Saudi aid and its global image


Al-Watan newspaper

IF we assume that you provide humanitarian and relief assistance to people afflicted by natural calamities and civil wars around the world, inspired by your religious teachings and humanitarian principles, you will be surprised to see that only a few people in your own surroundings are aware of it, despite the magnitude of this noble humanitarian work.

Moreover, you face strident smear campaigns in the media, raising suspicion about your humanitarian assistance and prompting international organizations to issue negative reports against you.

This indicates that there is something wrong in your public relations campaign. If we distance ourselves from the conspiracy theory and try to diagnose the problem sincerely, we can easily understand that your media campaign to highlight the foreign aid was weak or focused on people in your surroundings only, or there may be no media plan at all for this huge spending on humanitarian aid.

So the problem lies in poor media and marketing campaigns. Let us now move from assumption to reality and from individual to state.

Saudi Arabia is a world leader in humanitarian and relief work. It is one of the world’s most prominent donors. According to the UNDP report for 2016, Saudi Arabia’s foreign aid surpassed the United Nations target of 0.7 percent.

The Kingdom was the world’s number one ODA (official development assistance) provider as its foreign aid amounted to 1.9 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP). Among the world’s leading donor countries, Saudi Arabia ranked fourth. Over the past 40 years, Saudi spending on humanitarian aid exceeded $139 billion, benefiting about 100 countries.

Since its inception in May 2015 until mid-December 2017, King Salman Center has provided about $900 million in aid and implemented more than 257 humanitarian projects including shelters, health centers, humanitarian support and food security, benefiting more than 100 million people in 37 disaster-stricken countries.

From 2015 through 2017, King Abdullah Humanitarian Foundation implemented eight international programs in 17 countries, benefiting more than 6 million people. These programs included scholarships, mobile health clinics, fight against Ebola epidemic in West African countries, housing for the displaced and refugees and other humanitarian services.

In addition to foreign aid provided by the Saudi government, many Saudi charitable organizations and NGOs have provided humanitarian and philanthropic services to afflicted people around the world. We have spent billions of dollars on humanitarian projects and activities but they were not backed by an efficient media and marketing campaign. This was a major fault on our part.

A strong media campaign highlighting Saudi Arabia’s pioneering humanitarian role in supporting peoples afflicted by natural calamities and civil wars is essential to mobilize world public opinion in favor of the Kingdom and promote its global image and reputation.

From time to time, we read anti-Saudi reports from UN organizations, which are refuted by the Kingdom’s huge humanitarian assistance, its large international relief efforts and its outstanding initiatives in delivering humanitarian aid to the beneficiaries. At the same time, we don’t have efficient marketing and media initiatives equivalent to the size of our charitable spending.

If we are unable to market our humanitarian activities in war zones and areas hit by natural disaster, how can we convince the media and international organizations and the global public opinion about our just and legitimate causes?

In the backdrop of this marketing failures comes the significance of a qualitative initiative announced by the Ministry of Culture and Information in August 2017 when it announced the launch of a center for international communication.

I believe that this initiative would fill the gap and bring positive results, provided it has the right planning and qualified national cadre.

While expressing my optimism about the new center, I would like to propose that a higher advisory committee must be formed to correct and enhance the Kingdom’s global image.