Featured in SUSTG

Opportunities for Saudi-China Trade: Is Asia the Future for the Kingdom?

SUSTG.org | John Sfakianakis | 4.8.14

Opportunities for Saudi-China Trade: Is Asia the Future for the Kingdom? As part of the recent visit by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Salman to China, I participated the Saudi-China Investment Forum organized by the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA). I was honored to receive an invitation to speak, and compared with forums organized inside and out of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 2014, this was one of the best organized and most interesting. ... Continue Reading href="http://sustg.org/blog/2014/04/08/opportunities-for-saudi-china-trade-is-asia-the-future-for-the-kingdom/#more-239733" class="more-link">(more…) hide

The Best SPA Photos this Month: March 2014 Edition

SUSTG.org | Lucien Zeigler | 4.1.14

The Best SPA Photos this Month: March 2014 Edition March was busy for Saudi officials both inside and outside of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Both the U.S. President and the Secretary of Commerce and State visited Riyadh this month, while Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Salman visited China. The Kingdom appointed a new Deputy Crown Prince, and the GCC held a contentious meeting in the Saudi Capital. [... Continue Reading href="http://sustg.org/blog/imagegallery/the-best-spa-photos-this-month-march-2014-edition-2/">SEE THE PHOTOS] (more…) hide

President Obama’s Visit to Riyadh: 3 Takeaways from Obama’s Meeting with King Abdullah

SUSTG.org | Lucien Zeigler | 3.31.14

President Obama’s Visit to Riyadh: 3 Takeaways from Obama’s Meeting with King Abdullah President Obama’s recently concluded visit to Riyadh – his second as President – comes at a pivotal time in U.S.-Saudi relations. With the ongoing conflict in Syria and Iran’s nuclear program the big topics discussed between the two leaders, the meeting was an important opportunity for the two old allies to get on the same page. ... Continue Reading href="http://sustg.org/blog/2014/03/31/obama-in-riyadh-3-takeaways-from-obamas-meeting-with-king-abdullah/#more-238438" class="more-link">(more…) hide

10 Opinions You Must Read Before President Obama Arrives in Riyadh on Friday to Meet Saudi King Abdullah

SUSTG.org | Lucien Zeigler | 3.27.14

10 Opinions You Must Read Before President Obama Arrives in Riyadh on Friday to Meet Saudi King Abdullah President Barack Obama is set to arrive in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on Friday for a two day visit to the Kingdom on the heels of a trip through Europe. The second-term Democrat will meet with Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah in his second trip to Riyadh while in office, and there's lots for the two nations to talk about. From the prolonged civil war in Syria, to Iran's nuclear program, Egypt, energy, and more - the U.S.-Saudi relationship is once ... Continue Reading again not without drama. What are the experts saying about Obama's visit to Saudi Arabia on Friday? See 10 must-read analyses on what might be on the agenda and the choices before the U.S. and Saudi Arabia during a period of heightened regional – and relationship - tension. Click here to see a slideshow of the 10 most important analyses you must read before the President arrives on Friday. 

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KACARE and Saudi Arabia’s Frightening Consumption of Energy

SUSTG.org | John Sfakianakis | 3.26.14

KACARE and Saudi Arabia’s Frightening Consumption of Energy Four years ago, King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (KACARE) was established by a royal decree. Public statements highlighted the numerous nuclear and solar power plants that would be built and entered into production during the next 15 to 20 years. Large sums of money have been paid for advisers and global consulting firms to take advantage of their expertise. Memorandums of understanding were signed with several countries, ... Continue Reading and endless numbers of visits were rolled out by officials and foreign businessmen who are seeking a role in the next big business in Saudi Arabia: solar and nuclear energy. But four years later, little has been accomplished on the ground, and nothing will be achieved if the government support and incentives that allow the provision of electricity, water and petroleum at subsidized prices continue. The beneficiaries of all these forms of government support are not the needy, unfortunately - the rich are. Helping the needy can be done through direct government support of financial aid or other forms of support within the framework of a wide social safety net, and subsidizing gas prices for them makes sense. photo (10) Subsidizing prices for the already wealthy citizens does not help society as a whole, and the rich should not benefit from cheap electricity and gasoline. The price of gasoline in the Kingdom is considered the second-lowest in the world after Venezuela. This generates an enormous waste of the state's resources; hydrocarbons represent the only real source of income for Saudi Arabia, and if that is wasted because of excessive domestic consumption from rock-bottom subsidized prices, there’s likely that there will be little left of the country's wealth for future generations. Through all the studies conducted by the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable energy, and the Saudi Center for Energy Efficiency, and the King Abdulaziz for Science and Technology, and Saudi Aramco company, and the King Abdullah University for Science and Technology, and the King Abdullah Center for Petroleum Studies and Research, and the Saudi Electricity Company; I'm sure that the Kingdom is able to find effective solutions and develop an appropriate energy road map. But Saudi Arabia has enough centers and scientific research cities, and we do not seem to achieve any significant progress on energy consumption. While progress has been the exception, the recent steps taken by the Saudi Center for Energy Efficiency to improve the efficiency of air conditioners and home insulators and adding a building Code was a very important one. More than 70% of total household consumption of electricity resulting from the use of air conditioners. This plan aims to reduce electricity consumption by 30% to 2030, as well as to reduce the rate of growth of demand for electricity at rush hour by 50%. Korea, Japan, France and Germany – all of these fully industrialized economies are much larger than the Kingdom's economy, and yet the rate of energy consumption per capita in these countries is less than in Saudi Arabia. The average per capita consumption of energy resources in Saudi Arabia is 3.6 times the global average. Saudi’s growing energy demands are now supplied by unsustainable resources, and as consumption increases, the Kingdom will have to allocate ever increasing amounts of hydrocarbon production to meet this soaring domestic consumption. Of course, this continues to lead to a steady decline in the quantities of hydrocarbons that Saudi Arabia can export to fund the government. -- John Sfakianakis is Chief Investment Strategist of MASIC, a Riyadh-based investment and asset management company. This article was translated from Arabic to English, and originally appeared in Alayum. hide

Why Technical and Vocational Training is an Urgent Need for Saudi Arabia’s Future

SUSTG.org | John Sfakianakis | 3.16.14

Why Technical and Vocational Training is an Urgent Need for Saudi Arabia’s Future Higher education and technical and vocational training are still so far from the requirements of the labor market and specifically in the private sector. Official data show that the proportion of those who enrolled in Saudi universities from high school is the highest in the world - 78% (more than 383,000 students), compared to 56% in countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and a little less than 30% in ... Continue Reading Turkey. But only 9% of those who have finished high school enrolled in colleges offering technical or vocational training, compared to 41% in the OECD and about 37% in Turkey. The global average for enrollment in technical and vocational colleges is roughly 40%. educational-traning-vocational-technical-saudi-arabia-sustg-graphic-lucien-zeigler Most alarming is that more than 63% of Saudi universities students who are focused on the education, human and social sciences, and Islamic studies which leave them ill-equipped for the labor market and is generally useless for the private sector, as evidenced by the number of unemployed holders of a bachelor's degree at 46.2% of the total unemployed in the Kingdom. The fact is that there is an incompatibility between the output of higher education and the labor market. Professional and technical colleges in the Kingdom need to significantly improve the quality of education and type of specialization, and generally need to develop a new educational curriculum and training methods to align with the needs of the labor market. The Saudi private sector is in urgent need of technical and professional disciplines, and this would make the Saudi economy shift from excessive dependence on expatriate labor to rely on national employment. Until this happens, Saudi Arabia must inject technical material and intensive professional training in general education. Attention must be given to ensure the empowerment of the public education system to provide students with the technical skills needed by the labor market, especially since 13.4% of the total employees in local private sector companies are Saudis, according to Labor Department data. The higher education goals of Saudi Arabia have been about construction - building schools and universities. But if these institutions are creating undesirable disciplines for the private sector, the curriculum and requirements are in need of restructuring lest students leave college unskilled. Community colleges should be restructured, and it is essential that they be converted into technical and vocational colleges that are located near the large number of universities throughout all regions of the Kingdom and most of its provinces. Most importantly, programs must be adopted that bridge between technical and professional colleges and universities to motivate high school students to enroll with the equivalent of hours of study that was completed in technical and vocational education with hours of study in universities. These programs will permit for more qualified and trained graduates. In spite of the huge financial allocations toward education in Saudi Arabia, the Kingdom can do much better for its citizens in educating and training them for the Saudi economy. To avoid traditional work in the General Organization for Technical and Vocational Training, it is a must to allocate institutes and affiliated colleges and contracting with global training companies specialized in technical and vocational areas to create and oversee vocational colleges in engineering, health, agriculture and information technology specializations, among other vocational specializations. It is time to restructure the General Organization for Technical and Vocational Training and reduce admission rates to all Saudi universities to maximize the productivity of Saudi citizens.   hide

A Plea to the Saudi Ministry of Transportation: Save the Lives of Thousands of Saudis

SUSTG.org | John Sfakianakis | 3.11.14

A Plea to the Saudi Ministry of Transportation: Save the Lives of Thousands of Saudis Recently, I received an invitation from Saudi Aramco to deliver a speech in the Eastern Province peninsula town of Ras Tanura, Saudi Arabia. I was welcomed as a member of the Saudi Aramco family, and not just a visitor. This was not my first time delivering a speech for this great company. I decided to travel to the eastern region by car, because travelling by road takes almost the same time as an estimated flight to Dammam airport from ... Continue Reading Riyadh, and I wanted to be able to use my phone during transit, which is not permitted when flying. I was amazed when I entered the highway going from Riyadh to Dammam, where I was greeted on the road by a huge fleet of trucks occupying two of three lanes of the road for most of the trip. At one point, it appeared to me that I not really travelling on the highway, but rather watching a great parade of Saudi trucks dominating the road.

Saudi Arabia's roads, by Lucien Zeigler for SUSTG.org

Typically, when one sees a lot of trucks loaded with goods, this is an indicator of economic growth and prosperity. This is true in Saudi Arabia. But seeing a lot of trucks in a very small space is a matter of concern. What is certain is that the trucks cause - along with the obvious problems such as accidents and disasters - a great deal of environmental pollution. As a consistent user of the highway from Riyadh to Dammam, it is shocking that despite Saudi economic prosperity, this highway has hardly changed during the last twelve years, with the exception of a handful of new, and scary in terms of safety, bridges. In fact, the quality of this highway has deteriorated intensely as a result of the excessive use of trucks traversing the road. Subsequent development brought Saher (speeding) cameras to monitor and punish speeders along this road; I counted at least a dozen cameras on my way to Dammam. These cameras did little to deter reckless driving and speeding, and other than the occasional predictable checkpoint, there was hardly a police officer in sight. When returning to Riyadh on the same highway at night, the problem of truck dominance of the highway did not abate. Neither did the reckless driving, speeding and other unsafe driving practices despite the presence of Saher cameras. If a fast driver wants to overtake another vehicle in the only lane available for cars, he is forced to use the shoulder, and that appeared to be a frequent act of real madness, because the real service road is not fit for passing. This situation makes the risk of traffic accidents very high. Add to all of this, about half of all cars had covered plates to avoid detection by surveillance cameras. In all countries there will always be drivers willing to violate the traffic laws, but the only way to control them is achieved through the reinforcement of the traffic patrols and raising fines for offenses and penalties tha cannot be solved with money, such as confiscation of cars and driving licenses immediately. Saudi Arabia is experiencing more than 300,000 traffic accidents every year. These road traffic accidents lead to more than 30% of cases of occupancy of hospital beds, according to Dr. Abdullah Rabeesh, director of Dammam University. On average, road traffic accidents lead to the deaths of 20 people per day in the Kingdom. These incidents are considered the leading cause of death among young males aged 16 to 36 years. Traffic studies conducted in the Kingdom indicate that the annual volume of material losses caused by road traffic accidents is about 21 billion riyals; nearly about 4% of the national income in Saudi Arabia. If current trends continue, the Kingdom might experience more than four million traffic accidents a year by 2030. For comparison, there were about four million traffic accidents led to the death of 86 thousand people in the last two decades. It is absolutely possible to improve circumstances of the Riyadh - Dammam Highway and other highways that connect parts of the Kingdom together. When railways and high-speed trains for passengers and other trains for shipping are introduced, along with raising the prices of diesel to make the railways the main and least expensive method to transport goods, the safety of Saudi Arabia’s highways will improve. Doing so - reducing the number of vehicles that use the highways - will reduce road traffic accidents and to some extent reduce carbon emissions, as well as lessening the burden of the maintenance of these roads. I beg of the Ministry of Transport: save the highways before it is too late.
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The 10 Best SPA Photos This Month – February 2014 Edition

SUSTG.org | Lucien Zeigler | 3.3.14

The 10 Best SPA Photos This Month – February 2014 Edition Saudi Arabia's state-run press agency, the SPA, is a valuable resource. Continuing with our new series on the best photos from the SPA from the previous month, click here to see a slideshow of the best photos from this month's events. 

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The SPA is similar to the press offices of U.S. and other government offices and ministries around the world. Updated daily, and featuring local, national and international news from the official feed on its website in Arabic and English, many reporters from main news outlets quote the SPA because it authoritatively speaks for the Saudi government in the same way reporters might quote official press releases from other countries. One of the most useful features of the website is the SPA’s photo gallery. These are photos taken by professionals with excellent equipment who work exclusively for the SPA. Photographers from the SPA that attend major events in Riyadh and worldwide produce high quality photographs and in so doing, they document the movement and decisions of Saudi public officials and other events of interest. As such, they open a unique window into Saudi Arabia’s government and society. Click here to see a slideshow of the best photos from this month's events.  hide

High Performance Government and MILE: Delivering on the Promise of eGovernment

SUSTG.org | Bill Connor | 3.3.14

High Performance Government and MILE: Delivering on the Promise of eGovernment In a country with 185% mobile device penetration and some of the highest levels of Web usage in the world, how do Saudi officials deliver on the promise of eGovernment? Dr. Mohammed Mustafa Mahmoud, CEO of the Madinah Institute for Leadership and Entrepreneurship (MILE), says it’s not an easy task, given the high expectations of this Web-savvy audience. “Governments are faced with new demands and a fast growing array of new technologies ... Continue Reading and tools,” he says. “Beyond the traditional pendulum swings of big versus small government (the public sector being called to rescue when the economy suffers, and being urged to ‘get out of the way’ when conditions improve), we see in all parts of the world an unprecedented wave of new ideas about what governments could and should do, and how.” [caption id="attachment_234153" align="aligncenter" width="640"] At front center, from left: Dr. Mohamed Moustafa Mahmoud, Executive Director, MILE; H.E. Prince Tan Sri Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, Former Finance Minister of Malaysia; HRH Prince Faisal Bin Salman, Governor Madinah Province – MILE “Meet The Leaders” conference, Madinah, January 30, 2014[/caption] With that in mind, last month Dr. Mahmoud convened a high-level group of government and business representatives from the MENA region and elsewhere in the Muslim world at the annual High Performance Governments – Meet The Leaders gathering in Madinah. Attendees included former Finance Minister of Malaysia Prince Tan Sri Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, Costa Rican Ambassador to Japan Alvaro Cedeno Molinari,  Pakistan’s Minister of Planning and Development Professor Ahsan Iqbal, Chief of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs Vincenzo Aquaro, and Dr. Yasar Jarrar, Public Consulting Partner for Bain and Co., Dubai. Engineer Ali Bin Saleh Al-Soma, Director General of Saudi Arabia’s Yesser eGovernment Program, said that the current second half of the 10-year Saudi plan to improve the public sector’s productivity and efficiency centers on the following key objectives: -         eParticipation: social media engagement with citizens -         Increased mobile access to governmental services -         Usage of big data in decision-making -         Increasing transparency and citizen’s trust “This will result in the increased utilization of eServices, with increased comfort for people using these services,” says Al-Soma. “We are leveraging mobile and social media channels to increase contact with consumers of government services and facilitate their participation in co-creation of services. The ultimate goal is highly personalized and citizen-friendly service delivery.” But the High Performance Governments program is just one facet of the MILE mission. [caption id="attachment_234155" align="aligncenter" width="569"]HRH Prince Faisal Bin Salman, Governor of the Medina province, speaks at MILE. HRH Prince Faisal Bin Salman, Governor of the Medina province, speaks at MILE.[/caption] A MILE Ahead Dr. Mahmoud (a.k.a. “3M” to his many friends and business contacts) weaves a bracing mix of past and future and business insight into every ten-minute presentation. As he addresses groups like the High Performance Governments gathering last month, he discusses  not only the roots of Islam in the 7th century A.D., but also a vision for leadership and economic growth in the Arab and Muslim world over the coming decades. His vision is expansive, full of optimism for growth and wealth creation across a huge swath of The Gulf region, North Africa, and Asia. But 3M, with his Ph. D from Wharton and stints in business and academia in North America and the Middle East, believes that businesses and governments from Indonesia to Morocco must address what he calls a “leadership deficit” before that vision can become reality. “Many of our initiatives have been constrained by a lack of available business leaders who can take our new ideas and implement them on the ground,” he says. 3M cites a Financial Times survey of the world’s top 100 business schools that lists more than half in the U.S., a handful in Europe, a few others scattered elsewhere across the globe – and precisely zero in Arab and Muslim countries. Same story with mid-career executive education programs. There are also few corporate universities like those at Proctor and Gamble or Nestle’ in the West.  And the companies in the region that do provide some kind of in-house training tend to offer it at the beginning or mid-level – there’s very little for senior executives. So the corporations send their executives overseas to the top business schools, which sometimes feature case studies with little relevance to the needs of the Arab and Muslim worlds. Add to that the jet lag, the occasional visa problems, the networking and business contacts that don’t amount to much when the students return home, and even the allure of the top Western schools begins to fade. [caption id="attachment_234156" align="aligncenter" width="640"]Dr. Mohamed Moustafa Mahmound, Executive Director of MILE, with HPG3 program participant Abdulrahman Alsmail, Quality Director, TVTC - Madinah, January 26, 2014 Dr. Mohamed Moustafa Mahmound, Executive Director of MILE, with HPG3 program participant Abdulrahman Alsmail, Quality Director, TVTC - Madinah, January 26, 2014[/caption] So with advice from McKinsey and Co., 3M and his backers at the Jeddah-based Knowledge Economic City, the Savola Group (a $4 billion Saudi conglomerate operating in 18 countries) and the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority launched MILE four years ago. Every day over the course of each two-week program, a different marquee-name b-school professor delivers an eight-hour program to a group of 30+ senior executives from the Middle East and Asia. Dr. Felix Oberholzer-Gee of the Harvard Business School led an overview of “Strategies for Profitable Growth.” Professor Philip Moscoso from the IESE Business School in Madrid shared best practices for “Operational Excellence.” Dr. Basil Mustapha of Oxford led the group through an overview of “Competencies of Stars.” Dr. Kamel Jedidi from Columbia Business School taught “Strategic Marketing Management.” The content rivals that of any top-tier Executive Education program around the globe. “I was really surprised, because I’ve done this kind of leadership program many times in the U.S. and the U.K. and France, with large organizations like GE,” said Anass Patel, CEO of the Paris-based Islamic finance company 570easi. “The mix of skills and cultures was really impactful. The participants bring not only their rich culture, but also very advanced technical skills.” Alrasheed Abdullah Alkibsy, Director Business Development at Saudi Naghi Group (distributor for BMW & Range Rover in the Middle East) said “It’s a journey. From the first day, I was really impressed by the reasoning behind MILE - the ‘regionality,’ the relevance of the case studies.” And this from Ali M. Sheneamer, Deputy Governor & COO at Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority: “I’m impressed by the richness of the content and the relevance of the content to what we do. This will lead to improvements in the service we offer to investors and internally, how we become a more efficient organization.” [caption id="attachment_234159" align="aligncenter" width="560"]Center left: H.E. Prince Tan Sri Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, Former Finance Minister of Malaysia. Center right: HRH Prince Faisal Bin Salman, Governor of Madinah Province,– MILE “Meet The Leaders” conference, Madinah, January 30, 2014 (interior shot) Center left: H.E. Prince Tan Sri Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, Former Finance Minister of Malaysia. Center right: HRH Prince Faisal Bin Salman, Governor of Madinah Province,– MILE “Meet The Leaders” conference, Madinah, January 30, 2014 (interior shot)[/caption] But MILE itself is just the beginning. Surrounding the MILE headquarters on the outskirts of Madinah sits a 50 square kilometer construction site that will one day become the Madinah Knowledge Economic City. At the moment it looks like a dusty patch of not very much, but by the time the Cisco-wired smart city project is completed in the next decade, no fewer than 150,000 people will live and work here in a massive green mixed-use development complete with a high-speed rail link to the holy city of Mecca 210 miles to the south. And therein lies the business and cultural core of the idea. Madinah, where the Prophet Muhammad spent the last years of his life, is an almost obligatory destination for every Muslim.  3M noticed that after these pilgrims – many of them well-educated business owners and executives – finished their prayers and tours of The Prophet’s Mosque, they didn’t have much to do. So why not gather them together for networking and business education? Not only that, why not convince them to move their families and businesses to one of the most important and beloved sites in Islam? The leadership of the Madinah Knowledge Economic City is well on the way to achieving that right now, having signed commitments from numerous companies from Saudi and elsewhere in the region to establish offices, homes and administrative and manufacturing facilities on the site. And the appeal reaches far beyond the Muslim and Arab worlds. On my last day at MILE last month, as I sipped cardamom-scented Saudi coffee and nibbled on Madinah dates with a Saudi business contact, I was struck by the simultaneous familiarity and exoticness of the scene. In his traditional white kafiyeh and thobe, my friend spoke of exactly the same goals, hopes and anxieties that I regularly express myself, and that I hear every day from executives from D.C. to Dallas. How can I make more time for my family? How do I grow my business? I realized that we had a lot more in common than I thought, and that there are ample opportunities for mutual benefit. hide