Students from some of the best known universities in the world, including Harvard, Georgetown, Princeton and Oxford are just concluding a nine day trip to Saudi Arabia, as part of a new initiative launched by GatewayKSA.
The idea of GatewayKSA is to “open the door to the Kingdom, giving today’s best and brightest students the chance to experience every evolving powerhouse from a unique perspective.” Speaking to Arabia Now from Jeddah, GatewayKSA Founder and CEO Nelleke Quispel said, “The aim of this is ultimately to challenge their misconceptions through first hand experience. Allowing them to find their own truth through real world interaction and immersion with the local culture, people, religion and history. We don’t lead the students to think in any particular way, we want them to draw their own conclusions. We have a come and see for yourself type approach. It’s about creating synergies and building a community.”
Saudi Vision 2030 is putting a renewed emphasis on education and cross cultural dialog, the project is a partnership between Iyadine, and the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies. Iyadine is a strategic communications agency driven by millennials, that believe in the potential to create change and spark purpose driven movements through strategic communications initiatives. The King Faisal Center supports and develops research and studies in areas such as Islamic studies, sociology, politics and heritage.
Other universities who are currently involved in the program include Tufts, Kings College, Beijing University & Melbourne University, with each of them looking for an ongoing collaboration. In the first year GatewayKSA plans on including ten to twelve world class universities in the initial years to ensure a high calibre of students. The plan is then to spend a few months to approach a few more universities. Students to round out this number from partner organizations such as the US Arab Council are also included, with a long term plan to work with Think Tanks and organizations focused on scientific and technological progress.
During her interview with Arabia Now, GatewayKSA CEO Nelleke Quispel told Arabia Now, “There is an inherent self selection process taking place since we are only working with the world’s leading institutions. In April we open up applications online for these students which is much like a university application. A set of questions, a philosophical longer answer question and video interview. Other things we look at include their extracurricular participation, what they can contribute to the program and what they will take from the program, ensuring they remain involved and active with GatewayKSA and its projects long after they leave Saudi and return home.”
The broad program takes the student group to four places in the Kingdom: Riyadh, Jeddah Dammam and al Ula. The curriculum teaches them about six key areas including: Saudi Vision 2030; Oil; Renewables; religion; women’s evolving role; and terrorism. The emphasis on cultural context is also included as students get a historical background on everything from ancient Nabatean civilization to the founding of Islam and the Kingdom’s unification.
In today’s fast paced world, GatewayKSA is also working with digital media influencers who have a massive impact with their reach and millions of followers globally to emphasize their message and potential impact of this new program. Miss Quispel told Arabia Now, “We encourage as much interaction with their fellow peers at universities in the Kingdom, including with local families and higher level people as possible. The private delegations from specific faculties get a personalized program structured to their field of interest.”
The success of the GatewayKSA project will be collected throughout the student journey in order to produce tangible and measurable results. Looking ahead to how this will continue to evolve and have impact, CEO Quispel told Arabia Now, “We hope that the students participating in the program leave Saudi Arabia with great lifelong memories, a more positive perspective of the country, a desire to stay connected with what’s happening here, and long term – a less bias view, so that when one day they are in a position of influence or power they will have a foundation of knowledge to better equip them when making important decisions on anything related to Saudi Arabia and the Middle East in their future line of work.” It would seem they are off to a great start.