Royal Commission for AlUla highlights unique sustainability formula for SMEs

By Salma C, Intern Reporter
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Saudi Arabia’s governing body of protected sites, the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) is highlighting a unique approach to SME growth with an emphasis on integrated sustainability as part of the Global Entrepreneurship Congress 2022 in Riyadh.

As the official knowledge and programming partner of the event, RCU is an active member of Congress. The Commission will localize insights from the Congress through an event in AlUla this week, to discuss the challenges and opportunities for SMEs in the region on the path to sustainable and comprehensive growth.

The RCU Al Ula event is organized in association with Monsha’at, the General Authority for Small and Medium Enterprises in KSA. The event will include panel discussions on creating a sustainable, inclusive, and entrepreneurial local economy and establishing a future-proof start-up ecosystem for ambitious growth. Case studies and presentations from AlUla entrepreneurs will be presented at the event.

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Amr AlMadani
Royal Commission for AlUla

“SME development is central to Vision 2030. RCU is committed to regenerating AlUla around the success of SMEs and MSMEs to create a destination completely rooted in the local culture and community. We believe our formula for integrating natural, economic, and social sustainability in our activities will create powerful and lasting growth for AlUla’s SMEs. We are nourishing the soil where the seeds of entrepreneurs’ ideas can thrive. As this garden grows it will create value for our community and visitors.”

Vibes AlUla

Vibes AlUla, an entrepreneurial platform created in collaboration with the Royal Commission for AlUla, is a powerful example of what is happening in AlUla. The space aims to activate and enable AlUla’s entrepreneurial ecosystem through shared mentorship, programs, services, and office space. The SME hub was used to train about 80 emerging entrepreneurs in the early stages of business principles and 60 micro and small businesses.

Out of these 60, 15 have transformed into newly strengthened businesses with strong support from Vibes AlUla, creating 15 new jobs in the last three months, beginning to accept investments, and developing more than 15 partnership agreements ranging from event management services to honey production.

Over the next 18 months, the number of “initiation” individuals will increase to about 700. 45 more businesses will be upgraded based on business skills. The Hub represents a unique launch pad for new businesses into an economy that is transformative and responsive to the needs of other businesses that directly support the tourism industry as well as locals.

Pillars of RCU’s SME sector plan

  1. Promote indigenous growth
  • SMEs and MSMEs in AlUla harness local talent, natural resources, and the cultural landscape. Opportunities span moringa oil production, date and citrus farming, handicrafts, arts and culture, culinary, hospitality, and tourism services, and history and heritage.
  • RCU is developing grassroots businesses to create broad economic change. By leveraging natural assets and strengths, we create a self-sustaining economic ecosystem.
  1. Build capacity and capabilities
  • RCU initiatives enable SMEs to upskill talent, broaden their reach and diversify offerings
  • Vibes AlUla is a one-stop-shop for SMEs to train, set up, and develop.
  • Vibes kicked off the first cohort of the AlUla SME Enablement Program, as of March 2022, it enabled the creation of 14 SMEs.
  • The AlUla Languages Centre offers the opportunity to learn new languages and reach new markets.
  • Scholarship and Hammayah programs offer avenues for growth.
  1. Open a gateway to opportunity
  • By enriching the SME ecosystem, RCU encourages young people with energy and ambition to set down roots in AlUla by launching SMEs and contributing to the national agenda.
  • Economic sustainability echoes RCU’s goals of natural and social sustainability. As sustainability requires monitoring, RCU will track SME health as part of a new Destination Performance Index.
  • Reflecting RCU’s worldly outlook, this strategy is informed by SME success in Jordan and India and the ideas of economists such as Michael Porter on the value chain.

SME growth in AlUla is already emerging as a result of efforts led by the RCU. In this growing community of new SMEs, there is a tour-guide service for stargazing, a family-owned farm to plant trees and harvest fruits, a honey harvester, a marketplace for cosmetic products, a natural soap retailer, an event manager, a service that rents short-term apartments and a home bakery that sells it online.

Mr. AlMadani further stated that “Integrated sustainability means not only integrating the economy with nature and society but also integrating the past with the present, the present with the future, and technology with culture. Our ancestors were entrepreneurial. To survive in a harsh environment they made clever use of the materials at hand. They wove and embroidered with silk and metal thread, farmed dates and gathered hay, worked as metalsmiths, and ran coffee houses. Think of how much we can achieve today if we apply this heritage of initiative and perseverance in a modern AlUla fully connected to the wider world and all its possibilities.”

Established in July 2017, the RCU’s long-term plan shapes a responsible, sustainable, and sensitive approach to urban and economic development. It encompasses a wide range of initiatives across archaeology, tourism, culture, education, and the arts that reflect Saudi Arabia’s commitment to fulfilling economic diversification, local community empowerment, and heritage conservation priorities of Saudi’s Vision 2030 program.

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