H.H. Princess Abeer Al Saud is an international development professional with culture and heritage, peace-building, and NGOs expertise. She currently chairs The Sustainable Development Association (Talga), which aims to localise and culturalise the SDGs in Saudi Arabia in alignment with Vision 2030. Abeer is passionate about dedicating her lifetime to projects that will preserve and bring life back to endangered species, land and the planet. Additionally, Abeer is a multi-faceted creative inspired by her surroundings and what she calls her “Cosmic Desert” adventures in Saudi and throughout Arabia, she produces art on canvas utilising the available natural materials.
1. What is some of the best leadership advice you have been given/seen/read … or that you have to offer personally?
Personally, I am highly motivated, ambitious, focused, determined and a good communicator.
I would say the best way to lead is to stay true to yourself and remain authentic, even if it does not seem to be the natural way to be successful. As long as one’s values are aligned with their actions, a person will find inner peace along with professional accomplishments. One does not always have to be competitive in order to become a better person.
2. What do you believe is the biggest problem the globe and humanity is facing?
I believe that at the moment some of the biggest world challenges are COVID-19, the environment and peace.
Aside from the socio-economic-environmental current status quo, the real challenge isn’t the conditions but how we approach and address these situations. Today more than ever, we need to respond to these situations with speed, dynamism and innovation. These can be developed through introducing contextualized learning, using a comprehensive and detailed theory of change model, and having a better understanding of the ever-changing behavioural patterns of the current and new generations. Any sector has to be progressive in the sense whatever the industry is, it has to offer communities instant gratification.
3. What are you most proud of in your current work/project/life?
I have been privileged to start my career path close to the core of being involved with what truly matters to me. This includes volunteering in various community service causes, which taught me the value of economic independence.
I am mostly proud of the fact that I founded and currently chair a non profit organization called The Association for Sustainable Development (Talga), which focuses on localizing the SGDs in Saudi Arabia with the support of its valuable members and relevant stakeholders in alignment with Saudi Vision 2030.
”Talga” has very interesting origins. It’s naming stems from a tree in the Southwest region of the Kingdom, in the province of Asir, called “Ficus Vasta.” The species is native to Ethiopia, yet this particular tree iscalled ‘Talga,’ by the locals, which has has defeated all odds, and grown to be over a millennium old in the unsuitable climates for its plantation in Saudi Arabia. It has also become a gathering spot, where ideas and ambitions have been exchanged under its shades for generations.
Talga’s slogan: “A Tale of Sustainable Roots for the Future” reflects its commitment to systemic change, giving volume to the notion of sustainability, which lies at the core of our work and community. Reminiscent of the roots of a tree, the symbolism behind such a branding decision is grounded by human nature, which has always driven towards a thriving and prosperous future.
The social climate of today lays out an incredibly promising route for future generations since the number of socially responsible people and organizations grow each day. Sustainability is a value, which has never been more critical than it is today to create and maintain a prosperous future.
Talga’s purpose is to activate and accelerate the adoption of sustainable development practices and incubate initiatives aligned with sustainable development by societies. In this regard, Talga proudly celebrates its core values with the world, namely: Sustainability, Creativity, and Harmony. These are the driving force that helps to create a community, which inspires conscious action to a thriving future. Currently at Talga, we are working on aligning and localizing the UN Sustainable Development Goals with Saudi Vision 2030.
4. How different are the environmental issues facing Saudi Arabia compared to other parts of the world, and how do you go about making those issues visible?
Saudi Arabia is one of the 22 countries that contributed to drafting the United Nation’s “Our Common Future” report represented then by Dr. Saleh Al-Athel, which was published in 1987. Saudi was among the 22 countries that defined the term “Sustainable Development” in the 80s and which is still endorsed and used officially by the UN and the international community. This report is regarded today as the main source that established the ecosystem on the discourse over the importance on the MDGs, SDGs, environmental preservation and sustainability.
Today more than ever, we can argue that all countries are affected by environmental challenges. What makes Saudi Arabia unique in tackling the environmental challenges is their leading role to address the emissions challenge by introducing measurements to safeguard the planet and encouraging the international community to achieve ambitious climate goals.
Saudi introduced an initiative to the world that will allow world’s countries to adopt and promote technologies that match their transition paths through the 4Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Remove) while applying the concept of Circular Carbon Economy (CCE) that was officially introduced during Saudi’s presidency in the G20, which aims at managing emissions across the world, restoring the human-earth balance and harmonizing the carbon cycle to protect the planet.
Additionally, Saudi is building zero carbon cities, with the most recently announced project called “The Line”, a city that has the capacity of 1 million population, living in a “zero cars, zero streets, and zero carbon emissions” city located in NEOM alongside the red sea and surrounded by nature.
Furthermore, I would like to eco the words of an HB alumni in a previous cohort from “The Leadership Film”, where she emphasized on the importance of soil chemistry, biology and physics. This year’s theme for the World Soil Day by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is to “Keep Soil Alive, Protect Soil Biodiversity”.
This makes me wonder how often do we consider how connected is our health to the health of the soil.
In Saudi Arabia, specifically, the city of Al’Ula, which is known for the plantation of a rare breed of Moringa called, Arabian Moringa peregrina, there is a huge initiative towards protecting soil biodiversity.
Personally I find myself still using a phone that I had in my possession for more than ten years, which is the world’s first solar-powered phone, the Samsung Blue Earth one which is made from materials that are earth-friendly, recycled plastic called PCM, which is extracted from water bottles, helping to reduce fuel consumption and carbon emissions in the manufacturing process. The device, is free from harmful substances such as Brominated Flame Retardants, Beryllium and Phthalate.
Additionally, through the NPO I chair, “The Association of Sustainable Development” (Talga) I have partnered with a local NPO, the Environmental Development Association (Faseel) on a nation-wide project to plant trees to reduce the challenges of desertification.
I try to the best of my ability to reduce carbon and environmental footprint by buying from brands that use ecological innovative textiles and materials and encouraging conscious consumer behaviour, fair trade and supporting environmentally friendly products among my community and internationally. Last year, at talga, we hosted two Saudi young sisters based in London, Sakhaa and Thanaa Abdul, who are fashion experts and advocates of ethical fashion, under the initiative “talga talks”.
5. What do you hope your work will achieve? – What’s your big ‘if anything was possible’ goal that you’re working towards?
I would like to embark a life journey to continuously educate and better myself so I can play a pivotal role in my community, to my country and the world. I am a great believer in the United Nations organizations and through the UN I would like to have leading social and moral roles in world institutions that contributes to the betterment of peace, the environment and socio-economic conditions in a way that serves humanity, my country and the world at large.
6. What are some of the biggest challenges you faced when you began your peace-building educational initiatives?
I remember during that time that someone was telling me that it was absolutely useless for me to put my time and efforts into peace-building education training workshops and field work and that it would be much better to focus on academia instead since it required the same time and effort and the instant reward is higher.
I must admit, it truly required courage to embark on that journey, because it goes without saying, you are faced with a platonic dilemma between the viscera and the brain. The answer is, of course, you have to balance the two carefully. I am always reminded by what Martin Luther King Jr once said “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.”
It would be improper to dwell on the darkness that exists everywhere in the world. And yet, on the other hand, if no one decides to work in this field, then they are distorting reality by losing perspective and producing fairytales. Thus, we have to make that balance.
And on emotionally heavy days, I regain my sense of humour as a fuel to continue while reminding myself with a quote from Dr. Charles Habib “Man in the struggle for peace, if he is serious about it, if he really knows what it is all about, can only take his task with a sense of humor, even with a certain measure of cynicism.”
7. Please, share a few of your personal motivations, everyday life, and daily routines.
As someone who is an entirely organised person I usually stick to my routine hours of working. My interests are wide and varied from sailing to horseback riding, japanology and astro/quantum physics. I am a multifaceted creative and an avid reader in various topics. However, my personal motivations are in the service of my ambitions to work in social and moral organizations that serve humanity. The fuel in my being is energized by working and I enjoy the thrill of doing things that evoke my passion. Whenever I realize that my actions and beliefs change archaic routines, that stimulates me to move one. The ability to help at least one individual, either in Saudi Arabia or anywhere in the world, is enough for me to feel motivated to do more, changing the life of even one individual can lead to a chain-reaction of positive influences.
The world has to cooperate. We cannot reach the elimination of COVID without cooperation. The world is one basically. This also applies to cooperating in environment preservation. The biggest threat to the world after COVID is the environment. The only way to eliminate COVID, safeguard the environment and reach peace is through cooperation.
I want to conclude with the sentiment that our admiration and dependency on mother Earth is pancultural and is enshrined throughout all societies and it is our duty to practice stewardship and ensure that the wonders of our planet are passed onto future generations to come.