Nine strategic imperatives for a better future in Saudi Arabia

10 August 2020 8 min. read

In a new study by Al Aghar and Kearney, the report’s authors highlight that Saudi Arabia has the potential to emerge stronger from the current crisis, ultimately providing its businesses and people with a better post-Covid-19 future. 

According to Prince Faisal bin Abdullah bin Mohammed Al Saud, the Chairman of the Board of Al-Aghar, “While this pandemic has severely affected us all, our study confirms the intention [of Saudi nationals] to use this crisis to accelerate our national progress.”

Fully reaping the potential on offer will however require the Kingdom’s government, private sector and people to work in tandem to design and unlock benefits across all aspects of daily lives. In the eyes of Al Aghar Group and Kearney, getting this right will require strong focus on nine strategic imperatives:

Digital inclusivity

Accelerate digital literacy to maximize the growth of the digital economy and narrow the digital divide. 

Government and the private sector must continue to invest in and accelerate their efforts to drive digital skills transmission inclusively – across all facets of Saudi society – to sustain the growth of the digital economy and reduce the extent and cost of the digital divide. 

Educational institutions (from primary to tertiary) must embed the development of digital skills in curricula to advance the preparation of students for the digital world. Government support of the provision of equal access to the tools required for “blended learning” (e.g., hardware, Internet provision) is also a vitally important imperative. 

Government must reinvest in and accelerate its e-government strategy using digital platforms to engage with citizens to ensure alignment and agility. This must include offering online portals to access public services to using digital channels to communicate and engage with citizens. 

Working in new ways

Prepare for and adjust to new ways of working, increased digitization, and “gig economy” / contractual work.

Government organizations, the private sector and individuals must proactively adjust to what will be increasingly “fluid” work environments through more agile workforce design, facilitated by the platform-enabled gig economy, and a greater focus on achievement of objectives, rather than mere employee presence (e.g., increase in contract work).

Government and the private sector must develop fair and effective remote working policies and processes: to support greater team collaboration and remote work culture development. The government must also develop the supporting regulations to support this (e.g., regulations for part-lime employees and freelance workers).

Government and the private sector must drive upskilling and re-skilling of employees, with a focus on “soft skills” recognized as important to facilitate business resilience during the pandemic (e.g., innovation & creativity, emotional intelligence, critical thinking, communication, life-long learning). 

Healthcare transformation

Leverage increased health consciousness to motivate healthier lifestyles and drive modern health practices. 

Government must continue to invest in preventative public health and the development of adequate health system capacity to maintain citizen trust (e.g., evaluate current health spending, policies, and strategies). 

Government must continue to drive the “digitization of healthcare” through development of telemedicine regulations (e.g., insurance), and supporting the adoption of telemedicine and implementation of digital health information systems and healthcare records (e.g., upskill healthcare staff, develop data privacy policies).

Government and private sector must continue to promote healthier lifestyles leveraging digital and behavioral instruments (e.g., engage health insurance to promote healthy living through apps that reward exercise, better eating, and frequent health checkups) and supporting the wellbeing of residents and employees (e.g., health policies, education on mental health). 

Safe communal engagement

Enable low-risk communal engagement and identify safe communal spaces, including by using health and location information shared by individuals. 

Government, in partnership with the private sector, must develop the policy framework and support the development of a set of technology-enabled solutions for sustaining the ability of citizens to engage in safe communal interactions (e.g., ways to identify low-risk public spaces and potential hotspots for transmission on an anticipatory basis). 

Enable individuals to contribute to increased transparency in terms of sharing of personal health and location information in the interest of public health and individual freedoms by creating systems that enable appropriate levels of privacy protection. This will require the government to develop the associated policy frameworks for managing individuals’ data and information.

Local production

Encourage local production and commerce to build supply chain resilience and stimulate domestic economic activity.

Government must incentivize the development and implementation of agricultural technology to reinforce the Kingdom’s push towards greater food security (e.g ., endorse local food processing plants, link small-scale agricultural producers to markets, promote consumption of local aquaculture products, encourage sustainable less water-intense agricultural practices).

Government must continue to aid in the growth of local pharmaceuticals and medical equipment manufacturing (e.g., removal of barriers to entry, regulatory framework development, technical skills development), with a focus on localization of production to build strategic autonomy and resilience.

The private sector has both an opportunity and responsibility to scale-up online retail ecommerce platforms to address the significant growth in online retail in KSA during and following the pandemic (e.g. , grocery, food delivery apps) and support the local production of goods. 

Quality of life

Adapt implementation of entertainment and tourism initiatives to better suit the demand for natural and safe spaces in the context of the new pandemic-driven sensibilities of citizens. 

Government must develop innovative ways to continue to deliver on its commitments to citizens for entertainment, including by leveraging virtual methods of delivering entertainment to meet citizen expectations in the context of ongoing social distancing requirements (e.g., virtual museums & art galleries, online screenings of Saudi films or theatre performances, etc.). 

Government must create an even more favorable enabling environment for the private sector to drive local media content creation and address existing gaps in local content, including by developing the required infrastructure and policies. 

Government must continue to promote natural tourism opportunities (e.g., untouched desert, beaches, mountains) as a means of establishing tourist “safe havens”. The government and private sector must cater to the health- and sustainability-conscious traveler (e.g., flexible travel policies, health screenings, sanitization and hygiene procedures, digital technology). 

Safety within urban settlements

Design urban spaces and unplanned urban settlements to reduce the risk of potential future health crises.

Government must revisit the accommodation regulations for Saudi work visa sponsors (e.g., standards, location) as it relates to migrant workers within labor camps, given the high spread of the virus across such communities, to ensure the safety of the broader Saudi community. 

Government must revisit existing unplanned urban settlements in Saudi cities to define and launch solutions that can better monitor the health and safety of residents and mitigate against future risk, given that these areas have been highlighted globally as high-risk areas for the transmission of diseases. 

Border systems

Implement advanced border and ports management systems to support safety and security of Saudi residents. 

Government must continue to develop policies, processes, and enabling technologies to support advanced border and ports management systems to trace goods and people entering the country (e .g ., better tracing, contactless access, streamlined process) to reassure residents, traders, and travelers of the safety of Saudi ports and borders without slowing the flow of goods that is so crucial to economic growth. 

International collaboration

Drive international, mutually beneficial collaboration to address the pandemic and other global challenges.

Governments and key sectors must drive new forms of international collaboration and partnership to leverage economic complementarities in the service of renewed growth. This collaboration would include joint efforts in the development, testing, manufacturing, and distribution of affordable vaccines and therapeutic drugs. Such cross-governmental collaboration and a drive towards affordable access to medical R&D will help ensure that Saudi Arabia and its partners jointly strengthen their preparedness for future crises. 

A call for action

“The imperatives demonstrate that the government, private sector and individual citizens must stand together to accelerate the positive change the crisis has sparked, sustain the foundational aspects of our social lives and ensure our preparedness for possible future crises,” concluded Prince Faisal bin Abdullah bin Mohammed Al Saud.

The report and the strategic imperatives have been drafted by Rudolph Lohmeyer, Alessandro Massa, Norah Alajaji, Sarah Adam, Michael Romkey and Ahmed lssa from Kearney, and Reda Islam and Ghaida Fatany from Al Aghar.