The achievements of the iThra Knowledge Program demonstrate Saudi Aramco’s ambition to be more than just a leader in the oil and gas field.
The program’s success may be evident by the impressive number of visitors, but the buzz it has generated in the capital city recently shows Saudi Aramco’s support of the Kingdom’s efforts to become a knowledge-based society.
“The program was the talk of the town,” Khalid A. Al-Falih, president and CEO, said to iThra Knowledge Program organizers and members of management in Riyadh on Tuesday. Al-Falih noted, however, that the program is connecting not only on a local level, but on a national level and beyond, too.
The conclusion of the program in Riyadh on Aug. 29 marked the fourth city at which the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture has hosted the program, with previous stops in Dhahran, al-Hasa and Jiddah.
The CEO expressed pride in the role the iThra Knowledge team and volunteers played in making the event a success, noting that through such efforts, “We are living our values and sharing them with our community.”
Al-Falih noted that although community expectations continue to rise with every stop, the program team is not only meeting the challenge, but exceeding expectations. “It demonstrates that the company is not just a leader in the oil and gas field; it is also a leader in supporting the Kingdom’s drive toward a knowledge society.”
“The program offered a great deal of substance to our communities and families in a very innovative way. iThra shows the connection to our heritage and culture with a pride in our identity,” the CEO added.
More than 640,000 visitors managed to take part in the fourth stop of Saudi Aramco’s iThra Knowledge program in Riyadh last month. The total number of visitors to all four programs in Dhahran, Jiddah, al-Hasa and Riyadh has surpassed the two million mark.
Visitors reflected on the value of the program, which offered — through well thought of pavilions — an attractive and entertaining, educational program suitable for all family members. Praise was received from regular visitors as well as high level Saudi officials and members of the diplomatic community in Riyadh.
HH Prince Saud bin Abdullah bin Thunayan, chairman of the Royal Commission for Jubail and Yanbu said: “Saudi Aramco is giving the young generation a chance to be exposed to culture and innovation through this program.”
HE Abdullatif Al-Othman, Governor and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority, said, “The program embodies the concepts of knowledge and community service, as well as the idea of edutainment to transfer knowledge and information.”
U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Joseph W. Westphal thought the program should be permanent and travel around the world. “I think we need activities such as iThra Knowledge to be applied around the world,” he said. “We need such activities to challenge the creativity within people.” Westphal’s sentiments were echoed by many visiting ambassadors, including Turkish Ambassador Yunus Demirer and Canadian ambassador Thomas MacDonald, who said, “Everything in the program delighted and impressed me; and Saudi Aramco should be proud of it.”
The success of the program was due to the thoughtfulness that went into the selection of creative displays in all pavilions, which included the “Names of Allah,” “Energy Efficiency,” “1001 Inventions” “Tinkering Studio” and the “Traffic Safety Village.”
The Riyadh numbers alone speak louder than words. In social media, the program generated 250 million tweets and 65 million Facebook impressions. In traditional media, 107 TV reports, 65 press articles and 40 live radio interviews highlighted the monthlong event.
Perhaps Amani AlHawwas, mother of Layan, the youngest volunteer at iThra Knowledge-Riyadh, captures the excitement and value of Saudi Aramco’s Riyadh program the best: “Above all, volunteering here has taught Layan to depend on herself, and there is no doubt it has developed the scope of her comprehension and personal cognitive skills. But on a different level the professionalism exhibited by Saudi Aramco and attention by the supervisors of the volunteer program created an outstanding atmosphere unlike anything I have ever witnessed before.”
Speaking at this year’s Offshore Northern Seas (ONS) Conference and Exhibition, Khalid A. Al-Falih, Saudi Aramco president and CEO, addressed the challenges facing the industry and gave insights into Saudi Aramco’s strategy for turning these into opportunities.
Hosted this year by the Norwegian state-owned oil company, Statoil, ONS is one of the key industry exhibitions and conferences for the offshore oil and gas industry. The biennial event attracts more than 1,000 exhibitors and more than 50,000 visitors and provides a platform for the presentation of the political, economic and technological issues involving the international oil and gas industry, as well as showcasing the latest innovations within the industry.
In his speech, Al-Falih outlined some of the chief challenges that major producers such as Saudi Aramco face, including rising project costs, critical manpower shortages, global economic weakness and political turmoil in many oil producing regions, including Africa, the Middle East and the former Soviet Union. These challenges must be faced with “prudent caution,” Al-Falih said, focusing on long-term strategies for meeting the growing global need for energy and enhancing “our industry’s resilience to the kinds of shocks, surprises and difficulties” the industry currently faces.
The industry’s greatest challenge, Al-Falih said, is meeting its primary purpose of supplying energy to the world, where global energy demand is set to grow by more than a third from the current level. To do that, “our industry will need to add close to 40 million barrels per day of new capacity in the next two decades,” Al-Falih said. “To put that figure into perspective, that’s equivalent to approximately 30 Norways or 15 times America’s current unconventional oil production.”
Khalid A. Al-Falih, Saudi Aramco President and CEO
“We are convinced that innovation and cutting-edge technology are the key strategic enablers of our current success and future competitiveness, which is why we are tripling our R&D manpower and increasing our R&D funding five-fold.”
Saudi Aramco’s strategy for meeting that growing demand is to invest $40 billion a year over the next decade to keep steady the company’s maximum sustained oil production capacity at its current 12 million barrels a day level, in addition to doubling its current gas production levels. Much of this capital will go into offshore projects, Al-Falih said, both in large-scale projects similar to its Manifa project in the Arabian Gulf, and more recent offshore exploration in the Red Sea and Midyan fields.
“Each company, naturally, will choose its own course, given its unique capabilities and objectives,” Al-Falih said. “At Saudi Aramco, we have realized the major shifts in our landscape and have undertaken a transformative and comprehensive change process that leverages innovation and technology, talent, agility and resilience, and our business investments and portfolio expansion, in addition to strengthening our proactive role in the broader development of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
“We are convinced that innovation and cutting-edge technology are the key strategic enablers of our current success and future competitiveness, which is why we are tripling our R&D manpower and increasing our R&D funding five-fold,” Al-Falih said. By setting a company goal of becoming leaders in technological innovation in a dozen domains, Saudi Aramco is on target for increasing its oil recovery to 70 percent, allowing it to add more than 100 billion barrels of oil resources to its already large portfolio. Al-Falih also pointed to major advancements in drilling, which is vital to realizing Saudi Arabia’s significant unconventional gas potential.
The CEO also emphasized that the company continues to diversify across the value chain and increase its global footprint. “Even as other companies are retrenching, we will be investing to build a vertically and horizontally integrated, top-tier refining, marketing, petrochemicals, lubes and power business — with much of that expansion coming in the form of joint ventures with other leading global firms at home and abroad,” Al-Falih said.
Read Al-Falih’s speech at the ONS 2014.
The hundreds of little visitors to the first-ever LEGO zone at Saudi Aramco’s popular iThra Knowledge Program include at least one young builder with an innate talent for model construction.
Fahad Al-Mughaiseeb, 12, tried out the Lego area at the start of the Riyadh program in early August and has since become a regular, constructing impressive models of famous and complex buildings, including the Al Faisaliah Tower and a large Riyadh mosque.
The child-friendly area of the 157,627 square-foot, Riyadh International Convention and Exhibition Center was designed for free play with LEGO blocks, figures and shapes. LEGO, with its famous brightly-colored interlocking plastic bricks, is thought to help develop cognitive skills and enhance creative abilities through free play, an important element of childhood sensory development.
Fahad says the hands-on LEGO zone helped him discover a hidden talent for free-form building with blocks.
“My mother continued to support me during all this period and brought me to the exhibit every day; she encouraged me during my work, and got me a few kits of LEGO cubes in order to continue using them at home,” said Fahad.
The program’s LEGO corner is designed to resemble the city of Riyadh itself, and offers separate sections for children above and below five years of age.
A 2 x 4 meter platform allows young people to build models, towers and imaginary creatures in an atmosphere that is both entertaining and free from distractions.
The family-friendly Riyadh program, which came to an end on August 29, drew a total of 640,747 visitors over the course of four weeks.
Serving as a stunning showcase for talents from across the Kingdom and around the globe, the Ithra Knowledge Program is one of the most successful outreach programs in Saudi Aramco’s history.
Developed in conjunction with Saudi Aramco’s King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, the program has already welcomed more than 2.1 million visitors Kingdom-wide in the space of 10 months, at shows in Dhahran, Al Hasa, Jiddah, and now Riyadh.
Diplomats and VIPs representing dozens of countries have had high praise for Saudi Aramco’s iThra Knowledge Program in Riyadh.
Special visitation groups had topped 1,700 in the final week of the program, with distinguished visitors, including Canadian Ambassador Thomas MacDonald, who applauded the program, now in its final week at the Riyadh International Convention and Exhibition Center.
“Everything in the program delighted and impressed me. Saudi Aramco should be proud of this program, especially the Energy Efficiency and Traffic Safety Pavilions. When I listened to the explanations they provided at these two pavilions, I found them very informative and essential for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
Turkish Ambassador Yunus Demirer also visited the Riyadh event and saw potential for an expanded outreach outside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: “I extend my congratulations to Saudi Aramco for this great accomplishment that demonstrates how the company has taken it upon itself to raise social responsibility topics in an educational and creative way,” he said.
“I think the program is too important to be just a permanently touring program without a specific time or place. I think this program could be useful in tours outside the Kingdom.”
His Excellency Abdullatif Bin Ahmed Al-Othman, Governor and Chairman of the Board of Directors of Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority, also paid tribute to the program during a recent visit.
“The program embodies the concepts of knowledge and community service as well as the idea of using edutainment to transfer knowledge and information,” said Al-Othman.
“iThra Knowledge is a holistic experience in which visitors learn something new from the moment they arrive, until they leave. I extend my thanks to the Saudi Aramco staff for their commendable efforts and outstanding work.”
The 500-plus hard-working male and female volunteers at the Riyadh program also received their share of accolades. Al-Othman added: “The program has skillfully engaged male and female volunteers and has excelled at crowd management and safety… Today we saw dedication at work. I was especially happy to see both male and female Saudi volunteers who presented an honorable image of the youth of this country through their manners and work ethic.
Honored visitors to the iThra Knowledge program also include: Dr. Joseph Westphal, Ambassador — U.S. Embassy; Jiro Kodera, Ambassador, Embassy of Japan; Laurens Westhoff, Ambassador for The Netherlands; Jaime Sergio Cerda, Argentina Ambassador; Kim Jin-Soo, South Korea Ambassador; Mohammed Sadiq Jaafar, South Africa Ambassador; Gloria Jean Castaño- Zafra, Cultural representative, the Philippine Embassy; Hemant Kotalwar, Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of India; and Tran Ngueyen Tuyen, Vietnam Ambassador.