Massive turnout for LEAP tech conference in Riyadh proves to be a mixed blessing

Massive turnout for LEAP tech conference in Riyadh proves to be a mixed blessing
Massive turnout at the global tech conference. (AN photos/Huda Bashatah)
Short Url
Updated 08 February 2023

Massive turnout for LEAP tech conference in Riyadh proves to be a mixed blessing

Massive turnout for LEAP tech conference in Riyadh proves to be a mixed blessing
  • For two days in a row, attendees have braved Riyadh’s rush-hour traffic and capacity crowd to gain admission
  • Event has proved a great opportunity for investments, partnerships, meetings and networking with people in tech

RIYADH: Such has been the overwhelming popularity of this year’s LEAP, a four-day annual tech conference hosted in the Saudi capital Riyadh, that organizers were forced to close the doors to new attendees on Tuesday after the venue reached maximum capacity. 

Held at the Riyadh International Convention & Exhibition Center, the event’s second edition has seen a massive turnout, as some of the biggest names in the tech world showcase their products and discuss new industry trends.

For two days, students, entrepreneurs and startup owners have braved Riyadh’s rush-hour traffic and large crowds to gain admission — a challenge one attendee described as “a logistical nightmare,” as more than 250,000 registrations were recorded on the first day alone.

Amal Al-Khalid, 24, traveled from the Eastern Province to take part in one of two contests — the Rocket Fuel competition and Alibaba Cloud hackathon — with a SR6 million ($1.5 million) prize pool aimed at rewarding Saudi-based startups and boosting cloud technologies.

“I came with the intention of checking out the competition with my three colleagues as our startup is focused on providing water treatment solutions for domestic use,” she told Arab News on the sidelines of the event.

“Our idea came up as we kept hearing about the problems with the quality at home. I knew it was going to be crowded as many members of our entrepreneurial community spoke of LEAP for months, but I did not expect to see crowds of this kind.”

The Rocket Fuel competition, supported by the National Information Technology Development Program and the Misk Foundation, aims to help new businesses, highlight entrepreneurial projects, and build innovative solutions that address technical challenges.

As many as 90 local startups will compete for a chance to be one of 15 awarded a share of SR4 million, with a top prize of almost SR940,000. The event is a great opportunity as far as investments, partnerships and meetings are concerned, to say nothing of connecting with new people in tech from around the world.

Several young tech entrepreneurs were drawn by the prospect of competing in the contests and the chance to network on LEAP’s sidelines. However, the event’s enormous popularity appeared to overwhelm the available facilities.

“User journeys were not planned out correctly,” Ghaliah Al-Sukait, an experience and planning development manager, told Arab News.

“Only the main pathway had ushers organizing the human traffic. All the other pathways were disorganized and not clear. The distribution of booths did not allow for smooth transitions from one space to the other, but rather created even more traffic.

“Given the huge anticipated footfall, there should have been multiple entrances and exits to the space to allow users to move freely. Instead, there was only one main entrance (for regular tickets) and one main exit at the opposite side, forcing users to walk through the entire space within the traffic.

“The exit was positioned far away from the parking, leading users to walk through the parking after an already long walk through the space. This resulted in increased frustration from users.”

Roads to and from the venue were also packed, with attendees spending hours stuck in traffic.

“Having left my house at around 1 p.m., and there was a lot of traffic, it took me over an hour to get there,” one visitor from the US told Arab News.

“It was a mess with the traffic. The venue was large. It’s at least a 2-3 mile walk because it’s so huge and overwhelming, though nice. But there were no legends or maps to tell you where to go. They (the crowd) were just standing there,” she added.

LEAP will run until Feb. 9, and features an exhibitor and convention line-up of transformational talent, a product showcase of advanced and generative technology potential, and a celebrity guest list of billionaire entrepreneurs, business magnates, sporting heroes, and musical icons-turned futurists and financiers.

On Monday, the conference announced more than $9 billion in investments to support future technologies, entrepreneurship, and tech startups to enhance the Kingdom’s position as the largest digital economy in the Middle East and North Africa region.


Saudi Arabia sets out its water strategy during landmark, high-level UN conference

Saudi Arabia sets out its water strategy during landmark, high-level UN conference
Updated 24 March 2023

Saudi Arabia sets out its water strategy during landmark, high-level UN conference

Saudi Arabia sets out its water strategy during landmark, high-level UN conference
  • The Kingdom spends billions on infrastructure projects worldwide, making it a global leader in security and sustainability of water supplies
  • The event, the first international gathering of its kind to discuss water in a generation, has been taking place in New York this week

NEW YORK CITY: As concerns about water scarcity continue to grow worldwide, and in the Arab region in particular, Saudi officials on Thursday offered details of the steps they have been taking to address the problems.

They said the Kingdom is working to provide safe and affordable drinking water for all by developing ways to recycle and manage water resources in an integrated manner that reduces the environmental impact, and expressed confidence that it is on the right path to achieve the global goal of safe water for all.

Abdulaziz Al-Shaibani, the deputy minister for water affairs at the Saudi Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture, said his country leads the world in the unconventional supply of water through desalination, and is working hard to reduce the environmental impact of the processes that are used.

He was speaking at the first UN water conference in a generation, which was co-hosted this week in New York by the governments of Tajikistan and the Netherlands.

“I don’t know why (the conference) hadn’t happened up until now,” UN spokesman Farhan Haq told Arab News. “But we’re certainly glad that it is happening now.

“It takes time for member states to recognize the seriousness of some of the problems we face, and at least they’re doing this and it’s a positive development.”

Organizers hope the conference will prove to be a watershed moment in efforts to mobilize the UN system, member states and other stakeholders to take action, amid increasingly urgent warnings that international progress on water-related goals remains “alarmingly” off target, jeopardizing the entire sustainable development agenda.

The UN General Assembly set out its Sustainable Development Goals — 17 global targets designed to be a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all” — in 2015, with the aim of achieving them by 2030.

Al-Shaibani told the conference on Thursday that the water sector is a cornerstone of comprehensive economic prosperity and a strong nexus of the strategies for other economic sectors.

He said Saudi Vision 2030, the Kingdom’s ambitious development agenda, was launched as part of the country’s efforts to build a more sustainable economy in line with the UN’s sustainability goals, and to pave the way for a better future “by diversifying the economy, reducing the state’s dependence on oil and developing the public sector to be more dynamic, flexible and sustainable.”

The Kingdom’s limited natural freshwater resources and the ever-increasing demand for water, and the challenges these factors pose to sustainable economic development, prompted Riyadh in 2018 to adopt what is now known as the “National Water Strategy 2030.”

Al-Shaibani said it was devised around the principle of Integrated Water Resources Management, which aims to restructure the water sector to make it more sustainable and efficient.

He added that it seeks to achieve this through a number of ambitious initiatives and programs, the most important of which are: “Restructuring and developing Integrated Water Resources Management capabilities; developing and implementing the water law; integrated water planning; development of renewable and non-renewable groundwater resources and surface water; development of sustainable desalination capabilities; promotion of the contribution of the private sector and third sector; and adherence to environmental regulations and requirements as well as improvements of irrigation efficiency.”

Al-Shaibani said his country is striving to reduce carbon emissions from fossil fuels by 56 percent by 2024, which represents 26 percent of the Kingdom’s total commitment to the Paris Agreement, with the remaining reduction set to be achieved by 2030.

He added that advances in desalination have significantly increased the quality of drinking water while protecting nonrenewable groundwater resources.

The Kingdom is also, Al-Shaibani said, “establishing sustainable agricultural cities that promote local economies and rural communities; (and) supporting women through the development opportunities offered by non-traditional water sources such as the Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development Program.”

In its efforts to achieve “universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all,” Saudi Arabia has allocated more than $80 billion for “hundreds of projects” related to water infrastructure, to be implemented in the coming years, he told the gathering.

The Kingdom has also rationalized water use through laws and regulations and awareness campaigns, Al-Shaibani added.

He pointed out that in 2020, during its presidency of the G20, the Kingdom sought to include the issue of resilient and sustainable water management on the group’s action map for the first time. Riyadh also spearheaded the G20’s “Dialogue on Water,” which this year, under India’s presidency, will take place for the fourth time.

“The Kingdom seeks to ensure the continuity of the water topic discussion within the G20 in the coming years through cooperation and coordination with the partners in the group,” Al-Shaibani said.

Meanwhile, the Saudi Fund for Development has provided billions of dollars for the development of many water-infrastructure projects in developing countries, he added, including “building dams, well drilling, water-supply networks and other water-related projects.”

Al-Shaibani concluded by calling on all countries to cooperate, share their experiences and face the challenges together as they work to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, “among the most important of which is the sixth goal: To have a secure future for all of us and for the future generations.”


Saudi foreign minister discusses ties with Algerian, Cypriot counterparts

Saudi foreign minister discusses ties with Algerian, Cypriot counterparts
Updated 24 March 2023

Saudi foreign minister discusses ties with Algerian, Cypriot counterparts

Saudi foreign minister discusses ties with Algerian, Cypriot counterparts

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan made a phone call to his Algerian counterpart Ahmed Attaf, the Kingdom’s foreign ministry said on Thursday.

At the beginning of the call, the two sides exchanged greetings on the occasion of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and Prince Faisal congratulated the Algerian minister on assuming his new position, wishing him all the success.

They reviewed bilateral relations and ways of enhancing them to achieve the interests of the two countries, and discussed regional and international developments of common interest.

Prince Faisal then received a phone call from his Cypriot counterpart Constantinos Kombos, where he also congratulated him on assuming his new position, and wished him all the success.

They discussed relations between the two countries and ways to support and enhance them, in addition to exchanging views on regional and international issues of common concern.


Saudi Arabia marks World Meteorological Day

Saudi Arabia marks World Meteorological Day
Updated 24 March 2023

Saudi Arabia marks World Meteorological Day

Saudi Arabia marks World Meteorological Day

JEDDAH: World Meteorological Day, observed on March 23 every year, is celebrated this year under the theme “The Future of Weather, Climate and Water Across Generations.”

It aims to join efforts at all national, regional and international levels to address the causes of extreme weather events and climate change, as well as the increasing scarcity of water resources.

The occasion also falls on the anniversary of the World Meteorological Organization’s establishment in 1950. The organization acts as an international umbrella that deals with weather and climate predictions, and serves as an effective channel for international cooperation in this vital area of development, urbanization and stability of humans and living organisms on the planet.

Through this year’s theme, the organization aims to pay tribute to the 24-hour national services of the meteorological and hydrological facilities, which collect and consolidate weather prediction data. 

Saudi Arabia is one of the founding states of the organization and undertook significant work in the field of meteorology at the local, regional and international levels. Its work in this regard is reflected in its functions on meteorology and climate, as well as through eight regional and international centers.

These centers are the Jeddah Regional Communication Center, the Regional Center for Drought Monitoring and Early Warning, the Jeddah Regional Climate Center, the Jeddah Global Information System Center, the Operational Information Center for Air Navigation Services, the Jeddah Historical Information Rescue Center, the Atmospheric and Hydrological Research Center, and the Agricultural Meteorology Research Center. 


International Qur’an recitation, adhan contest underway in Riyadh

International Qur’an recitation, adhan contest underway in Riyadh
Updated 24 March 2023

International Qur’an recitation, adhan contest underway in Riyadh

International Qur’an recitation, adhan contest underway in Riyadh
  • Coinciding with the first day of Ramadan, the contest has a total prize pool of $3.2 million

RIYADH: The second edition of the “Otr Elkalam” TV show, featuring international Qur’an recitation and call to prayer (adhan) competitions, started on Thursday.

Coinciding with the first day of Ramadan, the contest has a total prize pool of SR12 million ($3.2 million).

An initiative of the General Entertainment Authority, the popular show is broadcast on MBC1 and Shahid digital platform during the holy month.

The first episode featured the 32 contestants from around the world and revisited last year’s winners of the Qur’an recitation and adhan competitions, Younes Gharbi from Morocco, and Mohsen Kara of Turkiye, respectively.

Applications to take part in this year’s contest began rolling in from Jan. 4 and contestants then went through several online stages of evaluation by 120 jury members.

More than 50,000 entrants from 165 countries were whittled down to 50 for the final stage, which is held in Riyadh. Another selection process by the main jury left 32 contestants, 16 for each competition.

Viewers were introduced to this year’s panel of judges which includes the competition’s secretary-general, Dr. Fahd Al-Andas, general supervisor, Sheikh Adil Al-Kalbani, and Moroccan president, Dr. Abdel Rahim Nabulsi.

Bahloul Abu Arqoub from Libya, Meshary Al-Afasy from Kuwait, Ahmed Mansour from Egypt, and Ahmed Nahhas from Saudi Arabia were also present.

“Otr Elkalam” is the first competition to combine Qur’an recitation and adhan and the largest contest of its kind in the world.


Saudi Civil Defense warns of thunderstorms, dust storms

Saudi Civil Defense warns of thunderstorms, dust storms
Updated 24 March 2023

Saudi Civil Defense warns of thunderstorms, dust storms

Saudi Civil Defense warns of thunderstorms, dust storms

JEDDAH: The General Directorate of Saudi Civil Defense has urged residents to take precautionary measures against thunderstorms and dust storms that are likely to affect some regions between Friday and Monday. 

The organization, acting on information from the National Center of Meteorology, said the Makkah region will be affected by moderate to heavy rains that may lead to torrential flows. The areas of Taif, Maysan, Adham, Al-Khurmah, Al-Ardiyat, Turbah, Rania, Al-Muwayh, Qia, Khulais, Al-Kamil, Al-Jumum, Bahra, Al-Lith, and Al-Qunfudhah are expected to be hit.

The Riyadh region is also expected to suffer, including the capital, Al-Kharj, Wadi Al-Dawasir, As-Sulayyil, Afif, Al-Duwadmi, Shaqra, Al-Zulfi, Al-Majma’ah, Al-Quwa’iyah, Al-Ghat, Hotat Bani Tamim, Al-Aflaj, Thadiq, Ramah, Al-Muzahimiyah, Al-Diriyah, Dhurma, Huraymila and Al-Dalam.

Authorities stressed the need to stay away from areas where torrents gather, and not to swim in dangerous places. 

Residents have been advised to adhere to instructions announced through the media. 

The regions of Asir, Al-Baha, Jazan, Najran, Madinah, Hail, Tabuk, Al-Jawf, the northern borders, Al-Qasim and the eastern borders are also expected to be affected.

Moderate rains and winds resulting in dust storms are expected in the Makkah region, including Jeddah and Rabigh.

The Civil Defense has stressed the need to stay away from areas where torrents gather, and not to swim in dangerous places.

Residents have been advised to adhere to instructions announced through the media.