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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s entrepreneurial landscape is rapidly expanding thanks to close collaboration between the public and private sectors, business leaders highlighted during a two-day event in Riyadh.
Convened at the King Abdul Aziz International Conference Center, the Social Development Bank Forum for Entrepreneurship and Modern Business Practices brought together 85 local and international speakers, 30 global organizations and over 100 consultants.
Speaking at the event, which commenced on Jan. 22, Saudi Minister of Human Resources and Social Development Ahmad bin Sulaiman Al-Rajhi, who also serves as the chairman of the board of SDB, stated that the 53-year-old bank injected more than SR11 billion ($2.9 billion) into the national economy in 2023 to support startups, benefiting over 150,000 citizens.
Additionally, he highlighted that the number of small and medium enterprises doubled from 429,000 entities in 2016 to more than 1.2 million.
“This proves the wise leadership’s support and empowerment of entrepreneurs, reenforcing the role of SMEs in supporting economic resources and contributing to increasing the gross domestic product to achieve the goals of Saudi Vision 2030,” he said.
Al-Rajhi added that the labor market strategy his ministry is working on is tailored to enhance the business atmosphere and support startup incubators.
“This forum comes to support this strategy and contribute to its targets. The forum also introduces SDB as the biggest national financial provider and a key financing player in the Middle East,” he said.
The bank has helped more than 9 million citizens and succeeded in financing over 50,000 emerging enterprises and startups.
The event facilitated the exchange of insightful experiences, cultivating a dynamic environment for shared knowledge and collaboration within the entrepreneurial community.
The forum, featuring several panel discussions under the theme “DeveGo — Into a Thriving Future,” aimed to stimulate innovation in practical solutions to enhance financial services and support for emerging and micro-enterprises, ultimately contributing to the Saudi GDP.
In an interview with Arab News, Sayeeda Warsi, the former UK minister of the Foreign Office and Faith and Communities, explained how Saudi Arabia can collaborate globally, particularly with the UK, to promote entrepreneurship and modern business practices. She emphasized that the UK and Saudi Arabia share a history of relationships on various levels.
“It is long-established diplomatic relations. And I think one of the things that I am incredibly proud of in the UK is the fact that we have an established set of laws and regulations and business practices. We are also one of the biggest financial centers in the world,” she said on the sidelines of the event.
Warsi pointed out the evolution of the insurance sector and highlighted the central role entrepreneurship has played in the initiatives of successive governments. She expressed her belief that there is indeed ample room for collaboration between Saudi Arabia and the UK.
Commenting on the role of diplomatic efforts in enhancing economic and business relations between the two countries, from her perspective as a former minister of the Foreign Office, Warsi said she comes from a family of businesspeople.
Over the course of her life, during which she initiated, built, and sold businesses, Warsi noted that the one thing she learned from her father is that people enjoy doing business with people they like.
“With strong diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and the UK, I absolutely think that we will build upon that relationship as we have done in the past. If the relationship is strong, then absolutely the business relationship will be built upon that,” she said.
Explaining how Saudi entrepreneurship can contribute to preserving and promoting cultural heritage while fostering economic growth, she mentioned that attendees at the conference are discussing the green economy.
“If you look at the way in which, historically, Saudi Arabia has been at the forefront of fuel (sector). If you look at its commitments now in relation to developing a much more green-powered economy.”
Warsi emphasized the importance of two things when the transition occurs: firstly, supporting those individuals traditionally employed in areas benefiting from the oil and gas-based sector, and in those geographical locations, ensuring that they feel supported and anticipate gaining from the impending change.
“Those areas where these new developments are taking place around green technologies, we have to make sure that we take into account their history, their heritage, their geography, their cultural practices so that it doesn't feel like this growth is done to them, but it is being done with them,” she clarified.
Moreover, she explained how Saudi entrepreneurs can establish productive global partnerships to drive innovation and foster growth in their startups, emphasizing that startups often gain significant benefits from strategic alliances.
“It is important that when we look at the issue of climate change, particularly, our obligations are not just national but international.”
Warsi added that, when examining the sustainable development goals set by the UN, the targets agreed upon by countries worldwide are global issues. Consequently, she emphasized that the solutions must also be global in nature.
“We have a set of strategic partnerships between different parts of the world to make sure that when we move towards those targets, they are done in a collaborative way.”
She emphasized the significance of richer countries establishing funds to assist less developed nations in their transition to a greener economy.
“It is important that those countries that are the oil and gas providers are supported in making that transition to a greener economy. It is so important that we see this as a collective whole world challenge that we deal with by working strategically together, and the latest meeting in Dubai was a clear example of that.” the former minister concluded.
In his speech, Jeff Hoffman, chairman of Global Entrepreneurship Network, shared some tips on becoming a successful entrepreneur.
He stressed that, for a company to grow, an entrepreneur should recognize the necessity of developing leaders all around them and enabling these leaders to further expand.
“When you ask a startup what the key to success is, everybody always says funding, but what the most valuable resource on this planet is not financial capital; it is human capital. It is not a money game; it's a talent game,” he said, adding that an entrepreneur’s key to success is to surround themselves with people smarter than them.
Commenting on Saudi Arabia’s economic transformations and his perspective on its entrepreneurial ecosystem, Hoffman mentioned that he has been visiting the Kingdom for many years. He expressed being particularly impressed in recent years with the rapid growth of the Saudi entrepreneurial ecosystem.
However, he added that the most impressive aspect is that the entire ecosystem is working together seamlessly.
“So many parts of the ecosystem and organizations within government and private sectors in Saudi Arabia are all getting together to improve entrepreneurship opportunities in the Kingdom, and it has been amazing,” Hoffman told Arab News.
Shedding light on how his company can collaborate with Saudi Arabia to align global best practices with the goals outlined in Vision 2030, especially with the Kingdom placing a strong emphasis on entrepreneurship, he expressed his strong belief that global collaboration is crucial for entrepreneurs to succeed universally.
“In 2022, we had our global meeting right here in this very building where we are standing, in order to foster more collaboration between our organization and the organizations. So, we are big believers in collaboration, and as they say, a rising tide lifts all boats.” Hoffman concluded.
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