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Gaining Inspirational Economic Insights From Saudi Arabia

Kizito Okechukwu

Kizito Okechukwu | February 16, 2023

GEN President Jonathan Ortmans, Prince Fahad bin Mansour and Kizito Okechukwu

Many years ago, when someone mentioned Saudi Arabia, the first things that probably came to mind were oil and luxury, diamond-studded million dollar cars. We deemed it a conservative country, a country that is closed out from the rest of the world – and a country not worth visiting.

Enter Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salam.

Since 2017, he has been advocating Saudi’s campaign to be seen as a champion for investment and a champion for Saudi’s to connect with the world and have much more influence than they previously had.


And this has definitely borne fruit.


In Riyadh during January this year, in line with the country’s Vision 2030 agenda, 2023 began on a high note for the real estate industry with deals worth more than SR10BN (USD$2.66BN) signed on the opening day of the Real Estate Future Forum.


What’s also well-worth mentioning in an African-relevant context, is the government’s robust policies and initiatives, including the activation of numerous finance products that are propelling the sector forward, addressing the key challenges faced by the housing market, and making home ownership a possibility for new generations of Saudis.


Nearly 555,000 residential units are due to be delivered around the Kingdom by 2030, with Riyadh alone set to see an additional 200,000 homes as the Saudi capital gears up for a 127 percent rise in its population to 17 million by the end of the decade.


Last year, I had my first visit to Riyadh to attend the Global Entrepreneurship Congress, hosted by the Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN) and the Misk Foundation, which was founded by the Crown Prince. What amazed me was the enthusiasm of young Saudi professionals and startups we met – with both men and women eager to innovate, develop and build digital skills.


A few years ago, the GEN launched the Entrepreneurship World Cup (EWC) in partnership with Misk Foundation, which is now one of the biggest and most diverse startup pitch competitions in the world. Since launching in 2019, and with over 200 countries participating, the EWC has awarded USD$3M in cash prizes, USD$150M in kind prizes and provided opportunities for entrepreneurs at all levels.


State and private firms in Saudi Arabia have also been boosting their foreign investment in various countries. According to FDI markets, foreign investment from both state-owned and private firms in Saudi Arabia totalled a record $22.4BN in the first 11 months of 2022 – up from $2.2BN over the same period in 2021. The Public Investment Fund (PIF), the country’s sovereign wealth fund, deployed $20.3BN in 2022 – up by 448.6% from a year earlier research from Global Sovereign Wealth Fund has found.


Intentionally, the government is strategically being developmental and increasing its influence around the world. This also includes the building of a $500BN futuristic city dubbed the Neom project in the middle of the desert.


Many of us could attest that pre-2015, one hardly heard any news of Saudi Arabia, except when the oil price goes up and down. But today, the country has positioned itself as a force to be reckoned with. From landing Ronaldo, one of the world’s greatest footballers in a Saudi league club and launching the highly lucrative LIV Golf Tour, to broadening and investing in many countries around the world, Saudi is a nation to be watched with keen interest.


The only things you’ll miss when visiting Saudi Arabia would be that glass of wine, or that ice cold beer, which is still not permitted. But my visit to the Kingdom last year was rejuvenating and inspirational.


It all boils down to the bold and inspiring leader they have chosen.


With many African countries going into national elections this year and next, it’s time for African leaders to start singing from the Saudi economic hymn sheet!


Kizito Okechukwu is the co-Chair of the Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN) Africa and Executive Head at 22 On Sloane


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