Meet Dr. Basma AlBuhairan…The Chief of Events Management at Saudi National Events Center

Vision 2030 is a bold and ambitious roadmap for Saudi Arabia: Says AlBuhairan

The National Events Center was established by a decision of the Council of Ministers on Rajab 15, 1441 AH corresponding to March 10, 2020, AD.

The Events Center aims to strengthen the events sector in the Kingdom, improve the services provided in this field, and support the Saudi seasons, in accordance with the directions and visions laid down by the Events Committee of the Council of Economic and Development Affairs.

LEADERS MENA magazine sat down with Dr. Basma AlBuhairan, the Chief of Events Management and Business Development at the National Events Center, to learn more about her in this interesting interview.

 First, please give us an overview of your academic and professional career?

I have a very rich academic background. 

This primarily stems from my childhood – the importance of education and knowledge have always been key not only to my development and growth but also to that of my siblings. This is because of my parents, who instilled a thirst for knowledge, education, and hard work in us, as well as the importance of taking on responsibility and ownership.  

My undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate studies are in the realm of healthcare. In addition to my Bachelor’s degree, I hold two Master’s degrees and a Ph.D. degree. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Clinical Laboratory Science from King Saud University. I have a Master’s Degree in Molecular Biology from Brown University in the United States of America. Furthermore, I have another Master in Public Health and a Doctorate of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Public Health and Health Services Research from the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom. 

Similarly, my professional career is also rich, in addition to being very diverse. I have held various roles throughout my career, in particular leadership roles, in both the public and private sectors.

Though, the greater part of my career has been in the government sector and healthcare, notably healthcare services. The experiences I have had broadened my horizons and allowed me to become more receptive, adaptive, and versatile.

Dr. Basma -AlBuhairan held many positions during her career. Please give us an overview of those positions, and what are the highlights of your busy career? 

I think traditionally, one’s career would normally be very much related to or in the area that one has studied or focused on during their studies. In my case, my studies laid the building blocks and foundation for my life-long learning. My ambition, perseverance, and personal development allowed me to apply those learnings to different situations, roles, and settings.  

When I started my career, though, I was and continue to be very driven and zealous, I never really thought about where this journey that I started would take me or unravel, nor how the experiences that I will gain will impact me. I have held some key roles throughout my career journey that I would like to share with you.

My professional journey started as a junior employee in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at King Abdulaziz Medical City, Riyadh which is under the Ministry of National Guard, Health Affairs. King Abdulaziz Medical City, Riyadh is a tertiary care hospital with more than 1,000 beds that has state-of-the-art centers and technology providing an array of diverse healthcare services and diagnostics targeting very complex healthcare needs.  

Subsequently, I took on a leadership role in the Department of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine, where I was the Operations Administrator. This is a modern state-of-the-art fully automated clinical laboratory with more than fifteen specialties and subspecialties. In parallel to this, I was assigned as the Interim Operations Administrator for the Department of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine at the National Guard hospitals in AlAhsa and Dammam. Subsequently, I moved into broader healthcare services, where I was Assistant Deputy Executive Director in Medical Services also at King Abdulaziz Medical City, Riyadh.  

Thereafter, I joined IBM as a Healthcare Leader and a University Relations Leader; and in 2012, I joined King Abdullah University Hospital at Princess Nourah University, as Deputy CEO. After several years, I decided to leave healthcare services but still focus on healthcare, but in a completely different manner. Therefore, I joined the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA) as the Managing Director of the Healthcare and Life Sciences Sector. I later transitioned into an advisory role for HE the Governor of SAGIA and in 2020, became an advisor to HE the Minister at the Ministry of Investment till the end of Quarter 1 2021. Just several months ago, I joined the National Events Center. 

My journey has been very interesting and inspiring. I managed to not only learn and develop throughout my career but also be resourceful and adaptable. I was able to acquire and apply new learnings and become much more globally connected. I have been fortunate to have had many highlights at various milestones throughout my career. I will share with you two highlights from my career and one that is personal to me.   

Firstly, for me, was having the ability, confidence, and belief in myself to grow and develop from a frontline staff member who started in a junior role and was very tactical in her approach, to someone who has become well-seasoned, experienced, and strategic.

Secondly, completing my Ph.D. in a short period. Undertaking a Ph.D. is a very significant, intensive, challenging, very often life-changing experience. At least, that is how it was for me. The emotions that one goes through are somewhat analogous to riding a roller coaster.  

Nevertheless, I completed my Ph.D. in less than 3 years and successfully defended my thesis as I had written it, without the need to make any modifications or amendments.  

And finally, my knowledge and experience have gone beyond the domain of healthcare, and I have managed to have not only a more holistic understanding of various areas but be able to transition into another completely different industry, than the one that I had focused on for many years. Let me put this into perspective for you. I recently transitioned into the Entertainment Industry, yet my background and experience have been primarily in healthcare. Though, many people have found this awkward and instantly say that both fields have nothing in common; and how and why did I make this dramatic shift. 

I’d like to start by saying that entertainment fosters culture; promotes innovation, ingenuity, and talent; relieves stress, and most importantly, brings blissfulness to everyone. It lights up our lives and improves our frame of mind and emotions. It provides us with an opportunity to de-stress and unwind and prepare our minds for recovery. This, in turn, impacts our health and well-being. And secondly, the vast experience I have has allowed me to further develop and refine my leadership skills, as well as acquire many skills, competencies and learnings over the years. These, essentially, can be applied in any sector. 

What is the lessons Dr. Basma AlBuhairan has learned throughout her career?  

There are so many lifelong lessons that I have learned throughout my career. I’d like to share with you four important lessons I’ve learned.

The first lesson is the importance of being true to myself. Being true to myself has allowed me to be completely honest with what I feel and deeply value, as well as ensure that my values continue to drive me and the decisions I make. It has also allowed me to be more reflective and cultivate a greater awareness of myself.  

In turn, this has enabled me to express myself authentically.

The second lesson is allowing my curiosity to lead the way. Being curious and inquisitive has allowed me to be open, to explore new ideas, experiences, and possibilities. It has also allowed me to push and challenge myself, as well as be more accepting and receptive to others. Curiosity has fueled the growth for my personal development, which has impacted my career.

The third lesson is being vulnerable. I used to think that being vulnerable is a sign of weakness, and if I showed my vulnerability, people would look at me differently or label me. However, I have learned that vulnerability is a sign of bravery, which is a sign of strength. 

It takes courage to ask for help or to be truthful in saying what you know and more importantly, what you don’t know. 

I found the courage I have for modeling vulnerability has brought about greater respect. In the workplace, vulnerability creates a culture and environment of openness and collaboration.

Finally, having humility.

I have learned that humility is one of the most important attributes of growth. People tend to think that having humility is a sign of weakness and that one should boast and brag about themselves.

On the contrary, lacking humility means one is arrogant. Humility has been a real asset for my self-improvement. It has allowed me to be humble, help others who may need it, accept responsibility for my mistakes by apologizing, and compete and challenge myself.

What can you tell us about the National Events Center?

The Event Center was established by a decision of the Council of Ministers on March 10, 2020 and is located in the city of Riyadh.

 The Center enjoys legal personality, financial and administrative independence, and is organizationally linked to the Council of Economic and Development Affairs.

The National Center for Events seeks to:

Develop the events sector in the Kingdom to its fullest potential, in all its fields.

Stimulate the appropriate regulatory environment for the growth and enrichment of the sector in coordination with the executive authorities.

Improve the services provided to the events sector by building a homogeneous system among stakeholders.

Enhance integration in planning and implementation to achieve the optimum economic and social returns to ensure the sustainability of the sector.

Tell us about the Kingdom’s efforts to open up events’ horizons on a wide scale?

Vision 2030 is a bold and ambitious roadmap for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It’s a vision unlike no other before and is focused on transforming the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia economically, culturally, and socially. As such, Vision 2030 has opened up many sectors and enabled the creation of an abundance of investment opportunities across diverse industries, one of which is the entertainment sector.  

One of the strategic objectives of Vision 2030 is to have a vibrant society with fulfilling lives. Part and parcel of this is entertainment and culture, as they are considered to be indispensable to our quality of life. One of the goals of Vision 2030 is to increase household spending on cultural and entertainment activities inside the Kingdom from 2.9% to 6%. To achieve this aspiration, and to ensure that we establish, develop, promote and diversify the entertainment industry and its opportunities, the General Entertainment Authority was established in 2016.  

The Saudi government is playing a central role in supporting the growth of this important sector through the implementation of some key initiatives and regulations. Therefore, the ambitions for this sector are very high in various aspects such as creating employment opportunities and diversifying the Kingdom’s economy. Over the past few years, many aspects of the entertainment sector were being addressed such as setting the institutional foundation for entertainment and providing diverse offerings in entertainment. In the past 5 years, we have had, for example, more than 2500 entertainment events and have received more than 75 million entertainment event visitors. We have seen an increase in the number of entertainment venues from 154 in 2017 to 277 in 2020. If we take live entertainment as an example, consumer spending in 2020 was SAR 2.5 Billion and it is projected to grow 4.6 times by 2030. In conclusion, the entertainment sector is expected to be a key driver for driving economic growth in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

What do you think about empowering Saudi women and opening up horizons for them in all fields, to conquer them and establish themselves?

In the Kingdom, women represent about half of our population. Further, about 55.8% of our university graduates in Saudi Arabia are women. We recognize that women are an asset to our nation, which we need to leverage.  

Vision 2030 recognizes that a modern, successful nation must encourage and empower all members of society, including women. To that end, many sectors that did not allow women to be employed have been opened up, for example, all public sectors (from military to passport control to the traffic department), retail, hospitality, aviation, etc. Therefore, women are seizing a variety of opportunities in higher education, government, the private sector, and most importantly in leadership.

Women have been and continue to be a remarkable driving force that is contributing to the Saudi labor market and this is evident in the growth in women employment that has been witnessed across all industries. 

Although Vision 2030 set out a commitment to increase women’s participation in the workforce (to 30%); however, this target has already been exceeded. Women’s participation in the labor market increased from 21% in 2017 to 33.6%  end of the first quarter of 2021.

Furthermore, women’s rights have grown and expanded under the leadership of His Majesty King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, and His Royal Highness Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. As a result, Saudi women are more engaged than ever in society, government, and business. This has been possible due to significant measures that have been implemented aimed at expanding women’s economic inclusion by addressing various laws that expand women’s rights and address issues of travel, employment, and finance. 

I, as a Saudi woman, am very proud of the horizons that have opened up to me and my fellow women. We are very honored and proud to be a part of the economic, social, and cultural changes that will pave the way for future generations to come.I hope to continue contributing to the accomplishments of my country and continue being a mentor to the next generation. I truly believe that the best is yet to come for us women.

One last word you would advise Saudi women?

First and foremost, you should be very proud to be a Saudi woman. You should believe in yourself, have confidence, have perseverance, and know that you can make the impossible possible. 

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