KSA has potential to fight climate change, says UN official

Special Tarek Al-Khoury, regional coordinator for climate change at the UN Environment Programme’s West Asia office,  said the Kingdom possesses a wide range of resources to improve the ecosystem. AN photo by Huda Bashatah
Tarek Al-Khoury, regional coordinator for climate change at the UN Environment Programme’s West Asia office, said the Kingdom possesses a wide range of resources to improve the ecosystem. AN photo by Huda Bashatah
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Updated 11 October 2023
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KSA has potential to fight climate change, says UN official

KSA has potential to fight climate change, says UN official

RIYADH: In the battle to combat the climate crisis and bolster environmental conservation, Saudi Arabia’s biodiversity and economic stability present a significant opportunity for improving an alarming situation, a top industry expert has claimed.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Middle East and North Africa Climate Week held in Riyadh, Tarek Al-Khoury, regional coordinator for climate change at the UN Environment Programme’s West Asia office, stated that the Kingdom possesses a wide range of resources to improve the ecosystem.

“We have a huge opportunity to use solar energy systems in the region, unlike Europe, unlike other regions, we have sun all the time,” Al-Khoury told Arab News.

He elaborated further, highlighting that the Kingdom has the potential to effectively address climate change by utilizing natural solutions, noting that the region is at the forefront of carbon capture efforts.

The UN official added: “We have an opportunity to expand this knowledge at the regional level.” 

Given the incorporation of activities such as extensive tree planting, Al-Khoury referred to the Saudi and the Middle East green initiatives as one of the most significant environmental endeavors in the region.

“Those initiatives include working on planting a lot of trees within the context of reducing the greenhouse gas emissions and capturing carbon, at the same time to green the region and to limit the impact of climate change on the region. It’s a very solid initiative if implemented, as promised,” he continued.

He added: “This is a huge opportunity to contribute as well, to reduce the greenhouse gas emission at the global level. If this initiative is implemented as planned, it would reduce 1 percent of greenhouse gas emissions at the global level.”

Al-Khoury told Arab News that climate change is “transboundary work.” This means that the effects of climate change transcend country borders and have a global impact.

He highlighted the key vulnerable elements affected by the crisis, such as water security and heat waves.

“The impact of climate change on the water security in the region. It’s also obvious, we can see it easily in Iraq and Jordan, the bank of the freshwater amount is already decreasing,” he stated.

Al-Khoury continued: “This is affecting a lot of agricultural work and production as well in many countries. While there is a lot of work on mitigation and reusing greenhouse gas emissions, there is a huge need for the region to adapt to climate change to combat it.” 

He called on assessing and understanding what those changes are, pinpointing the key elements susceptible to the effects of climate change, and a need to develop methods for adapting to the impact within these sectors.

Additionally, he emphasized that the event serves as a crucial platform for the upcoming COP28, as the region can unify its position regarding climate negotiations and action.

“It’s also a platform to share knowledge, to share knowledge, progress, and to discuss future opportunity and action at a regional level,” he said.

Al-Khoury also expressed the UNEP’s admiration for how the Gulf Cooperation Council region is pledging to net-zero emissions, as they will continue supporting not only on technical levels but also by “convening all the stakeholders to be part of all endeavor related to climate change.”


PIESHIP incorporates AI to boost last-mile delivery

PIESHIP incorporates AI to boost last-mile delivery
Updated 13 April 2024
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PIESHIP incorporates AI to boost last-mile delivery

PIESHIP incorporates AI to boost last-mile delivery
  • Saudi logistics startup set to bolster sector through digital solutions

CAIRO: Saudi Arabia’s logistics sector has spawned a new breed of entrepreneurial talent aiming to utilize the most recent technological trends to boost the economic pillar. 

The Kingdom’s last-mile deliveries have been encountering delays and inefficiencies due to slow technology adoption, which has called for new innovations in the sector.  

According to a report by global logistics leader Maersk, the lack of digital advancements in local delivery networks hampers shipment tracking and visibility. 

Additionally, consumer preference for cash on delivery, empty miles, and sudden demand spikes pose financial challenges for last-mile logistics. 

These challenges have spurred the emergence of PIESHIP and its commitment to bolstering the sector through digital solutions. 

Founded in 2023 by Nasser Al-Harthi, Musaed Al-Amri, and Mohammed Mohsen, PIESHIP utilizes artificial intelligence and crowdsourcing to optimize delivery routes and schedules, reduce costs, and enhance customer experience. 

The company offers its clients warehouse management solutions, utilizes an app for delivering shipments, and provides technical solutions for logistics services. 

“By doing so, PIESHIP aims to make last-mile delivery more efficient and reliable, benefiting both companies and their customers,” Al-Harthi, the CEO, told Arab News in an interview. 

PIESHIP is setting its sights on becoming a leader in last-mile delivery services, aligning closely with the fast-paced global shifts toward more efficient, reliable, and cost-effective logistics solutions.   

“Our aim is to become a leading provider of last-mile delivery services,” the CEO articulated, emphasizing the company’s commitment to technological innovation and customer satisfaction to navigate the future logistics landscape. 

Continuous innovation 

To maintain its competitive edge, PIESHIP is focusing on continuous innovation, “by investing in research and development, collaborating with industry partners, and staying abreast of the latest logistics trends and technologies,” according to Al-Harthi.  

The company is particularly excited about the potential of advanced analytics and machine learning to refine delivery processes and enhance efficiency, he added. 

In light of its recent seed funding round, PIESHIP is channeling resources into expanding its technological backbone, team capabilities, and research efforts. 

“These investments are crucial for improving our service offerings and operational efficiency,” Al-Harthi said. 

E-commerce expansion, technology adoption, sustainability, and enhancing customer experiences are pivotal trends that resonate with Vision 2030’s goals.

Nasser Al-Harthi, PIESHIP CEO

He further highlighted the company’s commitment to leveraging these assets to bolster its market presence in Saudi Arabia and potentially beyond.

A shared vision 

Regarding the future of logistics in Saudi Arabia, the CEO sees a direct connection between industry trends and the nation’s Vision 2030 objectives.

The economic diversification plan is focused on making the Kingdom a worldwide logistics hub. 

The government’s National Transport and Logistics Strategy aims to double the sector’s contribution to gross domestic product, making the Kingdom one of the top 10 countries in the Logistics Performance Index. 

A two-day conference held in Riyadh in October saw 52 agreements signed to strengthen the Kingdom’s supply chain and logistics sector, underlining its growth. “E-commerce expansion, technology adoption, sustainability, and enhancing customer experiences are pivotal trends that resonate with Vision 2030’s goals,” Al-Harthi said. 

The rise of e-commerce is particularly significant, with efficient logistics services like those PIESHIP offers being vital to support this sector’s growth, ultimately aiding in the country’s economic diversification and innovation drive, added the CEO. 

With the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 spotlighting innovation, PIESHIP’s technology-centric model is well-aligned for future scalability and market leadership. 

“Our approach, particularly our investment in AI and crowdsourcing, is pivotal in optimizing logistics operations, which will continue to propel our growth in the Saudi market,” Al-Harthi stated. 

On the technology front, PIESHIP leverages real-time tracking and delivery notifications to enhance customer engagement and satisfaction.  

“Our AI-driven algorithms play a crucial role in navigating delivery hurdles, ensuring timely and accurate deliveries, and offering our users an unprecedented level of transparency and control over their shipments,” explained the CEO.   

PIESHIP is positioning itself within Saudi Arabia’s competitive landscape by focusing on efficient and reliable last-mile delivery services.  

“PIESHIP differentiates itself from traditional logistics companies by offering a more flexible and cost-effective solution tailored to modern businesses’ needs,” Al-Harthi explained.   

With a keen eye on the last-mile delivery segment, PIESHIP aims to address the complexities and high costs associated with this crucial phase of the logistics process. 

Collaboration with governmental and regulatory bodies is a key component of PIESHIP’s strategy to enhance its service offerings and expand its reach within the Kingdom.  

The CEO said: “PIESHIP works closely with local transportation authorities to comply with all relevant regulations and licensing requirements.” 

Beyond compliance, PIESHIP seeks to forge partnerships that extend its service range, notably with e-commerce platforms like Salla and Zid, to provide integrated delivery solutions to their merchants. 

In response to the evolving logistics market, PIESHIP is committed to continuous innovation to meet the changing demands of businesses in Saudi Arabia and potentially new markets. 

“The company plans to invest in new technologies and strategies that can help it improve its operational efficiency, expand its reach, and enhance the customer experience,” Al-Harthi stated. 

Looking ahead, PIESHIP is exploring opportunities to extend its services beyond Saudi Arabia, targeting markets with similar logistics landscapes and a strong e-commerce presence. 

While the immediate focus remains on solidifying its position in the Saudi market, Al-Harthi acknowledges the potential for international expansion. 

“Future expansions into markets with similar logistics challenges and opportunities are considered,” he noted, highlighting the importance of a robust e-commerce sector and favorable regulatory environment in selecting target markets for PIESHIP’s growth.


A brave new, virtual world – Saudi Arabia takes the lead in metaverse adoption

A brave new, virtual world – Saudi Arabia takes the lead in metaverse adoption
Updated 13 April 2024
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A brave new, virtual world – Saudi Arabia takes the lead in metaverse adoption

A brave new, virtual world – Saudi Arabia takes the lead in metaverse adoption

RIYADH: By breaking down geographical barriers, the metaverse — a digital space that uses virtual and augmented reality — is set to foster unprecedented levels of collaboration and connectivity.

From how individuals work, plan, design, and build to how they shop, relax, travel, and live, it will have a significant impact on almost every aspect of life.

But that’s not all. The metaverse is also projected to become a commercial space and tool for companies and customers alike in the near future.

Zooming into the Middle East region, the metaverse has significant potential to revitalize and transform key sectors. More importantly, it aligns with several objectives of Saudi Vision 2030, particularly in diversifying the economy and enhancing the quality of life in the Kingdom.

According to a recent report released by management consulting firm strategy& titled “A Middle East Perspective on the Metaverse,” the 3D enabled digital space’s potential contribution to Gulf Cooperation Council economies could reach an estimated $15 billion by 2030 of which Saudi Arabia alone is expected to grab a share of about $7.6 billion.

Allocating major investments

Saudi Arabia has also recently allocated resources to the metaverse as the Kingdom pursues ambitious digital transformation plans.

Saudi Arabia’s $500 billion giga-project NEOM has a metaverse component that already is being used to develop the city by informing the construction sector on the progress on the ground and providing architects, engineers, designers, and others with ways to collaborate and customize aspects of the project for real estate clients, the strategy& report revealed.

There is no doubt that the adoption of metaverse across industries in Saudi Arabia and the wider region will create new opportunities for individuals and businesses.

It will also allow users to engage in economic activity in a more decentralized and open way, thereby speeding efficiency across the many sectors.

According to Priyanka Sharma, associate partner, Bain & Co. Middle East, metaverse adoption will “increase access and scale of offerings, experiences, transcending demographic and geographic boundaries.”

This includes virtual events as well as immersive travel experiences.

Metaverse adoption will also help “support digital content, product development, and customization,” she added.

In addition, it will “provide a virtual playground for prototyping, experimentation and research with minimal incremental budget time across use cases,” Sharma emphasized.

Enhancing operational efficiency

According to Ahmed Al-Mashhadi, CEO of metaverse-as-a-service firm VEEM, the adoption of metaverse technologies in Saudi Arabia promises to significantly enhance operational efficiency across several sectors.

“Take real estate, for example,” he said. “By utilizing our virtual tours, clients can explore near-realistic off-plan projects in detail without physical travel, saving time and resources, and boost decision making.”

Nigel Vaz, CEO of global digital transformation consulting firm Publics Sapient, went on to shed light on some of the major sectors that have potential to employ metaverse applications.

“The metaverse, as an extension of this digital evolution, presents unparalleled opportunities for sectors like entertainment, real estate, and education,” he told Arab News.

Vaz added: “These sectors can harness the immersive and interactive capabilities of the metaverse to offer innovative services and experiences, from virtual real estate tours enhancing the buying experience to digital platforms that revolutionize learning and engagement in the education sector.”

From a gaming point of view, Mario Pérez, CEO of MENA Tech, pointed out how this industry is set to take advantage of metaverse applications.

“As virtual environments become more immersive and interconnected, we anticipate that gamers in these regions will experience enhanced social interactions, more diverse gaming experiences, and increased opportunities for community engagement,” he said.

Pérez added: “While it’s still early days for widespread adoption, we’re closely monitoring developments, especially considering the rapid growth of esports in Saudi Arabia.”

The CEO went on to note that, with the construction of Qiddiya City, one of the five megaprojects in Saudi Arabia and dedicated entirely to gaming – including hosting the first World Esports Championship – the region is “poised to become a hub for gaming innovation and development.”

He continued: “Metaverse will introduce innovative dimensions such as enhanced virtual social experiences, immersive gameplay, and interactive storytelling. These dimensions have the potential to revolutionize how gamers interact with each other and the virtual worlds they inhabit, fostering a vibrant gaming culture and community.

“Furthermore, the metaverse also offers promising sponsorship opportunities for brands to participate in various immersive experiences and create their virtual environments, allowing them to engage with consumers in novel and impactful ways.”

Pérez went on to shed light on how MENATech Entertainment, the regional division of GGTech Entertainment, has been actively exploring metaverse applications within its projects.

“As part of Amazon University Esports, which combines gaming competitions with educational activities and professional opportunities for university students, GGTech conducted its first pilot test last season with University World, a virtual environment designed to bring together participants from the EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa) region,” he revealed.

The CEO added: “A significant advance is the experience gained from the creation of University World in the development of eWorlds, a multiplayer 3D platform game developed by GGTech Studios, the development arm of GGTech Entertainment.”

Other than gaming, there are several other sectors that will also be able to utilize the metaverse for their own benefit.

“Virtual property tours will allow potential buyers to explore properties in a comprehensive, virtual environment,” Joachim Allerup, expert partner in innovation and design, Bain & Co., told Arab News.

He added: “Urban planning simulations will enable urban planners and architects to model and simulate new projects and city layouts in the metaverse including digital twins and connected systems.”

The expert also unveiled that virtual shopping malls will create next generation e-commerce.

Additionally, interactive product demonstrations will offer customers the ability to explore and interact with products in a 3D virtual space, he pointed out.

Furthermore, Husam Yaghim, World Metaverse Council member, told Arab News that “tourism and education will benefit the most from metaverse applications in Saudi Arabia and the wider region.”

Aligning with Vision 2030 goals

Vaz underlined that the spate of developments in the metaverse sphere “align seamlessly with the ambitions of Saudi Vision 2030, which aims to diversify the economy, foster cultural and entertainment sectors, and build a knowledge-based society.”

He continued: “By integrating metaverse technologies, Saudi Arabia can advance its economic diversification, cultural enrichment, and educational transformation goals.”

Vaz also emphasized how his consulting firm Publics Sapient is committed to partnering with Saudi businesses and the government to navigate this digital transformation journey.

“Leveraging our global expertise and local insights, we aim to support the development of the metaverse ecosystem in the Kingdom, ensuring it contributes to the realization of Vision 2030 and positions Saudi Arabia as a leader in digital innovation on the global stage,” the CEO informed.

For his part, Pérez reiterated how the metaverse has the potential to align with Saudi Vision 2030 in several ways, particularly in advancing the goals of diversifying the economy, fostering innovation, and promoting digital transformation.

“One example is in the area of entertainment and tourism. As Saudi Arabia seeks to develop its tourism sector and become a global entertainment hub, the metaverse can provide virtual experiences that showcase the country’s cultural heritage, landmarks, and attractions to a global audience,” the CEO said.

He added: “Virtual tourism initiatives could complement physical tourism efforts, attracting visitors and generating revenue while promoting the cultural richness of Saudi Arabia.

“Also, the metaverse has the potential to enhance education and training initiatives in line with Saudi Vision 2030’s emphasis on human capital development. Virtual learning environments can provide immersive educational experiences, interactive simulations and collaborative platforms for students and professionals to acquire new skills and knowledge.”

For his part, Yaghi said: “Saudi Arabia sees the metaverse as a key player in achieving its Vision 2030 goals and has created Saudi Arabia’s Center of Excellence for the metaverse. AI-Powered Metaverse for Riyadh Expo 2030 and Metaverse for K-12 Education are both examples of how the metaverse contributes to the Saudi Vision 2030.”

Allerup added: “The metaverse and associated technologies have the potential to cater to all pillars of the Saudi Vision 2030 given the variety of use cases and their impact across multiple sectors.”

Reskilling the workforce

When it comes to the labor market, it seems that current market data is not accurately reflecting the full picture just yet in terms of the unprecedented growth in projects related to the metaverse.

By all accounts, it is most likely that the current workforce will need reskilling. This is the process of teaching an employee new skills to boost and elevate proficiency whether for their current job or for a more advanced position.

“In the light of metaverse and mixed reality we can expect that almost all sectors will see the need for new capabilities. New ways of working, collaborating in virtual environments, proficiency with new age and ever-evolving tools/software, coding and development of digital assets will require everyone to reskill to leverage the opportunities of virtual worlds and mixed reality,” Sharma concluded.

 


Diriyah Square details to be unveiled at World Retail Congress

Diriyah Square details to be unveiled at World Retail Congress
Updated 12 April 2024
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Diriyah Square details to be unveiled at World Retail Congress

Diriyah Square details to be unveiled at World Retail Congress

RIYADH: Plans for a lifestyle hub in Diriyah boasting more than 400 shops and over 100 restaurants and cafes will be unveiled at the World Retail Congress in Paris.

Details around the development will be on show at the event, set to be held from April 16 to 18,  Diriyah Co. have announced.

The destination – known as Diriyah Square – is part of a $62.2 billion refurbishment and renovation of the area, which has been designated as one of Saudi Arabia’s giga-projects.

In a statement announcing the presence at the World Retail Congress, Group CEO of Diriyah Co. Jerry Inzerillo said: “Diriyah Square is more than just a shopping destination—it is a symbol of Saudi Arabia's commitment to driving economic growth and fostering creativity and innovation.”

He added: “That is why we are so excited to invite investors and stakeholders from around the world to join us in this exciting journey, and to be a part of shaping the future of retail. 

“With its pedestrian-centric design, direct access to Wadi Hanifah, and close vicinity to the breathtaking At-Turaif UNESCO World Heritage Site, the district will be a world-leading lifestyle destination.”

Diriyah is a key component of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 initiative to diversify the Kingdom’s economy away from oil.

Upon completion, it will host 100,000 residents, workers, students, and visitors.

In February, Inzerillo told Arab News that Diriyah Co. is aiming to break ground on 11 new assets by the end of 2024.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Public Investment Fund’s Private Sector Forum held in Riyadh, the CEO said that among the upcoming initiatives is the King Salman Boulevard, which he deemed Saudi Arabia’s version of Paris’ Champs-Elysees. 

It will be revealed in December, when the company holds its “Bashayer” event to announce its upcoming initiatives. 

The last meeting saw the unveiling of the Diriyah Art Futures museum.


Vision 2030 putting Saudi Arabia on the map for global investors, experts say

Vision 2030 putting Saudi Arabia on the map for global investors, experts say
Updated 12 April 2024
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Vision 2030 putting Saudi Arabia on the map for global investors, experts say

Vision 2030 putting Saudi Arabia on the map for global investors, experts say

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s investment landscape is poised for a prosperous future, fueled by its equity and debt markets, a range of economic experts have told Arab News.

Senior figures from the Kingdom’s branch of investment bank J.P. Morgan, financial media outlet Bloomberg, and Saudi tourism funding firm ASFAR all spoke of the positive impact of the Vision 2030 economic diversification strategy. 

By focusing on the growth of various sectors, such as tourism, healthcare, and renewable energy, the Kingdom aims to reduce its economic reliance on fossil fuels, foster innovation, create jobs, and enhance citizens’ quality of life. 

This is already bearing fruit, according to Amine Fichtali, head of investment banking at J.P. Morgan Saudi Arabia.

He told Arab News that the Kingdom stood out as an exciting, compelling investment story for investors.

Fichtali added that Saudi Arabia is a top-down, long-term structural story underpinned by socio-economic transformation and the execution of several regulatory reforms that help to promote the Kingdom globally.

These sentiments were echoed by European Director of Bloomberg Constantin Cotzias. 

He believes that Saudi Arabia — with various reforms in its regulatory framework — is emerging as a favorite destination for international investors. 

Cotzias told Arab News that international investors want three things.

“They want liquidity, a framework of governance and regulation that works, and a balance of good supervision and innovation to be properly balanced. And then they want that framework to encourage them with investment and the growth in that investment,” he said, adding that Saudi Arabia is on the right path.

One of the initiatives to attract businesses to the Kingdom was to offer tax breaks and other incentives to companies that applied to move their regional headquarters to Riyadh before the end of 2023.

This helped encourage some 200 firms to make the shift, including Northern Trust, Bechtel and Pepsico from the US, and IHG Hotels and Resorts, PwC, and Deloitte from the UK.  

Google, Microsoft and IBM as well as Oracle, Pfizer and Amazon, also have regional headquarters in Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Investment Khalid Al-Falih presented IBM executives with the regional HQ license in January. IBM

Tourism strategy 

Tourism is one of the key sectors driving the economic shift in the Kingdom, and Saudi Arabia has launched several initiatives to grow the industry.

These include the opening of historical sites, easing of visa restrictions, and the promotion of cultural heritage to attract international visitors. 

All these measures are expected to have huge economic returns and boost the tourism sector resulting in the creation of direct and indirect jobs.

The Kingdom is targeting more than 30 million pilgrims and 150 million tourists every year as part of its ambitious Vision 2030, having already met its original goal of 100 million visitors.

Speaking during a ministerial panel session at the Private Sector Forum held in Riyadh in February, Tourism Minister Ahmed Al-Khateeb said that the total number of hotel rooms in the Kingdom reached 280,000 in December.

“The quality of rooms and projects is excellent and will place the Kingdom among the best in the world. The target for 2030 is approximately 550,000 hotel rooms,” the minister informed.

Moreover, the Ministry of Tourism recently unveiled the Tourism Investment Enablers Program, aimed at streamlining business practices and bolstering investment appeal for both local and international investors.

As part of the program, the Ministry of Tourism, in collaboration with the Ministry of Investment, announced the Hospitality Sector Investment Enablers Initiative, aiming to increase and diversify tourism offerings and bolstering the capacity of hospitality facilities in targeted tourist destinations across the Kingdom.

This initiative aims to attract investments in the hospitality sector, with a value of approximately SR42 billion ($11.46 billion), projecting estimated revenues of about SR16 billion to the Kingdom’s gross domestic product by 2030, reported SPA.

Al-Khateeb stated: “We witnessed a 390 percent increase in demand for tourism activity licenses last year, marking the beginning of the Kingdom’s significant investment in the tourism sector over the next decade, providing opportunities and a conducive investment environment for both local and international investors.”

Meanwhile, ASFAR CEO Fahad bin Mushayt told Arab News many regulations have recently changed, and more are yet to come, including the facilitation of visa issuance, be it for business, religious, or tourism purposes.

ASFAR is a company owned by the Public Investment Fund to drive investments in tourist destinations and projects across the Kingdom. 

“The other target that the country has set as part of Vision 2030 is to drive the contribution of tourism to the gross domestic product from 3 percent to 10 percent by 2030,” he added.

Fahad bin Mushayt, CEO of ASFAR. (Supplied)

National industrial program 

The Saudi industrial sector is significantly contributing to economic diversification through various programs and initiatives.

One of these is the National Industrial Development and Logistics Program, which seeks to elevate the Kingdom into a premier industrial powerhouse and a worldwide logistics center.

NIDLP focuses on optimizing the mining and energy sectors’ value while harnessing the full potential of other local resources. 

Speaking at the NIDLP annual ceremony in December, Minister of Industry and Mineral Resources Bandar Alkhorayef explained that the program acquired five new renewable energy projects to ensure reasonable costs.  

He noted that the NIDLP program has significantly contributed about 35 percent of the non-oil GDP, making up to SR345 billion. 

Furthermore, NIDLP announced investments worth SR206 billion in non-oil exports and SR97 billion in nongovernmental funds.

Alkhorayef also highlighted the mining sector’s record revenues of over SR1.45 billion in 2023. 

Economic journalist Jamal Banoon told Arab News that diversifying the industrial base is a strategic challenge for Saudi Arabia, as it seeks to develop this sector sustainably and achieve economic diversification.

“One of the most important aspects is investing in infrastructure and research and development, while enhancing industrial infrastructure to accommodate investments and develop industrial projects, with the aim of improving production techniques and processes and enhancing efficiency,” he said.

Banoon added that, in recent years, Saudi Arabia has focused on emerging industries, including renewable energy, information and communications technology, robotics, and smart manufacturing. 

Consequently, this direction will drive it toward more alliances with international companies to transfer technologies and experiences, enhance competitiveness, and expand markets.

Furthermore, he added that Saudi Arabia has invested around $50 billion in infrastructure and research and development so far, especially in the field of emerging industries. It has also achieved significant growth in sectors such as aviation, space, and maritime industries.

Renewable energy drive 

Saudi Arabia has been actively pursuing renewable energy initiatives to diversify its energy mix and reduce its reliance on fossil fuels, with Vision 2030 outlining ambitious goals for the Kingdom's renewable energy sector.

The vision aims to increase the share of renewable power in the energy mix to 50 percent by 2030.

NEOM, for instance, is a flagship project aimed at developing a futuristic city powered entirely by renewable energy. It envisions a sustainable and environmentally friendly urban center with a focus on renewable energy and innovation.

Moreover, the Green Riyadh Initiative aims to transform the capital city into a more sustainable and environment-friendly metropolis. It includes plans for expanding green spaces, promoting energy efficiency, and implementing renewable energy projects.

Furthermore, Saudi Arabia has been investing in research and development of renewable energy technologies to drive innovation and enhance the efficiency of renewable power generation.

According to Banoon, Saudi Arabia is expected to become a leader in clean energy and achieve environmental sustainability.

“Within its plans and programs toward further economic liberalization and income source diversification, the Kingdom has invested in renewable energy sources. It aims to increase productivity from the current 300,000 megawatts through the Sakaka solar power plant and the Dumat Al-Jandal wind farm, expecting to reach 2 gigawatts of renewable resources,” he said, adding this project relies on generating electricity from traditional fuel sources.

Healthcare development 

Saudi Arabia’s efforts to diversify its economy through healthcare are commendable and strategically significant.

By focusing on the healthcare sector as a key driver of economic diversification, the Kingdom aims to enhance the quality of healthcare services, improve accessibility, and foster innovation and technological advancement within the industry.

Banoon commented that the healthcare sector diversification strategy is crucial for Saudi Arabia’s economic resilience and sustainability.

“Saudi Arabia’s investments in healthcare infrastructure are pivotal for attracting foreign investment and talent, driving economic growth in the long term,” the economist said, adding that investing in preventive healthcare not only improves public health outcomes but also reduces costs in the long run, contributing to economic stability.


Saudi Arabia’s tech landscape flourishes with innovative initiatives 

Saudi Arabia’s tech landscape flourishes with innovative initiatives 
Updated 12 April 2024
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Saudi Arabia’s tech landscape flourishes with innovative initiatives 

Saudi Arabia’s tech landscape flourishes with innovative initiatives 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s strategic location, thriving economy, and strong government support have attracted a diverse range of funding partners keen on assisting startups and entrepreneurs.

The Kingdom, according to Houssem Jemili, partner at management consulting firm Bain and Co., has one of the highest technology spends in the Middle East and North Africa, approximately 2.5 times that of the next country, and is growing year-on-year. 

Speaking to Arab News, Jemili said: “Saudi Arabia has a mature and diverse set of funding partners — government entities and programs (e.g., Monsha’at), large investment funds, and venture capitalists that provide access to both direct and indirect funding to startups and entrepreneurs.”  

Highlighting the Kingdom’s emergence as a dynamic tech hub in the region, he added: “KSA has a large domestic captive audience (the largest in MENA) that demands technology products and services.”   

Talat Zaki Hafiz, a Saudi-based economist, told Arab News that the Kingdom’s rise as a tech hub in MENA was greatly influenced by its status as the largest economy in the region, accounting for over 30 percent of the its gross domestic product, and ranking 16th among the G20 countries. 

“The technology strategy of Saudi Arabia includes ambitious targets and action plans based on attracting leading international companies mainly specialized in advanced and emerging technologies to enable the Kingdom to develop mega tech projects,” he said. 

Global Innovation Index  

Global Innovation Index 2023 Launch Event. WIPO/Violaine

Saudi Arabia’s strides in technological innovation are underscored by its position on the Global Innovation Index 2023, where it ranks 48th among 132 featured economies. 

“It (Saudi Arabia) has certainly made improvements, from 51st and 66th (position) in 2022 and 2021 respectively,” Jemili explained. 

He went on to say that the Kingdom recognizes that innovation is a “key driver of economic development,” and efforts will result in significant improvements across innovation input sub-indices like human capital and infrastructure, as well as output sub-indices such as knowledge and technology outputs, and creative outputs of the Global Innovation Index. 

Within the high-income group economies, Saudi Arabia ranks 41st, further solidifying its status as a burgeoning tech hub in the region.  

Moreover, the Kingdom’s ranking fifth among the 18 economies in North Africa and West Asia highlights its growing influence as a beacon of innovation in the Middle East.  

Hafiz believes that since the launch of Vision 2030 in 2016, Saudi Arabia has been focusing on tech-related industries in general and the digital economy in particular.  

“Since the digital economy is becoming the new trend in the 21st century, especially in Saudi Arabia, where over 60 percent of its citizens are youth less than 35 years old, they heavily use the internet to purchase goods and services,” he said.  

The economist explained that statistics revealed the Kingdom is witnessing a significant increase in the size of e-commerce, with expectations to reach $15 billion in 2025 and online sales projected to reach 66 percent.  

Saudi Arabia’s increasing prominence in technological advancement and innovation localization was showcased at the LEAP conference held in Riyadh. The event, which concluded in early March with great success, included agreements worth over $12 billion.  

“LEAP has made a tremendous effort to act as a node of the technology and innovation ecosystem in KSA — a node that connects the ecosystem and brings all the players together, through building a community,” Jemili said. 

Strategic investments 

Saudi Arabia’s emergence as a digital powerhouse can be attributed to its strategic investments in research and development, supportive policies, and a thriving startup ecosystem.   

With initiatives such as Vision 2030 and the establishment of the Digital Government Authority, the Kingdom is laying the groundwork for a technologically advanced future.  

Houssem Jemili, Partner at Bain & Co. Supplied

According to Jemili, the presence of global technology giants in Saudi Arabia is a testimony to the growth of the technology and innovation landscape in the Kingdom.  

“Such players provide the necessary minimum infrastructure that startups and entrepreneurs need to succeed,” he added.  

Jemili further elaborated: “They provide a world-class physical and digital infrastructure, like software labs and production studios, and even cloud credits to enable innovation at scale. Such advanced offering helps startups accelerate their ideas from early-stage to large-scale commercialization.”  

Global tech giants are investing billions in Saudi Arabia, highlighting its attractiveness as an investment destination, with Microsoft investing $2.1 billion in a global super-scaler cloud and Oracle committing $1.5 billion to build a new cloud region in Riyadh, as earlier revealed by Minister of Communication and Information Technology Abdullah Al-Swaha. 

Hafiz emphasized that the integration of technology in the Saudi traditional economy “is going so well.”  

“The Kingdom’s Vision 2030 is built on making significant changes in the Saudi economy not only to diversify its sector base but also to push for transformation to technology,” he added. 

Regulatory framework 

Saudi Arabia’s efforts to foster innovation extend to the regulatory realm, where the government has introduced initiatives such as regulatory sandboxes and fintech hubs.  

These initiatives provide a platform for startups and tech companies to test innovative products and services in a controlled environment, thereby facilitating compliance with regulatory requirements while fostering innovation.  

“Flow of and access to incentives is a big dimension that has helped Saudi Arabia drive its innovation landscape,” according to Jemili.  

He highlighted that the Kingdom has a rapidly evolving business environment that requires a structured regulatory system that is mature, growth-driven, and easy to navigate.  

“In addition, it is critical to enact clear and predictable regulations that enhance innovation, bring ease of doing business, and continue to build the trust of both the business community and investors,” he added.  

Jemili emphasized the importance of having a “phygital center of gravity” for the startup community, highlighting its critical role in providing firsthand ecosystem orientation and guidance to new entrepreneurs and foreign startups in the Kingdom.  

Phygital refers to a combined physical and digital center that serves as a pivotal hub for the startup community, offering both in-person and online resources, guidance, and orientation to new entrepreneurs and foreign startups.

With a diverse pool of founders and over 1,600 startups supported by a network of venture capital firms, Saudi Arabia is poised to become a global leader in technological innovation.   

Hafiz continued, emphasizing, “It is important to note that Saudi Arabia is the third worldwide and very advanced in digital industries, leader and ranked the first regionally according to the data of GOVTECH Maturity Index for 2022 issued by the World Bank Group.”   

He noted the government’s backing of advanced technologies in Saudi Arabia, which has driven significant progress toward Vision 2030’s goals by delivering high-quality digital services that bolster the national economy.  

Startup ecosystem  

Within the vibrant startup scene in Saudi Arabia, several companies have emerged as pioneers in innovation.  

Notable among them are startups enrolled in the Saudi Unicorns Program, exemplifying the Kingdom’s commitment to nurturing homegrown talent and fostering entrepreneurship.   

“Saudi Unicorns Program is a one-stop-shop solution to support and enable high-growth technology companies to reach the unicorn stage by providing an integrated set of services and offerings,” Jemili noted.   

The program provides unparalleled solutions to start-ups and entrepreneurs by providing access to connect with different stakeholders — international customers, talent, investors, and private sector, and experts for mentorship and guidance.   

He added that the objective of the program is in line with the overall Vision 2030, as it strives to increase the number of unicorns and create both direct and indirect impacts on the local GDP.  

“A differentiating aspect of Saudi Unicorns Program is its differentiated offerings based on the degree of readiness of the startups,” Jemili explained.  

Lean Tech, Mrsool, Quant, and Mozn are just a few examples of startups making waves in Saudi Arabia’s tech ecosystem.  

These companies represent the Kingdom’s vibrant culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, actively shaping its dynamic business landscape.  

With strategic investments, supportive policies, and a thriving startup ecosystem, the Kingdom is poised to lead the charge toward a digitally empowered future.  

By fostering collaboration, nurturing homegrown talent, and embracing emerging technologies, Saudi Arabia’s current momentum is promising for technology and innovation.   

Jemili cited the Magnitt report, stating that the Kingdom has emerged as the leading market for venture capital funding in the MENA region, attracting over $1.38 billion in investments in 2023. 

“This was the second year in a row that KSA has recorded a billion-dollar-plus figure in VC funding,” he said.  

Jemili gave examples of mega-rounds witnessed by Saudi-based platforms like Tabby and Tamara, which helped both companies secure unicorn status. “With continued efforts to improve livability aspects, improvements in ease of doing business, and continued growth and maturity of the funding institutions, KSA is on track for continued success.” 

As more of these elements come to life, the maturity of the ecosystems in cities like Riyadh and Jeddah can move from an early activation stage to a globalized stage.  

Hafiz concluded: “I don’t believe that the Kingdom is facing any pressing economic challenges to establish a tech ecosystem, simply because it is blessed with encouraging leadership.” 

He emphasized the encouragement to use technology at a large scale, which he believes has helped to “create an excellent ecosystem, especially when considering that more than 60 percent of the Saudi population are young, below 35 years old, and we are among the highest users of the internet in the Arab world and globally.”