How tech-driven marketplaces can support ‘Saudization’

Zeid Hreish
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Two decades ago, cell phones barely existed. And computers, not to mention the internet, were anything but familiar. But these fast-paced technological advances, coupled with the advent of social media, are leading to the rise of new economic opportunities and the demise of more traditional ones.

These are the changes that are having a considerable impact on sources of income in both Saudi Arabia and beyond.

Tech start-ups like ours are at the center of this change, and are driving it by offering consumers more choice, and more convenience. And with their rise in profile, not only have people around the world embraced the flexibility that these opportunities can offer, but they have also helped to create a tangible economic difference, affording opportunities to those who might otherwise remain unemployed.

In Saudi Arabia, this benefit is magnified. Like many fast growing and emerging economies, the youth represent a big part of the total population, with two thirds of it currently 30 years old and under.

To help afford the country’s youth the economic opportunities they seek, the Kingdom’s government has prioritized ‘Saudization’ as part of its National Transformation Plan, and aims to create 450,000 private sector jobs by 2020.

The advantage of all the new technology-driven marketplaces is that they don’t merely enable or facilitate new processes of production, but have also clearly and profoundly redefined multiple industries, most notably in terms of participation

Zeid Hreish

Redefining industries

The advantage of all the new technology-driven marketplaces is that they don’t merely enable or facilitate new processes of production, but have also clearly and profoundly redefined multiple industries, most notably in terms of participation.

And in the context of our own company, not only do we strive to increase economic opportunities in the region, but we’re also hoping for driver partners to set their own schedules, and use our technology to drive in their cities, making the money they need, when they want.

Since launching in Riyadh in early 2014, Uber’s impact has gone beyond the general convenience of tech-enhanced ride hailing, making a tangible difference in the city’s urban mobility infrastructure. Recognizing the role that Uber is playing in the Kingdom, the Saudi Arabian Public Transport Authority (PTA) recently awarded us with a certificate for regulatory alignment – not only a reflection of our alignment with local regulations, but also of our commitment to providing economic opportunities in the Kingdom.

Just over a year ago, we committed to the on-boarding of 100,000 Saudis on the app by the year 2020, but in the short time since, we have successfully on-boarded more than 80,000 Saudi driver-partners - this, only a year after. Easing congestion, increasing rider choice, creating economic opportunities for local youths, and contributing to faster economic growth than alternatives – these are just some of the benefits that companies like ours can bring to cities around the world.

Features and innovations

Much of this success stems from the fact that Uber connects people to safe, reliable and affordable transportation at the tap of a button, through built-in features like driver verification, scheduled rides, and sharing your ETA (estimated time of arrival) with family and loved ones. Moving forward, this success will give rise to new features and innovations through our technology, and more importantly, the opportunities that digital economies can offer.

We are continuously working on introducing technology features, which would improve people’s daily lives – one such feature is “Virtual Onboarding”, which facilitates partner-drivers process to drive on the app. We have some way to go until we achieve our end goal: an ideal where driver-partners complete the signup process to the Uber app in the morning, drive that same day, and then use the money earned the same night.

Previously, potential driver-partners had to go to a local Uber office to go through paperwork with an operations manager to create an account, but virtual onboarding will make the process painless, quick and convenient. Globally, we are also continuing to work on launching new services like UberPOOL, our globally successful carpooling option, which matches users with riders heading in the same direction, allowing them to share both their ride and cost.

More than anything however, the surge in popularity of on-demand apps like Uber – both from the point of view of suppliers and driver-partners – sends a broader message to Saudi Arabia’s young populace, its entrepreneurs and its businesses: that the Kingdom recognises that it cannot build for the future, if it isn’t part of a thriving ecosystem of entrepreneurs and innovators – pushing, prodding and inspiring each other along the way.
Zeid Hreish is General Manager Uber Saudi Arabia. His twitter handle is @zhreish.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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