KAUST signs new partnership to enhance pilgrims experience in Makkah


King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) announced that the Makkah Cultural Forum, Ministry of Hajj and Umrah and Doyof Al Rahman Program (DARP) have signed on as strategic partners to the KAUST Challenge – Ideas and Solutions for Hajj and Umrah 2020. In line with Saudi Arabia’s national priorities and Vision 2030, the recently launched inaugural edition of the KAUST Challenge focuses on improving the Hajj and Umrah experience for pilgrims from all over the world and on advancing efforts to make Makkah a smart city.

Aimed at catalyzing research, innovation, economic development and social prosperity in Saudi Arabia through new crowdsourcing initiatives that invite local and international talent to propose science- and technology-based ideas and solutions, the KAUST Challenge – Ideas and Solutions for Hajj & Umrah 2020 features three themes – healthcare, mobility and crowd management. As strategic partners of the KAUST Challenge, the Makkah Cultural Forum, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah and DARP will send representatives to sit on an independent jury that will assess the submissions and will select the winning ideas and solutions for each theme and the overall winner of this first edition of the KAUST Challenge. Entrants compete for SAR 1 million in cash and other prizes.

In announcing the partnerships, Najah Ashry, Vice President for Strategic National Advancement at KAUST, said: “Today, we have forged strategic partnerships with three distinguished Saudi organizations to bolster the outcomes of the KAUST Challenge. We are confident that their expertise will support the Challenge in addressing national priorities of better serving the increasing number of Hajj and Umrah pilgrims and improving their experiences in the two holy cities. At KAUST, we seek to support bold science, technology and engineering initiatives that aim to transform the lives of Saudis and develop national talent. We are excited by the possibilities that crowdsourcing can provide – hi-tech advances that might spur creative ideas and quickly assist in solving old and new challenges that Hajj and Umrah pilgrims face.”

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“This partnership with KAUST creates a wide gateway for innovative ideas and creative research to come through,” said Dr. Amr Almaddah, Deputy Minister for Hajj and Umrah Services in the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah. “We hope that the winning ideas and solutions will create positive change in the Hajj and Umrah work and service ecosystem.”

“The partnership with King Abdullah University for Science and Technology, an international research university, will effectively help us to meet our objective of improving the level of services provided to Hajj and Umrah pilgrims, one of the key objectives of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030”, said Dr. Rami bin Abdul Rahim Kinsara, Chief Executive Officer of Doyof Al Rahman Program (DARP). “The KAUST Challenge, with its three themes, is directly related to our aspiration to create a transformative experience with sustainable economic and social value.”

The Challenge’s three main themes were selected based on recent research that identified key priorities for pilgrims today. The healthcare theme focuses on stepping up preventive measures and safeguarding the health and well-being of all pilgrims – a concern augmented by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, the mobility theme seeks to ensure adequate availability and access to public and private transport, and the crowd management theme explores ways to enhance infrastructure and meet capacity requirements for large crowds.

The KAUST Challenge, powered by Accenture, has received more than 1,300 applications. To gather valuable input from the Challenge, KAUST and its strategic partners targeted participation from a wide segment of local and international participants. A panel of expert judges, including members from the Makkah Cultural Forum, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, and DARP, will select one winning idea for each theme and award one grand prize for the best idea overall during a virtual finale, set to take place on an immersive platform in late February 2021.

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