U.S. Ambassador Smith on Entrepreneurship in Saudi Arabia

February 18, 2012

Editor’s Note:

Small and medium enterprises make up 92 percent of the businesses in Saudi Arabia and employ over 80 percent of the work force according to Dr. Fahad Al Sultan, Secretary General of the Council of Saudi Chambers of Commerce and Industry. Interviewed in an excellent series of reports on Saudi entrepreneurship in the Spring 2010 “Tradeline” published by the National US-Arab Chamber of Commerce (NUSACC), Sultan noted, “We regard the entrepreneur as the major engine driving the economy.”

In the same edition of “Tradeline,” NUSACC President David Hamod attributed progress in boosting entrepreneurship to “forward looking” programs of Saudi leaders. He compared the entrepreneurial environment just fifteen years ago as akin to the Saudi Arabian “Empty Quarter” with today’s “start-up ‘desert’” as being in full bloom.” Hamod noted, “In Saudi Arabia today, and throughout the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, there is a new breed of entrepreneurs that is gradually reshaping the economic landscape. These talented men and women are ‘pushing the envelope’ in their respective communities and challenging longstanding assumptions about value creation and risk aversion in the Arab world.”  The advancements of entrepreneurs in Saudi Arabia has also been the focus of U.S. support as Elizabeth Pfiester wrote in SUSRIS [Boosting Small and Medium Enterprises in Saudi Arabia] in December 2010:

“Encouragement of SMEs and entrepreneurship has also come from American sources, in government and academia. President George Bush during this May 2008 visit to the Kingdom met with young professionals for a roundtable discussion to encourage small business development. In April President Obama hosted “A New Beginning – The Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship,” a fulfillment of a promise from his 2009 Cairo address to the Muslim world.” [Video below]

Today we are pleased to share with you remarks from U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia James Smith who talked about entrepreneurship in the Kingdom in an Arab News op-ed. He commented on the recent Global Competitiveness Forum in Riyadh, focused on “The Entrepreneurship Imperative”; the US-Saudi Business Opportunity Forum and President Obama’s Entrepreneurship Summit in Washington. Ambassador Smith spoke at the Business Opportunity Forum in Atlanta in December, about the US-Saudi business relationship which he described as “extremely important.” He noted, “King Abdullah’s focus on growing and diversifying the Saudi economy is part of the evidence of the government’s responsiveness, and it contributes immeasurably to the Kingdom’s stability.”

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Entrepreneurship: A Cornerstone of Cooperation Between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia
James B. Smith

U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia James B. Smith

During my travels in Saudi Arabia, I have been impressed to see the way entrepreneurs are remaking the Saudi Arabian economy. Entrepreneurs, including young men and yes, women entrepreneurs, are a powerful force for economic and social progress.

Riyadh recently hosted the sixth annual Global Competitiveness Forum (GCF) under the theme of entrepreneurship. We were pleased to see the participation of Lorraine Hariton, the U.S. State Department’s Special Representative for Commercial and Business Affairs, in the GCF. Hariton led the launch of the State Department’s Global Entrepreneurship Program, a program that has made a number of important accomplishments across the world, including this region. Among the program’s most successful projects in this region is the Palestinian Information Technology Initiative, a program designed to help nascent Palestinian information communications technology companies to establish partnerships with US multinational companies. During the GCF, Hariton emphasized the need for Saudi Arabia to take advantage of all of its human resources, particularly women, in a way that will strengthen the economy and benefit the people of Saudi Arabia.

The GCF is one of several initiatives by the government of Saudi Arabia under the leadership of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah to spur economic growth through promotion of entrepreneurship and innovation. Initiatives such as the Badir Program at the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology are fostering the launch of high-tech companies in Saudi Arabia and creating networks of investors ready to support promising ideas and entrepreneurs.

There has never been a better time to start a business in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia was ranked No.12 in “Ease of Doing Business” ranking (out of 183 economies) maintained by the World Bank. In addition to the government initiatives, I’m impressed by the work of individual Saudi nationals who are turning simple concepts into powerful social and financial projects. I salute people like Sara Al-Ayed, a leading entrepreneur in Saudi Arabia, who co-founded the public relations firm Trans-Arabian Creative Communications and has built it into one of Saudi Arabia’s fastest growing companies with branches in nine countries overseas.

Saudi innovators are helped by organizations such as Injaz Saudi Arabia, the Saudi partner of Junior Achievement Worldwide, which is helping Saudis to improve their financial literacy and entrepreneurial skills. With entrepreneurs and organizations such as these, Saudi Arabia is well-positioned to remain a powerful force in the global economy.

I recently participated in the US-Saudi Business Opportunities Forum in Atlanta, a high-level gathering that offers an unparalleled business networking opportunity for US and Saudi entrepreneurs. One of the highlights of the forum this year was the opportunity to showcase the work of the US.

The embassy in Riyadh is aiming to strengthen economic collaboration between Saudi Arabia and the US. The economic section focuses on policy initiatives between the Saudi and US governments and is working to expand partnerships with Saudi institutions on research and training in science and technology, with a particular focus on energy. We are helping to support Saudi Arabia’s efforts to develop renewable-energy sources, nuclear, solar, and wind. Through the commercial section, the embassy supports the types of entrepreneurs who are creating jobs and improving the Saudi economy by encouraging opportunities for partnerships between Saudi and US companies. Each year, the embassy sponsors around 800 Saudi business people to attend trade shows in the United States.

In addition, on its website (export.gov/saudiarabia), the commercial section has built a new tool to match Saudi students with internships at US companies. Through internships, Saudi nationals will have the opportunities to gain the sort of business experience that can help them to become successful entrepreneurs and innovators.

US President Barack Obama has identified entrepreneurship and business as a cornerstone of the relationship between the US and Muslim communities around the world since the beginning of his administration. In April 2010, he hosted a Summit on Entrepreneurship with the goal of strengthening global ties between business leaders, foundations, and entrepreneurs.

In his remarks, Obama explained that he convened the summit because “our friends in Muslim communities told us that this was an area where we can learn from each other; where America can share its experience as a society that empowers the inventor and the innovator; where men and women can take a chance on a dream — taking an idea that starts around a kitchen table or in a garage, and turning it into a new business and even new industries that can change the world.”

The US Mission in Saudi Arabia is committed to increasing opportunities for the entrepreneurs in the United States and Saudi Arabia to work together in taking these kitchen table dreams and making them a reality that can change the US and Saudi Arabia — and the world — into a better place for all. On Monday night, I am hosting a reception for the Saudi winners of the Arabia 500 companies who were selected by AllWorld Network, an organization with a mission to find and scale all the growth entrepreneurs of the emerging world, creating the largest information system and network of growth entrepreneurs.

Interestingly, AllWorld Network itself was established in 2007 by Deirdre Coyle and Anne Habiby, two American entrepreneurs, in collaboration with Harvard Business School Professor Michael Porter, to promote entrepreneurship in the developed and developing worlds.

I salute these entrepreneurs for their enthusiasm and sheer determination to connect the world together through growth and success for all.

— James B. Smith is the US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia

Ambassador Smith’s remarks originally appeared in Arab News on February 12, 2012

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The Honorable General James B. Smith
United States Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Ambassador James Smith was appointed U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in September 2009. Prior to his appointment, Ambassador Smith had served in a variety of executive positions with Raytheon Company involving corporate strategic planning, aircraft manufacturing, and international business development.

Ambassador Smith served in the U.S. Air Force for 28 years. Trained as a fighter pilot, he logged over 4,000 hours of flight time in F-15s and T-38s. He served around the world in a variety of operational assignments and flew combat missions from Dhahran AB during Operation Desert Storm. He commanded the 94th Fighter Squadron, the 325th Operations Group and the 18th Fighter Wing (Kadena AB, Okinawa). In addition, he served in a variety of staff assignments involving coalition partners, and served as Air Force Chair and Professor of Military Strategy at the National War College. During his final assignment at U.S. Joint Forces Command, he led Millennium Challenge, the largest transformation experiment in history. He was promoted to Brigadier General in October 1998, and retired from the Air Force in 2002.

Ambassador Smith was a distinguished graduate of the U. S. Air Force Academy’s Class of 1974 and received the Richard I. Bong award as the Outstanding Cadet in Military History. He received his M.A. in History from Indiana University in 1975, and is also a distinguished graduate from the Naval War College, the Air Command and Staff College and the National War College.

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