industry and Development Co. soared 5.09 percent, after the company swung to a profit of SR11 million ($2.92 million) during the first half of 2022.

Arabian Internet and Telecommunication Co., known as solutions by stc, increased 1.55 percent, following the Saudi competition authority’s approval of Egypt’s Giza Systems’ acquisition.

Saudi Tadawul Group Holding Co. added 0.75 percent, despite the announcement of a 23 percent decline in profits during the first half of the year to SR278 million.

Saudi Aramco closed flat, after it achieved its highest quarterly profit since going public in 2019 with SR182 billion ($48.4 billion), a 90 percent jump over analysts’ expectations.

Saudi jeweler L’azurde fell 2.15 percent, despite reporting a 22 percent profit rise in the first half of 2022 to SR22.2 million

Basic Chemical Industries Co. lost 2.19 percent, despite achieving a 63 percent profit increase to SR46 million for the first half.

Red Sea International Co. declined 0.14 percent to lead the gainers, after the real estate firm announced that its accumulated losses have been cut to zero, following a reduction in the company’s capital by SR298 million.

Saudi Printing and Packaging Co. fell 2.25 percent, after the company narrowed its losses by 91.8 percent to SR2 million during the first half.

Arabian Shield Cooperative Insurance Co. slipped 0.64 percent, after posting a 30 percent profit decline to SR16 million for the first half.


Increasing demand for NEOM project fuels recovery of Tabuk Cement: CEO

Increasing demand for NEOM project fuels recovery of Tabuk Cement: CEO
Updated 10 min 54 sec ago

Increasing demand for NEOM project fuels recovery of Tabuk Cement: CEO

Increasing demand for NEOM project fuels recovery of Tabuk Cement: CEO

RIYADH: Increasing cement demand from Giga projects such as NEOM has helped Tabuk Cement swing into profit in the second quarter of 2022 despite a trend of the dismal performance of the Kingdom's cement sector.

The strategic location of Tabuk Cement made it a reliable supplier for the NEOM project, which in turn benefited the company, the firm’s CEO told Al-Arabiya.

Tabuk Cement is set to thrive, thanks to high demand from Saudi’s Red Sea, Amaala, and NEOM projects, which will boost the cement industry, Ali Al-Qahtani said.

The cement producer swung to a profit of SR2.5 million ($665,712) during the second quarter of the year, compared with a loss of SR1.13 million in the same period last year. Revenues jumped 51 percent during the period.


Saudi-based Nama Ventures leads a seed funding round for Bahraini startup Faceki

Saudi-based Nama Ventures leads a seed funding round for Bahraini startup Faceki
Updated 15 August 2022

Saudi-based Nama Ventures leads a seed funding round for Bahraini startup Faceki

Saudi-based Nama Ventures leads a seed funding round for Bahraini startup Faceki

RIYADH: Saudi-based venture capital firm, Nama Ventures, led a seed funding round for an undisclosed amount for Bahrain-based award-winning fraud protection and identity verification platform, Faceki.

“We plan to expand our global footprint, and continue innovating and provide compliant, secure, and user-friendly identity verification solutions,” Hamza Al-Ghatam, co-founder and CEO of Faceki, said in a statement.

The round also saw participation from venture capital firm Vision Ventures along with other angel investors.

Founded in 2020, the platform uses cloud biometrics and digital identity verification solutions powered by machine learning to serve its customer base in over 175 countries. 


Egypt In-focus: Unemployment rate remains unchanged in Q2, Saudi firm signs MoU with Egyptian online grocery store

Egypt In-focus: Unemployment rate remains unchanged in Q2, Saudi firm signs MoU with Egyptian online grocery store
Updated 15 August 2022

Egypt In-focus: Unemployment rate remains unchanged in Q2, Saudi firm signs MoU with Egyptian online grocery store

Egypt In-focus: Unemployment rate remains unchanged in Q2, Saudi firm signs MoU with Egyptian online grocery store

CAIRO: The unemployment rate in the North African country remained unchanged at 7.2 percent in the second quarter of 2022, according to a report from the Central Agency of Public Mobilization and Statistics.

The Egyptian labor force grew to 29.99 million from 29.89 million in the previous quarter, where the employment figures increased from 27.75 million to 27.83 million. 

The unemployment level also slightly increased from 2.15 million in the first quarter of 2022 to 2.15 million in the second quarter of 2022.  

New ministers take charge

On Aug. 13, 13 new ministers took oath including Ahmed Issa, the new minister of tourism and antiquities.

Ahmed Issa brings years of banking experience to the table as the former CEO of retail banking at Commercial International Bank.

Apetito and Purity sign MOU

Saudi-based Purity has signed a memorandum of understanding with Apetito— an Egyptian online grocery store operating in Egypt, Tunisia, and Morocco — to help expand its services in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East and North Africa region.

Purity is known for its expertise in IT infrastructure and app development; therefore, it would serve Apetitio in achieving its $25 million investment goal.

Moreover, Purity CEO Abdullah Al-Namlah will become part of Appetito’s board of directors, reported Daily News Egypt.

“We are very pleased with this partnership with Purity, which is a regional leader in IT and investments,” stated Apetito CEO Shehab Mokhtar.

 “We aim to massively expand our operations in Saudi Arabia, as well as prospective presence across neighboring markets,” he added.

BONBELL closes $350K deal

BONBELL— a foodtech startup founded in Egypt in 2022— has secured a $350,000 investment from a Canadian angel investor.

 The startup provides an online platform for food orders and deliveries with its restaurant partners, in addition to providing in-app table reservations.

 This new investment will be used to increase its partnership with other restaurants,  aiming at 750 restaurants by the end of this year.

Moreover, BONBELL is targeting another $10 million investment with two venture capital funds from Europe and the Gulf, reported WAMDA.

 


Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulaziz Port sets new container throughput record

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulaziz Port sets new container throughput record
Updated 45 min 34 sec ago

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulaziz Port sets new container throughput record

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulaziz Port sets new container throughput record

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulaziz Port has set a new container throughput record by handling 188,578 TEUs during June 2022, surpassing the previous record of 867 TEUs set in 2015, said Saudi Ports Authority, also known as Mawani in a statement. 

The record-breaking performance of the port is attributed to the rise in export and import volumes, as the Kingdom moves in line with the National Transport and Logistics Strategy aimed at turning Saudi Arabia into a global logistics hub.

 “The port’s strategic location on the Arabian Gulf lends it a distinct status as a trade gateway to the Kingdom’s eastern and central regions, which provides investors interested in setting up integrated logistics facilities that offer value-added services a competitive edge like no other,” said Mawani in the statement. 

In 2021, the port had re-engineered its transshipment handling processes, along with launching new transhipment services to connect with ports in the Gulf Cooperation Council countries and East Asia. 

The statement noted that these initiatives brought about a 142.72 percent growth in transshipments compared to the previous year. 

Mawani is currently working on upgrading the 19 sq. km. port to make it capable of receiving giant vessels and handling up to 105 million tons annually.