Saudi females are driving the SME boom in the Kingdom

Saudi females are driving the SME boom in the Kingdom
Honayda Serafi, who launched her eponymous fashion brand in 2016 and focuses on pret-a-porter and couture lines, sees her brand as a way to empower women both psychologically and also to start their own fashion businesses. (Supplied)
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Updated 10 July 2023
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Saudi females are driving the SME boom in the Kingdom

Saudi females are driving the SME boom in the Kingdom
  • Reforms over the past several years have provided funding and opportunities to women who are increasingly leading the growth of the Saudi SME sector
  • Official figures show 45 percent of SMEs in the Kingdom are now led by Saudi women

RIYADH: As the Kingdom continues to transform both economically and socially, ushering in a host of new institutes, ministries and mega and giga-projects, a large segment in its change is growth in the private sector. 

In February this year, the non-oil element of this witnessed its highest growth since 2015, with the Kingdom’s Purchasing Managers Index hitting 59.8, up from 58.2 in January. 

At the helm of Saudi Arabia’s private sector growth are small and medium enterprises, with many increasingly led by the Kingdom’s women. 

Saudi women ran their own businesses long before the social reforms of Vision 2030 were implemented. Yet the acceleration and growth in the sector — propelled by an increasing number of female entrepreneurs — can be largely attributed to the changes taking place in the Kingdom as it opens up to the world.

“I established my consultancy Niche Arabia over 13 years ago and now I am investing in female-owned start-ups,” Marriam Mossalli, a Saudi lifestyle editor, journalist and founder of communications agency Niche Arabia, told Arab News.

“I have been able to witness firsthand the difference in the entire process; from legal registration to even human resources and training support, through programs like Hadaf and Tamheer,” she added.

Mossalli emphasized how the Kingdom is witnessing an increase in women not just in the workforce — up from 17.4 percent  to 33.6 percent in just the last five years, according to Saudi Arabia’s General Authority for Statistics — but also in the world of entrepreneurship.

“Whether it’s in tourism or technology, there are many sectors that are attractive to women and we are seeing more women take on the entrepreneurial role,” said Mossalli, adding: “Women-owned companies in the Kingdom have increased by 60 percent in the past two years.”




Niche Arabia's founder Marriam Mossalli. (Photo by  Lina Qummosani)

Mossalli says she’s focusing on the next wave of “conscious consumers coming out of Saudi Arabia from Gen Z,” and as such in September she will invest in two female-owned businesses that focus on clean beauty and fashion.

“I am investing in women,” states Mossalli. “What is exciting for me now is being able to invest in the next generation.”

According to the Brookings Institute, the female labor force participation rate in Saudi Arabia jumped 64 percent between 2018 and 2020. 

This growth was of a magnitude rarely seen elsewhere in the world. 

According to the report, between 2018 and 2020, the labor force participation rate of Saudi women, that is to say those working or looking for work, rose from 19.7 percent to 33 percent.

Historically, the labor female labor force participation rate for Saudi women has been low, but it increased substantially due to reforms providing more freedom and business incentives to women under Vision 2030, which is actively supporting female SMEs through various programs.

A report in 2022 by Monsha’at, the Kingdom’s official SME general authority in 2022, revealed that 45 percent of such businesses are now led by women in Saudi Arabia.

“This is concrete proof that women are leading the SME growth in Saudi Arabia and in multiple sectors from retail to the food industry and to tech,” Honayda Serafi, an esteemed Saudi fashion designer, told Arab News.

Serafi, who launched her eponymous fashion brand in 2016 and focuses on pret-a-porter and couture lines, sees her brand as a way to empower women both psychologically and also to start their own fashion businesses.

Serafi recently designed the gown worn by Saudi Rajwa Al Saif, Jordan’s future queen.

“My journey was definitely a challenging one,” Serafi said. “When I launched my brand in 2016, the Kingdom was still not yet on the line of growth of the Vision 2030. I struggled a lot because back then the Saudi fashion industry lacked everything — from raw materials, to technical information, guidance, support etc … so I started from scratch looking for external consultancy, for suppliers internationally.”

After a period of trial and error, Serafi began producing seasonal collections to exhibit in Paris, and raised an international name for the brand.

“From a marketing perspective, the public was very much interested in my story,” she said. “I am the first Saudi woman to have created an international ready-to-wear brand and to have dressed A-list celebrities in Hollywood. When I talk about the mission of the brand to empower women, I am one of those women.”

From all corners of the Kingdom, women are becoming the driving force behind Saudi Arabia’s growing SME sector.

In Baljurashi, a city in the Al-Baha region, Sharifa Algamdi has transformed her traditional home into a boutique hotel. 

A retired mathematics professor, three years ago she set out to restore her family’s home, built around the turn of the century. 

It was easier to refurbish it and build her business after the reforms of Vision 2030 began being implemented, as it allowed her to more freely interact with other men to buy fabrics and other goods for the home, as well as hotel guests.

Both Mossalli and Serafi emphasize that the government’s support for the growth of the private sector has led to the creation of a full accelerator body with incubators, accessible data, funding, and loan facilities to develop different sectors in the Kingdom.

Serafi is clear that the Saudi Fashion Commission — established in February 2020 — and the Ministry of Culture have led the growth of the sector.

“I have been myself part of that supporting system providing mentorship, guidance and practical assistance to the small and emerging brands,” says Serafi. “And now the announcement of the first Saudi fashion week that will not only showcase emerging Saudi brands, but also involve other industries in the Kingdom for the production of that big event.”

Ranyah Seraj, who is half-Saudi, half-Scottish, launched her platform 6th Dimension of the Arts in Riyadh in 2021, a consultancy focused on art advising, concept creation and design catering to businesses and individuals.

“Women in Saudi are super in charge, but they have been for ages,” Seraj tells Arab News. 




Art consultant Ranyah Seraj. (Supplied)

Seraj had a previous company that she launched in 2009 before the reforms were made, but it was an entirely different process then.

“It was one of the first companies as soon as Saudi made it applicable for women to have their own registered commercial registration,” she explained, adding: “However, you still needed a male component with you in your company, even if it was registered as a sole trader. 

“You needed your father, your brother, your son, your husband's name on that — that has been abolished since then. 

“Everything has changed significantly. There are hundreds of thousands of opportunities that are now available to Saudi women. 

“It is really a fantastic time for Saudi women now to lead the way in entrepreneurship and business.”

How does the increasingly female driving force of SMEs in Saudi Arabia compare to its Gulf Cooperation Council neighbors?

The difference, state Saudi women, is the focus on investing and growing homegrown Saudi brands instead of relying on foreign direct investment.

As Serafi states: “Vision 2030 has set goals to achieve growth for and by the Saudi citizens, which means that the Kingdom’s economy is being constructed to rely on its local businesses, rather than depending solely on foreign investors in Saudi Arabia. 

“SMEs are being pushed financially, technically and technologically, to grow beyond the Kingdom and be competitive internationally.”

It is a model that is not only empowering women, but empowering a newfound sense of Saudi pride and identity — one that works with foreign investment but seeks to identify itself for its Saudi authenticity. Women are a big part of this push.


Inter-Arab trade at $700bn: Union of Arab Chambers

Inter-Arab trade at $700bn: Union of Arab Chambers
Updated 29 February 2024
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Inter-Arab trade at $700bn: Union of Arab Chambers

Inter-Arab trade at $700bn: Union of Arab Chambers
  • Secretary-general attends World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference in Abu Dhabi
  • ‘The Arab region’s presence in such events aids in shaping policies for freer global trade’

SAO PAULO: Inter-Arab trade stands at $700 billion, constituting 10-11 percent of global trade, the secretary-general of the Union of Arab Chambers said on Thursday during the 13th World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference in Abu Dhabi.

In an interview with Emirates News Agency on the sidelines of the event, Khaled Hanafy highlighted the potential for increased trade, expanded business opportunities, job creation and economic growth across the Arab world through standardization, improved logistics and private sector engagement.

The UAE’s strategic positioning and robust infrastructure make it a preferred hub for international businesses seeking access to international markets, Hanafy said.

Its hosting of prestigious events such as COP28 and the WTO Ministerial Conference underscores its global leadership, communication prowess and influence in international forums, he added.

“The Arab region’s presence in such events aids in shaping policies for freer global trade,” Hanafy said, adding that the conference strengthens the UAC’s position as a representative of the Arab private sector within the WTO, potentially leading to observer status in key technical committees.

This, he said, would empower the UAC to exert greater influence on decisions shaping international trade flows.

The Arab world’s private sector contributes over 75 percent of the region’s gross domestic product, roughly equivalent to $3 trillion. This sector also plays a vital role in employment generation.

Hanafy emphasized the need for even greater private sector involvement in trade to foster business growth and achieve sustainable development across Arab nations.

He championed the UAC’s role in fostering trade cooperation within the Arab world, encompassing both commercial and investment activities.

Hanafy also advocated for the establishment of the Arab Common Market, outlining essential principles for achieving economic unity across the region.

This was the official debut of the Arab private sector at a WTO Ministerial Conference.

With unprecedented access granted to businesses at the event, representatives from regional chambers of commerce seized the opportunity to voice their concerns and aspirations.

Hanafy emphasized the significance of this inclusion at a roundtable event on the sidelines, saying: “This is the first time the Arab private sector is welcomed. The Arab private sector must be here.

“This is a great opportunity. There’s an objective: We want to see the Arab private sector have a larger role.”

Promoting economic cooperation and integration across the Arab world, the UAC unites chambers of commerce, industry and agriculture from the 22 Arab League member states.

It supports governmental and civil society initiatives to strengthen regional economic ties in commerce, industry, agriculture, finance, investment and services.


Saudi Arabia’s industrial sector focussing on small investors, minister says

Saudi Minister of Industry and Mineral Resources Bandar bin Ibrahim AlKhorayef. (@BAlkhorayef)
Saudi Minister of Industry and Mineral Resources Bandar bin Ibrahim AlKhorayef. (@BAlkhorayef)
Updated 29 February 2024
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Saudi Arabia’s industrial sector focussing on small investors, minister says

Saudi Minister of Industry and Mineral Resources Bandar bin Ibrahim AlKhorayef. (@BAlkhorayef)
  • AlKhorayef said that the ministry has a financing program with simple conditions for small investors and entrepreneurs

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s industrial sector has recently focused on small investors, the Kingdom’s Minister of Industry and Mineral Resources Bandar bin Ibrahim AlKhorayef has said.

Speaking to Al-Ekhbariya TV, the minister said that the ministry has a financing program with simple conditions for small investors and entrepreneurs.

The minister indicated that the business model of industrial cities, like the MODON oasis in Al-Ahsa, created a new opportunity for a certain type of investor and industry.

He added that most of the spaces in the industrial cities will be made up of ready-built factories, as this will largely reduce the financial burden on the investor, shorten the construction period, and facilitate obtaining the necessary licenses.


Ministry of Economy and Planning signs MoU with Saudi National Institute of Health

Representatives of Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Economy and Planning and the Saudi National Institute of Health sign a MoU.
Representatives of Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Economy and Planning and the Saudi National Institute of Health sign a MoU.
Updated 29 February 2024
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Ministry of Economy and Planning signs MoU with Saudi National Institute of Health

Representatives of Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Economy and Planning and the Saudi National Institute of Health sign a MoU.
  • MoU aims to develop and align the strategic direction of national development priorities and economic policies in line with the objectives of Saudi Vision 2030

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Economy and Planning signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Saudi National Institute of Health, the ministry announced on Thursday.

The MoU aims to develop and align the strategic direction of national development priorities and economic policies in line with the objectives of Saudi Vision 2030.

It also aims to enable the decision-making process through the preparation of methodologies and studies, the ministry said.

As part of the MoU, scientific and hands-on experiences will be exchanged and both parties will prepare studies and research related to their work in order to improve quality.

They will also organize joint workshops and training courses to enhance capabilities and skills, and benefit from the infrastructure and public facilities of both parties.


Diriyah Co. CEO lauds Saudi efforts to empower youth

Diriyah Co. CEO lauds Saudi efforts to empower youth
Updated 29 February 2024
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Diriyah Co. CEO lauds Saudi efforts to empower youth

Diriyah Co. CEO lauds Saudi efforts to empower youth

RIYADH: Leadership and empowerment insights took center stage during a workshop at the Human Capability Initiative, with industry leaders delving into the future of Saudi Arabia’s workforce. 

In a “What If?” talk at the Riyadh event, Jerry Inzerillo, group CEO of Diriyah Co., addressed young Saudis, urging them to dream big and sharing insights from his own journey. 

He said: “Please dream big. There was nothing in between you and your dreams that you cannot accomplish.”  

Inzerillo emphasized the importance of self-esteem and dignity in leadership, signaling a departure from traditional hierarchical models toward more inclusive and empowering approaches. 

Praising the visionary leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Inzerillo expressed gratitude for the unprecedented support provided to initiatives like the Human Capability Initiative.  

Inzerillo commended the substantial investment in training and development facilitated by the crown prince, highlighting its significance in equipping the next generation with the skills necessary to navigate the challenges of an ever-evolving technological landscape.  

“In a 50-year career, I’ve never had the training and development budget that the crown prince has given us,” he remarked. 

“We are marching forward to 2030; we are marching positively. We believe in ourselves and those who will help us on our mission.”  

Inzerillo said that as of yesterday, they had 2,419 employees, with 85 percent of the staff being Saudi. 

“Now, 39 percent of our Saudi staff are women superstars. And those 39 percent of my Saudi women superstars boss me around on a daily basis more than the 61 percent of the boys.”  

The CEO shared his impressions of the young Saudi talent present at the event and said: “In New York, we have a saying, when you’re very excited, you have goosebumps. That’s the way I feel right now. Because just being backstage for a moment, and seeing all of the young talented Saudis, to me it’s like a thunderbolt of energy.” 

Inzerillo concluded with a resounding call to action, reminding every individual of their potential to contribute to the realization of Vision 2030. “Every single individual is capable of contributing to Vision 2030 and should.”  


Siemens inaugurates electrical equipment facility in Jeddah

Siemens inaugurates electrical equipment facility in Jeddah
Updated 29 February 2024
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Siemens inaugurates electrical equipment facility in Jeddah

Siemens inaugurates electrical equipment facility in Jeddah

JEDDAH: Multinational technology company Siemens unveiled its new electrical equipment factory in Jeddah in the presence of the Kingdom’s Minister of Industry and Mineral Resources Bandar Alkhorayef.

In partnership with its Saudi partner, Arabia Electric Ltd Equipment Co, the firm inaugurated the facility on Feb. 29 at the Modon Oasis in Jeddah.

The 6,000 sq. m factory produces electrical equipment such as substation automation systems, communication and protection panels, and other products for the utility, oil and gas, infrastructure, and petrochemical industries.

The facility will operate with a 120-person workforce.

In an interview with Arab News, the minister of industry highlighted that establishing factories by major international companies in the Kingdom indicates the country’s capability to accommodate diverse industries. Moreover, he underscored that “Saudi Made” branding will soon adorn Lucid automobiles.

“Saudi Arabia remains committed to its strategy as we have created a favorable environment for industrial investment, allowing industry investors to strengthen their capabilities within the Kingdom. This endeavor goes beyond serving the local market, aiming to expand exports to both the region and worldwide,” Alkhorayef said.

He added that the country industry clusters in Saudi Arabia can be divided into two types: “One is the industrial zones and the Modon Oases, like this one here in Jeddah. We are also working closely with several industries that need to exist in clusters to create a sort of integration between them, such as the car manufacturing cluster. We have previous experience in such clusters, like the ones of petrochemicals in Jubail and Yanbu.” 

He revealed that they are planning to establish a food manufacturing cluster in Jazan as well as a mineral industry cluster in Ras Al-Khair in the country’s Eastern Province.

Commenting on the inauguration of the Siemens factory in Jeddah, Alkhorayef congratulated the German company for establishing the facility.

“This move by Siemens serves as proof that the opportunities in Saudi Arabia position it as a significant hub for manufacturing companies,” he remarked, emphasizing that the electricity sector stands out as one of the largest divisions experiencing substantial growth.

The minister elaborated, stating: “We will persist in attracting numerous investments, leveraging capabilities previously imported from outside the Kingdom, and even exporting products developed within the country.”

Alkhorayef concluded his interview with Arab News by asserting that Saudi Arabia is earnestly prioritizing nationalization.

He highlighted that the country’s industrial strategy capitalizes on its inherent strengths, including robust domestic demand and abundant raw materials such as oil, gas, petrochemicals, and minerals.

Additionally, Saudi Arabia’s strategic geographical location further enhances its appeal to both local and international companies.

Ahmad Hawsawi, CEO of Siemens in Saudi Arabia, said that the company is proud to contribute to the Kingdom’s journey toward an innovative and sustainable future.

“Our new factory in Jeddah is not just a manufacturing facility; it’s a hub of innovation designed to meet the Kingdom’s growing demands for energy solutions. By deploying Siemens’ cutting-edge technologies, Saudi Arabia is set to witness unparalleled improvements in the efficiency and resilience of its energy systems.” Hawsawi said.

Eltje Aderhold, consul general of Germany, said that she is “very proud” of this cooperation between Saudi Arabia and her country.

“This project represents the good development of cooperation between Germany and Saudi Arabia, and it is a sign that we are building our future together,” she said, adding that German companies and their Saudi partners are increasingly coming together.

Aderhold further said that Germany is “very much interested in working with its Saudi partners toward Vision 2030, investing, transforming new, clean energy, protecting climate and developing new technologies.” 

The inauguration ceremony was also attended by Vice Minister of Industry and Mineral Resources for Industrial Affairs Khalil Salamah, along with executives from the Saudi Authority for Industrial Cities and Technology Zones, the Local Content and Government Procurement Authority and the National Industrial Development Center.

Additional firms in attendance included the Saudi Electricity Co., Aramco, and SABIC, as well as Ma’aden, EA Juffali & Brothers, and other prominent government and private sector companies.

Khaled Juffali, chairman of Ebrahim A. Juffali and Brothers Group, and also a member of the Arabia Electric Equipment Co. board and Siemens in Saudi Arabia, said: “We are thrilled to open our new facility in Jeddah, which represents our strong belief in the potential of Saudi Arabia’s economic development plan.

"Our commitment goes beyond investment in infrastructure; we are here to build partnerships, support talent development, and contribute to the Kingdom’s sustainability goals according to Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030.”