Refugee resilience: Subul’s innovative social impact strategy

Refugee resilience: Subul’s innovative social impact strategy
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In December, Subul pre-launched its latest service, the Impact Hiring Platform, on which 250 individual accounts are already active. (Supplied)
Refugee resilience: Subul’s innovative social impact strategy
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In December, Subul pre-launched its latest service, the Impact Hiring Platform, on which 250 individual accounts are already active. (Supplied)
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Updated 01 February 2024

Refugee resilience: Subul’s innovative social impact strategy

Refugee resilience: Subul’s innovative social impact strategy
  • Social enterprise connects those affected by conflict with employment opportunities in digital labor market
  • ‘There’s always this stigma and stereotype about the capability of refugees,’ Syrian founder tells Arab News

AMSTERDAM: The social enterprise Subul connects refugees and conflict-affected individuals with employment opportunities in the digital labor market.

With outsourcing as its business model, its goal is to help them achieve success while meeting the needs of international businesses, Syrian founder Khaled Shaaban, 39, told Arab News.

In December, Subul pre-launched its latest service, the Impact Hiring Platform, on which 250 individual accounts are already active.

It has resulted in three Syrians finding jobs with a Dutch company, and talks are underway with a Danish company to recruit two others. The official online launch of the service is scheduled for Feb. 19.

In his hometown of Jobar, a district in Damascus, Shaaban installed internet satellite devices for hospitals and secured activists’ phones against government surveillance during the Syrian revolution in 2011.

Despite risks to his own safety, the information technology specialist felt driven to take action.

“I began setting up technical telecommunication infrastructure for hospitals, relief groups and media organizations,” he said. “It felt like juggling a part-time job with being a part-time activist.”

Today, residing in the Netherlands, he remains committed to aiding others. In 2020, Shaaban established Subul, meaning “pathway” in Arabic.

He recognizes how individuals affected by the Syrian war struggle to find jobs, facing language barriers, difficulties with online money transfers, and legal obstacles. So he strives to create social impact and unlock new pathways for disadvantaged communities.

“We bridge the gap between the unique talents of refugees and marginalized communities, and the needs of the global tech industry,” Shaaban said.

Shaaban believes that the platform’s online services, such as detecting AI-generated images or remotely monitoring patients in hospitals, offer the ideal solution for his employees. He labels it as a win-win situation for refugees, businesses and societies alike.

The effort has been successful, helping over 700 individuals find a job, not only in Europe but also in Syria, Turkey and Jordan.

Starting his career in the late 1990s as an IT delivery boy, he gained experience and certifications from global tech giants such as Microsoft and Cisco.

During the Syrian revolution, his life took a significant turn. He was forced to help his family escape to Jordan and then went into hiding after being listed as wanted.

In 2013, Shaaban fled Damascus on foot, seeking refuge in Turkey. After reuniting with his family there, separated for over a year, he re-established his IT business, aiming to return to Syria someday.

He quickly realized that it was more important to invest in people instead of infrastructure, so in Istanbul he founded Roia, a non-profit organization teaching IT skills to vulnerable people, with funding from the UK government and the EU.

“I started to think how I can allow people to empower themselves and become resilient,” he said. “There’s always this stigma and stereotype about the capability of refugees. Businesses and individuals look at their vulnerabilities, but we must forget about this picture.”

While Subul primarily focuses its services online and is managed from the Netherlands, it also has an operating facility in Syria where men and women from Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey work together.

Shaaban wants to expand this presence. “I’d love to establish a small India in Syria because one of the main factors that contributed to the growth and development of India was the outsourcing,” he said.

Shaaban aims to demonstrate the viability of his conceptual ecosystem, intending for it to be adopted by businesses and NGOs globally.

Saudi home ownership rate passes 63%, closing in on Vision 2030 target

Saudi home ownership rate passes 63%, closing in on Vision 2030 target
Updated 8 sec ago

Saudi home ownership rate passes 63%, closing in on Vision 2030 target

Saudi home ownership rate passes 63%, closing in on Vision 2030 target

RIYADH: The percentage of Saudi households owning a home reached 63.74 percent at the end of 2023, an increase of 16.7 percent compared to 2016, according to a new report.

The Housing Program — one of the initiatives of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 — revealed the share of Saudi families owning a housing unit had exceeded the target set for the year of 63 percent.

The findings – set out in the organization’s annual report – confirm that the Kingdom is well on its way to meeting its goal of 70 percent home ownership by 2030.

More than 96,000 families eligible for housing support benefited from the program last year, and it assisted over 20,000 families through developmental housing tracks.

The program said more than 26,000 contracts were signed by the Ministry of Municipal, Rural Affairs and Housing for land development, including 11,000 contracts during the fourth quarter of 2023 to develop affordable housing and improve Saudi home ownership availability.

“The program approved the completion of over 800 plans, issued more than 3,000 building permits, and provided 10,000 housing units for developmental housing beneficiaries,” the Saudi Press Agency said, adding that the number of contracts signed for the off-plan sales product reached 10,904 contracts.

The report reviewed the housing strategy and said the increase in the pace of ownership was an “indicator of success and continuous improvement in the sector.” 

The strategy also took into account transformations in the global economy, their impact on the real estate market, the financial conditions in the Kingdom, and their impact on the purchasing and investment capabilities of citizens and investors in the housing sector.

The program has also launched many initiatives and development projects to support the Saudi housing market, provided many job and investment opportunities, and attracted developers and partners in the private sector to help find solutions for home seekers in various regions of the Kingdom.

The housing program, which was launched in 2018, seeks to enable and facilitate Saudi home ownership by providing a range of housing and financing options and reducing waiting lists for various segments of society throughout the Kingdom.

Prior to the launch of Vision 2030, Saudi families could wait up to 15 years to receive housing support. 

“By easing access to financial support, streamlining processes and digitizing documentation, home ownership increased from 47 percent to more than 60 percent in the end of 2022,” the program had previously said.

Saudi Arabia on the path to global entertainment leadership with Vision 2030

Saudi Arabia on the path to global entertainment leadership with Vision 2030
Updated 26 min 13 sec ago

Saudi Arabia on the path to global entertainment leadership with Vision 2030

Saudi Arabia on the path to global entertainment leadership with Vision 2030

RIYADH: When Saudi Arabia launched the General Entertainment Authority in 2016, skeptics were doubtful about its outcome as the Kingdom was just taking its nascent steps in the sector. 

Today, Saudi Arabia stands at the forefront of leisure and entertainment in the Middle East and North Africa, driven by ambitious investments and strategic initiatives under Vision 2030. 

Under this program, the Kingdom aims to inject $64 billion into the industry by the end of the decade, accompanied by the creation of over 100,000 jobs. 

From sprawling entertainment complexes in major cities to a thriving cinema sector, Saudi Arabia exemplifies how determined regulatory policies can transform a nascent industry into a pillar of economic growth and cultural development. 

“Driven by the launch of Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia’s entertainment landscape has flourished rapidly,” said Devanshu Mathur, managing director and partner at Boston Consulting Group. 

“This transformation was initiated by the reopening of cinemas across the Kingdom in 2018, followed by the establishment of various entertainment offerings in 2019, such as Saudi Seasons and Boulevard Riyadh City, and the introduction of annual live music events like MDL Beast.”

SEVEN’s expansion

Play-Doh-themed entertainment centers will be rolled out across the Kingdom. File/supplied

A pivotal milestone in Saudi Arabia’s entertainment journey was the establishment of Saudi Entertainment Ventures, also known as SEVEN, in 2017. 

Backed by the Kingdom’s Public Investment Fund, the company is set to invest $13.3 billion with international partners to develop 21 comprehensive entertainment destinations featuring over 150 attractions across 14 Saudi cities by the decade’s end. 

In 2023, SEVEN acquired AMC Entertainment Holdings’ 85 cinema screens in Saudi Arabia, solidifying its commitment to enhancing the Kingdom’s cinematic landscape. 

“The acquisition of AMC’s stake in Saudi Arabia reflects SEVEN’s long-term strategy of bringing unparalleled experiences to the people and visitors of the Kingdom and contributing to the Saudi Vision 2030 goals,” said Abdullah Al-Dawood, chairman of SEVEN, at that time.  

In the same year, the company also signed a landmark agreement with Hasbro Inc. to introduce Play-Doh-themed entertainment centers nationwide, aimed at nurturing creativity among children while providing engaging family experiences. 

Al-Dawood added: “Children will be able to learn while having fun at our Play-Doh centers located at SEVEN entertainment destinations.”  

The centers will feature multi-level playscapes, creativity stations and sensory discovery activity spaces, as well as a café spot for parents to pass their time.  

“SEVEN is currently in its advanced stages of development. This initiative focuses on developing innovative entertainment experiences across multiple regions in KSA, targeting residents and domestic tourists,” said Boston Consulting Group’s Mathur. 

In May, Qiddiya Investment Co., owned by PIF, merged with SEVEN as part of Saudi Arabia’s broader strategy to enhance its entertainment ecosystem and accelerate the construction of the multi-billion-dollar project. 

Commenting on the incorporation, Al-Dawood at that time stated that the move supported their efforts to promote a culture of playfulness and joy among all members of society, including citizens, residents, and visitors, thereby contributing positively to societal well-being. 

He added: “The step also aims to nurture knowledge, skills, and creativity among individuals, ultimately targeting to create a new concept of fun and improving quality of life through the development of an integrated and unprecedented entertainment system.”  

Devanshu Mathur, managing director and partner at Boston Consulting Group. Supplied

Cinematic evolution

Since the opening of the first cinema hall in the Kingdom in 2018, the sector has continually evolved, with the industry generating around $240 million in 2023. 

Mathur explained: “The number of cinema screens in Saudi Arabia has surged from zero to over 600, reflecting substantial growth in infrastructure. The cinema market has seen the entry of multiple global and regional players into the Kingdom.” 

He added: “Saudi Arabia’s box office market is the 15th largest in the world.” 

Moreover, in 2020, Saudi Arabia was the only cinema market worldwide to record box office gains, successfully doubling the number of theater screens despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The expansion of cinemas extends beyond major cities to include 22 cities across the Kingdom. These developments underline Saudi Arabia’s rapid progress in establishing a robust and thriving cinema industry,” the Mathur added.  

In February, the Kingdom’s MEFIC Capital launched the Saudi Film Fund with a capital injection of $100 million, 40 percent of which comes from the nation’s Cultural Development Fund. 

This initiative aims to elevate local productions to international standards and marked the Cultural Fund’s inaugural investment venture. 

Global opportunities

Foreign companies seeking to enter Saudi Arabia’s entertainment sector have vast opportunities due to the industry’s nascent stage, according to a Boston Consulting Group analysis. 

The consulting firm highlighted opportunities across the entire value chain of the Kingdom’s entertainment market, from design and development to operations. 

“Some companies have imported their existing entertainment brands and concepts to the Saudi market, leveraging their reputation and operational expertise,” said Mathur.  

Notable examples include Majid Al Futtaim’s VOX cinemas and Magic Planet entertainment centers, which have successfully introduced their renowned brands to the Kingdom. 

He added: “Some companies and brands look to partner with local development companies and license their intellectual properties to capitalize on their popular IPs while expanding their market reach. An example here would be what we’re observing with Dragon Ball in Qiddiya City or Mattel with SEVEN.”  

Boston Consulting Group noted that Saudi Arabia’s entertainment sector is set for significant growth with major projects like Qiddiya City, an expansive entertainment, sports, and cultural destination near Riyadh. 

The destination will feature assets such as Dragon Ball and Six Flags theme parks, the largest water park in the Middle East, and numerous other world-class attractions. 

“These landmarks are expected to attract millions of visitors annually, including residents and domestic and international tourists, establishing Saudi Arabia as a global entertainment hub,” concluded Boston Consulting Group.

Saudi Arabia’s rapid transformation into a global entertainment hub underscores its commitment to economic diversification and cultural growth.

With ambitious projects like Qiddiya City and SEVEN’s extensive developments, the Kingdom is set to attract millions of visitors, solidifying its position as a leader in the entertainment industry.

This strategic vision not only enhances the quality of life for its citizens but also positions Saudi Arabia as a premier destination for global entertainment and leisure. 

Startup Wrap – cross-border funding and acquisitions flourish as MENA activity steps up 

Startup Wrap – cross-border funding and acquisitions flourish as MENA activity steps up 
Updated 19 July 2024

Startup Wrap – cross-border funding and acquisitions flourish as MENA activity steps up 

Startup Wrap – cross-border funding and acquisitions flourish as MENA activity steps up 

CAIRO: Regional startup activity has seen many acquisitions and funding rounds in recent weeks, with climate technology, artificial intelligence, and Web3 garnering the most attention. 

Saudi Arabia’s venture capital firm Wa’ed Ventures, a $500-million Aramco subsidiary, led California-based AI platform aiXplain’s $6.5 million pre-series A funding round. 

Backed by US-based firms including Transform VC and Calibrate VC, aiXplain has raised a total of $16.5 million since its inception, aiming for a global rollout of AI solutions. 

Founded in 2020 by Hassan Sawaf, aiXplain has designed an integrated platform to simplify the creation, deployment, and management of AI solutions. 

The company aims to democratize access to AI innovation by enabling the building of advanced solutions through natural language prompts for users with no coding background. 

This approach allows businesses to maximize operational efficiencies by accelerating the time and effort needed for integrating AI into large-scale operations. 

“Hassan and his team deeply understand the global disparity in AI access and the potentially damaging effects of leaving this gap unaddressed,” said Fahad Alidi, managing director and CEO at Wa’ed Ventures. 

He added that aiXplain “has already helped close the AI innovation gap in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region, and we see significant potential for the company to localize its solutions in the Kingdom.” 

To accelerate its entry into the Kingdom, aiXplain’s existing subsidiary in Saudi Arabia will function as the company’s MENA region headquarters. 

Beyond the Kingdom, aiXplain works with businesses worldwide to build AI solutions efficiently, as well as fine-tune and benchmark AI models. 

Oman-based climate tech 44.01 secures $37m in series A funding 

Oman-based climate technology startup 44.01 has closed a $37 million series A funding round, led by Equinor Ventures with participation from Shorooq Partners, Air Liquide Venture Capital, Alumni Ventures, and other investors. 

Founded in 2020 by Talal Hassan, Ehab Tasfai, and Karan Khimji, 44.01 specializes in eliminating carbon dioxide by converting it into rock. 

The funding will enable the firm to continue refining its technology, develop commercial-scale projects, and expand its deployment internationally. The company’s tech has been piloted in Oman and the UAE. 

Talal Hasan, founder and CEO of 44.01, said: “We believe mineralization can play a significant role in protecting and repairing our climate. We are grateful to our investors for committing to that mission and for demonstrating their confidence in our technology.” 

He added: “Our investors bring a wealth of international expertise and experience that will help us to accelerate our development and ultimately mineralize CO2 at scale world-wide.”

Sentient Labs raises $85m in seed investment 

UAE-based Web3-focused startup Sentient Labs has raised an $85m through a seed investment round co-led by Pantera Capital and Framework Ventures, with additional funding from Arrington Capital, Canonical, Dao5, and others. 

Founded in January 2024 by Sandeep Nailwal, Pramod Viswanath, and Himanshu Tyagi, Sentient Labs is dedicated to democratizing AI development to ensure its benefits are shared by humanity as a whole. 

Sentient Labs will use the capital to accelerate the development of its open-source AI platform. 

Muller & Phipps acquires Power League Gaming 


Regional technology distribution house Muller & Phipps Middle East Group has acquired UAE-based gaming and esports agency Power League Gaming for an undisclosed value. 

The acquisition will see Muller & Phipps invest in scaling Dubai operations and expanding into Saudi Arabia in the fourth quarter of 2024. 

Founded in 2013 by John Lacey, Power League Gaming offers comprehensive solutions for brands entering the gaming sector and publishers engaging audiences through esports events, content creation, and omni-channel ecosystem development. 

Muller & Phipps will acquire all company assets, retaining the management team to lead the business. 

“With Power League Gaming we see market experts who have grown rapidly and who have the talent and drive to take the business and the category itself to the next level across our region. We are excited to launch into Saudi Arabia later this year and to offer local clients the latest and most commercially sound esports and gaming strategies in the field,” group CEO of Muller & Phipps Middle East Group Holdings, Trevor Price, said. 

Tokinvest secures $500k in pre-seed funding 

UAE-based tokenization platform Tokinvest has raised $500,000 in pre-seed funding from a group of investors, including Michael Ourabah, CEO of global infrastructure provider BSO. 

Founded in 2024 by Scott Thiel and Matthew Blom, Tokinvest creates virtual tokens representing rights to assets, connecting real-world asset issuers with global investors through its marketplace. 

The newly acquired funds will be used to enhance Tokinvest’s technological infrastructure, expand its team, and accelerate market penetration. 

“We are immensely grateful for the trust and support from our early investors. This funding fuels our technological and operational development and solidifies our strategy to lead in the real-world asset tokenization space. We are excited about the opportunities that lie ahead and are keenly focused on launching our marketplace later this year,” Thiel, the company’s CEO, said. 

Swyt concludes undisclosed seed round 

UAE-based IT solutions provider Swyt has concluded an undisclosed seed funding round. 

Founded in 2022 by Edouard Bouvet, Swyt offers an all-in-one platform designed to simplify and secure IT operations for businesses. 

The seed funding will support Swyt’s mission to accelerate research and development on their platform and expand its presence throughout the Gulf region. 

Dopay closes $13.5m series A extension round 

Dopay team. Supplied

Egypt-headquartered fintech Dopay has closed a $13.5 million series A extension round, adding to a previous $18 million series A round raised in 2021. The new funding initiative was led by Argentem Creek Partners with participation from existing investors. 

Founded in 2014 by Frans van Eersel and Ahmed Nassef, Dopay offers a virtual banking platform that digitizes cash payments from employers to workers and other beneficiaries. 

The fresh funding will enable Dopay to expand in Egypt, launch new financial services, and extend its multi-bank, multi-country platform to other markets. 

“This funding comes at a pivotal moment, with our growth exhibiting a true hockey stick trajectory. The new funds will help us elevate our platform and, in collaboration with our partner banks, leverage deposited funds to create a self-financing lending model,” Eersel said. 

“This model will allow deposited amounts to fuel a lending portfolio, fostering a sustainable and mutually beneficial financial ecosystem. Our customers can look forward to new financing products that will be seamlessly embedded into our platform, enhancing their overall experience,” he added. 

Majarra acquires NLP technology provider Lableb 

UAE-based Arabic digital content provider Majarra has acquired natural language processing technology provider Lableb for an undisclosed amount. 

Founded in 2004 by Abdulsalam Haykal, Majarra provides Arabic content through its app, offering a vast library of over 50,000 articles, videos, and audio content. 

Lableb, founded in 2017 by Kinda Al-Tarbouch, offers Arabic AI services and NLP. The acquisition aims to solidify Majarra’s position at the forefront of Arabic digital innovation and marks its entry into the rapidly expanding AI sector. 

“Joining Majarra marks an exciting new chapter for Lableb. Our shared vision of advancing Arabic AI and NLP will drive innovation and deliver significant value to online businesses and their customers. Lableb’s tools are robust, ready to deploy, and capable of handling millions of queries weekly,” Al-Tarbouch said. 

Oil Updates – prices set for second straight weekly decline

Oil Updates – prices set for second straight weekly decline
Updated 19 July 2024

Oil Updates – prices set for second straight weekly decline

Oil Updates – prices set for second straight weekly decline

NEW YORK: Oil prices fell on Friday, putting them on track for a second weekly decline, as a strong dollar and mixed economic signals weighed on investor sentiment, according tot Reuters.

Brent crude prices fell by 38 cents, or 0.5 percent, to $84.73 a barrel by 2:35 a.m. Saudi time. US West Texas Intermediate crude futures fell 50 cents, or 0.6 percent, to $82.32 a barrel.

On a weekly basis, Brent crude was down 0.3 percent while WTI was trading marginally higher after slipping as much as 0.2 percent on Friday.

The US dollar index climbed for the second consecutive session after stronger-than-expected data on the US labor market and manufacturing earlier in the week. A stronger greenback dampens demand for dollar-denominated oil from investors holding other currencies.

Meanwhile, a lack of concrete stimulus measures from top oil importer China has weighed on commodities, ANZ analysts said in a note.

China’s economy grew at a slower-than-expected 4.7 percent pace in the second quarter, official data showed, sparking concerns about the country’s oil demand.

“Concerns over supply in the short term kept the losses minimal,” ANZ said, referring to worsening wildfires threatening production in Canadian oil sands.

Elsewhere on the economic front, Japan’s core inflation perked up in June, leaving the door open for an interest rate hike in the major oil market.

Oil prices found some support in the prior two sessions after the US government reported a bigger-than-expected weekly decline in oil stockpiles.

However, analysts at consultancy firm FGE said broader inventory trends look more bearish than expected this month. They noted that crude stocks have drawn at a slower than usual pace for this time of the year and global fuel stocks rose last week.

Meanwhile the OPEC+ producer group is unlikely to recommend changing the group’s output policy, including a plan to start unwinding one layer of oil output cuts from October, three sources told Reuters on Thursday.

Closing Bell – Saudi indexes end week in green, TASI closes at 12,188

Closing Bell – Saudi indexes end week in green, TASI closes at 12,188
Updated 18 July 2024

Closing Bell – Saudi indexes end week in green, TASI closes at 12,188

Closing Bell – Saudi indexes end week in green, TASI closes at 12,188

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Tadawul All Share Index ended the week in green, gaining 30.71 points, or 0.25 percent, to close at 12,188.32.         

The total trading turnover of the benchmark index was SR8.7 billion ($2.3 billion) as 108 of the listed stocks advanced, while 113 retreated.   

Similarly, the MSCI Tadawul Index also gained 6.61 points, or 0.43 percent, to close at 1,527.   

The Kingdom’s parallel market Nomu dropped 185.57 points, or 0.72 percent, to close at 25,702.34. This comes as 32 of the listed stocks advanced, while as many as 33 retreated.   

The best-performing stock of the day was Saudi Manpower Solutions Co., with the company’s share price surging 6.33 percent to SR9.41.    

Other top performers include Saudi Public Transport Co. as well as Tourism Enterprise Co., whose share prices soared by 5.83 percent and 5.06 percent, to stand at SR18.88 and SR0.83 respectively.    

In addition to this, other top performers included Saudi Industrial Development Co. and National Gypsum Co.  

The worst performer was Al-Baha Investment and Development Co., whose share price dropped by 7.69 percent to SR0.12.     

Others to see falls were Al Sagr Cooperative Insurance Co. as well as Leejam Sports Co., whose share prices dropped by 6.19 percent and 3.12 percent to stand at SR23.34 and SR230, respectively.    

AYYAN Investment Co. and B MBC Group Co. also recorded falls.

On the announcement front, Advanced Petrochemical Co. announced a net loss of SR17 million for the first half of 2024, a significant decline from the SR103 million net profit recorded during the same period in the previous year. 

The company attributed this downturn to several factors, including a 20 percent year-on-year decrease in sales revenue due to scheduled maintenance activities in 2024. 

Advanced Petrochemical posted a SR67 million loss share in its investment in SK Advanced for the current six-month period, compared to a SR43 million loss in the first half of 2023. 

In the second quarter of 2024, the company’s net profit decreased by 30 percent to SR42 million, down from SR60 million in the same period of 2023. This reduction was primarily driven by a 12 percent year-on-year increase in propane prices, despite an overall rise in quarterly revenues.