Down the line, the Covid-19 crisis will fuel 'positive social change'

10 August 2020 5 min. read
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While the Covid-19 crisis is stirring an unprecedented wave of financial hardship in Saudi Arabia and globally, a new study by Al Aghar Group and Kearney shows that it is not all gloom unfolding. Seven out of ten people in Saudi Arabia believe that ultimately, the crisis will trigger a positive transformation towards a better future.

The impact of the Covid-19-induced crisis has been profound for Saudi Arabia’s economy. The Kingdom slipped into a $9 billion budget deficit in the first quarter due to higher government spending and reduced economic activity amid lockdowns and curfews. The economic woes have since been exacerbated by the huge drop in oil prices to historically low levels, which saw the Kingdom’s oil revenues nosedive by a quarter in the past four months.

But set aside the economic facet of the pandemic, and there are a few positives to be drawn from the developments. In line with social changes seen elsewhere in the world, changing behaviours of people, employers and consumers means that there is hope for an improved world in the post-Covid-19 era. 

According to the Al Aghar Group (a non-profit thinktank based in Jeddah) and Kearney (a renowned management consultancy), a host of elements of daily lives may change for the better on the back of a revamped way of looking or dealing with things. 

The perceived degree of impact on elements relating to “how we develop”

For example, in the work domain, 65% of the respondents said that the advent of the ‘future of work’ is a fundamentally positive development. This includes more remote working, which provides people with a better work-life balance and is also better for the environment, flexible work hours, which again benefits the quality of life.

In the area of education, 70% of respondents – most of which are professionals holding leadership roles in the Kingdom – expect the increased use of technology fuelled by Covid-19 to have a positive and more inclusive impact on education. A significant group expect the quality of education to be improved, while another group feel that the current transition will improve the traditional gap between education and industry.

Meanwhile, the researchers found that the majority of Saudi’s see rapidly emerging changes to how they live as positive. Examples are widespread, from more online shopping and cashless payments to health screenings in public places.

The perceived degree of impact on elements relating to “how we live”

Notably, 78% of the respondents believe that the impact of the pandemic on the healthcare in the Kingdom through 2025 will be highly beneficial. In particular, the respondents anticipate positive shifts in both national consciousness regarding the importance of health and wellbeing (86%) and increasing investment in preventative public health (81%).

Finally, Al Aghar Group and Kearney highlight that the way how nationals in the Kingdom engage with each other, institutions and government agencies is forecasted to become more appealing. For example, 68% of the respondents anticipate a significant impact on government information-sharing and 75% look forward to this increased transparency. Over 80% welcome enhanced government preparedness for future crises. 

The findings come shortly Ismail Daham Alani, the Head of KPMG’s Government & Public Sector practice, lauded the Saudi government for its Covid-19 response. The Big Four firm also expressed its confidence that officials are well placed to navigate the Kingdom towards a more effective, human and inclusive post-Covid-19 world.

The perceived degree of impact on elements relating to “how we engage”.

According to Rudolph Lohmeyer, a partner at Kearney in the Middle East, the survey results “clearly reveal the deep, optimistic resilience of the Saudi people. Despite the near-term hardships caused by the crisis, respondents anticipate that the most significant medium-term impacts will be positive.” 

The Chairman of the Board of Al-Aghar Group, Prince Faisal bin Abdullah bin Mohammed Al Saud, added that the results reconfirm Saudi Arabia’s “proud history of resilience”, which has enabled the population to “thrive even in the most challenging situations”. He added, “the study confirms the depth of our intention to use this current situation to accelerate our national progress.”

The positive mindset seen among Saudi’s echoes similar findings released earlier by two other top consulting firms. In April, a study by McKinsey & Company notably found that despite being harder hit than other regions globally, GCC consumers were more optimistic on recovery vis a vis their international counterparts. Within the region, Saudi Arabians were the most positive, alongside UAE nationals.

And late 2019 Boston Consulting Group ringfenced GCC residents as “the most economically optimistic around the world.”

Related: Nine strategic imperatives for a better future in Saudi Arabia.