It’s now six years since I started visiting Saudi Arabia. Back in 2011, I took up the role as Regional Director for our organization, I look back and realize I really didn’t have any clue as to what to expect!
In the West, there are a lot of misconceptions surrounding the Kingdom: is it safe? How do women manage? What do you eat? Is it restrictive? The list is endless and on my latest trip I reflected on the amount and speed of change that has, and is, taking place within the Kingdom.
Saudi Arabia is going through massive change right now: change I couldn’t foresee back in 2011. Economically, the Kingdom is trying to reduce its dependency on oil. Politically, the vision of Prince Mohammed bin Salman, seems to be at the forefront of change. Similarly, from a social perspective, Saudi Arabia is changing with the powers of the religious police being reduced. I’ve also seen advertisements in the main cities for entertainment centers.
In the 1980s, the rise of the Salfist religious Sahwa movement limited the role of women by reducing job options for women. Women were not expected to work outside the home, nor were they encouraged to do so.
There appeared a real fear of westernization and losing religious identity were the two concerns. Saudi girls growing up in the 1980’s and 1990’s, realized how conservative values formed the basis of the Saudi way of life.
Maybe the catalyst for the speed of change was the introduction of the internet. It provided the wider population with knowledge, entertainment and a private place.
In 2005, the late King Abdullah allowed thousands of students to study abroad.
Social media is another factor contributing to change, across the world. YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat allowed the wider population to promote themselves and communicate with a wider audience. Interestingly, although personal use of social media has seen an explosion in recent years, commercial use still appears to lag.
Not so long ago, religious figures banned satellite, internet, camera phones and travelling abroad. Then, the same religious leaders became active on social media, as well as national and international TV channels, and appeared in social events while travelling abroad.
Thus, the fear of westernization that the religious authority warned against no longer appeared to be a threat.
Last week, the government announced further changes – that in June 2018, Saudi women will be able to drive within Kingdom: again, a situation that couldn’t be foreseen in 2011 when I first visited the country.
Saudi Arabia is a prosperous Kingdom and I love to visit. Not only is it prosperous, but businesses there are hungry to learn and to improve their methodologies and outputs. Every time I go to Jeddah, Riyadh or to the Eastern Province, I see something different; something else has changed. On reflection, I believe that it’s this hunger to improve, that excites me the most and I always look forward to learning about organizations’ plans for growth and showing how our programs and services can complement this need. If your organization is serious about growth and business improvement, please give contact me; I’d love to hear from you.
The Kingdom is evolving at a rapid pace and bigger changes are in motion. In six years, I’ve seen some extra ordinary changes – I wonder what I’ll experience in the next six years. It is an exciting time for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia!