Digital tech in Saudi Arabia

February 27, 2024

Dr Mona AlFedily, Senior executive, strategy and digital technology policy expert, Saudi Arabia

My involvement in the domains of the digital economy, technology and communication has provided me with remarkable insights into the pivotal role of digital technology in transforming both the global economy and social fabric.

Throughout my journey working in these domains and engaging with global organizations, leading international collaborations, and understanding policy issues at the G20 level, I have witnessed firsthand the profound impact of digital innovation and technology. This impact ranges from fostering entrepreneurship and job creation to enhancing productivity and efficiency.

Furthermore, the influence of digital technology extends to societal interactions, communication, and access to information, fundamentally reshaping the way we engage with the world around us. This has inspired me to go deeper in understanding the pivotal role of policies to empower such transformation in a safe and sustainable way. It has also fueled and informed my understanding and brought to light how we can work together to harness the transformative power of digital technology to drive a positive change for generations to come.

Inclusivity and innovation

Having the right environment and ecosystem for individuals and particularly for women is extremely important. I consider myself fortunate to be within an environment that considers digital and technology innovation a top priority, as well as focusing on maximizing the potential participation of women and youth.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s ambitious economic and social development projects demonstrate the kingdom’s emphasis on innovation, technology, and sustainability to embrace a positive change not only at organizational level but deeper at the social and individual levels. Making sure that everyone can have access to its enormous benefits and be part of its development. If we take a closer look at any of the vision 2030 programs or any of the Kingdom mega projects, we will realize that creating a thriving ecosystem to promote cutting-edge technology research and development, attracting top talent, and fostering entrepreneurship, are fundamental aspects of various industries within the Kingdom.

On an individual level, there is no doubt that we all have experienced the positive impact of the ethical use of data and AI. The quality of our life has improved by simply having easy access to information and services at any time. The digital platforms have made it easy for anyone to not only access services, but also to start a business or acquire new skills in an efficient, affordable, and trusted way. It has allowed us to expand our understanding of how we potentially can experience more, engage more, and give back more. On a different level, I believe data and AI will continue to serve as powerful drivers, fueling innovation and transforming industries. They can significantly advance healthcare innovation, sustainable energy management, urban planning, transportation optimization, environmental monitoring and conservation, advanced logistics and supply chain management, as well as safety and security optimization.

Tech programs for women in Saudi Arabia

The ambitious plans for Saudi Arabia present an opportunity to inspire women to get involved in digital technology. A great effort has been made to foster a culture of inclusion and diversity, emphasizing the value of inclusive workplaces, which inspire more women to pursue opportunities in the field and contribute to the creation of a supportive and inclusive ecosystem. This approach stands to not only benefit women but also contribute to the advancement of the digital ecosystem by harnessing the diverse talents and perspectives of all individuals.

It is also important to mention the impact of several programs and initiatives that have been introduced as part of broader national strategies to promote women’s participation. Some have been introduced by the Saudi government, including scholarships, internships, and mentorship programs aimed at fostering women’s participation in STEM fields as well as several tech-focused incubators and accelerators designed to provide hands-on experience and tailored to support and mentor female entrepreneurs and tech professionals. Others are led by organizations and companies designed to empower and inspire women to pursue careers in the tech industry. Collectively, all of them aim to address the gender gap in the technology sector and create a more inclusive and diverse workforce in Saudi Arabia. For example, one of the ICT sector strategy major targets for 2023 was to increase women’s participation to 50%.

There are several inspiring success stories of women making significant contribution to the digital and technology sectors in Saudi Arabia. Here are two notable examples:

  • Dr Hayat Sindi is a renowned Saudi scientist and inventor who has made significant contributions to the field of biotechnology. She holds a Ph.D. in biotechnology from Cambridge University and is the co-founder of Diagnostics for All, a nonprofit organization focused on developing low-cost diagnostic devices for underserved communities. Dr Sindi has been a catalyst in the field of science and technology, breaking barriers, and inspiring others including women and youth through her innovative work.
  • Deemah AlYahya is a pioneering figure in the digital and technology industry, known for her significant contributions to the advancement of these fields, as well as for her leadership, visionary approach, and transformative impact. As the General Secretary for the Digital Cooperation Organization, AlYahya plays a pivotal role in fostering international collaboration and synergies in the digital domain. Her leadership and strategic vision guide the organization in addressing critical issues such as digital inclusion, cybersecurity, and the ethical use of technology such as AI on a global scale. AlYahya’s commitment to promoting digital cooperation to drive positive societal impact has contributed to shaping the organization as a leading force in advancing digital governance and policy. Her role exemplifies her dedication to leveraging technology for the collective betterment of diverse communities and economies worldwide.

These two women have not only achieved remarkable success in their respective fields but have also become influential figures who inspire and motivate others, especially women, to pursue careers in technology and entrepreneurship.

Collaboration drives innovation

The importance of collaboration and partnership is not to be forgotten, given its breadth of benefits and opportunities in addressing our ideas for change as well as strengthening our response to it. How we can strengthen our collaboration to contribute and empower each other is a permanent question for us as individuals, organizations, or international communities. For example, collaboration and partnership is a critical factor for any organization to reach its goals.

Not only can it enable access to a diverse range of expertise and resources, but collaboration can also accelerate innovation by forging partnerships, creating platforms for sharing best practices and research findings across various domains. It helps attract global talent and investment, fostering sustainable development, and enhancing social impact by engaging with diverse communities, NGOs, and social enterprises. This will enable creating multiple environments that not only attract pioneering minds and ideas, but also accelerates the transformation of those ideas into tangible solutions and economic opportunities.

Global initiatives such as the Global Telecom Women’s Network (GTWN) play a pivotal role in mentoring and providing role models for women around the world, particularly in the fields of technology, telecommunications, and digital innovation. These initiatives contribute to women’s empowerment and advancement in several ways. For example, they facilitate networking opportunities, offering a space for sharing experiences, best practices, and insights while fostering a sense of community and solidarity among women in the tech and telecommunications sectors, in addition to providing role model visibility to inspire and empower the next generation of women.

My hopes for the future

As we move forward, celebrating what we have achieved is as important as acknowledging our shared interest in working together to achieve greater benefit. Personally, my hopes and dreams for the future of digital technology are deeply rooted in the potential for technology to drive a positive change for generations to come and foster inclusive growth across the globe.

I hope that digital technology becomes more accessible and provides opportunities for all. For example, I want to see digital technology facilitate widespread access to quality education, empowering learners of all ages to acquire new skills, pursue lifelong learning, and unleash their full potential. This will have a huge impact on inclusive economic growth, provide more opportunities for entrepreneurship, job creation, and financial inclusion, particularly for marginalized communities and underrepresented groups. I want above all to experience how digital technology can help us preserve and celebrate cultural diversity, languages, and heritage, fostering an inclusive global society, and enabling seamless collaboration across borders for the betterment of humanity. More importantly, I want to see this transformation happen ethically and responsibly, with a focus on data privacy and the ethical use of AI, to ensure that technology is developed and used with the best interests of individuals and societies in mind.

In the pursuit of these hopes and dreams, we must continue working together to ensure that digital technology becomes a force for good. By embracing innovation, inclusive policies and ethical practices, we can collectively contribute our best efforts to steering digital technology toward a future that benefits us all.

Dr Mona AlFedily is a senior executive driven by a strong passion for personal and professional development. She has extensive experience in strategy development, policy development, and international cooperation in the digital domain. Her professional journey has taken her across diverse organizations, enabling her to collaborate effectively with various groups and enhanced her ability to adapt and thrive in diverse and complex ecosystems. She greatly contributed and achieved successful outcomes in the Digital Economy Working Group in 2020 G20 Saudi Presidency. She led the development of the National Digital Economy Policy, the National Digital Transformation Strategy, and several ICT sector policies. She graduated from the University of Manchester in 2015. In 2021 she successfully completed the Minister leadership program in collaboration with Harvard Business School and is currently enrolled at MIT Sloan Executive General Management Program.