Princess Lamia Bint Majed Al Saud is a force to be reckoned with. Over the years, the Saudi royal has earned her spot as one of the region’s most respected change makers, extending her efforts time and again to empower women, and to reshape the perception of the Arab world on a global scale. Her weapon of choice? Art, and the universal love for all things beautiful. Because if there’s one thing Princess Lamia is sure of, it’s that progress can only be made when individuals are encouraged to unite. “We cannot achieve positive outcomes working in silos. We can only achieve these when we work together, collaboratively moving toward the same vision, developing a sustainable economy for all,” she shared with Vogue Arabia in an exclusive conversation, on occasion of the International Day of Tolerance, which fell on November 16, 2021.
For Princess Lamia, tuning in to the voices and values of foreign cultures has always been a key factor in harboring acceptance among communities. “To progress, the world needs a profound transformation to a fair, transparent, and equal world. We must all become part of a new model in which we all thrive. This includes building cross-cultural bridges, actively tackling misconceptions and equipping the next generation with the tools to promote continued collaboration regardless of race, gender, or religion,” she elaborates. It was, in fact, in the midst of Covid-19 that Her Highness felt the need to double down on her efforts: “The pandemic shined a spotlight on the cracks within our communities, highlighting a dire need for tolerance.” Cue Alwaleed Philanthropies, the charitable and philanthropic organization of which Princess Lamia serves as Secretary General. “We collaborate with a range of philanthropic, government and educational organizations on projects and initiatives to build cross-cultural understanding,” the royal explains. “Our collaborations extend to establishing and supporting academic centers to forming alliances with global art institutions.” Going one step beyond art, the organization also allocated $30 million towards offering aid to 10 countries affected by the pandemic in 2020.
As the world slow steps out of the shadow of Covid, Princess Lamia has her hands full with more exciting projects that continue to elevate lives and build bridges across the world. “We have already launched the Multaka Project across Europe, in the Louvre Museum in Paris and in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin,” Her Highness says about the special initiative that trains refugees from Syria and Iraq to work as museum guides. “In both these esteemed institutions, we have seen art and culture ignite discussion between different communities and highlight similarities, enriching cultural understanding of staff, volunteers and museum visitors. This has widely impacted the quality of life of refugees and supported their integration into their new communities.” Now, Alwaleed Philanthropies has also donated £1 million to support the Multaka-Oxford refugee project at Oxford University’s History of Science Museum and Pitt Rivers Museum, to help refugees in Oxford and enhance cross-cultural understanding. In Her Highness’s words, Multaka-Oxford, which aims to support over 270 volunteers, “plays a pivotal role in strengthening cross-cultural understanding in society. Islamic art tells a story of our heritage, which can be often misunderstood. The Multaka-Oxford programme bridges gaps and brings museum collections to life.”
To celebrate Princess Lamia Bint Majed Al Saud’s latest endeavour, Vogue Arabia asks the royal to share her insights on art and literature, beliefs on women’s empowerment, and hopes for the future.
Vogue Arabia: How did your relationship with philanthropy begin? Growing up, who inspired you to walk this path?
At a very young age, my mother taught me the importance of uplifting the vulnerable and being the voice for the unheard. Raised with these values, I always felt a responsibility to use my influence for social good and have been a strong advocate for advancing the role of women through a wide range of fields, be that early on in my career as a published author or today, in my capacity as Secretary General of Alwaleed Philanthropies. The more I learn about the philanthropic field, the more I understand the dynamics of this industry and the best approach to paving the way for positive change.
As Secretary General of Alwaleed Philanthropies, you have put in incredible efforts towards empowering individuals, especially women. During your years as a philanthropist, have you seen a strong growth in tolerance among the people and communities you have worked with?
Prior to joining Alwaleed Philanthropies, I advocated for women empowerment across the region, especially in the publishing industry where I was exposed to so many inspiring stories. I recognized the need to shine the light on the achievements and challenges that were often unnoticed, and I wanted to be directly involved in supporting and mentoring the next generation. Media often portray Arab women in a manner that does not do justice to their instrumental role in developing sustainable economies across the globe. There are so many positive examples of Arab women in the Middle East, and equally, the Arab world is doing a lot to empower women. Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 changed the dynamics within the Kingdom, and thanks to the visionary leadership of HRH Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, Saudi Arabia took a giant step forward in empowering women, paving the way for a strong growth in tolerance among people. Women’s empowerment is one of the Foundation’s instrumental pillars. We are dedicating our efforts to offering training and employment programs, supporting female law graduates, empowering women in the government sector, encouraging female craftsmanship and raising awareness of women’s legal rights in Saudi Arabia and beyond.
How important do you think it is for the future of the UAE to bring understanding between different cultures in particular? What do you think is the special quality that makes the UAE a melting pot of different cultures?
Meaningful progress towards sustainable human development is achieved through measures celebrating our similarities and differences. It is through the UAE’s wealth of cultures and diversity that economic, social and intellectual development has been made possible. And the country’s particular commitment to tolerance continues to bring communities together. This imperative lies at the core of the country’s foundation and dates to the country’s inception, when late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan welcomed all cultures and religions and provided them with an ideal environment for coexistence. As the UAE’s 50th anniversary draws near, the country has a lot to celebrate having established a multicultural, multi-religious, multilingual nucleus of varied traditions while being home to expats from across the globe.
Speaking of the future, what is the one thing that you feel is absolutely imperative when it comes to raising the new generation? How can we encourage the youth to grow into a tolerant society, and come together beyond race, gender and religion?
The future of humanity lies in the hands of the youth, who will pass the torch to future generations. There are 1.8 billion people between the ages of 10-24—they are the largest generation of youth in history. Connected to each other like never before, young people are agents of change, mobilizing to advance the Sustainable Development Goals to improve the lives of people and build a fair and just world.
It is important to raise our children with values of global citizenship and give them the tools they need to address the most pressing challenges facing our planet. Young people can join advocacy groups and volunteer their time with local organizations that focus on challenges like climate change, gender equality, and access to education.
Empowering youth through volunteer programs can and will pave the way for a tolerant society, one that embraces differences. In March 2021, we partnered with the World Scout Foundation to encourage greater youth participation in community volunteering within the higher education sector with a view to achieve the SDG goals. The volunteering programme is the first in the Kingdom to build structured women and youth scout groups in Saudi universities and is in full support of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 goal of rallying one million individuals to volunteer every year.
How do you think digital platforms, events and exhibitions have helped create a feeling of oneness in the midst of isolation? As the world opens up post COVID, do you see art bringing cultures together in fresh, new ways?
The Covid-19 pandemic threatened the livelihood of the creative economy, having closed museums and cancelled concerts. Despite a year of uncertainty, art was sustained as artists around the world turned to art as an outlet to manage the mental cost of surviving the pandemic.
Saudi-based photographer and video artist Moath Alofi, for example, captured the loneliness and quiet despair brought on by the pandemic through a series of art pieces. One of his pieces, ‘Alliance’, shows junked cars, spread widely apart across a desert hillside to demonstrate his longing for travel. His piece titled ‘Float’, captures a solitary, unoccupied prayer rug lying on a wide desert expanse.
How powerful do you think is the impact of Islamic art exhibitions when it comes to breaking myths about the Middle East? Is there any one artist or an exhibition that you felt really broke the mould for our region?
Positive images of Islam are grossly underrepresented in the media. I see art as a veritable catalyst for social change. To change the narrative and build cross-cultural understanding, Alwaleed Philanthropies is building bridges by promoting intercultural and interfaith dialogue within Prince Alwaleed Academic Centres at leading universities across the world.
I am particularly pleased with the work of Afghan photographer Fatimah Hossaini. She has advocated for the rights of women and refugees on national and international platforms and has been instrumental in covering powerful stories on identity and femininity in Afghanistan.