• 33 Finalists, 11 each from Healthcare, Mobility, and Crowd Management themes, chosen from among 1,306 applications from 34 countries

Jeddah, Saudi Arabia – King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), alongside its strategic partners - the Makkah Cultural Forum, Ministry of Hajj and Umrah and Doyof Al Rahman Program (DARP) - today confirmed that 1,306 applications from 34 countries were submitted to the first edition of KAUST Challenge – Ideas and Solutions for Hajj and Umrah. The comprehensive multi-stage selection process, lasting over a month, resulted in shortlisting of 33 finalists.

KAUST also announced that six sponsors were selected for the Challenge. They include Johns Hopkins Aramco Healthcare (JHAH) for the healthcare theme, SAUDIA (formerly known as Saudi Arabian Airlines) and Saudi Railway Company (SAR) for the mobility theme, and Saudi Ground Services (SGS) for the crowd management theme. Microsoft was selected as the technology sponsor and Arab News as the media sponsor.

In line with Saudi Arabia’s national priorities and the objectives of Vision 2030, the first edition of the KAUST Challenge focused on improving the Hajj and Umrah experience for pilgrims from all over the world and on advancing efforts to make Makkah a smart city. The Challenge focused on three themes – healthcare, mobility, and crowd management, which were selected after extensive research on the most pressing pain points of Hajj & Umrah pilgrims. Eleven finalists from each theme were selected for the finalist pool.

An expert panel of 30+ judges, drawn from KAUST, DARP, and the sponsors, evaluated the ideas and solutions from the 33 shortlisted finalists to select the winners. The winners, who stand a chance to receive up to SAR 1.3 million in cash and other prizes, will be announced at the award ceremony to be held on 28th March 2021 at the Emarah Foyer in Jeddah. His Royal Highness Prince Khalid AlFaisal, Advisor to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and Governor of Makkah, along with Dr. Tony F Chan, President of KAUST and Dr. Najah Ashry, Vice President for Strategic National Advancement at KAUST, will be present at the award ceremony to award the winners.

Speaking on the success of the inaugural edition, Dr. Najah Ashry said: “We are proud that more than 1,300 innovators were inspired to submit applications to this first KAUST Challenge and that more than 300 of them are based in Saudi Arabia.  Many of the out-of-the-box hi-tech solutions that the applicants proposed are viable ideas that could enhance the experience of Hajj and Umrah pilgrims. The winning ideas and solutions will require cultivation across Saudi Arabia’s research-development-innovation ecosystem. By encouraging continued collaboration of the KAUST Challenge winners with ecosystem players in the Kingdom, we will ensure that the outcomes from the KAUST Challenge have real-world impact for the people for whom they are designed. “

She added: “We thank our strategic partners and sponsors for their continued support and dedication in making this first KAUST Challenge a true success. We hope to unlock the unique power of crowdsourcing to nurture and develop Saudi talent with future KAUST Challenges.”

For further information on the KAUST Challenge – Ideas and Solutions for Hajj & Umrah, please visit the Challenge’s dedicated website: www.challenge.kaust.edu.sa  



The KAUST Challenge seeks to draw on the participative power of crowdsourcing to nurture and develop Saudi talent. Its goal is to empower Saudi Arabia’s talented youth to devise ingenious solutions to crucial problems in the Kingdom. It inspires the nation’s young people to be the authors of our future and to engage them in an exciting initiative that contributes to the vibrant society and thriving economy in Saudi Arabia through talent development and transformational impact.


King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) advances science and technology through distinctive and collaborative research integrated with graduated education. Located on the Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia, KAUST conducts curiosity-driven and goal-oriented research to address global challenges related to food, water, energy and environment. Established in 2009, KAUST is a catalyst for innovation, economic development and social prosperity in Saudi Arabia and the world. The University currently educates and trains master’s and doctoral students, supported by an academic community of faculty members, post-doctoral fellows and research scientists. With over 100 nationalities working and living at KAUST, the University brings together people and ideas from all over the world.


Makkah Cultural Forum is an initiative and intellectual project in line with the comprehensive vision of Makkah Region, adopted by HRH Prince Khalid Al Faisal, Advisor to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, Governor of Makkah Region, of "Building Humanity for the Development of the Place" Strategy. This strategy prioritizes the importance of building up strong and faithful Saudis who can improve their homeland and promote the civilization of their country.

This year, the Makkah Cultural Forum is running under the theme ‘How to be a role model in the digital world’. It seeks to provide creative ideas to upgrade the level of digital solutions and their applications in the region, with the aim of nurturing initiatives that enhance the concept of role models in the digital world and raise the level of use of digital systems in cooperation and coordination between government, private and civil agencies in the region of Mecca.


The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah coordinates with the Saudi government and local authorities to manage and operate Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages, controls and regulates services through the development of systems, uses technology to increase the effectiveness of staff to serve pilgrims, and develops infrastructure works with a core focus on offering religious hospitality in compliance with the international standards.


Doyof Al Rahman Program (DARP) was launched under the umbrella of Saudi Vision 2030 to enhance the spiritual experience Hajj and Umrah pilgrims to reflect the true image of the Kingdom as it serves the Two Holy Mosques. This aim is attained by enlarging the absorptive capacity of the Hajj and Umrah ecosystem. DARP also works with success partners to develop and improve this ecosystem with the aim of becoming an enabler of the private sector. DARP is affiliated with the Council of Economic and Development Affairs and was launched by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques at Al Safa Palace in Makkah in May 2019.

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