Silver linings are not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of Covid-19, but contrary to public belief, there is, in fact, a glass-half-full assessment of the pandemic and its byproducts, specifically as they pertain to Saudi Arabia. One silver lining deserves special attention: proactive community-level pandemic relief.
As lockdowns and social distancing measures altered the nature of community-based involvement, Saudi society found no shortage of innovative altruism. With in-person fundraising put to an abrupt halt, Gamers Without Borders (GWB) – an initiative of the Saudi Arabian Federation for Electronic and Intellectual Sports (SAFEIS) – raised over $1.5 million for GAVI, a global vaccine alliance dedicated to increasing equitable access to immunization in poor countries.
GWB is part of a broader effort spearheaded by the Kingdom to relieve pandemic-induced suffering on a global scale. Held over seven weeks, the initiative became the biggest e-sports charity event ever, by uniting over 300,000 gamers from 82 countries, including the world’s most elite players and a plethora of superstars from sports and entertainment.
GWB saw $10million donated to seven global charities tackling COVID-19. The size and magnitude of these humanitarian efforts would not be possible without the Kingdom’s youthful majority – a demographic uniquely positioned to propel the Saudi gaming industry to the helm of the global gaming community.
Saudi Arabia’s gaming industry was valued at $837 million in 2019 and maintains one of the world’s fastest growth rates, expanding by over 22.5 percent annually. GWB therefore innovatively leveraged a thriving local industry budding with the talent to advance universal humanitarian relief – a positive trend that will likely persist long after the pandemic is history.
Youth community-based engagement doesn’t stop at gaming - a passion for volunteerism is equally pervasive. Data paints a clearer picture: today, there are 700 registered nonprofit organizations in the Kingdom, with sector-based revenue amounting to over 8 billion Saudi Riyals.
Madinah Governor Prince Faisal bin Salman was quick to recognize this passion, praising initiatives taken by the region’s Youth Committee wherein 240 young men and women took part in food basket distribution and public health awareness campaigns on social media.
This certainly isn’t the only instance during the pandemic where top-down support meets a fervent sense of volunteerism from the bottom up. Policymakers across the Kingdom are increasingly recognizing youth’s desire to channel altruism and a strong sense of social responsibility.
For example, Governor of the Northern Borders Region Prince Faisal bin Khalid bin Sultan chaired a virtual council meeting of NGOs in the region, monitoring and assessing the council’s work during the pandemic, the achievements of charitable bodies in complementing top-down efforts to help citizens, families in-need and various groups affected by virus-related precautionary measures.
On a policy level, such close consonance between policymakers, NGOs and community-based groups ensures civic accountability and strategic alignment – a positive policy trend only enhanced by pandemic-induced volunteerism.
Saudi women are playing a particularly pioneering role in advancing the sector’s impact during the pandemic.
An unprecedented challenge was met with unprecedented adaptability and social responsibility. Riyadh-based Alnahda Society for Women, a philanthropic vehicle supporting female empowerment since 1962, is a clear example. Alnahda was entrusted by a royal decree to lead the W20 – an official G20 engagement group dedicated to women’s issues as part of Saudi Arabia’s G20 presidency. The organization distributed more than 600 laptops to children in need while connecting women to basic PPE products and financial assistance from charities.
Beyond short-term relief, Alnahda’s work encompasses grassroots assistance, research, and advocacy, empowering thousands of women. Other female-led organizations are doing equally impressive work: Khobar-based Fatat Alkhaleej, a charity founded in 1968, is handing out food baskets to 1,000 families’ daily, and financial assistance to those grappling with pandemic-induced economic hardship.
Aloula is another non-profit making significant social strides by providing critical assistance to over 4,000 people and more than 1,000 families adversely impacted by the pandemic. During the initial phases of the pandemic, Aloula resiliently launched a campaign entitled “Alnass Libaed” (“People Are for Each Other”) to support distance learning and organically develop community-led awareness campaigns.
Vision 2030 aims to increase the non-profit sector’s gross domestic product contributions to over five percent. Pandemic-induced volunteerism and social awareness are set to accelerate the pace, size, and magnitude of those contributions, while potentially exceeding initial expectations.
Quantitative metrics can only go so far: beyond the sector’s direct contribution to GDP, a non-profit sector flourishing amid a pandemic will generate positive spill-over effects that outlast that virus’s short-term ramifications. Increased social awareness and cohesion, an uptick in vehicles that channel that awareness, and a robust sense of community are a few of the positive byproducts the sector will take forward.
The pandemic hasn’t instilled a nascent sense of volunteerism in the Kingdom; it has revealed and amplified a commendable, yet insatiable, desire to give back across various segments of society.
The Holy Month of Ramadan is right around the corner, and with it, a renewed call for hope, altruism, and optimism. While these sentiments will outlast the pandemic, celebrating the impact of volunteering today is an indispensable bridge to a brighter post-COVID future.