For decades, the women of Saudi Arabia have been side-lined by the nation’s working community and they faced a gargantuan task in their attempts to enter the job market.However, this scenario began to transform drastically when a young Saudi visionary rose to the occasion and started a paradigm shift in the work culture and tradition of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In this issue, Top 10 of Asia gets to speak with the young and inspiring Khalid Alkhudair, who through Glowork.net – a niche website he launched, has been empowering women across the Kingdom to take their rightful place in the workforce.
When Khalid Alkhudair came back to his home country after graduating from Saint Mary’s University, Canada in 2007, things for him were going way better than what he thought. His success in his first company KPMG, one of the world’s most prestigious leaders in professional services, had put him in good stead to eventually become one of the top success stories in his country.
However, Alkhudair’s achievement in his career made him realise that everyone’s life is affected by the job market in one way or another, especially in Saudi Arabia. His family members (sister and wife) had issues when it came to finding job opportunities that match their skills. Their predicament, which is also faced by the rest of the nation’s female population, propelled him to look for a solution. It came to fruition when he went on to launch, Glowork.net, a website that aims to bring empowerment to women and to increase diversity in the Saudi workforce. It is the first website and initiative dedicated to female recruitment in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, creating equal opportunities for women in the region. “It means a lot to me when I know that I am helping them and their families grow, having secure incomes to build stable households,” says Alkhudair.
In early 2012, Glowork came up with a great innovation tool that paved the way for women to be integrated into in the nation’s workforce. Its ‘virtual office’solution opened up thousands of job opportunities for women in rural areas and also for those with disabilities and special needs throughout the Kingdom.Its efforts won recognition from the United Nations and the World Bank for the best innovative solution for job creation.Alkhudair attributes this achievement to the collective passion of everyone at Glowork for creating a better world for Saudi women. “Glowork is run entirely by females,” says Alkhudair. “They have truly put in 10 years’ worth of effort in the past two years,” he adds with a sense of pride.
When asked about his management and leadership style, the founder of Glowork says that he likes to maintain an open door policy and regard his employees as valued partners in his journey to achieve success. “It is important to listen to what others in the team have to say especially when it comes to making key business decisions,” Alkhudairstresses.He strongly believes that the people working in Glowork are role models and the outside world would look up to Glowork for good solutions. “I empower them to take control of the business at hand and to move ahead confidently,” he says. “I help them to see their worth and contribution to the business right from the start to the completion of a project and this means a lot to them.”
As the global business environment becomes more challenging, especially so for women, Glowork has taken to looking at the Kingdom’s current legal framework and to working alongside the Saudi government to come up with more suitable and conducive legislation to enable women to participate effectively in the workforce. “The Ministry of Labour and the Saudi government have put in laws that will create some 400,000 jobs for women in the next three years in the retail industry alone,” reveals Alkhudair. “Another law requires organisations having over 50 female employees to have a nursery in place in the same building,” he says. “Glowork is proud to have played a role in this positive transformation process.”
Recently, Glowork has entered into a Private-Public Partnership with the Ministry of Labour which allows it to have access to the government’s database on the nation’s unemployed women where it gets compensated when they are successfully placed in the job market.
Starting a business that aims to empower women in Saudi Arabia is undeniably a rocky path. Glowork has to contend with major obstacles stemming from the cultural and traditional mindset of Saudi society. In a country (the only one in the world) where women are not allowed to drive, the prospect of them working has been reduced substantially. “What we did was to take a long hard look at whatever obstacle that may present itself and then turn it into an opportunity that we can seize upon,” says Alkhudair. “And that has made us stand out,” he adds.
Alkhudair laments the fact that the concept of social entrepreneurship is yet to be understood in his part of the world. “My vision was to turn one of the most difficult issues in my country into a success story so others may be encouraged to follow suit,” he says.“We started Glowork when we saw the need in the market for us to establish a sustainable enterprise that would have a huge desirable impact on our society and Glowork, being the social enterprise that it is, has been able to achieve that.”
Even with the sterling results that he has achieved today, Alkhudair humbly admits that kick-starting the business back then was no bed of roses, having to sustain a healthy balance between his professional and personal life. “You have to give your all to make sure the business is up and running. At times some 16 hours would be spent at the office. I’m blessed with an understanding wife who can be there for me when it comes to those uphill battles and struggles that one faces in a business start-up,” he says. “I believe that reaching this far is already an achievement in itself,” he adds.
This far-sighted social entrepreneur who was recently made the curator for the Global Shapers at the World Economic Forum, Riyadh’s Chapter sees it as a great opportunity for him. “I’ll be able to tap into a global network to share my story to the world on how a small start-up in Saudi Arabia has grown to become the great social entrepreneurship story in the Middle East,” says Alkhudair with a sense of excitement. In addition, he also became an Ashoka Fellow recently making him the first Saudi to have received this honour. “This has given me much inspiration and encouragement to continue striving to achieve more for myself and my country,” he says.
As for Glowork’s plans in the near future, Alkhudair looks to setting up complementary companies in the areas of training and development as well as starting up the first legal women’s fitness centre in the land. “The overall goal is to create a healthy work life balance for women for them to shine,” he explains.
Alkhudair is also hopeful that Glowork’s success in Saudi Arabia would be replicated throughout the region. “We believe that we have delivered a successful model which has helped changed several aspects of our daily lives and has raised the flag for women in our nation,” he says. “If it works in Saudi, it will work anywhere.”