Saudi Arabia’s Future Beyond Oil Depends on Women and Technology

If ever there was a serious attempt to predict the future by inventing it, this is it. Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s largest economies and its society one of the least understood.

Custodians of Islam’s holiest sites, lords of vast oil reserves — Saudi Arabia is a deeply religious, conservative nation. The country has been shaped by rapid change as it was transformed from an impoverished nomadic society into a rich commodity producer in just a few years.

The Princely Vision

The times are changing. Now, women can look forward to driving cars without the permission of male guardians, thereby gaining unprecedented freedom of movement. Previously, women relied on male relatives to drive them to work or were forced to spend a good portion of their salaries on hired drivers.

This landmark decision is just one step in a long journey. According to a McKinsey report, currently, over half the workforce consists of foreign workers. Only 41% of Saudis participate in the workforce, and only 18% of working age females were employed in 2014.

With its Saudi Vision 2030, the Kingdom aims to become an investment powerhouse and a hub connecting three continents. To succeed, it must provide 6 million jobs for Saudi men and women and double the GDP.

The Bold Plan

To remain competitive in a world beyond oil, Saudi Arabia must have a clear plan, and full-fledged commitment and collaboration between the government, private sector and the citizens.

Developed with the assistance of McKinsey, Saudi Arabia Beyond Oil is an in-depth examination of the nuts and bolts of a productivity-led transformation. It addresses the three main issues facing the nation: the drop in oil prices and a changing energy market, a society heavily dependent on foreign labor, and a young, unskilled population with high unemployment.

Success requires a $4 trillion investment in a non-oil economy mostly from private sources, targeted at 8 key sectors that will generate growth and jobs: mining and metals, petrochemicals, manufacturing, tourism and hospitality, retail and wholesale, healthcare, construction and finance.

Change is already happening everywhere. The National Transformation Program, for example, is a series of government reforms and initiatives to overhaul the economy and reduce dependence on oil. The future economic model is meant to be a public/private hybrid. Privatizing utilities, for example, may lead to savings and efficiency, but it also requires an awareness campaign to promote personal accountability among citizens.

Transformational Technology

“By leveraging new technologies, Saudi Arabia can super-charge its economy, unleash the private sector potential, and leapfrog established economies in raising productivity and investment,” says Ahmed AlFaifi, managing director SAP Saudia Arabia. “Companies of all sizes across the Kingdom are digitizing at a rapid pace.”

Herfy, Saudi Arabia’s number one fast food chain, implemented a range of SAP solutions to achieve its ambition to expand across the region.

SASREF, one of the largest Saudi petroleum refineries, turned to SAP to completely revamp its IT infrastructure to enable full IT-OT integration. In an article in the Arabian Computer News in October, 2017 Hussain A. Al-Qahtani, President of SASREF, explains why this was a key step in preparing for the new era of digitization: not only does a digital core enable better business decision making in real-time, it will enable SASREF to implement disruptive technologies such as robotics and unmanned aerial vehicles.  

Women With a Purpose

Lifting the ban on female drivers in Saudi Arabia will have a wide ripple effect. Getting a driver’s license means going to driving school – female teachers will be needed. Should an accident happen – female police officers must be on hand. This means new opportunities for women. A society cannot function at its full potential, and there can be no productivity gains if half the workforce is left behind.  There may be some resistance, but Saudi society is young. It’s a matter of common sense and doing the math.

Noura AlAquil, part of the Presales team for SAP in Saudi Arabia and mother of three, says women in Saudi have been overshadowed for ages, but it’s up to women to break the glass ceiling now. Modernization does not mean abandoning ancient traditions and values.

Transformation is a continuous evaluation process of what to keep and what to change. Women all over Saudi are exploring their entrepreneurial skills and breaking barriers. They are using social media to sell clothing and artefacts hand made in their homes. They are quietly and consistently confronting resistance in the workplace.

“Women and men have to rise together,” says Noura. “I have a great advantage working at SAP – it’s the giant behind my back. If a global company like SAP promotes diversity and inclusion for women, that sends a very strong message. My purpose at SAP is to be a catalyst for change!”

Follow me on Twitter: @magyarj

This story originally appeared on the SAP Community.

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