Connected Today, Innovative Future: Saudi Arabia’s Transition to an Innovation-Based Economy

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s transition to an innovation-based economy was the theme of a briefing and business roundtable hosted by the Arab British Chamber of Commerce on 30 July 2021.

The discussion highlighted how Saudi Arabia as one of the top 20 largest economies in the world was making great strides in the expansion of its tech and digital sector. It was the first as a digital riser among the G20 and among the top ten in e-commerce growth.

Titled, ‘Connected Today, Innovative Future’, this was the first major in-person business event to be held at the Chamber since before the Covid-19 pandemic and was organised in collaboration with the UK’s Department for International Trade and the Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in London.

The Chamber was delighted to host a high-level delegation from Saudi Arabia headed by His Excellency Engineer Abdullah Al-Swaha, the Minister for Communications and Information Technology, KSA and Mr Nawaf D Alhoshan, Deputy Minister for Technology, KSA.

The Saudi officials delivered briefings on the extensive and growing opportunities for investors in the Kingdom’s tech sector, which has been developing at a rapid pace in recent years, under the guidance of Saudi Vision 2030.

An open invitation was issued by the Kingdom to UK companies to become part of the “largest growth opportunity in the MENA region”.

In her opening remarks, the Rt Hon Baroness Symons, who moderated the discussion, described the topics of tech and innovation as vitally important as the world economy sought to tackle the big challenges of climate change and cyber security.

Mr Bandar Reda, CEO & Secretary General, ABCC, stated that innovation offered huge potential for UK-Saudi cooperation.

Saudi Vision 2030 was transforming the Kingdom’s economy, reshaping its urban landscape and improving people’s lives, Mr Reda said.

On behalf of the UK Government, Mr Simon Penney, H M Trade Commissioner and Head of the DIT in the Middle East, expressed optimism in the potential for cooperating with the Kingdom and anticipated that the event would help forge new partnerships. He welcomed the event as a means of forging new partnerships and hoped that the Saudi minister’s visit would lead to further success.

Mr Penney listed FinTech, MedTech and EdTech as some of the areas where the UK and the Kingdom could work closely together.

He concluded by stating that the UK’s huge strengths in innovation were complementary to Saudi Arabia’s transformational agenda.

The briefing attracted many senior executives from the UK’s thriving and innovative tech sector who were eager to partner with Saudi Arabia as it implemented its ambitious economic development plans which were being driven forward by ICT, 5G, digital and AI.

The event was supported by Invest Saudi and the Saudi British Joint Business Council.

In his presentation, His Excellency the Minister described the longstanding strategic alliance enjoyed by the UK and Saudi Arabia. Recently many ministerial visits to the UK had taken place, which reflected the importance of the relationship between the two countries.

The minister stated that the meeting was an opportunity to consider the next chapter in the relationship and a chance to update UK companies on the progress made by Vision 2030 five years after it was launched.

The digital sector was right at the heart of the kingdom’s vision for the future, the minister said.

Delegates heard how cutting-edge technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Cyber, 5G and Cloud computing were key to the completion of Vision 2030 which is creating a vibrant and thriving future for the Kingdom.

The Minister stated that by working in close partnership with global investors, the Kingdom was moving forward at an unprecedented pace with the introduction of fibre technology.

Private sector activity had been stimulated to bring fibre tech to millions of Saudi homes, which had led Saudi Arabia to become the number one digital riser among the G20 nations.

Saudi Arabia has been investing heavily in digitizing its cities, with 60 percent of the Kingdom’s urban centres now covered by 5G networks. It had developed one of the most advanced E-government systems in the world and has established data and Artificial Intelligence to support the country’s digital transformation.

Climate tech and green energy were areas where the Kingdom was making major advances, the Minister continued and pointed to the potential for extracting lithium from the Red Sea which would power the electric vehicles of the future.

His Excellency Abdullah Al-Swaha told UK business executives that the Kingdom was inviting them to engage in a dialogue to develop the potential of the growing tech industry. He stressed the importance of partnership with the UK; “once we partner, we partner for life”, the minister stated.

In his presentation, Mr Nawaf D Alhoshan, Deputy Minister for Technology, explained that Saudi Arabia was “open for business” in innovation and investment.

The deputy minister described the start up ecosystem in the Kingdom and the support available to investors.

A national technology development fund had been established and nurturing tech talent was a priority, which included attracted the best minds from overseas to work in the Kingdom.

It was estimated that the growth in Artificial Intelligence would contribute £135 billion to the Kingdom’s GDP.

Fintech in the Kingdom had achieved success in recent years with more than 60 fintech firms establishing operations in the country, Mr Alhoshan said.

A plan to establish a new UK-Saudi Tech Hub was proposed during the meeting and warmly welcomed by both sides. H E the Minister described such joint initiatives as part of his agenda for the visit.

The joint tech hub would create a common framework for innovation companies and assist partnerships between the UK and Saudi Arabia as well as acting as a platform for knowledge sharing.

The discussion with the minister was followed by workshops during which leading IT companies discussed their ideas and solutions with Saudi officials.