Time and Money for Love: China Brainstorms Ways to Boost Birth Rate

File photo: Indigenous Wayuu children are pictured near Manaure, in the department of La Guajira, Colombia on February 23, 2023.  (Photo by JOAQUIN SARMIENTO / AFP)
File photo: Indigenous Wayuu children are pictured near Manaure, in the department of La Guajira, Colombia on February 23, 2023. (Photo by JOAQUIN SARMIENTO / AFP)
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Time and Money for Love: China Brainstorms Ways to Boost Birth Rate

File photo: Indigenous Wayuu children are pictured near Manaure, in the department of La Guajira, Colombia on February 23, 2023.  (Photo by JOAQUIN SARMIENTO / AFP)
File photo: Indigenous Wayuu children are pictured near Manaure, in the department of La Guajira, Colombia on February 23, 2023. (Photo by JOAQUIN SARMIENTO / AFP)

Concerned by China’s shrinking population, political advisors to the government have come up with more than 20 recommendations to boost birth rates, though experts say the best they can do is to slow the population's decline.

China dug itself into a demographic hole largely through its one-child policy imposed between 1980 and 2015. Authorities raised the limit to three in 2021, but even during the stay at home COVID times couples have been reluctant to have babies, Reuters said.

Young people cite high childcare and education costs, low incomes, a feeble social safety net and gender inequalities, as discouraging factors.

The proposals to boost the birth rate, made at the annual meeting of China's People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) this month, range from subsidies for families raising their first child, rather than just the second and third, to expanding free public education and improving access to fertility treatments.

Experts took the sheer number of proposals as a positive sign that China was treating its ageing and declining demographics with urgency, after data showed the population shrinking for the first time in six decades last year.

"You cannot change the declining trend," said Xiujian Peng, senior research fellow at the Centre of Policy Studies at Victoria University in Australia. "But without any fertility encouragement policy then fertility will decline even further."

A motion by CPPCC member Jiang Shengnan that young people work only eight hours per day so they have time to "fall in love, get married and have children," was critical to ensure women are not overworked, Peng said.

Giving incentives to have a first child could encourage couples to have at least one child, she said. Many provinces currently only subsidize second and third children.

To help alleviate the pressure on young families, the National Health Commission (NHC) issued draft rules on Wednesday that would allow qualified individuals to run day care operations for a maximum of five children up to three-years old.

China's birth rate last year fell to 6.77 births per 1,000 people, from 7.52 births in 2021, the lowest on record.

Demographers warn China will get old before it gets rich, as its workforce shrinks and indebted local governments spend more on their elderly population.

Experts also praised a proposal to scrap all family planning measures, including the three children limit and the requirement for women to be legally married to register their children.

Arjan Gjonca, associate professor at London School of Economics, said financial incentives were not enough and policies focusing on gender equality and better employment rights for women would be likely to have more impact.

CPPCC proposals such as maternity leave paid by the government rather than the employer would help reduce discrimination against women, while increasing paternity leave removes a barrier for fathers in taking more parenting responsibilities, experts said.

Demographer Yi Fuxian remains skeptical whether any measures would have a significant impact by themselves, saying China needed a "paradigm revolution of its entire economy, society, politics and diplomacy to boost fertility." (Reporting by Farah Master, additional reporting by Albee Zhang; Editing by Marius Zaharia and Simon Cameron-Moore)



Arab Energy Fund Plans up to $1 bln for Decarbonization Technologies

Arab Energy Fund Plans up to $1 bln for Decarbonization Technologies
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Arab Energy Fund Plans up to $1 bln for Decarbonization Technologies

Arab Energy Fund Plans up to $1 bln for Decarbonization Technologies

The Arab Energy Fund, formerly known as APICORP, plans to invest up to $1 billion over the next five years in decarbonization technologies, the Middle East and North Africa-focused multilateral financial institution said on Monday.

The planned investment and new name are part of a five-year strategy to 2028 to support the regional energy transition towards net-zero goals. The announcement was made during the COP28 climate summit in Dubai, Reuters reported.

"Our strategy involves diversifying investments by championing technological advancements for enhanced energy efficiencies and driving sustained decarbonisation efforts," Chief Executive of the Arab Energy Fund Khalid Ali Al-Ruwaigh said in a statement.

The institution, which carries an investment grade credit rating from all the major ratings agencies, issued a five-year $750 million green bond after setting up a green bond framework in 2021. $610 million has so far been allocated to 11 regional projects.

Almost 20% of the institution's loan portfolio of $4.5 billion is currently for environmental and socially responsible initiatives, it said in the statement.


AstraZeneca Teams Up with AI Firm to Develop Cancer Drug

The offices of British-Swedish multinational pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca PLC in Macclesfield, England, on July 21, 2020. (Paul Ellis/AFP)
The offices of British-Swedish multinational pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca PLC in Macclesfield, England, on July 21, 2020. (Paul Ellis/AFP)
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AstraZeneca Teams Up with AI Firm to Develop Cancer Drug

The offices of British-Swedish multinational pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca PLC in Macclesfield, England, on July 21, 2020. (Paul Ellis/AFP)
The offices of British-Swedish multinational pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca PLC in Macclesfield, England, on July 21, 2020. (Paul Ellis/AFP)

Anglo-Swedish drug maker AstraZeneca has signed a deal worth up to $247 million with US artificial intelligence (AI) biologics firm Absci to design an antibody to fight cancer, the Financial Times reported on Sunday.

The collaboration aims to harness Absci's AI technology for large-scale protein analysis to find a viable oncology therapy, a leading focus of AstraZeneca, the report said. It did not say what kind of cancer they plan to target.

Absci and AstraZeneca did not immediately respond to a Reuters requests for comment.

The deal includes an upfront fee for Absci, research and development funding and milestone payments, as well as royalties on any product sales, the newspaper said.

Sean McClain, Absci’s founder and chief executive, was quoted as saying the application of engineering principles to drug discovery improved the potential of success and reduced time spent in development.

Absci applies generative artificial intelligence to design optimal drug candidates based on target affinity, safety, manufacturability and other traits.


Living in Green Spaces Could Slow Cell Aging, New Study Finds

Benjakitti Park in Bangkok in January, 2022. (Photo by Jack TAYLOR / AFP)
Benjakitti Park in Bangkok in January, 2022. (Photo by Jack TAYLOR / AFP)
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Living in Green Spaces Could Slow Cell Aging, New Study Finds

Benjakitti Park in Bangkok in January, 2022. (Photo by Jack TAYLOR / AFP)
Benjakitti Park in Bangkok in January, 2022. (Photo by Jack TAYLOR / AFP)

A new research indicates that exposure to parks, trees and other green spaces can slow the rates at which our cells age.

According to The Guardian, the study found that people who lived in neighborhoods with more green space had longer telomeres, which are associated with longer lives and slower aging.

Telomeres are structures that sit on the ends of each cell’s 46 chromosomes, like the plastic caps on shoelaces, and keep DNA from unraveling.

The longer a cell’s telomeres, the more times it can replicate. When telomeres become so short that cells can’t divide, the cells die.

The team looked at the medical records (that included measures of telomere lengths) of more than 7,800 people who participated in a national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey conducted between 1999 and 2002.

The researchers connected that information with census data to estimate the amount of green space in each person’s neighborhood. They found that a 5% increase in a neighborhood’s green space was associated with a 1% reduction in the aging of cells.

“The more green the area, the slower the cell aging,” said Aaron Hipp, a professor of parks, recreation and tourism management at North Carolina State and a co-author of the study.

“Research is now showing that where we live, what we are exposed to, how much we exercise, what we eat, each of these can impact the speed of telomeres degrading and again our aging process,” he added.

Many studies have shown that people living in greener neighborhoods have several health benefits, including lower levels of stress and cardiovascular disease.

Green space promotes physical activity and community interaction, which are both associated with better health outcomes. Neighborhoods with plenty of trees and greenery are also often cooler, more resistant to flooding and have lower rates of air pollution.


18,000 Students from 39 Countries Participate in World Artificial Intelligence Competition for Youth

Organized by the Saudi Data and AI Authority (SDAIA) in collaboration with KAUST, this global competition took place simultaneously in 39 countries, drawing over 18,000 students from public schools. SPA
Organized by the Saudi Data and AI Authority (SDAIA) in collaboration with KAUST, this global competition took place simultaneously in 39 countries, drawing over 18,000 students from public schools. SPA
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18,000 Students from 39 Countries Participate in World Artificial Intelligence Competition for Youth

Organized by the Saudi Data and AI Authority (SDAIA) in collaboration with KAUST, this global competition took place simultaneously in 39 countries, drawing over 18,000 students from public schools. SPA
Organized by the Saudi Data and AI Authority (SDAIA) in collaboration with KAUST, this global competition took place simultaneously in 39 countries, drawing over 18,000 students from public schools. SPA

The World Artificial Intelligence Competition for Youth (WAICY) was held at the headquarters of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia.

Organized by the Saudi Data and AI Authority (SDAIA) in collaboration with KAUST, this global competition took place simultaneously in 39 countries, drawing over 18,000 students from public schools.

ReadyAl CEO Roozbeh Aliabadi, Director of KAUST Academy Sultan Albarakati, and SDAIA representative Ahmed Al-Senan spoke at the opening ceremony, emphasizing the importance of the competition to fostering AI skills and knowledge among young people.

Each team had the opportunity to present its projects in a 15-minute presentation. Following that, Research Professor Dave Touretzky from Carnegie Mellon University delivered a lecture on teaching AI in K-12 education.

A tour of KAUST was also organized for teachers, coordinators and students, followed by a lecture on AI and education delivered by KAUST Instructional Assistant Professor Naeemullah Khan.

The first day concluded with a boat trip from the KAUST marina, providing a memorable experience for all participants.

WAICY is one of the largest global competitions; it was adopted by SDAIA to encourage the younger generation to take advantage of the power of AI. The competition aims to inspire students to develop AI projects that address real-world challenges, understand the AI significance and impact on various aspects of life, and encourage their participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.

The event attests to the commitment of SDAIA and KAUST to nurture young talent and promote AI education and innovation on a global scale.


Red Sea Int’l Film Festival Celebrates ‘Women in Cinema’ Once Again

Mohammed al-Turki and Nabilah Ebeid (RedSeaIFF)
Mohammed al-Turki and Nabilah Ebeid (RedSeaIFF)
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Red Sea Int’l Film Festival Celebrates ‘Women in Cinema’ Once Again

Mohammed al-Turki and Nabilah Ebeid (RedSeaIFF)
Mohammed al-Turki and Nabilah Ebeid (RedSeaIFF)

In celebration of female voices in film, the Red Sea International Film Festival (RedSeaIFF) hosted its annual “Women in Cinema” gathering in Saudi Arabia’s Jeddah on Friday.

The event included a large turnout of global stars such as Katrina Kaif, Naomi Campbell, and Sharon Stone.

The ceremony also witnessed the honoring of Egypt’s first screen icon, Nabila Ebeid.

The accolade presented to Ebeid marked a pinnacle in her achievements for the current year.

Ebeid, an artist who achieved unprecedented box office success in the eighties and nineties, received this recognition as a testament to her enduring impact on the film industry.

Moreover, Ebeid expressed profound joy at receiving this honor.

Despite confining her remarks to a brief thank-you on the platform, she joined her fellow actresses in what she dubbed a “dance of joy” during the event, which was enlivened by the performance of Lebanese singer Nancy Ajram.

Notable Arab figures, including cinematic icons such as Yousra, Yasmin Sabri, Amina Khalil, Nadine Njeim, and others attended the event.

The event, organized by the RedSeaIFF and Vanity Fair Europe, didn’t overlook the presence of these esteemed Arab personalities.

It is noteworthy that the annual event brings together key players in the heart of the film industry to celebrate the wise talents of women, both in front of and behind the camera, from around the globe.

The festival continues to support the film industry in addressing and finding solutions to global challenges through a robust year-round program dedicated to supporting Arab, Asian, and African women in cinema.

The aim is to enhance the professional lives of women working in the film industry, empowering a new generation of talented and creative storytellers.

The festival plays a crucial role in ensuring the widest possible audience for women’s stories and providing a platform to amplify their voices.


Royal Commission for AlUla Signs Partnership with Space for Giants Organization

The partnership aims to protect biodiversity in AlUla, reduce carbon emissions, and increase carbon storage capabilities in AlUla's natural reserves. (SPA)
The partnership aims to protect biodiversity in AlUla, reduce carbon emissions, and increase carbon storage capabilities in AlUla's natural reserves. (SPA)
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Royal Commission for AlUla Signs Partnership with Space for Giants Organization

The partnership aims to protect biodiversity in AlUla, reduce carbon emissions, and increase carbon storage capabilities in AlUla's natural reserves. (SPA)
The partnership aims to protect biodiversity in AlUla, reduce carbon emissions, and increase carbon storage capabilities in AlUla's natural reserves. (SPA)

The Royal Commission for AlUla Governorate (RCU) has partnered with Space for Giants, an organization specializing in environmental conservation.

The partnership aims to protect biodiversity in AlUla, reduce carbon emissions, and increase carbon storage capabilities in AlUla's natural reserves.

Over the next three years, the two parties will work together to design and implement joint activities focused on managing, protecting, and monitoring biodiversity and natural environments.

These efforts will align with international standards and support the goals of the Saudi Green Initiative and the Kingdom's Vision 2030.


Glasgow Airport Runway Open, Flights to Resume after Heavy Snow

02 December 2023, United Kingdom, Glasgow: Cars are covered with snow in a street in Glasgow. (dpa)
02 December 2023, United Kingdom, Glasgow: Cars are covered with snow in a street in Glasgow. (dpa)
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Glasgow Airport Runway Open, Flights to Resume after Heavy Snow

02 December 2023, United Kingdom, Glasgow: Cars are covered with snow in a street in Glasgow. (dpa)
02 December 2023, United Kingdom, Glasgow: Cars are covered with snow in a street in Glasgow. (dpa)

Glasgow Airport on Saturday said its runway was now fully operational and it would resume flights after planes were grounded earlier due to heavy snowfall.

"Our runway is now fully operational again and we are working with our airline partners and their handlers to resume flight schedules," Glasgow Airport said.

The Scottish airport had earlier said flight operations were suspended because of a combination of heavier than forecast snow and freezing conditions throughout the night and early morning.

Britain's Met Office issued a yellow weather warning for snow and ice across parts of northwest England and southern Scotland, with wintry showers expected to lead to some icy patches and snow cover in places.

Across Britain, some soccer matches and horse racing fixtures were amongst the events abandoned or suspended due to snow or unsafe playing surfaces.

Several Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL) matches due to be played on Saturday have been postponed, including a game between Livingston and Ross County because of a frozen pitch.

Newcastle Racecourse in northern England also abandoned Saturday's high-profile hurdle race fixture due to frozen ground.


Bolivia’s Indigenous Women Climbers Fear for Their Future as the Andean Glaciers Melt

Cholita climbers Suibel Gonzales, left, and her mother Lidia Huayllas descend the Huayna Potosi mountain, near El Alto, Bolivia, Sunday, Nov. 5, 2023. (AP)
Cholita climbers Suibel Gonzales, left, and her mother Lidia Huayllas descend the Huayna Potosi mountain, near El Alto, Bolivia, Sunday, Nov. 5, 2023. (AP)
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Bolivia’s Indigenous Women Climbers Fear for Their Future as the Andean Glaciers Melt

Cholita climbers Suibel Gonzales, left, and her mother Lidia Huayllas descend the Huayna Potosi mountain, near El Alto, Bolivia, Sunday, Nov. 5, 2023. (AP)
Cholita climbers Suibel Gonzales, left, and her mother Lidia Huayllas descend the Huayna Potosi mountain, near El Alto, Bolivia, Sunday, Nov. 5, 2023. (AP)

When they first started climbing the Andes peaks, they could hear the ice crunching under their crampons. These days, it’s the sound of melted water running beneath their feet that they mostly listen to as they make their ascents.

Dressed in colorful, multilayered skirts, a group of 20 Indigenous Bolivian women — known as the Cholita climbers — have been climbing the mountain range for the past eight years, working as tourist guides. But as the glaciers in the South American country retreat as a result of climate change, they worry about the future of their jobs.

The Aymara women remember a time when practically every spot on the glaciers was covered in snow, but now there are parts with nothing but rocks.

"There used to be a white blanket and now there is only rock," said Lidia Huayllas, one of the climbers. "The thaw is very noticeable."

Huayllas said she has seen the snow-capped Huayna Potosí mountain, a 6,000-meter (19,600-feet) peak near the Bolivian city of El Alto, shrink little by little in the past two decades.

"We used to walk normally; now, there are rocks and water overflowing," said the 57-year-old woman as she jumped from stone to stone to avoid getting her skirt and feet wet.

Edson Ramírez, a glaciologist from the Pierre and Marie Curie University in France, estimates that in the last 30 years, Bolivian glaciers have lost 40% of their thickness due to climate change. In the lower parts of the mountain, he says, the ice has basically vanished.

"We already lost Chacaltaya," said Ramírez, referring to a 5,400-meter (17,700-feet) mountain that used to be a popular ski resort and now has no ice left.

With no ice left in the lower parts of the mountain range, the Cholita climbers need to go further up to find it. This has reduced the number of tourists seeking their services as guides.

Huayllas would not say how much she makes as a tour guide, but she said a Cholita climber currently makes about $30 per tour. That is less than the $50 per tour they used to make.

In 2022, during the September-December climbing season, the Cholitas did 30 tours, Huayllas said. This year, through early November, they had barely done 16.

The situation has gotten so critical, the 20 women have looked for other jobs to make ends meet. Some of the Cholitas have started making and selling blankets and coats with alpaca wool from the Andes, Huayllas said.

"If this continues, we're going to have to work in commerce or do something else for a living," said Huayllas, although she quickly dismissed her own pessimistic thought, somehow hoping for a change: "No. This is our source of work."


Police Charge Director of Miss Nicaragua Pageant with Running ‘Beauty Queen Coup’ Plot

 Miss Nicaragua, Sheynnis Palacios, smiles after being crowned Miss Universe at the 72nd Miss Universe Beauty Pageant in San Salvador, El Salvador, Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023. (AP)
Miss Nicaragua, Sheynnis Palacios, smiles after being crowned Miss Universe at the 72nd Miss Universe Beauty Pageant in San Salvador, El Salvador, Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023. (AP)
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Police Charge Director of Miss Nicaragua Pageant with Running ‘Beauty Queen Coup’ Plot

 Miss Nicaragua, Sheynnis Palacios, smiles after being crowned Miss Universe at the 72nd Miss Universe Beauty Pageant in San Salvador, El Salvador, Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023. (AP)
Miss Nicaragua, Sheynnis Palacios, smiles after being crowned Miss Universe at the 72nd Miss Universe Beauty Pageant in San Salvador, El Salvador, Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023. (AP)

Nicaraguan police said Friday they want to arrest the director of the Miss Nicaragua pageant, accusing her of intentionally rigging contests so that anti-government beauty queens would win the pageants as part of a plot to overthrow the government.

The charges against pageant director Karen Celebertti would not be out of place in a vintage James Bond movie with a repressive, closed off government, coup-plotting claims, foreign agents and beauty queens.

It all started Nov. 18, when Miss Nicaragua, Nicaragua’s Sheynnis Palacios won the Miss Universe competition. The government of President Daniel Ortega briefly thought it had scored a rare public relations victory, calling her win a moment of “legitimate joy and pride.”

But the tone quickly soured the day after the win when it emerged that Palacios had posted photos of herself on Facebook participating in one of the mass anti-government protests in 2018.

The protests were violently repressed, and human rights officials say 355 people were killed by government forces. Ortega claimed the protests were an attempted coup with foreign backing, aiming for his overthrow. His opponents said Nicaraguans were protesting his increasingly repressive rule and seemingly endless urge to hold on to power.

A statement by the National Police claimed Celebertti “participated actively, on the internet and in the streets in the terrorist actions of a failed coup," an apparent reference to the 2018 protests.

Celebertti apparently slipped through the hands of police after she was reportedly denied permission to enter the country a few days ago. But some local media reported that her son and husband had been taken into custody.

Celebertti, her husband and son face charges of “treason to the motherland.” They have not spoken publicly about the charges against them.

Celebertti “remained in contact with the traitors, and offered to employ the franchises, platforms and spaces supposedly used to promote ‘innocent’ beauty pageants, in a conspiracy orchestrated to convert the contests into traps and political ambushes financed by foreign agents,” according to the statement.

It didn't help that many ordinary Nicaraguans — who are largely forbidden to protest or carry the national flag in marches — took advantage of the Miss Universe win as a rare opportunity to celebrate in the streets.

Their use of the blue-and-white national flag, as opposed to Ortega’s red-and-black Sandinista banner, further angered the government, who claimed the plotters “would take to the streets again in December, in a repeat of history's worst chapter of vileness.”

Just five days after Palacio's win, Vice President and First Lady Rosario Murillo was lashing out at opposition social media sites (many run from exile) that celebrated Palacios’ win as a victory for the opposition.

“In these days of a new victory, we are seeing the evil, terrorist commentators making a clumsy and insulting attempt to turn what should be a beautiful and well-deserved moment of pride into destructive coup-mongering,” Murillo said.

Ortega’s government seized and closed the Jesuit University of Central America in Nicaragua, which was a hub for 2018 protests against the Ortega regime, along with at least 26 other Nicaraguan universities.

The government has also outlawed or closed more than 3,000 civic groups and non-governmental organizations, arrested and expelled opponents, stripped them of their citizenship and confiscated their assets. Thousands have fled into exile.

Palacios, who became the first Nicaraguan to win Miss Universe, has not commented on the situation.

During the contest, Palacios, 23, said she wants to work to promote mental health after suffering debilitating bouts of anxiety herself. She also said she wants to work to close the salary gap between the genders.

But on a since-deleted Facebook account under her name, Palacios posted photos of herself at a protest, writing she had initially been afraid of participating. “I didn’t know whether to go, I was afraid of what might happen.”

Some who attended the march that day recall seeing the tall, striking Palacios there.


Saudi Space Agency, US Sierra Space Sign MoU to Develop National Capabilities in Space

The Saudi Space Agency (SSA) signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Sierra Space to exchange knowledge, skills and experiences in fields related to the space sector. (SPA)
The Saudi Space Agency (SSA) signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Sierra Space to exchange knowledge, skills and experiences in fields related to the space sector. (SPA)
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Saudi Space Agency, US Sierra Space Sign MoU to Develop National Capabilities in Space

The Saudi Space Agency (SSA) signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Sierra Space to exchange knowledge, skills and experiences in fields related to the space sector. (SPA)
The Saudi Space Agency (SSA) signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Sierra Space to exchange knowledge, skills and experiences in fields related to the space sector. (SPA)

The Saudi Space Agency (SSA) signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Sierra Space, a US leading company in the field of space technologies, to exchange knowledge, skills and experiences and develop national capabilities and competencies in fields related to the space sector and its technologies, SPA said on Saturday.
The move confirms SSA’s commitment to expanding its global partnerships in the area of space.
The memorandum was signed by SSA CEO, Dr. Mohammed bin Saud Al-Tamimi, and Sierra Space CEO, Tom Vice.
The signing ceremony was attended by the Saudi Minister of Communications and Information Technology and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the SSA, Eng. Abdullah bin Amer Al-Sawaha.
Sawaha heads the delegation of the digital economy, space and innovation system, which is on an official visit to the United States of America, to deepen and enhance partnerships in various areas of technology, space and innovation.
With this MoU and other memorandums, and agreements concluded with US parties specialized in space and its exploration, the SSA seeks to share its aspirations, develop and create specialized training programs for students and employees, which contributes to the growth of the local and global space sector, and building a sustainable future driven by innovation.