TheFace: Princess Abeer S. Al-Saud, pioneer in international development and peacebuilding

TheFace: Princess Abeer S. Al-Saud, pioneer in international development and peacebuilding
Image for Princess Abeer S Alsaud with her grandfather Prince Meshari bin Saud Farharn Al Saud. (AN photo by Ziyad Alarfaj)
Updated 22 November 2019

TheFace: Princess Abeer S. Al-Saud, pioneer in international development and peacebuilding

TheFace: Princess Abeer S. Al-Saud, pioneer in international development and peacebuilding
  • Princess Abeer is the founder and chairwoman of Talga, an NGO, a think tank and bookstore specializing in development books
  • She spearheaded a peace-building unit in Saudi Arabia by training more than 80 Saudi professionals from 16 ministries

I was raised in a family that encourages intellectual pursuit and a love for culture and arts. Most notably, I have a very close relationship with my grandfather, Prince Meshari bin Saud bin Nasser bin Farhan Al-Saud, who is one of the most influential people in my life.

Ever since I was a child, I spent a lot of time listening attentively to the stories my grandfather passionately recounted. He mostly spoke about the history and ancient glory of Diriyah, the hometown of my ancestors and his birthplace, Saudi Arabia.

To my grandfather, our history, identity and culture are our most valuable treasures. The regular intergenerational dialogue between us made me recognize the importance of appreciating the past while at the same time looking forward to the future and also understand the importance of adapting to modernity instead of adopting it, and this, in my opinion, is what makes the Kingdom’s approach to modernity and the future unique.

My close relationship with my grandfather planted the seeds to my never-ending pursuit of knowledge in a wide range of topics. I was always fascinated by one of his personal endeavors in life, which led him to have a very profound and rare collection of letters, pictures and books in his personal archives.

After graduating from high school, I took a gap year to explore and pursue my passions and took a journey of self-discovery to Southeast Asia.

While touring the Mekong Delta from Saigon to the remote island of Phu Quoc, I witnessed true poverty in floating villages. However, where there was poverty, there were also vast untouched opportunities — the local villagers were unknowingly entrepreneurs; they were skilled craftsmen building handicrafts and the region was abundant with untapped resources and inactivated industries.

With proper training, a system would be established and the villagers could catalyze economic growth by exporting products and beautifying local services. I understood that poverty is not the only challenge standing in the face of progress and socioeconomic improvement, but one of many related problems.

My visit to Vietnam catalyzed my interest in sustainable development. I became interested in creating innovative, culturally relevant sustainable solutions. At first, I wanted to understand how to create sustainable socioeconomic growth, how public-private partnerships worked and how multilaterals impact the developing world. I had a lot of questions but few answers.

I came to understand that poverty, lack of financial support and minimal adequate mentorship stand in the way of progression. In developed countries, consumerism that is not balanced with production prevents sustainable progress. Achieving truly sustainable socioeconomic progress anywhere is more complex than applying small projects or initiatives. Our shared efforts to bring good to our societies and contribute to development is best achieved through a system of moral responsibility, which I believe is the building block for anything that is truly sustainable. 

To apply a comprehensive model for sustainable goals we must adopt moral responsibility as the main infrastructure, apply an integrated approach and promote inclusive communities.  

An integrated approach that covers development aspects with all its dimensions — from social needs and cultural beliefs to moral conceptions and modern-day demands — is essential for harvesting a fertile soil. This will ensure that our objectives, which will be achieved by establishing positively inclusive communities, will thrive and bloom as long as the essential elements were present when the seeds were planted.

I have a bachelor’s degree in life sciences with a focus on Neuroaesthetics from a joined program from Al-Faisal University/University College London (UCL).

My undergraduate work is why my interests are combined with aesthetics, literature, architecture and art. I collect Indochina art.

I am also currently a part-time master’s student at SOAS studying international development.

Aside from academia, I love sailing and horses.

I am currently a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) seconded peace-building advisor to Ambassador Mohammed Al-Jaber. I have been working on peace-building since 2016 at the GCC Secretariat. I have been the technical lead for the GCC-UK Manama Summit and was a member of the communique drafting committee. I also managed technical bilateral relations with European countries and was the lead on the GCC-UK Strategic Partnership, working on all areas of cooperation from security and defence, to trade and investment, cultures and art, where during my posting I successfully created an ecosystem for proper usage of development funds in the GCC region by encouraging the participation and adherence to international benchmarks of development. I also endorsed the UN Security Council’s “Call of Action to End Modern Slavery,” which Saudi Arabia is among the few countries to have endorsed.

As part of my current job as a peace-building policy and advocacy lead, I spearheaded and led a nationwide stabilization initiative that aims to establish the ecosystem of this field to Saudi civil servants at a national level through building the capacities of more than 80 local development professionals from 16 ministries. Seventy percent of the participants were youths and 40 percent were women — achieving UN Security Council Resolution 1325 and the Women, Peace and Security Agenda. This is done through educational workshops with development agencies like the US Agency for International Development, the UK’s Department for International Development, Germany’s Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit, the UN Development Programme and Japan International Cooperation Agency.

So far I planned and executed two intensive, five-day Saudi-US workshops on stabilization and a three-day intensive Saudi-UK workshop on peace-building that was attended by more than 80 people from within 16 ministries across Saudi Arabia. In addition, I have delivered a training of trainers deep-dive workshop on stabilization with the US and the UK, where a key Saudi cadre was selected to train Saudis in the future, hence localizing and sustaining the knowledge.

I am also a member of the C2 and W20 2020 drafting committee and actively involved in the civil society sector. 

Aside from professional work, and driven by the desire to make communities, countries and environments better, I founded Talga. It is a non-governmental organization, a creative think tank and an independent bookstore specializing in development. Talga is the local name for the resilient Fiscus Vasta tree located in the Emirate of Asir region. It lived for more than 1,500 years under harsh conditions, representing one of our main values: To encourage our community to thrive and not merely survive. Its objective is to create a platform for development where different programs are designed to encourage the vibrant Saudi youth to take on impactful initiatives in their communities, planting seeds of fruitful gardens. We also have the ambition to serve the ecosystem of the third sector in the Kingdom. This is done by partnerships and improving the performance of the already existing providers and introducing a new innovative and integrated approach to development.

In my work, and through Talga, we aspire to maximize our contributions to achieving sustainable impact and address the growing complex challenges we face by encouraging philanthropies, NGOs, corporations and governments to bridge the wide gap between innovation experts and thinkers, to achieve practical solutions. Imagine how much more would be achieved if the enormous potential was unlocked and if each one of us acted now upon our diverse personal interests. Yes, we will face challenges, but Saudis’ resilience towards betterment always prevails, and with that, I want to quote Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman: “The young Saudis’ ambition is like Mount Twaiq, and it’s unbreakable unless it’s leveled to the ground.”

I want to emphasize the importance of the butterfly effect and aspiring to do an impactful initiative regardless of the number of people you will reach. Changing the life of one person has a ripple effect on impacting the world.

I want to conclude with a Qu’ranic verse that reads: “That man can have nothing but what he strives for; That (the fruit of) his striving will soon come in sight.” (verses 39 and 40 from Surat An-Najm).