How charitable giving became reliable and transparent in Saudi Arabia

Special An Iraqi girl begs in the street in front of a bicycle market in the Al-Sadreyh neighborhood, central Baghdad, May 24, 2019. (Photo by Ahmad AL-RUBAYE / AFP)
An Iraqi girl begs in the street in front of a bicycle market in the Al-Sadreyh neighborhood, central Baghdad, May 24, 2019. (Photo by Ahmad AL-RUBAYE / AFP)
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Updated 08 April 2022

How charitable giving became reliable and transparent in Saudi Arabia

How charitable giving became reliable and transparent in Saudi Arabia
  • State-regulated online platforms have revolutionized the way public donations are collected and used
  • Awareness campaigns have aided efforts to make sure donations do not end up lining the pockets of criminals

JEDDAH: Charity is part and parcel of Ramadan for any Muslim who can afford to donate to the needy. In fact, zakat, as it is known, is one of the five pillars of Islam.

However, this spirit of generosity is all too often exploited by criminals who mobilize women, children, the elderly and the disabled to enrich themselves.

In Saudi Arabia, the government has responded to the problem by launching a number of state-regulated charity platforms as well as public-awareness drives whose objective is to prevent such exploitation and ensure that donations do not end up financing terrorism.




Well-meaning donors are discouraged from shelling out money that could end up financing terrorist activities. (Supplied)

The Kingdom’s Presidency of State Security recently launched a powerful social-media campaign featuring a video in which a woman coerces three children to beg in the streets.

When a passer-by hands the women money, she places it in her shirt pocket, exposing an assault rifle and a suicide vest hidden beneath her black garb.

The woman then removes her veil to reveal she is in fact a man in disguise. The message is simple: “Donating to unknown individuals increases the possibility of terrorist financing.”

 

 

Saudi Arabia introduced a new anti-beggary law in 2021. Under its provisions, anyone who engages in begging, incites begging or helps begging in any way can face up to six months in jail, a fine of SR50,000 ($13,329), or both.

Culprits within an organized group that engages in begging, meanwhile, can face up to a year in jail, a fine of $26,659, or both.

Under the anti-begging law, anyone who asks for money directly or indirectly, fakes injuries or disabilities, or uses children to influence others into giving them money is considered a beggar.

Non-Saudi offenders can be deported after serving their sentence and can be banned from re-entering the Kingdom. A newly revised statute also considered begging through social-media platforms to be equal to traditional begging.

While there are genuinely needy people in the relatively affluent Arab Gulf countries who beg during the holy month of Ramadan, criminal groups have been known to run elaborate syndicates, trafficking vulnerable people into Saudi Arabia to collect money on their behalf.




Non-Saudi offenders of the anti-begging law can be deported after serving their sentence. (SPA file photo)

Ali, a Yemeni boy who claims to be 12-years-old but looks much younger, spends his days with two other boys of a similar age begging and cleaning car windshields on one of Jeddah’s main bridges.

“I came less than a year ago,” Ali told Arab News, squeegee and soap bottle in hand on the busy roadside. “I just want to help my family. I can’t go home now without making any money. I have a family. Please help.”

On a nearby street corner, elderly men and women in wheelchairs wait for passing motorists to stop to give them food or money, clutching papers claiming they cannot afford their medical expenses.

At the traffic lights, disheveled children holding infants on their hips tap on the windows of passing vehicles, open palms upturned begging for loose change.

The sight is familiar throughout the Middle East. But even the most trusting of people can be left with the nagging doubt: Where does the money go? Could this scene, which never fails to tug at the heartstrings, have been staged by an unseen handler? Are the motorists only fueling the problem by handing out cash?




Well-meaning donors are discouraged from shelling out money that could end up financing terrorist activities. (Supplied)

The Kingdom’s countermeasures are not confined to street-level begging. Saudi authorities have for some time focused on combating criminal gangs and extremist groups fraudulently posing as legitimate charitable organizations.

In 2016, the Interior Ministry said that it was illegal for organizations to raise funds without first obtaining a permit from the relevant authorities.

Charitable organizations have also been called on to become more transparent about how they collect and use public donations. The government’s own digitalization drive has greatly improved transparency and increased efficiency in the delivery of e-services.

The digital transformation is expanding in the charitable sector with the creation of new regulated services, including Ehsan, Shefaa, KSrelief, and the National Donations Platform, developed and supervised by the Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority.

Ehsan, a platform launched in 2021, enables philanthropists and donors to choose from a selection of charitable causes that they deem close to their heart, from social and economic issues, to health, education and the environment.

By focusing on individual values and specific societal issues, Ehsan aims to encourage a greater sense of social responsibility among the general public and private-sector organizations, while also promoting a culture of transparency in charitable giving.

INNUMBERS

$1.4 billion - Donations made through the KSrelief platform.

$386.5 million - Donations through the Ehsan platform.

$25.9 million - Donations through the Shefaa platform.

One of Ehsan’s services, the Furijat initiative, is a debt-repayment scheme for people convicted of financial crimes who are released from prison once their debt is paid off. Another initiative called Tyassarat helps debt-burdened citizens to rearrange their finances and get back on track.

Donors using the Ehsan platform can choose how much they would like to give and can pay by debit or credit card or with Apple Pay.

Donations became even easier in early February this year through the Tawakkalna smartphone app, the official Saudi Contact Tracing service launched to trace the spread of COVID-19.

Last year, King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman made multiple donations via Ehsan that pushed the platform’s total figure past the SR1 billion mark. Since its launch, Ehsan has received more than SR1.4 billion ($373.2 million) in donations and handed them out to more than 4.3 million beneficiaries.

On Wednesday King Salman approved the launch — for the second year in a row — of the National Campaign for Charitable Work through the Ehsan platform.

The National Donations Platform likewise provides easy solutions to connect donors with needy individuals across the Kingdom, while ensuring a reliable and secure digital donation process supervised by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development.

To date, more than 3.5 million people have benefited from money gifted through the National Donations Platform, including orphans, the sick, the elderly and people living in substandard housing.

Those wishing to contribute to overseas aid projects can do so through the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center, KSRelief, which works in 79 countries, supporting everything from the provision of specialist surgeries to landmine clearance.




Saudi Arabia's KSrelief distributed 1,800 Ramadan food baskets in the Sindh province of Pakistan, benefiting 12,600 individuals. (SPA)

As of February this year, $5.6 billion has been spent on the implementation of some 1,919 projects, many of them relating to food security and public health campaigns. Yemen, Palestine and Syria are its top three beneficiaries.

With many Arab countries struggling to overcome the economic blows of the COVID-19 pandemic and the inflationary impact of the war in Ukraine on food and fuel prices, charitable donations are needed now more than ever to support those in need.

Fortunately, public outpourings of generosity, even before the holy month of Ramadan, have allowed aid agencies in the Kingdom and beyond to provide relief where it is needed most.

By regulating donations and ensuring transparency, Saudi authorities can now ensure this assistance does not end up lining the pockets of criminals or funding acts of terrorism but instead reaches those who are genuinely in need.


Bahrain tourism minister discusses opportunities in Saudi Arabia with officials

Bahrain tourism minister discusses opportunities in Saudi Arabia with officials
Updated 59 min 46 sec ago

Bahrain tourism minister discusses opportunities in Saudi Arabia with officials

Bahrain tourism minister discusses opportunities in Saudi Arabia with officials
  • Both officials agreed to explore investment opportunities in the tourism sector in both countries

RIYADH: Bahrain’s tourism minister discussed expanding cooperation with Saudi Arabia in the tourism sector during an official visit to the Kingdom, Bahrain News Agency (BNA) reported.

Fatima Jaafar Al-Sairafi met with Qusai bin Abdulla Al-Fakhri, CEO of Saudi Tourism Development Fund, in Riyadh where both reviewed ways to create diverse business opportunities in the tourism sector and promote sustainability in line with international developments.

“They agreed to explore the future prospects of tourism projects undertaken by the private sector in both countries, in addition to tapping into investment opportunities in this vital sector,” the BNA statement read.

The officials praised the deep-rooted historic relations between both kingdoms, highlighting efforts to strengthen the steadily growing ties.
Al-Sairafi highlighted Bahrain’s 2022-2025 tourism strategy, which aims to increase cooperation with other countries to boost investment in tourism infrastructure.


Saudi charity KSrelief launches medical program combatting blindness in Bangladesh

Saudi charity KSrelief launches medical program combatting blindness in Bangladesh
Updated 11 August 2022

Saudi charity KSrelief launches medical program combatting blindness in Bangladesh

Saudi charity KSrelief launches medical program combatting blindness in Bangladesh
  • Thousands of people were examined in the new scheme

RIYADH: A new scheme combatting blindness and its causes in Bangladesh was launched on Monday by the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSrelief).

The KSrelief voluntary medical team examined 6,600 cases, and performed 150 successful cataract procedures.
This latest scheme serves as an extension of projects combating blindness by the Saudi charity, for families with low incomes in a number of countries.


All you need to know about Saudi Arabia’s new social media influencer permit

All you need to know about Saudi Arabia’s new social media influencer permit
Updated 11 August 2022

All you need to know about Saudi Arabia’s new social media influencer permit

All you need to know about Saudi Arabia’s new social media influencer permit
  • Kingdom’s media regulator says new law to take effect from October, with all social media influencers affected

LONDON: As more Saudis connect through their social media profiles and even begin to profit from these platforms, the Kingdom has launched a new licensing system to properly monitor the influencer industry.

From early October, every Saudi and non-Saudi content creator in the Kingdom who earns revenue through advertising on social media must first apply for an official permit from the General Commission for Audiovisual Media (GCAM).

For a fee of SR15,000 (roughly $4,000), content creators will receive a permit lasting three years, during which time they can work with as many private entities as they wish and promote any product or service, as long as it does not violate the Kingdom’s laws or values.
 

The incoming influencer license “is not a permit to censor or to block,” Esra Assery, CEO at GCAM, told Arab News. “It’s more of a permit to enable the maturity of the sector. We want to help those individuals grow, but grow in a professional way so they can make a career out of (social media revenue).”

The new regulations are being touted as legal protections, both for influencers and businesses wishing to advertise with them, so that rates and contractual obligations are standardized across the industry.

“The market is so unregulated,” said Assery. “We’re not against influencers or those individuals. Actually, we want to enable them. If you check out the new bylaw, it protects them also, because the bylaw regulates their relationship with the advertisers.”
 

Esra Assery, CEO at Saudi Arabia's General Commission for Audiovisual Media. (Supplied)

Currently, anyone in Saudi Arabia is able to advertise on social media and earn money from deals with private entities — with payments per post climbing into the thousands of riyals, depending on the number of followers an influencer can reach.

Concern has been expressed that introducing permits and regulations will undermine how much money influencers can make and might even constitute censorship. However, GCAM insists the permits are designed to ensure transparency between influencers and their clients.

Saudi influencers, whether based in the Kingdom or abroad, must apply for the permit if they wish to work with a brand — local or international. However, non-Saudi residents in the country must follow a different track.

After applying to the Ministry of Investment for a permit to work in the country, they can then apply for an influencer permit through GCAM. However, non-Saudi residents must be represented by specific advertising agencies.

“While some influencers may focus on the short-term loss of paying the license fee, there is a huge benefit to licensing coming in as it legitimizes the sector on a national level,” Jamal Al-Mawed, founder and managing director of Gambit Communications, told Arab News.

“This is crucial in the influencer industry as it has been a bit of a wild west for marketing in the past, with no clear benchmarking for rates or contracts.”

Al-Mawed said that the new measures can protect brands that are susceptible to fraud “when they pay huge budgets to influencers who are buying fake followers and fake engagements. This creates a vicious circle, as hard-working content creators are undermined by the bad apples.”

Although the new license is unlikely to solve every issue overnight, “it does create a foundation for more professionalism and accountability,” Al-Mawed added.

Under new rules, non-Saudi residents and visitors to the Kingdom are prohibited from posting ads on social media without a license. (Shutterstock image)

In June, non-Saudi residents and visitors to the Kingdom were prohibited from posting ads on social media without a license. Those who ignore the ruling face a possible five-year prison sentence and fines of up to SR5 million.

GCAM announced the ban after finding “violations by numerous non-Saudi advertisers, both residents and visitors, on social media platforms.”

“After checking their data, it was found that they had committed systemic violations, including lack of commercial registrations and legal licenses, and they are not working under any commercial entity or foreign investment license,” the commission said at the time.

Now, with a regulated license, such violations will be easier to monitor and the sector will be better regulated to ensure full transparency.
 

Businesses such as bakeries or hair salons that hold social media accounts and advertise their own products or services are not covered by the prohibition. (Shutterstock image)

Although Saudi influencers will be able to hold full-time jobs while earning on the side through promotional campaigns on their social media profiles, the law states that non-Saudis can work only in one specific role while residing in the Kingdom.

However, the system does not apply to businesses and entities — such as bakeries or hair salons — that hold social media accounts and advertise their own products or services on these platforms. Only individuals are affected by the new law.

There are certain exceptions, however, such as individuals who have been invited to the country by a ministry or government entity in order to perform, including musicians and entertainers.

With the rise of social media over the past decade, content creators and so-called influencers with thousands of followers on Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat and other platforms have drawn audiences away from traditional outlets, such as television, newspapers and magazines, to new and largely unregulated media.
 

Sensing the shift in content consumption, advertisers have followed the herd. Crystal-blue waters caressing white, sandy beaches at luxury resorts and scrumptious feasts at the finest restaurants are now commonplace on influencer profiles as businesses rush to take advantage of more “natural-feeling” product placement.

However, regulators have struggled to keep up with this rapid transformation, leaving the process open to legal disputes, exploitation and abuse. That is why authorities elsewhere in the world have also been exploring influencer permits.

Dubai, widely seen as the influencer hub of the Middle East, is among them.

In 2018, the UAE’s National Media Council launched a new electronic media regulation system, which required social media influencers to obtain a license to operate in the country.

The cost of the annual license is 15,000 AED (roughly $4,000). Those who fail to obtain or renew the license can face penalties including a fine of up to 5,000 AED, a verbal or official warning, and even closure of their social media accounts.

The rules apply to influencers visiting the UAE as well. They must either have a license or be signed up with an NMC-registered influencer agency to operate in the country.

With Saudi Arabia progressing in the entertainment and creative industries, the introduction of the license is viewed as a step in the right direction.

“It’s great news for the industry,” said Al-Mawed. “When someone is licensed by the government to offer their services, that gives them a level of safety and trust and can help filter out the scammers who prefer to fly under the radar.”

 

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4,291 Saudi health security trainees graduate   

4,291 Saudi health security trainees graduate   
Updated 11 August 2022

4,291 Saudi health security trainees graduate   

4,291 Saudi health security trainees graduate   

RIYADH: A fourth group of health security trainees graduated from the Saudi Commission for Health Specialties in a virtual ceremony on Wednesday. 

A total of 4,291 male and female graduates will join the job market. 

Dr. Aws Al-Shamsan, secretary-general of the Saudi Commission for Health Specialties, said that health security plays an important role in improving healthcare services.

The program includes practical and theoretical training for three months, in addition to two weeks of field training in one of the health sectors, allowing trainees to benefit from hands-on experience.

Health security graduates receive a diploma allowing them to work in the Kingdom’s health sector.


Umbrellas raise Makkah pilgrims’ spirits

Umbrellas raise Makkah pilgrims’ spirits
Updated 11 August 2022

Umbrellas raise Makkah pilgrims’ spirits

Umbrellas raise Makkah pilgrims’ spirits

JEDDAH: Pilgrims sheltering from heavy rain in Makkah on Tuesday received a helping hand when the General Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques handed out umbrellas to visitors at the Grand Mosque.

Khaled bin Fahd Al-Shalwi, assistant for the general president for social, voluntary and humanitarian services agency, said that the “Umbrella of Mu’tamer” initiative is part of a range of services designed to help visitors perform their rituals. 

Programs and services come under the direction of the President for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques, Abdulrahman Al-Sudais, who strives to provide a safe environment to allow visitors to the Grand Mosque to complete their rituals with ease, he added. 

According to the presidency’s website, the presidency has also employed more than 200 supervisors, 4,000 female and male workers, and utilized more than 500 items of equipment to deal with the rain at the Grand Mosque through its environmental protection agency. 

Ahmed bin Omar Bilaamash, assistant to the general president for services and achievement of the environmental protection agency, said that prayer areas, entrances and exits, and the mataf — the circumambulation space around the Kaaba — are equipped to handle the rainfall.