When Meta announced earlier this week that its second Metaverse Academy would cover the Middle East, and sit in Saudi Arabia, few were surprised.
The Middle East is embracing metaverse technology with passion and purpose, already using the emerging technology to develop some of the region’s biggest projects ((US$500 billion megacity NEOM project in Saudi), not to mention unveiling the world’s first government Metaverse Strategy (Dubai).
Saudi Arabia, along with the UAE, Bahrain and Qatar, already have regulations in place and programs encouraging the use of Web3 technologies – as Saudi (and the region) aims to diversify its economy in line with its Vision 2030 goals – and looks ambitiously ahead to billion-dollar metaverse returns.
And the returns on the metaverse economy in the region look promising.
According to a new Strategy& Middle East report potential contribution of the metaverse to the GCC economies could be around US$15bn annually by 2030, of which US$7.6bn would be in Saudi and US$3.3bn in the UAE.
Meta believes the regional returns are even higher. Fares Akkad, regional director for Meta in the MENA region told Ashaq Business last year that the metaverse is predicted to add US$360bn to the economy in the MENA and Turkey over the next decade.
Academy to equip students in skills to work in the metaverse
Little surprise then that they are getting in on the action locating the world’s second Metaverse Academy in the MENA region and specifically within the Arab world’s biggest economy – Saudi.
Scheduled to open in Riyadh this year and launched in partnership with Tuwaiq Academy and Simplon, a French digital skills provider, the Academy aims to both support and help accelerate the development of the regional metaverse ecosystem through training programs.
The Metaverse, based on Web3, is the online space where people, represented by avatars, can interact in virtual worlds.
The Academy plans to launch a series of programs from May 1 that will equip 1,000 students in the first 18 months with the necessary skills to pursue a career in the growing metaverse industry. Among the programs on offer are those in extended reality, as well as raising awareness of the emerging technology.
“Our mission is to provide access to world-class education and skill development opportunities to individuals across the region,” said Faisal Al Khamisi, chairman of the Tuwaiq Academy. “This partnership with Meta allows us to continue this mission and support the growth of the Metaverse ecosystem by training and empowering the next generation of metaverse builders and leaders,”
The academy comprises three tracks. The first is participation in a workshop, as an introduction to the metaverse. The second, online training to develop skills, and the third a professional training program providing the opportunity to find entry-level roles in the industry.
And like the inaugural Metaverse Academy, which launched in France in July last year with 100 students, diversity takes centre stage. Not only will female students make up 30% of the cohort but the program is available to all regardless of educational background.
MENA region to become key player in metaverse
In launching a Meta academy in the Middle East, Kojo Boakye, Meta’s VP of Public Policy for Africa, the Middle East and Turkey says the MENA region has all the assets to “become an essential player in the development of the metaverse” and embrace the benefits it will bring to the economy.
“The business landscape is already in high demand for skills and we are committed to collaborating with educational institutions and policymakers across the region to accelerate the development of the ecosystem and train the future builders of the metaverse.”
While Saudi, the UAE, Bahrain and Qatar, regulations in place, Kuwait has implemented guidelines to approve digital banks, while Oman is studying how to regulate cryptocurrencies and virtual assets.
Last year, the UAE government put in place its Dubai Metaverse Strategy, which aims to turn the Gulf city into one of the world’s top 10 metaverse economies as well as a global hub for the metaverse community with plans to create 40,000 jobs and add US$4bn to the emirate’s economy over the next five years.
The country has plans to launch a Virtual Economy Ministry in the metaverse and introduce a metric – “gross metaverse product’ – to showcase the future ways in which the technology will contribute to the economy, according to Minister of State for AI and the Digital Economy, Omar Al-Olama. And Dubai has also established the first Metaverse 8 incubator in the Middle East, to develop early-stage metaverse and Web3 applications.
The metaverse is already being used in the development and planning of some of Saudi Arabia’s biggest projects, like NEOM, a US$500bn megacity on the Red Sea. NEOM’s digital subsidiary has created a metaverse that allows people to be present in the virtual city and enjoy the experience as an avatar or a hologram.
According to Jad N Baoudi, Principal at Strategy& Middle East, there could metaverse tours of AlUla, Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, or fashion festivals, spas, wellness retreats, and entertainment and sports events. “Metaverse visits would inspire in-person travel,” he says, and later, “travellers could return through the metaverse to relive their experiences”.
That’s not the only reason why metaverse technology is being embraced by the country’s biggest projects. Speaking recently at the WEF in Davos, Saudi Minister of Communications and IT Abdullah Al-Swaha said that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had urged that all developments be tested in the “digital wotld first” before production begins, as this optimises planning and reduces erros and costs.
Metaverse a trillion-dollar opportunity globally
Globally, the metaverse is seen as an economic opportunity worth between US$8 trillion and US$13 trillion, according to PwC.
The first major bank to establish a presence in the metaverse, J.P. Morgan predicts that it alone will provide a markt opportunity of uS$1 trillion and is eying virtual real estate.
There are plenty of opportunities for enterprises to capture a share in this virtual industry, and increasingly, innovative business leaders across all industries are looking at how they can position themselves as crucial players in this emerging ecosystem.
Recent research by Accenture shows that growing consumer and business interest in the metaverse as a creator economy and tool to enhance day-to-day tasks is expected to fuel a US$1 trillion commerce opportunity by the end of 2025.
The findings indicate that not only do more than half (55%) of consumers want to be active users of the metaverse but that most C-suite executives (89%) believe the metaverse will have an important role in their organisation’s future growth.