Mourning a pioneer for women and for Saudi Arabia
LONDON: Saudi Arabia — and the world — has lost a pioneering figure for humanitarian, philanthropic and entrepreneurial activity, and a trailblazer for women’s empowerment. I am personally devastated at having lost a friend and abiding source of inspiration.
Just three weeks ago, I was with Princess Al-Bandari bint Abdul Rahman bin Faisal bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud and her exceptional, loving family. She was talking with her habitual enthusiasm about her recent trip to Tokyo and was preparing for the next visit to continue work toward Saudi Arabia hosting the G20 summit in 2020. My last memory of the princess is seeing her — passionate as always, with a huge grin on her face — sitting behind the wheel of her car. The pride she constantly radiated was not for herself, but for the achievements of a nation to which she devoted a life of service.
In just a few brief years, the status of Saudi women has been transformed beyond all imagination: Women are flooding into the workplace; are dominating higher education and studying in the best universities abroad; are enjoying unprecedented social freedoms; and are now in the driving seat. Princess Al-Bandari was a true role model for women’s academic achievement, having progressed from a degree in English literature to obtaining a master’s in public policy from Harvard.
She was, likewise, an unrivaled example for what women can aspire to; and the fulfillment gained from devoting one’s life to improving the wellbeing of others. Despite being one of the greatest achievers I have been blessed to spend time with, she was also one of the most modest. I always learned of her greatest achievements from others. It was forever a matter of what “we” are going to achieve next — never “I.”
Princess Al-Bandari followed in the footsteps of numerous outstanding women in her family, going back to her grandmother, Queen Effat, her aunts from her father and mother’s side, and, most notably, her mother, Princess Moudi bint Khaled, who is an outstanding figure in the Kingdom’s philanthropic initiatives and a devoted mother and grandmother. Princess Al-Bandari and her mother did much to prepare the ground for the revolutionary transformations in the status of Saudi women we are seeing today. The Kingdom would have been an immeasurably different and lesser place without their efforts. Princess Al-Bandari was elated to witness the Kingdom’s rapid progress, but she was forever telling me: “We are just getting started.”
Princess Al-Bandari was immensely proud of her royal heritage and felt a sense of personal responsibility for doing credit to the legacy of her grandfathers, King Faisal and King Khaled. She was one of the most driven and motivated figures I’ve ever met, being the CEO of the King Khaled Foundation (KKF), co-founder of the Shaghaf program (partnered with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) and a pivotal figure in the Al-Nahda Society for Women. I worked closely with Al-Nahda and the KKF, providing leadership and communications training. Princess Al-Bandari was passionate about bringing in expertise from abroad because she wanted Saudi organizations and institutions to set global standards. Second best was never good enough for Saudi Arabia.
Princess Al-Bandari touched the lives of millions of women and underprivileged families. Her example and memory will remain with us forever.
Given the Kingdom’s rapid pace of development over the past half-century, Princess Al-Bandari and her mother were devotedly focused on those who had been left behind. They launched ambitious programs to lift people out of poverty, through providing education and a sense of self-belief, ensuring that even the Kingdom’s most disadvantaged enjoyed an honorable standard of living and were able to contribute to the development of their country.
The KKF boasts an impressive portfolio of achievements across its mandate for furthering the Kingdom’s national development. This includes training and capacity-building programs; offering grants to nonprofit organizations; facilitating debates in the field of development; supporting projects for youth employability; and offering awards for social initiatives and outstanding nonprofit organizations. Until relatively recently, the issue of domestic violence was largely taboo in Saudi society; yet, in 2013, Princess Al-Bandari and the KKF launched the first anti-domestic abuse campaign in the Kingdom. As a result of her efforts, so many women who once only knew fear and misery, today enjoy hope and fulfillment.
Princess Al-Bandari played a pivotal role on behalf of Saudi Arabia in the “Women 20” and “Civil Society 20” networks through the G20 framework. She had been part of the Germany 2017, Argentina 2018 and Japan 2019 delegations, ahead of the Riyadh summit next year. She was full of enthusiasm at the progress being made and the opportunities for showcasing Saudi Arabia on the global stage.
Both Princess Al-Bandari and Princess Moudi are truly mothers for their nation, bringing tremendous energy, imagination and passion to every challenge they embarked on and using their prominence to open important social debates and make change happen.
Princess Al-Bandari leaves behind her two young daughters, Luluah and Hana, and devoted husband Fahd Al-Damer, along with her brother and sister, Prince Saud and Princess Sara. I am so sorry for their immense personal tragedy and for this untimely loss to the nation. Yet, for all of us who loved Princess Al-Bandari, her example and memory will remain with us forever. She touched the lives of millions of women and underprivileged families. I am proud and moved to have known her well, and add my voice to the multitude who are mourning her, as both a much-beloved friend and a beautiful human being. Al-Bandari, I will miss you forever.
• Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.