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Saudi Arabia in the Spotlight


This week CAI brings you a special post with information on the Middle East from a renowned cultural expert, Grace Edwards, who has allowed us to share her expertise. Grace Edwards is a Western businesswoman, cross-cultural consultant, and author with decades of experience in Saudi Arabia and through the Middle East.

Grace reveals that the Middle East, perhaps now more than ever, is an economic ‘promised land’ for international business seeking to find a leg up in the global economy.

See below and gather insight from her article:

Why Business in Saudi Arabia may be Better than Ever for Your Organization

“There is a renewed focus on the Middle East. The recent visit by the American President makes it clear that the United States intends to engage more closely with the Saudis by emphasising new and ongoing business ties.  The United Kingdom is looking to increase its profile of trading partners beyond Europe post-Brexit and have had historical ties to the Kingdom and the region for generations.  European businesses faced with mature markets in the West are looking to expand into growth markets.

Saudi ArabiaMost people equate Saudi Arabia with the oil business, and fairly so. The Kingdom has relied on oil for more than 90% of its GDP revenue in modern times.  But the Saudi economy is on the cusp of reform.  With a young, under employed population, an over-reliance on expatriate labour, and the increasing complexity of global economics, Saudi Arabia recognises that their future success goes beyond oil.

In April 2016, the Kingdom announced its roadmap for the future: Saudi Vision 2030.  Saudi Vision 2030 states three key themes:  A Vibrant Society, A Thriving Economy, and An Ambitious Nation.  Saudi Vision 2030 is taken very seriously in the Kingdom and beyond, with concrete actions being taken that are an encouraging indicator of true reform.

Saudi Vision 2030 presents a tremendous opportunity for global organisations to open and grow their business in the Arabian Gulf’s largest market. Underdeveloped in many areas, potential profits are significant.  However, entering the Saudi business market is complex.  Entering the market unprepared is a recipe for disaster.

Saudis know, like and trust Western products and services. Westerners will be more welcome in the Kingdom than ever before.  This includes the growing number of Western businesswomen, who are successfully conducting business beyond the traditional fields of medicine and education.  In fact, businesswomen are now obtaining visas as easily as their male counterparts and, from a practical perspective, are able to work and travel on their own in the main business cities without the need for a male guardian or colleague.

However, Westerners – women and men – must recognise that successful business is conducted very differently to the way they are used to back home. Building relationships and trust are paramount before getting things done.  Things get done at a slower pace.  Time keeping can be frustrating, as can a perception of work ethics.  Business must fit in with religion and family matters, with business often a lower priority than both of the latter.

Reforms come slowly in Saudi Arabia, but they are increasing in ways that would have been unrecognisable only a few years ago. To begin with, anecdotal information about the excesses of the religious police, gender and social restrictions are often inaccurate or outdated.

Gender reforms are accelerating. For example, although expatriate women still must wear the abaya, these long, concealing robes are becoming fashionable enough to (sometimes) have actual appeal.  And we’re mostly wearing them without our headscarves.  Saudi women are making rapid gains in their rights, from being able to practice law to the Royal Decree issued in May 2017 that emancipates women from their male guardians in many aspects of daily life.

Young Saudis are, for the first time, allowed to attend carefully vetted live comedy and music concerts. Importantly, young Saudis are particularly active on social media, giving them a window to the wider world.

All small steps that may endure more than a forced imposition of Western values.

However, Saudi Arabia is not the West. Nor is it neighbouring Dubai.  Some reforms remain in the future; others may not be likely for quite some time if at all.  Women are still not driving, nor is legal consumption of alcohol likely to change soon.  Social media, although relatively open, can cause problems if certain topics are brought to the attention of the authorities.  And although some social entertainment is being carefully introduced, a relative lack of social activities other than shopping and dining out can be challenging for some visitors to the Kingdom.

Although a key goal of Saudi Vision 2030 is to reduce the reliance of expatriate labour through the nitaqat/Saudisation programme, the Kingdom continues to fall short in finding local talent with the right educational background and experience to do many jobs required for today’s business.  Opportunities abound for Western organisations, from knowledge transfer to contributing to the growth of a more diverse economy.  Focusing on growth in a wide range of areas, from grand infrastructure projects to connect the country by rail to traditional manufacturing to sophisticated financial services, Western organisations in these and many other markets have a golden opportunity to expand into a country that wants to work with them.  With commitment and patience, their opportunity to profit has never been better.”


CAI offers a number of programmes to facilitate working and living in Saudi Arabia. Grace Edwards is the author of the book ‘Working and Living in Saudi Arabia’, recommended for all who are considering working in the Kingdom.  Her book offers a comprehensive, practical guide for all Westerners looking for advice on working successfully in the Kingdom.  The author also focuses on business and practical issues of interest to businesswomen and for Western men who may be working with women in Saudi Arabia.


Amazon USA: book


Amazon USA: Kindle


Amazon UK: book and Kindle



CAI would once again like to thank Grace Edwards for her contribution. For further reading on the changing tides in gender in Saudi Arabia, click here. And for a different perspective on Saudi Arabia’s push towards a new economy, click here. And finally, for a look at the Arab consumer, check here