LEAP conference set to showcase Saudi Arabia’s tech and entrepreneurial ambitions

Saudi Arabia is projected to spend over $24 billion on various technologies by 2025 in the pursuit of its Vision 2030 goals to diversify the economy. (Supplied)
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Updated 06 February 2023

LEAP conference set to showcase Saudi Arabia’s tech and entrepreneurial ambitions

  • Over 100,000 innovators, investors and experts from around the world descending on Riyadh for four-day event 
  • LEAP will be co-located with DeepFest, an AI event organized by Saudi Authority for Data and Artificial Intelligence

RIYADH: Artificial intelligence, digital economy, and digital metaverses may be terms the average technology aficionado expects to hear at a conference in Seoul or Silicon Valley. This week, however, all things tech will be the talk of the town in the Saudi capital, Riyadh.

From Feb. 6 to 9, over 100,000 tech innovators and leading experts will gather for the second LEAP conference, a global platform for tech professionals from around the world.

Held alongside LEAP will be DeepFest, the inaugural AI event powered by the Saudi Authority for Data and Artificial Intelligence. Both events demonstrate the Kingdom’s aim to take its place among the world’s most technologically advanced nations.

The Kingdom is projected to spend over $24 billion on various technologies by 2025 — the highest in the world, according to the Saudi Press Agency.

Investing in data literacy training for public sector employees ensures that data is being used effectively. (Supplied)

At last year’s LEAP conference, Saudi Minister of Communications and Information Technology Abdullah Al-Swaha announced that the country would be investing $6.4 billion in future technologies and entrepreneurship to further solidify the Kingdom’s position as the Middle East and North Africa region’s largest digital economy.

The growth of the Saudi tech industry, in line with the goals of Saudi Vision 2030, is a way for the Kingdom to diversify its economy away from oil and gas revenues.

According to a 2022 Economist Intelligence report, Saudi Arabia was the world’s fastest-growing major economy in 2022, “outperforming the dynamic Asian giants of China, India, Indonesia and South Korea, as well as the struggling G7 and other major emerging economies.”

LEAP broke records last year when its inaugural conference became the world’s largest tech event ever held. This year looks to be just as big, if not bigger, than last, with top professionals in the tech industry traveling to Riyadh from across the world.

“Saudi Arabia’s recent investments in its digital economy, as well as its information and communications technology sector, helped consolidate its position as the leading information and communication technology market in the Middle East and North Africa,” Imad Abuizz, digital and technology platform leader at the business management consultant firm PwC Middle East, told Arab News.

Since the announcement of Saudi Vision 2030 seven years ago, the Kingdom has launched a series of initiatives that emphasize technology as a tool for social and economic reform.

Strategic agendas under Vision 2030 focus on regenerating the country’s digital infrastructure to boost economic growth, knowledge and enhance daily life. To this end, Saudi Arabia has committed to an annual investment of 2.5 percent of GDP in the sectors of development, research and innovation by 2040.

The Kingdom’s technological plans are supported by SDAIA, which was launched by royal decree in August 2019.

The same year, the Saudi government launched Absher, a smartphone application which enables citizens and residents of Saudi Arabia to access a variety of government services.

“Government spending demonstrates a big focus on digitalization,” Fadi Komati, a digital government consulting leader at PwC Middle East, told Arab News. “Why the sector is moving so quickly is because the majority of the population is young and eager to move forward and advance in cutting-edge technologies.

Fadi Komati

“The government’s digital transformation and continued investment in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and innovation lay the groundwork for a lot of opportunities, both for the private and public sector.”

Komati underlines how government investment in tech is “encouraging the private sector to become more mature, thus also stimulating and incentivising international companies to visit and open in Saudi Arabia.”

“The increased progress in the private tech sector within Saudi Arabia is a result of government investment in the sector,” he said.

In the same vein, Saudi tech entrepreneur Hussein Attar, CEO at private investment firm Tech Invest Com, told Arab News: “In terms of Saudi Arabia, all the giga projects being launched, such as NEOM, have placed a strong focus on technological innovation. Every giga project has a funding side that is investing in tech. Saudi Aramco also has its own investment fund for technology.”

Hussein Attar

At last year’s LEAP conference, Saudi Aramco unveiled a billion dollars’ worth of investments in developing start-ups through entrepreneurship support fund Prosperity 7 Ventures. NEOM Tech & Digital Holding Co. stated it was investing $1 billion in future technologies and launching the new M3LD AI engine as well as the XVRS digital twin metaverse.

Technological investment in Saudi Arabia is also paramount to the country’s environmental goals. In October 2022, at the sixth edition of the Future Investment Initiative, Aramco unveiled a $1.5 billion sustainability fund, one of the world’s largest sustainability-focused venture capital funds.

Recent data demonstrates the rise of Saudi Arabia as a growing global center, both regionally and internationally, in both the private and public sectors. According to the 2022 Saudi Arabia Venture Capital Report produced by Magnitt, the Kingdom was one of the emerging markets that recorded year on year growth nearing the $1 billion mark.

Saudi Arabia’s tech evolution is a way for the country to connect with the wider region and the world. AI, which was a recent focus at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, is paramount to the Kingdom’s growth in the field of tech.

A scene from LEAP 2022. (File photo Supplied)

In September 2022, the Saudi Public Investment Fund’s Saudi Company for Artificial Intelligence announced an investment of $776 million in a joint venture with China’s SenseTime to develop the AI ecosystem in Saudi Arabia.

“The Kingdom’s advanced technological infrastructure, high-caliber developments in the field of AI, and high standards designed by government authorities encourage AI businesses to plug in and grow in a regionally leading market,” Dr. Turki Almugaiteeb, a Saudi expert in technological development and innovation, told Arab News.

Dr. Turki Almugaiteeb

Saudi Arabia has also signed a number of partnerships with global AI providers to find practical solutions to everyday problems, Komati said, adding: “AI is very high on the agenda in Saudi Arabia because it is considered a mechanism by which technology can provide much bigger benefits.”

Technological investment and the Kingdom’s numerous avenues being explored for technological growth and innovation are also about education and offering a better life for its citizens, residents, and all visitors to Saudi Arabia.

In the words of Almugaiteeb, the key ingredients in Saudi Arabia’s rise to tech giant status are “the great human resources being developed in the Kingdom, combined with educated young Saudis in the field, many of whom have gained experience abroad.”


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Hollywood scriptwriter participates in Qur’an recitation contest

Updated 26 March 2023

Hollywood scriptwriter participates in Qur’an recitation contest

  • Yasser Omar Shaheen entertained the viewers with his melodic voice and distinctive recitation
  • The 'Otr Elkalam' TV show, broadcast on MBC1 TV channel, has a total prize pool of $3.2 million

RIYADH: Palestinian-American contestant Yasser Omar Shaheen, a Hollywood film and television scriptwriter, was a participant in the latest episode of the international Qur’an recitation and adhan competition.

Shaheen entertained the viewers with his melodic voice and distinctive recitation of the Qur’an.

The “Otr Elkalam” TV show, which is being supervised by the General Entertainment Authority and is broadcast on MBC1 and the Shahid digital platform, has a total prize pool of SR12 million ($3.2 million).

Shaheen said: “My life is a mixture of memorizing and reciting the Holy Qur’an and writing scripts in Hollywood, where I have supervised the production of more than 130 programs, produced 14 documentaries, and contributed to several shows on TV channels of Arab and Islamic countries.”

He enjoys teaching Muslim children the verses of the Qur’an and the rules of intonation in mosques in Dallas, Texas. Shaheen also works as a faculty member at San Jose University in California.

Several competitions resulted in his participation in “Otr Elkalam” and its first episode featured 32 contestants from around the world.

It also focused on last year’s winners of the Qur’an recitation and adhan competitions, Younes Gharbi from Morocco and Mohsen Kara of Turkiye, respectively.

The “Otr Elkalam” competition is designed to highlight the rich diversity of cultures in the Islamic world, and the vocal methods of reciting the Qur’an and raising the call to prayer.

More than 50,000 entrants from 165 countries were whittled down to 50 for the final stage, which is held in Riyadh.

Another selection process by the main jury then left 32 contestants, 16 for each competition.

Filipino engineers help fellow expats climb career ladder in Saudi Arabia

Updated 25 March 2023

Filipino engineers help fellow expats climb career ladder in Saudi Arabia

  • Philippine Council of Engineers and Architects has helped 40k Pinoy professionals

MANILA: Mario Balboa had initially planned to return to the Philippines after a year, but his stay in Saudi Arabia has now spanned almost two decades, motivated by his successes and a desire to help other Filipino expats on their career paths.

An electronics and communications engineer, Balboa left his hometown in San Fernando, La Union province and moved to Riyadh in 2004 to work as a business consultant and analyst at Saudi Telecom Co.

Now a senior manager for product development, he enjoyed steady career progression over the years but at some point, saw that many Filipino engineers living and working in the Kingdom lagged behind.

Although they had all the necessary skills, many lacked the proper licenses, certifications, and credentials.

“In any development project here, you will always find a Filipino ... The only problem is that some lack the necessary papers to show that they are certified,” Balboa told Arab News. “If there’s a position where you are capable but not qualified because you don’t have the certification, it’s a lost opportunity.”

The situation prompted him to establish the Philippine Council of Engineers and Architects in the Kingdom in October 2013.

In January 2014, the PCEA signed a cooperation agreement with the Saudi Council of Engineers to exchange expertise and help qualify Philippine professionals in engineering and architectural practice.

A few months later, Balboa also took on board the Philippine government agencies — the Professional Regulation Commission and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority — which inked deals with the SCE for the professional development of Filipino engineers, architects, and technicians.

“The PCEA’s main goal is inclusive progression of Filipino professionals, especially engineers, architects, and technicians, upgrading their respective credentials and qualifications,” Balboa said.


Council’s role becoming increasingly valuable as Kingdom undertakes Vision 2030 megaprojects.

“It helped in making Filipinos, especially the engineers and architects, recognized in terms of professionalism and qualification level.”

Over the past decade, nearly 40,000 Filipino professionals working in Saudi Arabia have, thanks to the PCEA, received training, improved their skills, and obtained official certificates to validate their qualifications.

The efforts have been recognized both in Saudi Arabia and in the Philippines, where last year Balboa received the Presidential Banaag Award, which recognizes individuals advancing the cause of Filipinos overseas.

The PCEA helps connect Filipinos directly with Saudi authorities to evaluate their qualifications.

Leandro Conti, chairman of the PRC’s board of mechanical engineering, told Arab News: “Then they will give you a certificate on the equivalency based on their (Saudi) standards ... which is good for Filipinos so they can be at par with the locals based on their qualifications.”

The certification is becoming increasingly valuable as Saudi Arabia continues to undertake megaprojects as part of its Vision 2030 reform plan.

“Once the projects will be in full swing ... definitely they’ll need Filipinos,” Conti said. “Some of my friends from Dubai and Abu Dhabi came back to Saudi Arabia because of the opportunities.”

Leo Argoso, an engineer who for the past five years has been working for a Saudi company specializing in medical equipment and instruments, was one of those who obtained a good job thanks to the PCEA.

“It was them (the PCEA) who bridged my qualification in order for me to become an SCE member so that I will be able to work my craft here in Saudi Arabia, to be able to take on a position that is equivalent to my level of qualification,” Argoso said.

He knows many other Filipino professionals whose chances on the career ladder got similarly boosted.

“With the help of the PCEA, they were able to fill up what is lacking in their credentials and after some time get recognized by the SCE,” he added.

“Once you are recognized by the SCE, you will be given an ID, proof that you are a legitimate professional and qualified to take on perhaps a higher position than you are currently holding.”

Saudi Arabia, Syria in talks to resume consular services — Saudi foreign ministry

Updated 24 March 2023

Saudi Arabia, Syria in talks to resume consular services — Saudi foreign ministry

  • Move comes after Saudi Arabia and Iran decided earlier this month to resume diplomatic relations
  • Last month Riyadh said consensus was growing among Arab nations that Syrian isolation was “not workable”

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia and Syria are in talks to resume consular services between the two countries, Al-Ekhbariya TV said on Thursday.

“Within the framework of the Kingdom’s keenness to facilitate the provision of necessary consular services between the two nations, discussions are underway with officials in Syria to resume consular services,” the TV channel reported, citing a Saudi foreign ministry official.

The report added that the statement from the foreign ministry’s source was in response to international media reports from earlier on Thursday.

The move comes after Saudi Arabia and Iran decided earlier this month to resume diplomatic relations and reopen embassies in both countries, following a China-brokered deal.

In a phone call on Wednesday, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan spoke with his Iranian counterpart, Hussein Amir Abdollahian, about holding a bilateral meeting in the near future.

On February 19, Prince Faisal said consensus among Arab countries was growing that Syrian isolation was “not workable”, adding that dialogue with Damascus was needed “at some point” at least with regards to the “humanitarian angle.”

He also said on March 8 engagement with Syria might eventually lead to its return to the Arab League, but that at the time, it was “too early to discuss.”

Saudi Civil Defense warns of thunderstorms, dust storms

Updated 24 March 2023

Saudi Civil Defense warns of thunderstorms, dust storms

JEDDAH: The General Directorate of Saudi Civil Defense has urged residents to take precautionary measures against thunderstorms and dust storms that are likely to affect some regions between Friday and Monday. 

The organization, acting on information from the National Center of Meteorology, said the Makkah region will be affected by moderate to heavy rains that may lead to torrential flows. The areas of Taif, Maysan, Adham, Al-Khurmah, Al-Ardiyat, Turbah, Rania, Al-Muwayh, Qia, Khulais, Al-Kamil, Al-Jumum, Bahra, Al-Lith, and Al-Qunfudhah are expected to be hit.

The Riyadh region is also expected to suffer, including the capital, Al-Kharj, Wadi Al-Dawasir, As-Sulayyil, Afif, Al-Duwadmi, Shaqra, Al-Zulfi, Al-Majma’ah, Al-Quwa’iyah, Al-Ghat, Hotat Bani Tamim, Al-Aflaj, Thadiq, Ramah, Al-Muzahimiyah, Al-Diriyah, Dhurma, Huraymila and Al-Dalam.

Authorities stressed the need to stay away from areas where torrents gather, and not to swim in dangerous places. 

Residents have been advised to adhere to instructions announced through the media. 

The regions of Asir, Al-Baha, Jazan, Najran, Madinah, Hail, Tabuk, Al-Jawf, the northern borders, Al-Qasim and the eastern borders are also expected to be affected.

Moderate rains and winds resulting in dust storms are expected in the Makkah region, including Jeddah and Rabigh.

The Civil Defense has stressed the need to stay away from areas where torrents gather, and not to swim in dangerous places.

Residents have been advised to adhere to instructions announced through the media. 


Saudi Arabia marks World Meteorological Day

Updated 24 March 2023

Saudi Arabia marks World Meteorological Day

JEDDAH: World Meteorological Day, observed on March 23 every year, is celebrated this year under the theme “The Future of Weather, Climate and Water Across Generations.”

It aims to join efforts at all national, regional and international levels to address the causes of extreme weather events and climate change, as well as the increasing scarcity of water resources.

The occasion also falls on the anniversary of the World Meteorological Organization’s establishment in 1950. The organization acts as an international umbrella that deals with weather and climate predictions, and serves as an effective channel for international cooperation in this vital area of development, urbanization and stability of humans and living organisms on the planet.

Through this year’s theme, the organization aims to pay tribute to the 24-hour national services of the meteorological and hydrological facilities, which collect and consolidate weather prediction data. 

Saudi Arabia is one of the founding states of the organization and undertook significant work in the field of meteorology at the local, regional and international levels. Its work in this regard is reflected in its functions on meteorology and climate, as well as through eight regional and international centers.

These centers are the Jeddah Regional Communication Center, the Regional Center for Drought Monitoring and Early Warning, the Jeddah Regional Climate Center, the Jeddah Global Information System Center, the Operational Information Center for Air Navigation Services, the Jeddah Historical Information Rescue Center, the Atmospheric and Hydrological Research Center, and the Agricultural Meteorology Research Center.