Social Entrepreneurship Gains Pace

by shariff mohammed | Mar 20, 2018

At a time when some countries have been feeling the pinch of low oil prices, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is successfully looking at different ways to diversify its economy away from fossil fuel and the relevant government’s various initiatives to spur the growth of non-oil sector have opened up enormous opportunities for new entrepreneurs. Saudi Commerce and Economic Review spoke to some of such entrepreneurs on the sidelines of the recently held “My Products 2017” exhibition organized by Asharqia Chamber in the Eastern Province.

By Staff Correspondent

Saudi Arabia is embracing cottage industrial culture as a primary focus of economic development. In the past three years, different agencies and trade bodies have encouraged this culture and provided platform to showcase their products. This has paved way for many small entrepreneurs in general, especially women, to bring their products to the public’s attention. Prince Ahmed Bin Fahad bin Salman, Deputy Governor of the Eastern Province launched the activities of SANATHI 2017 (My Products), a productive families' exhibition organized by the Asharqia Chamber in collaboration with the Dhahran Expo Company.

Abdulrahman Al-Otaishan, Chairman of Asharqia Chamber said, “The five-day expo was held with the participation of more than 12 centers and associations along with 300 productive families to showcase their products in the free-of-charge pavilions. The show aimed to nurture the entrepreneurship culture, encourage the community for local investments, and to help productive families to contribute to the economic and social development process as a whole. We will continue to strive for social entrepreneurship in line with vision 2030"

He said the event provided training and support for the productive families to cope with the challenges, by creating marketing channels to ensure sustainable income, as well as to uphold the national heritage and national identity. The exhibition had attracted over 25,000 visitors, an evidence of progress and prosperity in the social entrepreneurship program.

The exhibition was part of the Chamber's plan to support the national efforts for the promotion of productive families sector, so that productive families' projects will have economic benefits as well as multiple social dimensions.

Abdulrahman A. Al-Wabel, Secretary General of Asharqia Chamber said, “The expo was an important marketing outlet that will provide advantages for these families to maintain their sustainability in the sector, noting that the Chamber has been paying great attention to the productive families as a multi-benefit economic component that could contribute to the development of the economy, stimulate the production and marketing process and provide employment opportunities for the locals.

In this regard, the support of the Governorate, the Technical and Vocational Training Corporation (TVTC), the National Poultry, the Directorate General for Drug Control, the Saudi Organization for Industrial Estates, Technology Zones “Modon” and the Ministry of Social Affairs is immense.

The entrepreneurship program has received good response from the productive families. Participating families would gain many benefits, since it has provided the families with the required training and workshops in collaboration with some foundations and other supportive entities.

House wives and young entrepreneurs expressed their gratitude toward organizers and said that this kind of exhibition will boost their morale and encourage their dormant talent. Also this will help them in marketing their products.  House hold industries have a few avenues where they can sell their products, however, with this program they could launch their products all over the country. Exhibitions of this magnitude will definitely lift their confidence.

According to a rough estimation, house hold industries and cottage industries can absorb 16 percent of the labor in the country, considering this scenario many agencies are venturing into this sector by promoting overall development. This is the first step to enter into self-employment and it is to create balanced economy, which is the need of the hour.

In a new development, there was an announcement by a Saudi businessman who has said that he is ready to sponsor four permanent markets for productive families in all parts of Jeddah, in coordination with the Jeddah municipality.  His announcement came during the three-day National Ramadan Exhibition for Productive Families, which was organized by the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce under the patronage of Makkah Gov. Prince Khaled Al-Faisal. More than 7,000 people visited the exhibition.

Women Leading the March

A recently published report by Jowda Women Development Center, Dammam who participated in the expo, gives clear picture how women of Saudi Arabia are changing the dynamics. The report says that while interest in entrepreneurship opportunities may well be on the rise among Saudi women, a key finding from this project is that the number of active women entrepreneurs in Eastern province is still very small. Although the information that exists is patchy and unreliable, and the studies of Saudi women’s entrepreneurship are limited, one area of consensus in the literature is that women are clearly underrepresented in this vital sector.

The striking opportunities that women have in this area are encouraging. The conditions for the development of women’s entrepreneurship in Saudi Arabia have never been as positive as they are today.

According to the report, the country has a very young population and a growing youth bulge a fact which lends itself well to the development of this sector. There is a new political emphasis on fostering the development of the entrepreneurship sector in Saudi Arabia. Commitment from the Saudi government to the advancement of women is greater than ever before. Never before have Saudi women been as educated as they are today leading to unprecedented levels of ambition and determination. Employment opportunities for women in Saudi Arabia remain very limited which should fuel interest in alternative career options such as starting a business. Saudi women hold substantial economic power of their own right and have access to a range of sources of capital to start a business.

A key finding from this project is that there is a significant gap to close between the competencies and capacities of Saudi women entrepreneurs and those attributed to the ‘successful entrepreneur’. While the participants in this study benefited from a wide range of enabling qualities such as their education, capability, courage and determination, a number of contradictions and internal conflicts became evident in their behavior over the course of this project. It was found that these internal barriers represent some of the most significant obstacles faced by Saudi women entrepreneurs and hold them back from achieving their full potential.

Shahd Al-Sulaimani, is a secondary education student who participated in the NCB Program. Under her management, the student-run ‘Catalyst’ company produced a beach bag that converts into a towel. “Now, I have a clear vision for the world of business and trade, as I turned from being a student into a business woman,” said Shahd. The success of Catalyst illustrates NCB’s aspiration to create up to 1,000 student-run companies,  enabling them to convert their ideas into creative projects and businesses that can help to advance economic development in the Kingdom.

Reem Al-Qahthani, who runs pastry shop in Al-Khobar said: "We find Saudi women entrepreneurs present themselves as confident and strong, they often suffer from a lack of underlying self-belief. This is manifested through their hesitation to make key decisions, avoidance of commitment and their tendency to postpone taking action by putting unnecessary obstacles in their way. Things are changing and more and more women folks are coming forward to utilize the opportunities in the market."

While the women entrepreneurs display a lot of courage in following their chosen career path, they are often hesitant or averse to assuming tangible risks, such as leaving the security and social status of their government sector jobs or seeking external funding to support their businesses.


Sara Al-Othaibi, who runs exhibition files manufacturing unit in Dammam said: "In spite of the remarkable advancement of women in Saudi society over the past few decades, women today remain vastly under-represented in the entrepreneurial sector. In an economy that continues to seek out opportunities to reduce its dependency on oil, women’s entrepreneurship presents an important avenue for diversification, and a major source of untapped economic potential.  While women in Saudi Arabia have many positives to draw on, they remain constrained at large in their ability to translate this into tangible entrepreneurial success. The most fundamental obstacles to women’s entrepreneurship in the Kingdom remain the same today as they were fifty years ago, when girls were first admitted to schools in the Kingdom."

Amal Qassim, who runs boutique shop called Amal Collection observed: " I believe that everything you dream of, believe in faithfully, and earnestly strive for will eventually be achieved. I had been uttering these words while viewing my mother sewing. My affection for sewing and handicrafts made me draw my own dream to make the future happen. So I joined NCB’s ‘Productive Families’ sewing and dressmaking course. The Bank gave me a sewing machine as a grant. Praise be to Allah, From the beginning of my project, I was able to win the confidence of those with whom I dealt, and I was inspired to start creating my own designs."

Al Ahli Productive Families Program assists ladies from needy families to engage in various vocational arts and crafts such as heritage products, cosmetics, sewing, and hospitality activities.

The social entrepreneurship is at its niche stage in the Kingdom. More and more educated middle class women are entering into the foray by challenging many conventions and traditions. The government is all set to encourage this trend, which can be part of economic diversification plan. There are several success stories which is drawing attention of millions of young men and women toward this market. 



















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