Lama Khaiyat and Sara Albassam on Awtada's growth journey

23 May 2024 Consultancy-me.com 6 min. read
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What started as a tandem between two co-founders is today among the leading boutique consultancies in Saudi Arabia. We sat down with Lama Khaiyat and Sara Albassam to find out about Awtada’s growth journey and how the firm sets itself apart in its key niche segments.

Across the Middle East, historically oil-dependent economies are publicly gearing up to diversify their economies. In Saudi Arabia, the Vision 2030 campaign has encompassed everything needed to encourage private sector investment in the nation – including overhauls of key infrastructure and pillars of the economy.

The consulting industry operates at the forefront of these changes, with many of the world’s largest brands playing a role in shaping and delivery change programs.

Awtada

The vast change occurring in the Kingdom are also opening up new avenues for successful boutique consultancies, with Awtada one of the prominent players in this space. Founded by Lama Khaiyat and Sara Albassam in 2020, the firm has Big Four heritage from both its leaders – but provides a distinctly Saudi twist on the skills that background has provided them.

Awtada’s origins

In 2020, Albassam had completed her seventh year working with EY, and in the same year she had finished a master’s degree in business administration with a focus on entrepreneurship. Looking ahead, she wanted to use the knowhow she had taken from both fronts, to “do something very different.”

Similarly, during spells with PwC, as well as the UK Cabinet Office and The World Bank, Khaiyat had “realised that there was a gap to be filled” in the Saudi economy. In particular, the country “needed advisory firms that could bridge the gap with local specifics and the needs of local stakeholders.”

Speaking on the differentiating lines along which the pair would go on to found Awtada, Khaiyat explains that most management consultancies “have some business strategy and shareholder maximisation thinking ingrained in the way they think”. At Awtada, the pair have positioned creating social impact as the main mission.

“We belive that our work should create impact – not just reports or profits,” adds Albassam, explaining how this has manifested at the boutique. “We wanted to challenge conventional consulting by designing solutions that help clients create positive change.”

Sara Albassam, Awtada

Lama Khaiyat

Making the difference

“We first connected over work,” Khaiyat recalls. “I started the company and a few months later, Sara reached out and was interested in joining in the journey as a co-founder. She believed that the concept of Awtada was intriguing and that we were onto something.”

While Saudi Arabia is working to improve inclusivity for women in the workplace according to its Vision 2030 plans, women still represent the minority in leadership ranks. In line with this, the consulting industry inside and outside the country has typically been a male-dominated space – so a firm led by two women is something of an exception.

But according to Khaiyat, she had always been determined to succeed in business, whatever stood in her way. I drew my inspiration from my late father. He became handicapped in a wheelchair when I was less than one month old. Yet that never stopped him from being a caring father, a successful business executive, and a social entrepreneur.”

Khaiyat took that motivation, and also used it to try and encourage others to empower themselves via business. And that paid dividends when it came to attracting Albassam.

Elaborating, Albassam notes two things in particular were things she wanted to pursue. “It was the freedom of choosing the sectors to work in and impact, and the opportunity to do that in a welcoming and flexible workplace” – something which a growing mountain of evidence shows is a key way to encourage women into every line of work, in any economy.

The offerings

Fast forward to today, and Awtada has under their leadership grown into a well-known player in the niche they serve: public policy advisory. 

“We help public sector entities in culture, sports, and marine tourism sectors with strategy and public policy consulting,” says Albassam. This type of work takes place often against the backdrop of Vision 2030, which is driving massive transformation and therefore requires many policy changes and interventions.

The second line of business is corporate and sustainability reporting, including corporate board reporting, impact assessment, ESG reporting and – all crucial ways of measuring the progress of plans.

“This type of work sees us help large private sector players such as financial institutions, funds, and publicly listed companies with the development of their management report, ensuring that any potential investor would still understand what financial products they are invested in and be more capable of making conscious investment decisions. We basically reduce information asymmetry between companies and their investors,” says Khaiyat.

Sara Albassam, Awtada

Sara Albassam

Full steam ahead

The firm has grown markedly since its inception. Along the way, key engagements have included emergent industrial players across Saudi Arabia from culture, sport, and tourism. 

“We’re especially proud of one of the projects we’ve completed in the marine tourism sector,” Khaiyat notes. “Particularly when some of the interventions we recommended got approved and became a part of the regulation. We are also proud of how we’ve come a long way in using data and evidence to supplement our work.”

This has helped to lift Awtada’s reputation to award-winning status, and increase its public and social presence. Building on this, the firm has also brokered some key partnerships. The latest of these comes with Hyphen – a global expertise partner that provides a roster of seasoned experts in a wide range of industries – which will broaden Awtada’s capacity to take on new work in the coming years.

Speaking on the exciting road ahead, Albassam says, “As an entrepreneur we get to experience the whole cycle of a project from the initial lead to its actual closure. This process is very appealing, in comparison to large corporations where sometimes you are just a cog in the machine. The joy about being an entrepreneur is the new challenges we experience every day in running the firm and delivering the projects.”

To accommodate its growth plans, Awtada recently moved into a new office in a prominent location in Jeddah. “It’s so exciting to be contributing to such a huge transformation of Saudi Arabian society.”