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Using technology to empower women in Saudi Arabia

Ben Johnson and Aparna Alluri Mar 25, 2015

Using technology to empower women in Saudi Arabia

Ben Johnson and Aparna Alluri Mar 25, 2015

Princess Reema Bint Bandar Al-saud, an entrepreneur and member of the Saudi Royal Family, recently traveled to SXSW Interactive in Austin to talk about how technology is empowering Saudi women. 

Born in Riyadh, Princess Reema grew up in Washington DC while her father was Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States. She is now the CEO of Alfa International, a Saudi Arabia-based luxury retailer, and she’s also a major advocate for breast cancer awareness in her country.

We sat down with her to talk about training women to work in Saudi Arabia and what role technology plays in society.

Tell me about educating women about navigating the complexities of the workplace in a country where women’s rights are still quite restricted?

What we’re doing is training the frontline of employees to be able to have the skillsets to learn to work. Because if you train someone how to use the cash register but you don’t actually train her how to use HR or train her how how to engage in dialogue with her coworkers, she’s not actually going to be a very successful salesperson. But it’s not a skillset that’s given. You have to learn it. Just to give you a heads up. I might have been the CEO of the company but it took me two years to ask for a salary.

So you weren’t being paid?

No. But I also didn’t ask. And you should have seen the horrified faces on the board when they realised. They were like, “what do you mean you haven’t been paid?” I was like, “well, who am I supposed to talk to?” Now take that down to a woman that has no exposure and no experience. So I want to make sure nobody goes through that.

Do you think new technology plays a role at all in helping to make that happen?

Yes. Because everybody is talking to everybody and everyone is listening to everybody right now. It’s not second hand. It’s not tomorrow. It’s not next week. If you said it today, I can read it today. And so you can actually action change very fast these days. I think.

You know, you’re referencing social media in some ways right?   


Are there complexities to that when it comes to how it happens in your country?

Yes, because you’re not talking to one group of people. We’re talking to five different generations simultaneously. And when you’re talking to five different generations, who are you looking out for in the change that you’re making?

Do you think people are fully comfortable being totally honest on social media?

I think it depends on what subject and what topic and what environment. I mean, I can tell you: religion? Don’t touch it. And it’s just about my right to say it. Somebody has to hear it so be more conscientious in the words that you use.

But at the same time I feel like you’re hinting that there’s a lot of positive coming out of this?

Amazing positivity. Because half the people that I have connected to that are making 10 KSA  happen are people that are engaging with us on social media. I can tell you one thing that blew my mind.  

Yeah, please.

WhatsApp. When we were launching our social media, I sent out 500 WhatsApp messages and then I went on to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and I am like “oh, my god!” 70 people, 120, 45…I am like, “oh, my god, it is now already a global message.”

What’s your favorite iPhone app?

Instagram! I love Instagram. I am like the queen of Instagram.

What do you Instagram?

I travel a lot for work. And I find it so much easier to post a picture than to send 50 emails, send a 100 text messages or write something on Facebook. I really don’t want to say too much. I just want you to know where I am and what I have seen and that I have seen something great.

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