“Change is the only constant,” Einstein said. For any individual or nation to grow, change is inevitable. It enables us to thrive amidst the new challenges and the ever-increasing competition. That’s what we see happening around us these days. The Diversification of Economy, National Transformation Program and Vision 2030 are classic examples. However, change is inherently resisted or feared. But if we don’t change and adapt with times, we either perish or stagnate. Hence, it is essential to our survival and success. But, as the wisdom goes, too much too quickly can be painful.
In difficult times, countries resort to conventional and unconventional tactics. And implementation of these in a phased and practical manner is essential for desired outcomes. The proposed levies, fees, etc., are apparently a cause of concern to many and reportedly are resulting in the exit of expatriates. Some are leaving at the request of their employers and some because of their own interpretation of the changing times. I believe that most of the reactions of employers and expatriates to these changing times are exaggerated. I strongly believe that these tough times are temporary. The writing on the wall is perhaps being misinterpreted; it shouldn’t be that bad at all. The Saudi leadership has too much vision and wisdom to let that happen.
Changing times and challenging geopolitical and economic currents call for austerity measures. It’s normal and happens all over the developed world. So panic and kneejerk reactions are best avoided and proper planning and prudence are required. Lots of employers either are panicking or being opportunistic by laying off employees. This could prove detrimental in the long run as it may later be difficult to find seasoned talent familiar with the business landscape. Cutting expenses is indeed a good thing, but not so if it is due to misunderstanding, myopia or misplaced panic. Consequently, there seems to be an exodus of expatriates. Residential apartments that were so hard to find a year ago are now aplenty. At the retail end, people don’t seem to spend as much. “Big Sale” signs have become a common sight. Apparently, families are being sent back on exit and we hear of cases where parents are taking TC’s for their children from schools.
The above scenario is discouraging. Coming times will prove them premature, Insha’Allah. However, for now, clear and correct information is needed to replace the prevalent rumors and fears. Saudi Arabia needs efficient and experienced expatriates as much as they need jobs here, especially with the strategic National Transformation Program and Vision 2030 around the corner. Also, Saudi Arabia has historically been a friend of expatriates and I don’t think that the Kingdom has any intention of just getting rid of us. We share a symbiotic and sacrosanct relationship that I pray only grows. Yes, there will be redundancy and reorganization. But good workers will prevail. So hang on tight. Don’t worry.
Saudi Arabia will bounce back. Vision 2030 will mark the beginning of a new era when it is fully realized. Meanwhile, the oil price has been pretty decent, thanks to the much-needed production cuts spearheaded by Saudi Arabia and implemented by OPEC and non-OPEC members. However, the deadline needs to be further extended so that the oil markets can stabilize or we may see an oil glut again, especially with shale being extracted full-throttle. Also, the successful issuance of bonds, conventional and Islamic, will alleviate further pressure on Saudi foreign reserves. Additionally, the eventual IPO of Aramco, as planned, will improve the situation. Just the humongous size of it will dwarf the IPO of Alibaba, which is the biggest to date. The subsequent Sovereign Fund will be the biggest in the world, eclipsing even the Sovereign Fund of Norway, and once under way, it will naturally usher in renewed business activity and prosperity.
The increased number of womenfolk in the workplace is perhaps the most positive sign of these changing times, especially their efficiency and productivity. The men need to watch out, or they will have a run for their money! Just kidding. Recently, Sarah Al-Suhaimi was appointed CEO of the Saudi Stock Exchange, Rania Nashar became CEO of Samba Financial Group and Latifa Al-Sabhan was appointed Chief Financial Officer of Arab National Bank (ANB). Lama Suleiman is on the board of the Saudi General Entertainment Authority and, what is more, we even have a Saudi woman Maram Kokandi appointed as the first female general manager of an upscale international hotel in Jeddah.
Not to forget beacons like Lubna Olayan and Somayya Jabarti blazing trails. In the recent past, other young and distinguished women, like Lina Al-Maeena, were appointed to the Shoura Council and others were elected to municipal councils and the boards of chambers of commerce. Hopefully, these developments will silence the clichéd critics of Saudi Arabia who always moan about women not being allowed to work or drive here. The latter, too, will happen shortly, if some reports are to be believed.
On the other hand, the sight of Saudi shabab tossing fries, flipping burgers, chopping vegetables and churning out coffee in their colorful and cute “food on wheels” vans around the iconic King Fahd Library in Olaya is quite refreshing to see. This is entrepreneurship at its best. They show the world that they too can do it. And in style. But the youth in general need to do more to rise to the new challenge. The drive for diversification will need a lot out of them. And a lot of them.
As far as recreation is concerned, the boost in domestic tourism activities engineered by the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage and the creation of the Saudi Entertainment Authority are breaths of fresh air. The tourism festivals, concerts and stage shows are a good start, proving that entertainment within a cultural framework can be fun. Looking forward to more.
Happy changing times.
— Feroz Khan is a veteran Hospitality and Aviation professional who has lived in the Kingdom for over two decades representing reputed companies. He has an extensive corporate and social network and is also an Executive Member of notable social and business forums.