UN secretary-general candidate recalls childhood memories in Saudi Arabia

Born in India on July 31, 1986, Akanksha’s family moved to Saudi Arabia in July 1992. Her last visit to the Kingdom was in 2000, but she would love to return again. (Supplied)
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Updated 04 April 2021

UN secretary-general candidate recalls childhood memories in Saudi Arabia

  • Arora Akanksha wants to prioritize funding to ensure all refugees provided with required humanitarian assistance to survive

MAKKAH: Arora Akanksha, an audit coordinator at the UN Development Project, faces a tough challenge as the first female millennial candidate running for the role of UN secretary-general.

For years, the selection process at the UN has been a closed-door process; candidates are appointed by the UN General Assembly on the recommendation of the UN Security Council. Every five years, selected candidates must receive nine of 15 council votes with no veto, and then receive two-thirds of the votes from the 193 member states in the assembly.
Born in India on July 31, 1986, Akanksha’s family moved to Saudi Arabia in July 1992. “I remember celebrating my sixth birthday in the Kingdom,” she told Arab News. “We lived in Khamis Mushayt. My parents are doctors — my dad is a microbiologist and my mother is in obstetrics and gynaecology. They moved to work with the Ministry of Health in Khamis.”
Although there were schools for girls in Khamis Mushayt, she struggled to learn Arabic. “There was an American school in town but my parents couldn’t afford to send me there. My parents decided to homeschool me for as long as they could till the age of nine. After that, I went to boarding school in India,” she said.
Her last visit to the Kingdom was in 2000, but she would love to return again. “I am sure things have changed a lot, but the warmth and kindness of the people will still be the same,” she said.
Speaking about her candidacy for the UN, she said: “Our founders realized from the lessons learnt from the League of Nations that the success of the UN rests on the secretary-general’s ability to effectively implement their decisions.”
She added that all member states want a UN that works for and helps those in need. “We have the highest number of refugees, displaced people, those stuck in conflicts around the world.”
For every dollar the UN receives, only 30 cents is used for the cause, she said. The UN receives $50 billion taxpayer dollars annually, and only $15 billion is used to serve people; the rest goes on bureaucracy.


While in the refugee camps, Arora Akanksha will ensure refugees are provided with the means, tools and opportunities to reclaim a normal life through education.

All that expenditure whilst there are 85 million refugees and displaced people globally — the highest number ever recorded since World War II. “Half are children. Half have been displaced for more than 10 years. These people are not voters in any country, don’t have social media to tell their stories, they just have the UN,” Akanksha said.
“Because we have failed one of our most basic responsibilities — providing food, shelter, safety and security — many refugees have become victims of human trafficking, smuggling, or lured into terrorist organizations for sustenance and survival. This abuse of human rights is a threat to global peace and security.”

As secretary-general, Akanksha wants to prioritize funding to ensure all refugees are provided with the required humanitarian assistance to survive, and are not subject to human rights abuses.
While in the refugee camps, she will also ensure refugees are provided with the means, tools and opportunities to reclaim a normal life through education.
“In order to provide sustainable solutions to this problem, I will bring countries together to provide sustainable solutions for refugees either through voluntary repatriation, local integration or resettlement of refugees,” she added.
Her objective when she assumes office is to restore the world’s confidence in the UN and its ability to serve and make the world a better place for everyone.
“In my candidacy, countries have a real alternative to choose a clean slate; someone who has credibility, brings a new kind of leadership that’s focused on fresh thinking and innovative ways of approaching problems,” she added. “I can lead and create impact from day one. As an auditor and someone with finance expertise, I am uniquely qualified to ensure I bring value for the money.”
Her experience as a global citizen, meanwhile, having also lived in Canada, has given her the empathy to represent people from different backgrounds around the world.
“I represent women of the world who have never been given a chance to lead. My generation, millennials —we have made strides in every profession, but when it comes to international organizations we are given ‘visitation rights’ and not participation rights.”
As for her plans for the election campaign, she said that as the UN tells all countries to respect the democratic process and have transparent and fair elections, “I expect member states will ensure the UN secretary-general election is fair, open and transparent.”
“I will run my campaign in an honest and transparent manner. All documents I submit to member states are on my website. I actively engage with civil society to hear their views. The UN charter reads ‘we the people,’ and I want to bring inclusivity to the UN through my election.”
As for other humanitarian crises, she said that the UN is here to help rebuild countries struck by natural disaster, and bring some measure of peace to countries affected by civil strife. Yet, she added, despite humanitarian relief efforts initiated more than 10 years ago in Haiti, Libya and Syria, millions continue to live in squalor, without clean water, adequate healthcare, safety or security.
According to Akanksha, the current UN system is not serving people. “How do we explain the highest number of refugees and displaced people in the world and growing inequality? Everyone in the UN knows about this. We must have the courage to do something about it,” she said. “Inaction is no longer an option. Indifference is a disease. The time of protecting the status quo is long past. We must confront UN failures now instead of passing them on to future generations.”
She added many of the issues surrounding the UN came as a direct result of ineffective and poor leadership, recalling an incident on a mission in Uganda, where she saw a child eating mud by a gas station. The little girl was by herself, and people were walking by without taking note of her.
“I was heartbroken and at that time all I could do was give her food and cash. When I returned to New York, I asked one of our senior executives why is a child eating mud, what can we do about it. He said, ‘mud is good for children, it has iron’.”
The response, she said, was the moment she knew she needed to bring moral and conscious leadership to pursue a new UN. “We have the financial resources, we need to succeed and the best human talent at our disposal,” she added. “With the right leadership we can absolutely fulfil our promise to the world and impact the lives of people.”


Film AlUla to boost Saudi film industry

Updated 10 April 2021

Film AlUla to boost Saudi film industry

  • New film commission will shine a light on Saudi Arabia by attracting international producers

DUBAI: A new regional film commission is launching in Saudi Arabia, Film AlUla, which is being set up by the Royal Commission for AlUla in the northwest region of the country.

Located 1,100 kilometers from Riyadh, AlUla is a place of natural beauty and heritage. It is home to Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hegra, which is a 52-hectare ancient city.

AlUla is also home to other historical and archaeological sites, including an old town surrounded by an ancient oasis and the Lihyan Kingdom, which is considered one of the most developed cities of the first millennium B.C. in the Arabian Peninsula.

Extreme E, the off-road electric race championship, will hold this year’s inaugural race in AlUla.

Arab News spoke to Stephen Strachan, film commissioner at Film Alula, to learn more.

Give us a little background on AlUla’s new film commission, Film AlUla. 

Film AlUla is a new regional film office, established in 2020 and launched officially earlier this year by the Royal Commission for AlUla at the Berlin International Film Festival. It was met with a positive reaction from both the film industry and international media.

Film AlUla has been tasked with the mission of promoting the county of AlUla as a filming destination and attracting local, regional and international productions to shoot films, TV series, commercials and documentary projects. The Film AlUla team is made up of local and international industry professionals who offer a range of services, expertise and resources to support production projects in AlUla. 

A view of an old town in ALUla surrounded by an ancient oasis. (Supplied)

What is Film AlUla’s objective? 

We have a range of objectives. Firstly, we want to attract production companies to shoot film projects in AlUla so as to showcase this county of outstanding natural beauty and cultural significance, which has, until recently, remained undiscovered by filmmakers and the world at large.  

This in turn will encourage tourists from around the world to visit AlUla, and to discover the region and the rest of the country, in support of Saudi Arabia’s 2030 vision. Developing our film industry also puts us in a position to shine a spotlight on the wealth of Saudi talent and to provide a platform to champion and support emerging and established creatives here.  

We aim to build a film hub centered in AlUla that generates local and regional employment and educational opportunities for those interested in pursuing a career in the film industry.  

What is the investment in the film and production industry in the city?

AlUla has been identified as one of Saudi Arabia’s most promising destinations. We are confident that the stunning landscapes, wide range of diverse locations and millennia-old archaeological sites will attract film productions and make AlUla a major filming destination. Preserving our heritage sites and landscapes remains a priority in AlUla and the sustainable building of our local screen industries.

A robust financial strategy is in place to make the AlUla region the Kingdom’s cultural capital. Archaeological, cultural and touristic complex plans are underway so we can support film productions with world-class infrastructure and a range of accommodation options, from luxury and unique hotels to eco-friendly, desert canyon resorts, designed to raise the profile of AlUla on the international stage.

What are the incentives being offered to producers?

Production companies are encouraged to get in touch with the Film AlUla team directly to discuss our financial incentives. 

Production companies can also benefit from a range of incentives such as free bespoke production support; location scouting; expert knowledge of filming in AlUla and the rest of Saudi Arabia; assistance in sourcing equipment and professional crew locally and regionally; and, of course, year-round sunshine.

With a temperate climate nine months of the year, AlUla presents filmmakers with an uninterrupted extended period of time during which to shoot their productions. 

What are the procedures and guidelines for local and foreign companies to shoot their productions in AlUla?

We are very excited to open AlUla’s doors to film production and share with the world the wealth of beauty, history, and diversity on display here. We welcome all types of production, and as a member of the Association of Film Commissioners International (AFCI), we follow best practices as laid out by the AFCI.  

We have a very effective regulatory system in place that is simple and straightforward to ensure production and crew have all the necessary permits in place. Hosted on our website is a Film Production and Location guide that provides a comprehensive overview of all the benefits of choosing AlUla as your production destination. Of course, preserving and protecting our landscape and heritage remain paramount. And, for anyone interested in filming in AlUla, we suggest you reach out to us so we can support you during every step of the process and ensure a successful and enjoyable filming experience.

For more information, please visit filming.experiencealula.com.

Can you comment on the Extreme E races being filmed in AlUla?

We are thrilled to be the first location featured in the inaugural Extreme E five-stop global race next month, designed to highlight the impact of climate change and promote switching to electric vehicles to protect the planet.  

AlUla will make for an extraordinary and thrilling backdrop for the event. And with Extreme E set to be aired around the world, this is the perfect opportunity to capture the attention of global audiences, enabling them to see the majestic, cinematic landscapes and breathtaking natural wonders of the region for themselves.

Who’s Who: Prince Waleed bin Nasser Al-Saud, founder and CEO of Mukatafa

Updated 10 April 2021

Who’s Who: Prince Waleed bin Nasser Al-Saud, founder and CEO of Mukatafa

Prince Waleed bin Nasser Al-Saud is the founder and CEO of Mukatafa.
Mukatafa is a Saudi firm that, according to its website, aims to “build an ecosystem of collaboration between the private and public sectors that empowers Saudi Arabia to grow as a prosperous nation with a sustainable future,” in line with the goals of Saudi Vision 2030.
Prince Waleed has previously served as CEO for a group of private business initiatives in the Kingdom, vice president of the People and Shared Services department at McDonald’s, Saudi Arabia, and vice president of marketing and business development at NAFA Enterprises, a Saudi holding company.
Prince Waleed is also a member of several business groups, including the Restaurant and Cafes Association (Qoot), the Grocery Store Association (Mo’an), and the Fashion, Jewelry and Beauty Association (ZY).
He sits on the supervisory committee of the Trade Franchise Center at the Small and Medium Enterprises General Authority and is on the board of directors at both Alfa Co. for Operation Services and Tamkeen Human Resources. Additionally, he is a member of the advisory committee for investment in the municipal sector and a member of the commercial committee in the Riyadh Chamber.
Prince Waleed holds a bachelor’s degree in marketing, graduating with honors from the University of Tampa in Florida, and a master’s degree in accounting, graduating with honors from King Saud University, Riyadh. He also holds certificates in advanced leadership, strategic management, project management, and human resource management programs.

Islamic Development Bank president receives Chinese envoy to Saudi Arabia

Updated 10 April 2021

Islamic Development Bank president receives Chinese envoy to Saudi Arabia

The president of the Islamic Development Bank, Bandar Hajjar, met in his office the Chinese ambassador to the Kingdom, Chen Wei Cheng, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Friday.
They discussed partnerships between China and the bank, in its member states, in a number of fields, including the transfer of knowledge and expertise, science, innovation, scholarships and laboratories.

Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah prepares for Ramadan amid pandemic

Updated 09 April 2021

Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah prepares for Ramadan amid pandemic

  • Three million bottles of Zamzam water will be distributed to worshipers and visitors during Ramadan
  • Each worshipper will be individually presented with dates and water for Iftar

MADINAH: The General Presidency for the Affairs of the Prophet’s Mosque is intensifying efforts to prepare the mosque ahead of the holy month of Ramadan in line with COVID-19 precautionary measures.
Only people who have received two doses of a coronavirus vaccine or have recovered from the virus or have had one shot of a vaccine more than 14 days prior to visiting the mosque may visit or pray in the Rawdah, Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.
The Rawdah lies between the Sacred Chamber (known as the Prophet’s house), and the Prophet’s Minbar (pulpit).
Each person’s vaccination status will need to be registered on Saudi Arabia’s COVID-19 app, Tawakkalna.
Three million bottles of Zamzam water will be distributed to worshipers and visitors during Ramadan which amounts to 100,000 bottles of water per day, the presidency said.
Each worshipper will be individually presented with dates and water for Iftar and social distancing is to be observed at all times.
Arranging and distributing sahoor meals in the mosque’s courtyards is prohibited, the presidency said.
Itikaf (staying in a mosque for a certain number of days whilst devoting oneself to worship) will be suspended for the second year running due to the pandemic.
Worshippers are also required to use the national parking app “Mawqif” to facilitate their exit from the mosque.
Ramadan 2021 is due to start on either Monday or Tuesday in the Kingdom.

Saudi Arabia calls on people to sight Ramadan crescent on Sunday evening

Updated 09 April 2021

Saudi Arabia calls on people to sight Ramadan crescent on Sunday evening

  • Ramadan 2021 is due to start on either Monday or Tuesday in the Kingdom

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court has called on people in the Kingdom to try and sight the crescent moon signalling the beginning of the month of Ramadan on Sunday evening.
Anyone who sights the crescent, either with the naked eye or with the help of binoculars, should inform the nearest court of the sighting, the court said.
The start of Ramadan is determined by the lunar calendar which, unlike the Gregorian calendar, follows a 29- or 30-day cycle determined by the cycle of the moon.
Ramadan 2021 is due to start on either Monday or Tuesday in the Kingdom.
Muslims anticipate the end of Shaaban, the month preceding Ramadan, by watching for the absence or presence of the crescent moon, which indicates the continuation of Shaaban or the beginning of Ramadan.