LEAP conference set to showcase Saudi Arabia’s tech and entrepreneurial ambitions

Special LEAP conference set to showcase Saudi Arabia’s tech and entrepreneurial ambitions
Saudi Arabia is projected to spend over $24 billion on various technologies by 2025 in the pursuit of its Vision 2030 goals to diversify the economy. (Supplied)
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Updated 06 February 2023

LEAP conference set to showcase Saudi Arabia’s tech and entrepreneurial ambitions

LEAP conference set to showcase Saudi Arabia’s tech and entrepreneurial ambitions
  • Over 100,000 innovators, investors and experts from around the world descending on Riyadh for four-day event 
  • LEAP will be co-located with DeepFest, an AI event organized by Saudi Authority for Data and Artificial Intelligence

RIYADH: Artificial intelligence, digital economy, and digital metaverses may be terms the average technology aficionado expects to hear at a conference in Seoul or Silicon Valley. This week, however, all things tech will be the talk of the town in the Saudi capital, Riyadh.

From Feb. 6 to 9, over 100,000 tech innovators and leading experts will gather for the second LEAP conference, a global platform for tech professionals from around the world.

Held alongside LEAP will be DeepFest, the inaugural AI event powered by the Saudi Authority for Data and Artificial Intelligence. Both events demonstrate the Kingdom’s aim to take its place among the world’s most technologically advanced nations.

The Kingdom is projected to spend over $24 billion on various technologies by 2025 — the highest in the world, according to the Saudi Press Agency.




Investing in data literacy training for public sector employees ensures that data is being used effectively. (Supplied)

At last year’s LEAP conference, Saudi Minister of Communications and Information Technology Abdullah Al-Swaha announced that the country would be investing $6.4 billion in future technologies and entrepreneurship to further solidify the Kingdom’s position as the Middle East and North Africa region’s largest digital economy.

The growth of the Saudi tech industry, in line with the goals of Saudi Vision 2030, is a way for the Kingdom to diversify its economy away from oil and gas revenues.

According to a 2022 Economist Intelligence report, Saudi Arabia was the world’s fastest-growing major economy in 2022, “outperforming the dynamic Asian giants of China, India, Indonesia and South Korea, as well as the struggling G7 and other major emerging economies.”

LEAP broke records last year when its inaugural conference became the world’s largest tech event ever held. This year looks to be just as big, if not bigger, than last, with top professionals in the tech industry traveling to Riyadh from across the world.

“Saudi Arabia’s recent investments in its digital economy, as well as its information and communications technology sector, helped consolidate its position as the leading information and communication technology market in the Middle East and North Africa,” Imad Abuizz, digital and technology platform leader at the business management consultant firm PwC Middle East, told Arab News.

Since the announcement of Saudi Vision 2030 seven years ago, the Kingdom has launched a series of initiatives that emphasize technology as a tool for social and economic reform.

Strategic agendas under Vision 2030 focus on regenerating the country’s digital infrastructure to boost economic growth, knowledge and enhance daily life. To this end, Saudi Arabia has committed to an annual investment of 2.5 percent of GDP in the sectors of development, research and innovation by 2040.

The Kingdom’s technological plans are supported by SDAIA, which was launched by royal decree in August 2019.

The same year, the Saudi government launched Absher, a smartphone application which enables citizens and residents of Saudi Arabia to access a variety of government services.

“Government spending demonstrates a big focus on digitalization,” Fadi Komati, a digital government consulting leader at PwC Middle East, told Arab News. “Why the sector is moving so quickly is because the majority of the population is young and eager to move forward and advance in cutting-edge technologies.




Fadi Komati

“The government’s digital transformation and continued investment in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and innovation lay the groundwork for a lot of opportunities, both for the private and public sector.”

Komati underlines how government investment in tech is “encouraging the private sector to become more mature, thus also stimulating and incentivising international companies to visit and open in Saudi Arabia.”

“The increased progress in the private tech sector within Saudi Arabia is a result of government investment in the sector,” he said.

In the same vein, Saudi tech entrepreneur Hussein Attar, CEO at private investment firm Tech Invest Com, told Arab News: “In terms of Saudi Arabia, all the giga projects being launched, such as NEOM, have placed a strong focus on technological innovation. Every giga project has a funding side that is investing in tech. Saudi Aramco also has its own investment fund for technology.”




Hussein Attar

At last year’s LEAP conference, Saudi Aramco unveiled a billion dollars’ worth of investments in developing start-ups through entrepreneurship support fund Prosperity 7 Ventures. NEOM Tech & Digital Holding Co. stated it was investing $1 billion in future technologies and launching the new M3LD AI engine as well as the XVRS digital twin metaverse.

Technological investment in Saudi Arabia is also paramount to the country’s environmental goals. In October 2022, at the sixth edition of the Future Investment Initiative, Aramco unveiled a $1.5 billion sustainability fund, one of the world’s largest sustainability-focused venture capital funds.

Recent data demonstrates the rise of Saudi Arabia as a growing global center, both regionally and internationally, in both the private and public sectors. According to the 2022 Saudi Arabia Venture Capital Report produced by Magnitt, the Kingdom was one of the emerging markets that recorded year on year growth nearing the $1 billion mark.

Saudi Arabia’s tech evolution is a way for the country to connect with the wider region and the world. AI, which was a recent focus at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, is paramount to the Kingdom’s growth in the field of tech.




A scene from LEAP 2022. (File photo Supplied)

In September 2022, the Saudi Public Investment Fund’s Saudi Company for Artificial Intelligence announced an investment of $776 million in a joint venture with China’s SenseTime to develop the AI ecosystem in Saudi Arabia.

“The Kingdom’s advanced technological infrastructure, high-caliber developments in the field of AI, and high standards designed by government authorities encourage AI businesses to plug in and grow in a regionally leading market,” Dr. Turki Almugaiteeb, a Saudi expert in technological development and innovation, told Arab News.




Dr. Turki Almugaiteeb

Saudi Arabia has also signed a number of partnerships with global AI providers to find practical solutions to everyday problems, Komati said, adding: “AI is very high on the agenda in Saudi Arabia because it is considered a mechanism by which technology can provide much bigger benefits.”

Technological investment and the Kingdom’s numerous avenues being explored for technological growth and innovation are also about education and offering a better life for its citizens, residents, and all visitors to Saudi Arabia.

In the words of Almugaiteeb, the key ingredients in Saudi Arabia’s rise to tech giant status are “the great human resources being developed in the Kingdom, combined with educated young Saudis in the field, many of whom have gained experience abroad.”

 

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Riyadh charity event collects 50,000 clothing items

Riyadh charity event collects 50,000 clothing items
Updated 57 min 32 sec ago

Riyadh charity event collects 50,000 clothing items

Riyadh charity event collects 50,000 clothing items
  • Families from all over Kingdom will have opportunity to get clothes to wear during Eid, Ramadan

 

RIYADH: More than 50,000 clothing items were donated at one of the biggest charity events held in the Kingdom on Friday and Saturday in Riyadh.

The third edition of the Kiswa Project launched 13 clothing market donations in 13 regions of the Kingdom.

The charity event was held at Prince Sultan University in Riyadh, in cooperation with the Nubader Club, a group of students at the university who are committed to volunteering and being part of betterment initiatives.

Renad Alzaid, who volunteered as part of the Kiswa crew to help organize the event, said: “Our aim is to distribute the 50,000 clothing items throughout the Kingdom to women, men and children. Anyone who would like to be a part of this should join us.”

Families from all over the Kingdom will have the opportunity to get clothes — of various designs, sizes and colors — to wear during Eid and Ramadan.

Tayseer Abdullah attended the event with her children to pick up clothes that they plan to wear during the month of Ramadan and in Eid celebrations. “I got everything for my family. Some things for the children, for myself and my mother,” Abdullah said.

Abdulrahman Alemam, a Kiswa volunteer, said: “We came in today to support the needy families by helping them and arranging for them the clothes they want to take so they take them in an orderly, faster and smooth manner. It feels incredible to help out.”

Abdulaziz Alshenqity, a Nubader member, said: “Our goal is to bring joy and happiness to the beneficiaries and the needy famlies. Nubader Club was established by students who are enthusiastic about serving the community in order to have a positive impact on society and provide volunteer initiatives for all members of society.”


Dates—beloved jewels of the desert

Dates—beloved jewels of the desert
Updated 01 April 2023

Dates—beloved jewels of the desert

Dates—beloved jewels of the desert
  • A symbol of Saudi hospitality, dates come in a range of textures, colors and levels of sweetness

RIYADH: Dates are an iconic symbol of Saudi Arabia. The fruit represents an integral part of the Kingdom’s hospitality as one is always offered dates and Arabic coffee at home, in the office and at event of all kinds.

It is no surprise that during the holy month of Ramadan, dates are a staple on the iftar table. With more than 200 varieties to choose from, dates come in a range of flavors, textures, colors and levels of sweetness.

Aside from consuming them on their own, dates are used in multiple ways in the kitchen: a filling for the popular and traditional mamool cookie, a natural sweetener for drinks and desserts and garnishing for salad, among other uses. Choosing the right variety will ensure a magical gastronomic experience.

A symbol of Saudi hospitality and an Iftar staple, over 200 varieties of dates are produced in Saudi Arabia and sold at date markets. (SPA)

The significance of dates is also tied to the belief that the Prophet Muhammad broke his fasts with the fruit, thus eating dates in the holy month of Ramadan is a tradition that Muslims have followed for centuries.

Khaled Al-Ramadan, a mechanical engineer, dedicates all of his free time to his date business, Kahraman Dates, in the Eastern Province. “I was born in Al-Ahsa and I have always had palm trees surrounding me. Out of love for agricultural history and my own hobby, I started my date business,” he said.

FASTFACT

The Ajwa date, considered one of the most expensive in the Kingdom, is produced mainly in Madinah, the second holy city in Saudi Arabia. Nicknamed the ‘holy date,’ the black or dark brown Ajwa has a distinct flavor profile.

Al-Ramadan added that he has become acquainted with many people in the date business, whose work he values. “Dates are available everywhere, even in grocery stores. There are dates that are marked at the lowest possible price, SR2-3 ($0.5) a kilo. But a person who can produce a beautiful and luxurious product deserves appreciation and support … we should buy from him and market his production.”

A symbol of Saudi hospitality and an Iftar staple, over 200 varieties of dates are produced in Saudi Arabia and sold at date markets. (Supplied)

Al-Ramadan’s favorite type of date is the Raziz date. The Raziz date is usually served with date molasses and sesame in a traditional dish named safsif. “Any authentic date expert would also tell you that the best date out there is the Raziz date. It has great nutritional value and flavor, even if it’s high in sugar,” he said.

Al-Ramadan told Arab News about four of the most popular Ramadan date varieties in the Kingdom.

Ajwa: The Ajwa date, considered one of the most expensive in the Kingdom, is produced mainly in Madinah, the second holy city in Saudi Arabia. Nicknamed the “holy date,” the black or dark brown Ajwa has a distinct flavor profile. It is slightly sweet and fruity with a prune-like texture and is rich in vitamins.

Khalas: Khalas dates are also considered one of the Kingdom’s premium varieties. It is a dark brown, oval-shaped date with a sweet butter-caramel flavor. “Khalas is most famously associated with the Eastern region in Saudi Arabia. Al-Ahsa tends to produce the highest quantity and quality of the Khalas date. You most certainly will find Khalas dates in every social gathering in the GCC, particularly in Saudi Arabia and UAE,” he said.

Sokari: Al-Ramadan recommends the sought-after Sokari date for a sweet caramel taste. They are considered a great source of fiber and suitable for people with heart conditions. “The word ‘Sokari’ sounds like ‘sugar’ in Arabic. It means ‘the sweet one,’ he said. The variety is popular in the region and the fruit is often referred to as ‘royal dates’,” Al-Ramadan added.

Segai: Segai are two-toned dates that hold different textures: One part of the date is soft and the other is dry and crunchy. Its taste is similar to brown sugar.

 


Saudi esports festival returns with $10m charity prize fund

Saudi esports festival returns with $10m charity prize fund
Updated 01 April 2023

Saudi esports festival returns with $10m charity prize fund

Saudi esports festival returns with $10m charity prize fund
  • Event will also host a women’s tournament for the first time

JEDDAH: The world’s biggest charitable esports festival is returning to the Kingdom for the fourth year with a $10 million charity prize fund, connecting the world of gaming to humanitarian causes around the globe.

Gamers Without Borders is a six-week-long series of events that will be held virtually by the Saudi Esports Federation beginning April 27.

The esports festival offers elite players competition across a wide range of the world’s most popular gaming titles through tournaments that will serve as a qualifier to Gamers8: The Land of Heroes, the biggest esports and gaming festival worldwide, which will return for a second year on July 6.

Teams including NIGMA GALAXY will compete for a total prize pool of $2.5 million in the multiplayer tactical first-person shooter Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, developed by Valve and Hidden Path Entertainment. Other teams taking part will be announced later.

This year’s edition will also feature the first-of-its-kind all-women Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournament, with six teams battling in a single elimination bracket on April 27-29.

HIGHLIGHT

The esports festival offers elite players competition across a wide range of the world’s most popular gaming titles through tournaments that will serve as a qualifier to Gamers8: The Land of Heroes, the biggest esports and gaming festival worldwide, which will return for a second year on July 6.

Prince Faisal bin Bandar bin Sultan, chairman of the Saudi Esports Federation, said: “It is extremely exciting to announce that Gamers Without Borders’ fourth edition will have an all-women component. One of the best features of gaming and esports is that it provides equal opportunities for everyone without any bias or restrictions.

“We are furthering our commitment to providing an inclusive gaming and esports environment that encourages and supports female gamers from all backgrounds.”

NIGMA GALAXY said: “We are proud to take part in the world’s biggest charitable esports festival and see the tournament expanding its horizons. Hopefully, events like Gamers Without Borders will help pave the way for the further development of women’s esports globally and we’re excited to play for such an important cause.”

In addition to the women’s tournament, the main Counter-Strike: Global Offensive qualifiers will take place on May 16 for Europe and North America, allowing teams to secure a spot at the GWB finals and Gamers8 grand finals.

Prince Faisal added: “Gamers Without Borders paved the way for us to organize Gamers8, the biggest esports and gaming festival worldwide. With Gamers Without Borders, the Kingdom has established the world’s largest charity esports platform and in just three years, the world’s largest charitable Esports festival raised $30 million to support humanitarian aid partners such as Direct Relief, IMC, UNICEF, ITU Gavi, NRC, the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center and UNHCR.”

After three successful editions that saw more than $30 million donated to COVID-19 relief and vaccine distribution, the festival is aiming to reach a total of $40 million in donations.

Gamers from around the world can support the donation drive through the Gamers Without Borders website.

 


Who’s Who: Ahmed bin Wasl Al-Juhani, CEO of Rua Al-Madinah Holding

Ahmed bin Wasl Al-Juhani
Ahmed bin Wasl Al-Juhani
Updated 01 April 2023

Who’s Who: Ahmed bin Wasl Al-Juhani, CEO of Rua Al-Madinah Holding

Ahmed bin Wasl Al-Juhani

Ahmed bin Wasl Al-Juhani has been CEO of Rua Al-Madinah Holding since February 2022.

The company is a subsidiary of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and undertakes development projects in Madinah that feature modern urban planning.

Rua Al-Madinah Holding aims to highlight Madinah’s cultural and urban characteristics, while helping achieve Vision 2030 targets for Hajj and Umrah through its development projects.

Al-Juhani’s executive track record extends across more than three decades, and includes real estate development, construction and facilities management, housing, tourism, hospitality and culture, education, sports facilities, as well as railways, airports, and oil and gas facilities.

He has held numerous leadership positions at major companies and institutions in the Kingdom, Europe and South Korea.

Before joining Rua Al-Madinah Holding, Al-Juhani was CEO of the development and construction sector at the Royal Commission for AlUla, where he served for a year.

He was previously vice president of construction at El-Seif Engineering Contracting.

Al-Juhani also lent his expertise to Saudi Aramco, where he served for 20 years, and the Ministry of Finance, where he supervised various large-scale projects and laid out the strategic framework for future undertakings.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, and a master’s degree in engineering from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.

Al-Juhani has completed Harvard Business School’s real estate management program, as well as several specialized training programs.

 

 


Saudi mission coordinates date distribution program in Helsinki

Saudi Ambassador to Finland Nisreen bint Hamad Al-Shibel was attended the event. (Supplied)
Saudi Ambassador to Finland Nisreen bint Hamad Al-Shibel was attended the event. (Supplied)
Updated 01 April 2023

Saudi mission coordinates date distribution program in Helsinki

Saudi Ambassador to Finland Nisreen bint Hamad Al-Shibel was attended the event. (Supplied)
  • Two tons of premium-quality dates will be distributed among Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Dawah and Guidance, in coordination with the Saudi Embassy in Helsinki, launched King Salman’s date distribution program.

The event was held in the presence of Saudi Ambassador to Finland Nisreen bint Hamad Al-Shibel.

Two tons of premium-quality dates will be distributed among Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan.

The ministry is implementing the program in 60 countries this year, as an extension of the Saudi leadership’s commitment to address the needs of Muslims and bring them together during the holy month.