Saudi firms enhance CSR initiatives to boost community well-being

As companies strive to balance profitability with societal impact, corporate social responsibility has become a fundamental principle for businesses of all sizes globally, and Saudi Arabia is no exception. (SPA)
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Updated 26 June 2024
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Saudi firms enhance CSR initiatives to boost community well-being

  • Concept of giving back to the host community rapidly gaining traction in the business sector

RIYADH: Gone are the days when the corporate world was solely associated with making money. The concept of giving back to the host community, known as corporate social responsibility, is rapidly gaining traction in the business sector. 

Today, companies strive to balance profitability with societal impact. CSR has become a fundamental principle for businesses of all sizes globally, and Saudi Arabia is no exception. 

Prominent examples like the Saudi Basic Industries Corp. and ROSHN, a leading real estate developer backed by the Public Investment Fund, epitomize this ethos, guiding the way with their pioneering CSR endeavors. 

Speaking to Arab News about its CSR initiatives, SABIC affirmed its long-established reputation for doing what is good for its business, its people, and various stakeholders, while also investing in the communities where it operates, creating social, environmental, and economic value. 

“Wherever we operate, we look to develop mutually beneficial partnerships with all of our stakeholders, with a sustainable approach that delivers lasting value, and innovative programs to meet community needs,” the company said.

Global commitment 

SABIC added that this culture inspires its investments in CSR programs that create lasting, positive impacts throughout its global communities. 

“In 2015, we began our global CSR strategic tool, RAISE, to guide our approach to charitable donations, sponsorships, partnerships, and employee-volunteer programs. We use RAISE — Reputation, Audience, Innovation, Strategy, and Endurance — to select programs that elevate SABIC’s brand, address community needs, and promote our values,” it said. 

RAISE prioritizes four strategic focus areas: science and technology education, environmental protection, health and wellness, and water and sustainable agriculture, supporting SABIC’s 2025 strategy and Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030. 

“The focus areas also promote nine of the UN’s SDGs, which are designed to address society’s most pressing needs by 2030,” the company clarified. 

The RAISE strategy is designed to maximize SABIC’s impact by developing and implementing innovative CSR initiatives and encouraging employee participation and volunteerism. 

In 2023, the company continued its global Back-to-School Initiative, reaching students across 10 countries and offering various programs to help students succeed in their daily schoolwork and achieve their ambitions.

Education sector 

In 2019, SABIC launched its Global Initiative for Education and Innovation in partnership with Junior Achievement and INJAZ Saudi Arabia. Since then, the initiative has reached over 128,000 students globally. 

SABIC noted that its social initiatives aim to improve the quality of life in its communities, especially for the most disadvantaged members of society. 

HIGHLIGHT

Providing examples of how SABIC’s CSR initiatives have positively impacted the communities surrounding its facilities, the company reported that in 2023, it invested in 121 global CSR programs, reaching over 338,000 people in 27 countries with the help of over 3,600 SABIC volunteers worldwide.

Providing examples of how SABIC’s CSR initiatives have positively impacted the communities surrounding its facilities, the company reported that in 2023, it invested in 121 global CSR programs, reaching over 338,000 people in 27 countries with the help of over 3,600 SABIC volunteers worldwide. 

The company’s Global Environmental Protection Initiative continued this year across 10 countries with various programs aimed at sustaining Saudi marine life and addressing climate change and its global impact. 

“Managing water sources and sanitation goes hand in hand with ensuring better food and energy production. SABIC is working to end hunger, achieve food security, and improve nutrition by promoting sustainable agriculture,” the company said.

Quality of life 

Responding to Arab News’ queries, Mohammed Ashour, ROSHN’s associate director of corporate social responsibility, said that the company is dedicated to enhancing the quality of life in the Kingdom through its endeavors. 

He said this commitment reflects the giant property developer’s core values of responsibility, empowerment, and sustainability, guiding its actions to positively impact society and uphold environmental stewardship. 

“These values are comprehensively reflected in our development projects from inception to construction and handover. Our destinations feature a holistic array of essential facilities, including education, healthcare, lifestyle amenities, and attractive green spaces that invite residents and visitors alike to engage with their communities and live healthy, fulfilling lifestyles,” he said. 

Ashour noted that his company designed the YUHYEEK CSR program for maximum impact by leveraging its giga-project scale and resources to revitalize Saudi communities within their developments and beyond. The Arabic word “Yuhyeek” means “to rejuvenate” or “revive” in English. 

ROSHN partners with transformative green initiatives, public health campaigns, and cultural programs that bring tangible change to local communities. 

“An example of this is our partnership with Ehsan, the National Platform for Charitable Work, through which we have donated over SR55 million (over $14.6 million) during the past two years, benefiting more than 47,000 people throughout the Kingdom,” he said. 

He added that YUHYEEK’s partnerships with Ehsan and Hayat Charitable Association have sponsored mobile health clinics and early detection schemes that are improving public health in the Kingdom’s Madinah region.

Philanthropic pursuits 

Sharing insights into their philanthropic efforts and charitable activities, Ashour said that YUHYEEK’s efforts have five pillars: social development, environmental sustainability, education, public health, and arts and culture, achieved via strategic partnerships. 

Ashour emphasized another aspect of their work: the renovation of homes. To date, ROSHN has refurbished over 100 homes across the country, directly benefiting more than 700 citizens and significantly enhancing their quality of life. 

He added that their urban regeneration efforts include restoring and furnishing homes, raising the quality of life of hospitalized children and people with disabilities through visits and giveaways, and the provision of food baskets for those in need. 

“We are also deeply committed to the Saudi Green Initiative, and in partnership with Morooj, YUHYEEK has planted more than 25,000 mangrove trees in national reserves, and dozens of schools,” he said.

Cultural impact 

When it comes to culture, Ashour emphasized: “We firmly believe that this can have a major impact on the public’s quality of life.” 

He added: “Our strategic partnership with the Ministry of Culture has led to ROSHN promoting and supporting flagship events such as the Diriyah Biennale Foundation, book fairs in Riyadh and Jeddah, Al-Bisht Al-Hasawi Festival, and the Kingdom’s first grand opera, Zarqa Al-Yamama.” 

He pointed out that the multifaceted nature of YUHYEEK and the values embodied in their developments make surrounding communities more vibrant, greener, and healthier while bolstering local economies. 

“For instance, our flagship SEDRA community and the ROSHN Front retail and lifestyle hub recently hosted the Tuwaiq Sculpture Symposium. Tuwaiq brings local and international artists to the Kingdom, reinforces Saudi heritage, and highlights Riyadh’s cultural scene,” he said. 

Ashour further added that they have cemented their partnership with the Zahra Breast Cancer Association by hosting the Zahra Awareness Walk at ROSHN Front to encourage awareness of the early detection program, affirming that their destinations and events are open to all. 

He noted that YUHYEEK educational partnerships provide scholarships, skills training, and special needs support services. On the public health front, they actively sponsor mobile health clinics and breast cancer awareness campaigns, and provide dialysis machines, with more than 11,000 beneficiaries to date. 

The CSR associate director said that ROSHN now operates six community sites where comprehensive access services are available for people with disabilities. 

“Across the Kingdom, more than 22,000 people have benefited from our sponsorship of mobile health clinics. YUHYEEK has also facilitated skills training for more than 300 students, equipping them for the labor market. In total, we estimate more than 341,000 people have accessed our health, education, social, and cultural services, and this number is expected to increase exponentially as ROSHN continues to diversify into building world-class public and private healthcare facilities locally and regionally,” he added.

Promoting sports 

Ashour underscored his company’s sponsorship efforts in the Kingdom’s sports sector, citing examples such as backing the ROSHN Saudi League in football, supporting the Formula One Grand Prix, and collaborating with LIV Golf to draw elite golfers to the Kingdom. 

Looking ahead, Ashour concluded that the company is expanding its CSR reach and will continue to bring world-class events and services to the Kingdom. 

“Our inclusive CSR approach, embracing all aspects of well-being, ensures that everyone is lifted by our efforts to achieve the vibrant society envisaged by Saudi Vision 2030,” he said.


Federation of Saudi Chambers a catalyst for economic growth and international cooperation, experts agree

Updated 12 July 2024
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Federation of Saudi Chambers a catalyst for economic growth and international cooperation, experts agree

RIYADH: Reestablishing a business council with Canada after a five-year hiatus is the latest example of the pivotal role the Federation of Saudi Chambers is playing in facilitating international trade, experts have insisted.

On July 7 it was announced that Mohammed bin Nasser Al-Duleim would be chairman of the Saudi-Canadian Business Council – six months after the two nations inked an agreement to restart the body.

The reestablishment of the council is the latest in a plan spearheaded by the Federation of Saudi Chambers to boost the Kingdom’s international trading relationships as part of the Vision 2030 economic diversification plan. 

In January, the federation’s president, Hassan Al-Huwaizi, announced that the number of Saudi foreign business councils had reached 70, including with major global economic players such as China, the US, Japan, and the UK, as well as South Korea, Bahrain, and the UAE.

Other countries with whom councils are established include Germany, Italy, and France.

In an interview with Arab News, economist Mahmoud Khairy said these organizations allow enhanced communication by providing a platform for continuous dialogue between participating nations, help facilitate a better understanding of each other’s economic policies and interests, and promote transparency and trust in trade relationships.

He added: “Through these platforms, countries can work together on various trade-related issues such as tariff reduction, standardization of regulations, and investment facilitation.

“Collaborating with various countries through these platforms can attract foreign investors looking to tap into the Saudi market, driving investment inflows and supporting the country’s economic development goals.”

Reflecting on the latest move involving Canada, Khairy said: “The Federation of Saudi Chambers plays a pivotal role in facilitating international trade and economic cooperation, particularly highlighted by the announcement to restart the business council with Canada.”

In 2022 Saudi Arabia was Canada’s leading two-way trading partner in the Middle East and North Africa region and ranked 23rd globally. 

The merchandise trade between the two countries totaled approximately $5.1 billion, with Canadian exports at $1.3 billion and imports from Saudi Arabia at $3.8 billion.

Established in 1980, the Federation of Saudi Chambers is the umbrella and only legitimate representative of the Saudi business community – and 28 chambers – in all its various groups, sectors and regions, according to its website.

It facilitates bilateral trade, business dialogues, and policy advocacy, promoting investment and collaboration in energy, technology, healthcare, and education to enhance economic ties and streamline processes for foreign investors..

The objectives of the international councils include enhancing awareness among Saudi and foreign private sectors about economic environments and investment opportunities across their respective countries. 

They aim to foster communication with stakeholders to enhance cooperation and address obstacles, facilitate amicable resolutions of commercial disputes, and emphasize training programs, technical transfers, and knowledge rights. 

The councils also focus on identifying tax laws, publishing annual investment climate reports, and promoting mutual business visits, conferences, exhibitions, and economic projects to strengthen bilateral economic relations.

Saudi-based economist Talat Hafiz echoed the sentiments of Khairy, saying that expanding the Kingdom’s businesses’ through councils will support its non-oil gross domestic product by improving exports.

He flagged potential problems to expanding business networks abroad that are common to any international growth plan, such as cost of export and imports and currency fluctuations.

“However, these challenges can be easily managed by examining the economic viability of any expansion to ensure its viability and success,” he concluded.

Hafiz emphasized that the FSC plays a crucial role in enhancing and taking the trading relationships between Saudi Arabia and other countries to the next level.

Saudi-Canada trade

The Saudi-Canadian Business Council will serve as a platform for business leaders from the countries to showcase and promote their activities. It will facilitate the establishment of trade partnerships, exploration of new areas of economic cooperation, and exchange of information on opportunities and markets in both countries, according to the Saudi Press Agency.

“Bilateral relations between Canada and Saudi Arabia include common interests on many peace and security issues, including energy security, humanitarian affairs, and counter-terrorism,” said Ahmed Samir Islam, president and executive director at Canada Saudi Business Council – a Toronto-based organization that operates in partnership with the Riyadh-located Saudi Canadian Business Council.

Islam emphasized that the Canadian society is “very proud of the contribution it is making to educate some of the future leaders of Saudi society, including its very talented group of Saudi physicians as well as exceptional students of other disciplines.”

Khairy flagged other areas where both countries can learn from each other, including digital healthcare, artificial intelligence, and energy, as well as venture capital, and consultancy.

The economist went on to note that while Saudi Arabia has become the second largest market for Canadian exports in the Middle East, there is “huge room for the economic and trading relationship to grow further in the future.”

Hafiz also highlighted specific areas of the economy that are set to benefit, citing the industrial, tourism, technologies, education, and health sectors.

“This in turn will over time reflect positively on the two countries’ economy and bilateral trade,” he added.

The trade relationship between the Kingdom and the northern American country included significant arms exports, with Saudi Arabia being the top non-US destination for Canadian military goods in 2022. These exports were primarily composed of light-armored vehicles equipped with machine guns and anti-tank cannons.


Startup Wrap – MENA venture activity sees funding, expansion, and collaborations 

Updated 12 July 2024
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Startup Wrap – MENA venture activity sees funding, expansion, and collaborations 

CAIRO: From accelerator program graduations and fintech funding boosts to market entries and technology partnerships, the startup landscape in the Middle East and North Africa region is witnessing dynamic developments.

Impactful investments, strategic expansions, and collaborative initiatives are helping various sectors experience significant growth and innovation. 

Egypt’s Raya FutureTECH completes first accelerator program 

Some of the graduates of the accelerator program. Supplied

Egypt’s Raya FutureTECH, the innovation arm of Raya Holding, has successfully concluded its inaugural accelerator program in collaboration with GIZ.  

The Demo Day, held in Cairo, marked the graduation of the first cohort of 13 startups, including Arzaq Masr, Cultivaet, and Accounting Club, as well as Meta Egypt, BUS14, and Credify.

Jadeed, Wfrley, and PlanQ also completed the program, as did Tatbeek, the Holiday Homes Service Co., H.E Rental, and WhereApp.  

The winners will receive additional support and funding to further develop their solutions. 

Clara Samman, senior program officer at Raya FutureTECH, shared insights on the program’s objectives and achievements.  

“This program was designed to provide the founders with the resources, training, and mentorship they need to grow. Through one-on-one consultations with experts from Raya, workshops, and connections to our network, we’ve equipped them with the tools for success,” she said.  

UAE’s Maalexi secures $1 million venture debt from Stride Ventures 

UAE-based Maalexi, an agriculture-focused fintech, has raised $1 million in venture debt from Stride Ventures, according to a report by Abu Dhabi SME Hub.  

Founded in 2021 by Azam Pasha and Rohit Majhi, Maalexi facilitates direct cross-border trade access for small food and agri-businesses through its dynamic risk management platform.  

This investment aims to accelerate Maalexi’s growth plans and enhance its operational capabilities for more efficient procurement and distribution of food and agri-produce across the region. 

Pasha, the firm’s CEO, emphasized the impact of this funding on the company’s expansion.  

“This debt capital raise from Stride Ventures will significantly enhance our ability to acquire new users and scale our operations, further solidifying our position as a leading digital risk management platform for small and medium enterprises engaged in cross-border trade,” he said.

The executive added that the funds would be used to deploy “cutting-edge technology solutions” that streamline the movement of goods across the firm’s local and international warehouses and carriers.

Jordan’s ISSF invests $5 million in Global Ventures’ Fund III 

The Innovative Startups and SMEs Fund in Jordan has invested $5 million in Global Ventures’ Fund III.  

Founded in 2018 by Noor Sweid, Global Ventures is a series-A focused, emerging-market VC firm with $300 million in assets under management, investing in mission-driven founders across the MENA region.  

The ISSF, established in 2017 by the World Bank and the Central Bank of Jordan, supports Jordanian startups through direct investments and venture capital fund investments. 

Mohammed Al-Muhtaseb, ISSF CEO, expressed optimism about the collaboration, describing it as aligning with the company’s “vision” for Jordanian ecosystem that includes capitalizing on local talent. 

“We are happy to welcome Global Ventures Fund III to our portfolio of funds. They have demonstrated deep belief in the Jordanian ecosystem, having invested in several Jordanian companies from previous funds,” he added.

UAE’s Hala expands into Egyptian market with MwaslaTech partnership 

Khaled Nuseibeh, CEO at Hala, and Yasser Sedky, CEO at MwaslaTech, signing the agreement. Supplied

UAE-based mobility company Hala has announced its entry into the Egyptian market through a partnership with MwaslaTech.  

Hala, established in 2019 through a joint venture between Careem and Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority, has signed a memorandum of understanding with MwaslaTech, a provider of smart transport and shared mobility solutions.  

Hala aims to introduce an e-hailing taxi solution and leverage advanced technologies to enhance the travel experience in Egypt, particularly in new cities such as the New Administrative Capital. 

Khaled Nuseibeh, CEO at Hala, highlighted the strategic significance of this expansion.  

“This is a proud moment for all of us at Hala as we pursue new and exciting opportunities beyond the UAE for the first time and commence our ambitious expansion into the MENAT region,” Nuseibeh stated.  

“We are pleased to partner with a trusted industry leader, MwaslaTech, for this pivotal next step in our growth journey. Our experience and reputation for reliability in the UAE will enable us to deliver first-rate transportation solutions in Egypt,” he added. 

Qatar’s Startup Grind partners with Builder.ai to support local startups 

Qatar-based startup community Startup Grind Qatar has partnered with the UK’s Builder.ai, an AI-powered composable software platform, to digitally empower local businesses and entrepreneurs. 

Through this collaboration, Qatar-based startups will gain access to Builder.ai’s platform and expertise, enabling them to streamline their development processes, accelerate time-to-market, and efficiently scale their businesses. 

Varghese Cherian, chief revenue officer of Builder.ai, expressed enthusiasm about the partnership. 

“We are excited to join forces with Startup Grind Qatar to empower local startups with the tools and resources they need to succeed in today's competitive market,” Cherian said. 

“At Builder.ai, we are committed to supporting entrepreneurship and fostering innovation, and this partnership exemplifies our dedication to driving digital transformation and growth within the Qatar startup community,” he added. 

MENA VC landscape sees 33% increase in investors: MAGNiTT   

Investor numbers in the Middle East and North Africa’s venture capital ecosystem saw an annual increase of 33 percent in the first half of 2024, new data revealed.  

According to a report from venture data platform MAGNiTT, rising sentiment spurred a 130 percent increase in the number of funds launched in the MENA region during this period.   

Data revealed that despite the increase in investors, only $768 million in funding was poured into regional startups, a drop of 34 percent year on year.   

The total number of deals reached 211, an 18 percent decline in the first half of the year, while exits plummeted by 63 percent to just 10.     

E-commerce was the most funded sector with $244 million in funding, while fintech was the industry of choice in terms of deal count.     

The Public Investment Fund’s Sanabil Investments was the most active investor in the region with $57 million in capital deployed.    

Saudi startups garnered the most funding in the first half with $412 million, followed by the UAE with $225 million, and Egypt with $86 million. However, all these markets saw a drop of 7, 19, and 75 percent, respectively.     

Morocco and Kuwait joined the top five list with $17 million and $14 million, respectively.     

In terms of deal count, the UAE topped the list with 83 transactions, an 11 percent annual increase. Saudi Arabia followed with 63 deals, a 3 percent drop, Egypt with 28, a 15 percent decrease, and Morocco and Bahrain with 10 and 7, respectively.    


Oil Updates – crude rises as US inflation eases

Updated 12 July 2024
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Oil Updates – crude rises as US inflation eases

LONDON: Oil prices rose on Friday amid signs of easing inflationary pressures in the US, the world’s biggest oil consumer, though Brent crude was still set for a weekly decline, according to Reuters

Brent crude futures were up 49 cents, or 0.57 percent, to $85.89 a barrel at 3:47 p.m. Saudi time. US West Texas Intermediate crude futures were 69 cents, or 0.84 percent, higher at $83.31 a barrel. Both contracts gained in the prior two sessions.

Brent futures were set to fall about 1 percent week-on-week following four weekly gains. WTI futures were broadly stable on a weekly basis.

Investor confidence was bolstered after data on Thursday showed US consumer prices fell in June, stoking speculation that the Federal Reserve will cut interest rates soon.

Lower rates are expected to boost economic growth, which would help raise fuel consumption.

The market, however, is still awaiting clearer signs of action. While Fed Chair Jerome Powell acknowledged the recent improving trend in price pressures, he told lawmakers that more data was needed to strengthen the case for rate cuts.

“Cooling US inflation numbers may support the case for the Fed to kick-start its policy easing process earlier rather than later, but it also adds to the series of downside surprises in US economic data, which points to a clear weakening of the US economy,” said Yeap Jun Rong, market strategist at IG.

Indications of strong summer fuel demand in the US also supported prices.

US gasoline demand was at 9.4 million barrels per day in the week ended July 5, the highest since 2019 for the week that includes the Independence Day holiday, government data showed on Wednesday. Jet fuel demand on a four-week average basis was at its strongest since January 2020.

“The market will remain rangebound, paralyzed by opposing forces of expected demand recovery fueled by an anticipation of a strong summer for fuels consumption ... but sentiment remains pegged by ongoing economic weakness and uncertain demand recovery,” said Emril Jamil, senior oil analyst at LSEG.

The strong fuel demand encouraged US refiners to ramp up activity and draw from crude oil stockpiles. US Gulf Coast refiners’ net input of crude rose last week to more than 9.4 million bpd for the first time since January 2019, government data showed.

But weaker demand signs from China, the world’s biggest oil importer, could counter the outlook from the US and weigh on prices.

“The recent downside correction is evidently over, although the speed of further ascent might be hindered by falling Chinese crude oil imports, which plummeted 11 percent in June from the previous year,” said Tamas Varga of oil broker PVM. 


How Saudi Arabia’s KAUST is pushing the envelope on Generative AI possibilities

Updated 12 July 2024
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How Saudi Arabia’s KAUST is pushing the envelope on Generative AI possibilities

  • Launch of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology’s Center of Excellence was announced on July 1
  • The goal is to find solutions aligned with four national priority areas outlined in Kingdom’s RDIA Vision 2030

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah University of Science and Technology is joining the global artificial intelligence race by accelerating generative AI research and development through models that align with the Kingdom’s Research Development and Innovation Authority’s Vision 2030.

“Generative AI (GenAI) is on its way to transform every aspect of our civilization and has already started doing so. It will be central to the future development of (Saudi Arabia), with a plethora of applications in health care, industry, energy, sustainability and entertainment, among many others,” Bernard Ghanem, chair of the Center of Excellence in Generative AI at KAUST, told Arab News.

On July 1, KAUST announced the launch of its Center of Excellence (CoE) on Generative AI, which intends to be the premier research, development, and innovation hub for pioneering generative AI technology aimed at addressing the most pressing challenges faced by the Kingdom and the world.

KAUST's new Center of Excellence (CoE) on Generative AI aims to be the premier research, development, and innovation hub for pioneering generative AI technology in the Kingdom. (KAUST photo)

“The KAUST GenAI CoE will push the envelope on what is possible with GenAI, in terms of technical capabilities, applications and real-world impact,” Ghanem said.

“We envision that the CoE will play a major role in boosting and expediting the GenAI landscape in the Kingdom and the world at large, leading to an explosion of new models with real-world applications in the four national priority R&D sectors identified by the Kingdom.”

KAUST’s mission is to enable GenAI research and development through GenAI models to find solutions aligned with the four national priority areas outlined in the Kingdom’s RDIA Vision 2030: Health and wellness; sustainability and essential needs; energy and industrials; and economies of the future.

“Throughout its lifetime, the GenAI CoE will work with partners in the Kingdom and the world to identify specific challenges to tackle within each of the four RDI pillars,” Ghanem said.

Bernard Ghanem, chair of the Center of Excellence in Generative AI at KAUST. (KAUST photo)

He outlined KAUST GenAI CoE’s strategies for using GenAI in the Kingdom’s priority research and development areas.

For health and wellness, the center aims to develop a GenAI multi-modal foundation model designed for clinical image analysis as well as establish a GenAI-based drug design and development pipeline for the Arab population.

In line with sustainability, KAUST GenAI CoE is working to develop GenAI foundation models for Earth observation data from satellite inputs as well as using the set foundation models for insights about Earth observation, with emphasis on specific-use cases including agricultural informatics, ecosystem assessment, and weather forecasting and prediction.

On energy and industries, Ghanem explained that the center of excellence was developing and specializing in GenAI foundational models in the domain of chemistry.

​KAUST’s mission is to enable GenAI research and development to find solutions on health and wellness, sustainability and essential needs, energy and industrials, and economies of the future. (Shutterstock image)

The center is using “foundation models for chemical reaction optimization (i.e., discovering the optimal chemical setup for a reaction to produce the best outcomes) and advanced material discovery and synthesis (i.e., combining GenAI models with an automated robotic chemistry lab for significantly expedited real-world discovery).”

Finally, in its mission to build the economies of the future, the GenAI Center of Excellence is developing and specializing in multi-modal GenAI models for business and government transformation. Through this, it aims to create GenAI models for the education sector such as intelligent tutoring for students and teacher assistance.

Ghanem said that the work in GenAI also extended to establishing “more expressive and more efficient GenAI models for visual content creation to support the growing creative industry such as social media, gaming, and entertainment in general.”

“The prospects of GenAI in creating massive value are supported by recent reports that expect this technology to conservatively add to the world economy a market size of several hundreds of billions of USD by 2030 and to significantly contribute to Saudi Arabia’s GDP by 2030,” Ghanem said. 

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Ghanem explained that this mission would be executed through three main pillars: “The innovation of general-purpose GenAI models that are endowed with properties needed for ubiquitous, efficient and trustworthy deployment, the specialization of these models for solutions in all four pillars of the RDIA … and the delivery of the Kingdom’s ambition to accelerate the adoption of GenAI in the Kingdom by focusing on translational research and talent development.” 

With advances in Gen AI, new concerns are raised about the technology’s negative societal impacts, such as data privacy, environmental sustainability, and disparities in quality and coverage across regions and cultures. 

The KAUST CoE plans to address these concerns through its research projects on GenAI trustworthiness, efficient training and inference, and Arabic language model development. 

Ghanem underlined their mission in these projects to “usher in the next phase of GenAI technological evolution headlined by trustworthiness, internationalization, open access, and less environmental impact.” 

The GenAI CoE also intends to focus on making a positive impact through GenAI training and upskilling programs for KAUST researchers, partners, and the general public. Through their training outreach initiatives, the CoE hopes to address the shortage of GenAI talent in Saudi Arabia. 

File photo showing participants in the World Artificial Intelligence Competition for Youth held at KAUST in Thuwal last year. KAUST has emphasized the importance of such competitions in fostering AI skills and knowledge among young people. (SPA)

In a press statement, the center recognized that much more will be needed in the way of training, especially at the national level, “to truly drive significant impact in this aspect.” 

When asked what scientific, technical and upskilling challenges need to be addressed to advance the Saudi GenAI sector, Ghanem spoke of the importance of “access to large-scale data, talent development, GenAI hardware infrastructure, and GenAI Investment. 

“The GenAI ecosystem in the Kingdom is young and flourishing, and much progress has been made so far. However, several challenges still remain,” Ghanem said. 

“Arguably, one main reason why popular GenAI tools perform so well right now is their access to large-scale data for training and fine-tuning. Getting access to such volumes of data is crucial for future GenAI development in the Kingdom. Although efforts are ongoing in this respect within Saudi Arabia, more can be done to open source data from various organizations and entities.” 

KAUST's also aims to create GenAI models for the education sector such as intelligent tutoring for students and teacher assistance. (Shutterstock image)

Developing a suitable GenAI environment in Saudi Arabia, Ghanem said, “will require a mass-scale talent development program (i.e., GenAI for the masses). This includes access to higher education in the field, but more importantly, it is based on short-term and focused training programs that teach the essentials of GenAI development to non-experts.” 

Ghanem believes that having access to large-scale data and sizable local talent is not enough for a thriving GenAI ecosystem. 

“Access to specialized hardware accelerators (e.g., high-end GPUs) is paramount for GenAI large-scale training and mass inference. Unfortunately, without access to enough of this hardware infrastructure, progress will be dampened, and the ecosystem will not progress and deliver impact in a timely manner,” he said.

On the topic of GenAI investment, Ghanem explained that healthy investment in this sector for homegrown and internationally competitive technology and commercial solutions is essential for a thriving and self-sustaining GenAI ecosystem. 

“While there are efforts in this respect currently ongoing, more concerted efforts can be made to address this challenge in such a fast-paced and ever-evolving field,” he said. 

“Through the CoE, new GenAI models will be developed and deployed to tackle the most pressing national and global challenges. We will do so while maintaining the utmost levels of AI ethical standards, by enforcing key values (e.g., fairness, safety and trustworthiness) in our R&D pipelines.”
 

 


Investment ministry signs MoU with Saudia Group to support investors

The Kingdom’s Ministry of Investment signed a memorandum of understanding with the Saudia Group on Thursday. (@MISA)
Updated 11 July 2024
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Investment ministry signs MoU with Saudia Group to support investors

  • The MoU will contribute to the Kingdom’s efforts to create an attractive investment environment, the ministry said

RIYADH: The Kingdom’s Ministry of Investment signed a memorandum of understanding with the Saudia Group on Thursday to provide quality services and support to investors.

The MoU will contribute to the Kingdom’s efforts to create an attractive investment environment, the ministry said. 

Saudia Group is an aviation conglomerate and consists of a diverse portfolio, comprising 12 strategic business units which all support the advancement of the aviation sector in the Kingdom and the Middle East and North Africa region.

The partnership will improve travel procedures and logistical services for investors and provide private aviation and concierge services to meet their needs in various sectors.