The Pearl Initiative, a leading non-profit organization dedicated to corporate accountability and transparency in the Gulf region, partnered with the Islamic Corporation for the Development of the Private Sector (ICD) to host two exclusive roundtable discussions in Saudi Arabia. These sessions aimed to enhance the competitiveness and sustainability of Fintech companies and startups in the region, aligning with the Pearl Initiative’s commitment to fostering a robust business ecosystem.
Saudi Arabia has set ambitious goals, aiming to reach SAR13.3 billion (US $3.6 billion) in direct GDP contribution from fintech companies by 2030, a significant increase from SAR1.2 billion (US $317 million) in 2021, as reported by the U.S.-Saudi Business Council. Demonstrating the immense potential and opportunities within the region, the country witnessed a staggering 79% year-on-year increase in the number of operating fintech firms last year.
The first session, titled ‘Building Fintechs for the region from the region,’ featured distinguished speakers, including Mohamed Al Tajer, Founder and Managing Partner of Taghyeer Consulting FZC, and Noel Connolly, CEO of NOW Money. The session delved into the importance of tailoring fintech products specifically for the Gulf region, exploring challenges and opportunities faced by fintech startups in Saudi Arabia. A key highlight was the paramount importance of comprehensive research and analysis to identify market gaps and effectively address customers’ needs through the development of innovative products and services. Successful companies were shown to prioritize customer feedback and adapt their solutions accordingly. The discussions also emphasized the growing significance of corporate social responsibility and Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) considerations for financial inclusion, as customers increasingly value social impact and sustainability. The session further stressed the crucial role of nurturing a supportive ecosystem that encompasses funding for diverse ideas and start-ups to drive innovation and enhance access to financial services, particularly for the underbanked.
Commenting on the roundtable discussions, Mr. Hamza Alsaktawi, Unit Head of Financial Inclusion at Development Effectiveness Offices – DEO, ICD, stated, “We are excited to join forces with the Pearl Initiative to host transformative roundtable discussions on the role of corporate governance in driving growth and profitability. Our shared vision is to empower Gulf tech companies, especially fintech firms, by enhancing their competitiveness and sustainability in the region. Through this partnership, we aim to bolster sustainable development and ensure the continued growth and success of fintech enterprises throughout the Kingdom.”
The second session, ‘Leveraging Culture to Support Growth,’ featured a panel of distinguished speakers, including Christina Andreassen, Director of Programs at Astrolabs, Lujain Alburghuthi, People Experience, Culture, Sustainability Lead KSA and Chalhoub Group, and Tarek Bolbol, General Manager of Raff Publishing. The session explored how funders could better understand and integrate themselves into the start-up ecosystem’s culture to establish strong partnerships with corporates. It emphasized that execution is vital in fostering a successful culture, whether in start-ups or corporations. Understanding the cultural dynamics of large corporations, being patient and persistent when collaborating, and building enduring relationships were key takeaways from the discussions. The session also highlighted the importance of prioritizing growth in the early stages of a start-up while considering governance and regulation in sectors such as fintech, health tech, and biotech. Sustainability was recognized as an increasingly important aspect to incorporate into a start-up’s culture, emphasizing values such as revenue, profitability, and social impact.
Mohamed Al Moosa, Programme Manager at the Pearl Initiative, expressed his thoughts stating, “The fintech sessions, hosted in partnership with the Islamic Corporation for the Development of the Private Sector, have provided valuable insights into tailoring fintech solutions for the Gulf region. We are thrilled to facilitate these discussions and contribute to the growth and sustainability of the tech start-up ecosystem in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region.”
The Pearl Initiative actively promotes the business case for a corporate culture of accountability and transparency across various stakeholders, including multinationals, family businesses, small to medium-sized enterprises, tech entities, and youth. The recent roundtable discussions were part of the Pearl Initiative’s ‘Governance in Tech’ program, aimed at raising awareness amongst Gulf-based tech entities of the benefits of strong and innovative corporate governance structures.
The roundtable discussions served as a valuable platform for sharing insights, exchanging best practices, and fostering collaboration within the tech startup ecosystem. By enhancing competitiveness and sustainability, the Pearl Initiative and the Islamic Corporation for the Development of the Private Sector (ICD) drive positive change and pave the way for a thriving tech industry in the Gulf region.