For all the negative news that surrounds the Middle East, I was fortunate to be able to see the seeds
of social progress being sown in Saudi Arabia.
I am an advocate for social innovation. I have seen many countries experiment with social solutions
with different models that suit their countries. So, I was pleasantly surprised that Saudi Arabia is
emerging as a leader in social development for its people.
Late last year I got involved with some initiatives for social development in the Kingdom. They have
embarked on an serious transformation programme driven by economic resilience, but encompasing
societal development as well. The scale of their goals are astounding – but their methodology for
getting there is really something to be admired. The are going about things in a strategic and
coherent way. They are not blowing their own trumpet as yet, and no one is talking about or
publishing much information about the social development they are working on.
So I was quite hesitant to talk about them, especially when it is still work-in-progress. But I think
good things are worth sharing.
One of the things that they are rightly focusing on is the role of non-profit organisation or charitable
institutions as the facilitator for social development. I love this strategy.
In terms of social development, Saudi Arabia has a few unique things going for it. Firstly, the
religeous tenet of charity is a powerful enabler. Second, the Islamic world has the unique giving
model of Waqaf, and endowment that can generate perpetual giving. Saudi Arabia is leveraging on
these two enablers for social transformation, which was overlooked in the past.
There’s so much more to do to strengthen the social ecosystem. Nevertheless, to me, Saudi Arabia is
on the right track for social development. Where in the past there has been an overdependence on
oil, and a sense of lull, now there’s a new paradigm of development based on its inherent strengths.
Godspeed to them!
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