JEDDAH: Government and business voices all too often dominate the discourse on what issues top the global agenda. That’s why the G20 created Civil Society 20 (C20) to ensure world leaders listen to the proposals and demands of nonprofits and non-governmental organizations making a difference at the grass roots..
More than 4,000 delegates from 109 countries are taking part in this year’s virtual summit, running from Oct. 6 to 10, to explore ways to protect the environment and promote social and economic development, human rights and the principle of “leaving no one behind.” They will also endorse the C20 communique of recommendations, which will be delivered to G20 leaders.
This year’s summit is co-chaired by Dania Khaled Al-Maeena, CEO of Aloula — the first nonprofit in Saudi Arabia that fights poverty through early intervention.
“I believe in sustainable development,” Al-Maeena told Arab News at the opening of the summit. “I believe in the saying ‘don’t give me a fish, teach me how to fish.’ … How to empower people in need and the underprivileged. Ensuring that we don’t leave anybody behind, especially those who don’t have a chance to experience or have quality education.”
Al-Maeena’s 17-year career has spanned a variety of programs and initiatives aimed at building the capacity of Saudi youth, enabling them to unlock their hidden potential. She is passionate about social work and giving back to the underprivileged segments of Saudi society, specifically the empowerment of women and youth.
“In most of my career I’ve worked with the youth and I believe in the power of the youth, and in investing in people, as they are the ones who will drive change. They’re the ones who are going to make a long-term difference in society,” she said.
Key to this is access to education and training. “I believe that we shouldn’t leave anybody behind. We need to focus on empowering the less fortunate. Everybody can (succeed) if they get the education and the skills they need to empower them. It is a long-term goal and an impactful goal that can make a difference to their lives and to the lives of their families,” she said.
Before taking the helm at Aloula, Al-Maeena headed the Zahra Breast Cancer Association and served as director of the Mini Jobs initiative at the Ministry of Labor and Social Development in Saudi Arabia. She is also a sports advocate and the co-founder of Riyadh United Women and Youth Sports Academy.
Her contributions to civil society have not gone unrewarded. Al-Maeena won the Sayidaty Award for social and humanitarian work in 2015 and the King Khaled nonprofit excellence award for 2018-2019.
For her achievements, Al-Maeena was an obvious choice for the G20 hosts as co-chair of the C20 summit, accompanying this year’s chair, Princess Nouf bint Muhammad Al-Saud, trustee and CEO of the King Khalid Foundation.
“It’s been an amazing experience working with the international committee, the chair and our sherpas, because it’s a very collective way of working based on teamwork and transparency,” Al-Maeena said. “There’s no hidden agenda. Our agenda is to empower people and to safeguard the planet and I totally believe in these principles and that’s the way I’m working.”
Civil society organizations fulfil a function that cannot always be met by the public or private sectors. They provide expertise, hold governments accountable, and explain complex issues in lay terms. They provide balance so world leaders take decisions that reflect the interests of citizens and not just big business. They are also open to collaboration, offering innovative solutions tried and tested at a local level. This is Al-Maeena’s bread and butter.
“Civil society is not a government entity nor is it a business entity. It’s always focusing on the people first. It’s people before profit,” she said. “It’s always about making sure they care about the environment. I believe in all the principles of the C20.”
Among this year’s big talking points is the social impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disproportionately harmed the health and livelihoods of the world’s poorest. As this is a global crisis, Al-Maeena sees the C20 as the ideal platform to search for global solutions.
“As global citizens, not just as Saudi citizens, we are facing global challenges,” she said. “This year, I think it’s more and more evident with COVID-19 that everybody is facing the same problems: setbacks to education and healthcare systems, problems with the economy and jobs.”
Al-Maeena knows only too well what impact the pandemic has had on deprived communities in Saudi Arabia. Established in 1962 to support families in south Jeddah, Aloula has been at the forefront helping households cope with the biggest public-health challenge in the Kingdom’s history, assisting 4,000 people and more than 1,000 families in need.
“We as global citizens can come together at the same table and share the same principles and share the same concerns and try to come up with global solutions for these challenges,” Al-Maeena said.
Next year’s G20 summit will take place in Italy. What the C20 decides this week will carry over when Riyadh passes the baton to Rome.
“Every year after the summit there is a handover, so whatever Saudi Arabia is going to do, we are going to hand it over to Italy,” Al-Maeena said. “We will make sure to lay the groundwork because we need to keep up the momentum.”