Saudi social enterprise Pay It Forward seeks to make kindness contagious

Saudi social enterprise Pay It Forward seeks to make kindness contagious
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Volunteering and performing good deeds such as distributing food to needy households is at the heart of the Pay It Forward social initiative. (AFP)
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Updated 21 December 2020

Saudi social enterprise Pay It Forward seeks to make kindness contagious

Saudi social enterprise Pay It Forward seeks to make kindness contagious
  • Pay It Forward is a worldwide social initiative active in more than 80 countries, which came to Saudi Arabia in 2016
  • Basma Altwejri published a book and holds regular workshops on helping non-profits grow and spread their message

DUBAI: Small acts of kindness can go a long way. Taking this wise adage to heart, one young Saudi has created a social initiative that encourages people to perform good deeds — and the beneficiaries to repay the kindness to others instead of to the original benefactor.

Pay It Forward is a worldwide social initiative active in more than 80 countries. First established in Australia over a decade ago, it took its inspiration from the 1999 novel by American author Catherine Ryan Hyde and the movie adaptation of the same name, in which a schoolboy creates a goodwill movement.

Basma Altwejri, 26, brought Pay It Forward to Saudi Arabia in March 2016 to help change perceptions of giving and day-to-day acts of kindness.




Riyadh-born Basma Altwejri, 26, brought Pay It Forward to Saudi Arabia to help change perceptions of giving and day-to-day acts of kindness. (Supplied)

“It’s an international movement,” Riyadh-born Altwejri told Arab News. “The circle continues and it’s more of a habit and a mindset of ‘whenever I can help, I should, without expecting anything back.’”

Indeed, Altwejri draws her inspiration from a hadith (saying or custom of Prophet Muhammad and his companions): “The most beloved deed to Allah is the most regular and constant even though it were little.” Her parents also set a strong example for compassionate behavior.

“If there was a family celebration, I always noticed my mother would go earlier to help,” Altwejri said. “She never said it, but you noticed the little things such as feeding a stray cat near the house. So, you grow with these habits.”

It was during her high school years while volunteering that Altwejri realized that many people view good deeds as a mere transaction rather than as an automatic habit of daily life. “I wanted to change this mindset and to see people do good whenever they could,” she said.





Seeking out NGOs on social media, Altwejri began dedicating much of her spare time to volunteer work, distributing food parcels, supporting cancer patients and helping people with disabilities.

After university, she began interning at 10KSA, a Saudi NGO under the leadership of (currently the Saudi Ambassador to the US) Princess Reema bint Bandar, which supports holistic health initiatives including breast cancer awareness. In 2015, 10KSA entered the Guinness Book of Records for the world’s biggest humanitarian ribbon, composed of 8,264 Saudi women dressed in pink scarfs.

“I was really amazed because, when you volunteer for small NGOs, you don’t see work at such a scale,” Altwejri said. “I started noticing that I have some of the skills that might enable me to start my own initiative. So, I started Pay It Forward two months later.”





After drafting a basic plan, Altwejri took on her first local project to raise awareness about the concept of paying forward good deeds. “We had a calendar and, each day, we had a simple act of kindness that anyone could do,” she said.

Printable cards available in English and Arabic on the group’s website offer examples of benevolent acts people can slot into their day. They can be anything from seemingly small gestures such as bringing a colleague a cup of coffee, feeding a stray animal on the street or calling up a friend to ask if they need help. Others suggest bigger commitments, like distributing food to needy households, visiting patients in hospital or donating money.

FASTFACT

The expression “pay it forward” gained fame from Catherine Ryan Hyde’s 1999 novel and later the movie of the same name, Pay It Forward.

A separate series of cards was produced for the holy month of Ramadan — a time of giving and generosity — encouraging people to help with iftar preparations, to attend mosques and to read the Quran.

“We did it through our social media account and encouraged people to participate,” said Altwejri. “I personally thought we wouldn’t succeed due to the lack of marketing exposure, but many influencers participated in a number of social activities and it was a success from there, which enabled us to do more.”





The movement is gaining traction in the Kingdom. In 2020, Pay It Forward was involved in 10 projects and collaborations, hosting local artists at a gallery and donating the sales proceeds to a child in need or taking part in arts and crafts activities to create gifts for loved ones.

Thanks to administrative reforms in Saudi Arabia designed to boost startups and social enterprises, Altwejri says it is now becoming much easier to set up such initiatives.

“There wasn’t much detail on the legal framework (of setting up your own initiative) back then, but now, government entities themselves work really hard to simplify the details and the process and support us throughout,” she said.

This is an important development for Saudi Arabia, where there is currently just one non-profit social organization for every 10,000 people, compared to about 50 in Canada and the US and 200 in France, according to PwC.

The consultancy sees social enterprises as a promising way to help the Kingdom achieve the ambitious economic transformation outlined in its Vision 2030 development plan. Such initiatives have also proved their worth during the COVID-19 pandemic, where social enterprises have stepped in to help needy communities in areas underserved by governments and businesses.

To share her experiences and help others start their own initiatives, Altwejri published an Arabic-language book titled “From Society for Society,” which draws together the views and advice of other seasoned campaigners.

“I interviewed 16 local advocates, many of whom focused on sheltering animals, supporting cancer patients and providing job opportunities for the disabled,” she said. “The last chapter described a model of how you can plan for your own social enterprise.”

Altwejri is now building on the book’s success by offering free workshops and consulting services for small community groups. Other services are paid for to help cover running costs or as donations. The idea is to help groups overcome administrative and strategic hurdles and to forge potential partnerships with existing entities to reach their goal more efficiently.

Recent workshops have explored ways people can volunteer creatively and how to lead a successful social media marketing campaign in the local context. “There are many ‘how to’s’ specific for NGOs and not many for Arab countries,” Altwejri said.

Ultimately, Altwejri’s aim is to encourage and guide others to leave a positive mark on their community. “Such work is important in Saudi Arabia and throughout Arab countries because there are a lot of people who want to do good, either for religious reasons or because of their generosity, but they’re not sure how to make a significant impact,” she said.

“They’re interested but need guidance or encouragement. So, Pay It Forward encourages them to be that person who enables others in their community to do more and be better. If I just send the brochure, they might be a bit lazy to do it, or they may postpone it, but if you encourage them to do it now, they will,” she said.

“I believe in it. Even if my career shifts in a different direction, Pay it Forward will always be a big part of my life.”

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Twitter: @CalineMalek


Al-Ahsa’s fabled pottery industry stands test of time

Al-Ahsa’s fabled pottery industry stands test of time
Updated 52 min 11 sec ago

Al-Ahsa’s fabled pottery industry stands test of time

Al-Ahsa’s fabled pottery industry stands test of time
  • Clay is then used to shape a vessel by hand or through molds and pottery wheels

AL-AHSA: Al-Ahsa’s pottery markets and factories, which have operated for centuries, see a surge in business during the holy month of Ramadan. Many Saudis buy pottery products to prepare and decorate their Ramadan and Eid tables, as part of local customs and traditions.

Pottery vessels have a range of shapes and uses, including utensil and food containers, pots for preserving and cooling water, and antiques for decorating tables, including incense burners, vases and piggy banks. These are considered part of local heritage and folklore across the Kingdom.

Among the most prominent pottery site in Al-Ahsa is Dogha Al-Gharash, located west of Al-Qarah Mountain. This factory was founded more than 150 years ago and has become one of the main tourist and heritage sites in the region.

The chief craftsman in Al-Ahsa, Wassil Ali Al-Gharash, who supervises the factory, said that the pottery market during Ramadan sees “remarkable activity” in terms of manufacturing and sales.

“This is because of its uses and forms that overlap and suit Ramadan and Eid tables, in addition to the special aesthetic atmosphere that pottery adds, bringing back memories of past decades,” he added.

Al-Gharash said that pottery, a technique that has been honed for millennia in the Arabian Gulf, involves several steps. The first is the choosing of appropriate clay, the main material, which is then cleaned and formed.

Clay is then used to shape a vessel by hand or through molds and pottery wheels. The shaped clay is then left in a suitable place to dry. In the final step, the shaped clay is cooked in special ovens, thus becoming a high-quality product ready for sale and use.

Al-Gharash said that pottery is an art that requires patience, accuracy, skill and an experienced hand with a special touch.

Hassan Ali Al-Shomali, a young pottery maker, said that clay used in pottery vessels is sourced from Al-Qarah Mountain and its surroundings, and is of three types: Red, green and yellow, all of which are mixed in certain proportions with water to form a paste.

He added that pottery has preserved its place in households due to its many advantages, including low costs and its ability to bear heat when used to cook foods.

The pottery industry remains one of the most important parts of Al-Ahsa’s allure. A segment of the local community has managed to maintain a robust handmade pottery market despite modern developments in manufacturing and production.

Pottery producers also receive the attention and care of authorities concerned with preserving heritage, legacies, and social traditions as well as supporting professions and folk crafts.


Saudi minister attends swearing-in ceremony of Djibouti’s president

Saudi minister attends swearing-in ceremony of Djibouti’s president
Updated 16 May 2021

Saudi minister attends swearing-in ceremony of Djibouti’s president

Saudi minister attends swearing-in ceremony of Djibouti’s president

DJIBOUTI: Ahmed Abdul Aziz Kattan, Saudi minister of state for African affairs, has attended on behalf of King Salman the swearing-in ceremony of Ismail Omar Guelleh after he was reelected for a new term as president of Djibouti.

Kattan conveyed to the elected president the congratulations and wishes of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for more progress and prosperity.


Who’s Who: Alanoud Abdullah Al-Showaier, GM at Saudi Ministry of Communications and Information Technology

Who’s Who: Alanoud Abdullah Al-Showaier, GM at Saudi Ministry of Communications and Information Technology
Updated 16 May 2021

Who’s Who: Alanoud Abdullah Al-Showaier, GM at Saudi Ministry of Communications and Information Technology

Who’s Who: Alanoud Abdullah Al-Showaier, GM at Saudi Ministry of Communications and Information Technology

Alanoud Abdullah Al-Showaier has been the general manager of knowledge and digital content at the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology since January 2021.

The knowledge and digital content department seeks to achieve the key objectives of Vision 2030 through eliminating digital illiteracy and building an integrated ecosystem for disseminating digital knowledge and enhancing technical content.

Prior to her new role, Al-Showaier served as the director of production and marketing communication programs at Saudi Customs from July 2019 to December 2020.

Before she joined the government sector, Al-Showaier worked for more than six years in the private sector, from 2013 until 2019. She spent one year at Al-Tayyar Travel Group as a PR and marketing specialist. After that, she worked for five years in communication and marketing agencies as an account and project director and key adviser to the CEO.

Al-Showaier has a track record of leading and overseeing brands of all sectors from private to government and semi-government for more than nine years. She also worked for more than 25 clients in several sectors.

She has been a member of the digital media committee at the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry since October 2020, and a member of the arbitration committee at Pioneer Marketing Award since November 2019.

She was an invited speaker on the Misk Media Forum in 2019 as well as the Second Summit on Women’s Enablement in the Technology Sector.

Al-Showaier was chosen for the Women Leaders 2030 program and graduated from the Leading for Results Programme offered by INSEAD Executive Education.

She received her bachelor’s degree in economics from King Saud University in Riyadh in 2010 and holds a diploma in digital marketing from the DM3 Institute.


Organic waste offers Saudi Arabia a plentiful and sustainable resource

Clockwise from left: Sanitation workers collect litter during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in the holy city of Makkah; piles of plastic bottles before they are recycled; circular fields, part of the green oasis of Wadi Al-Dawasir. (AFP/File Photos)
Clockwise from left: Sanitation workers collect litter during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in the holy city of Makkah; piles of plastic bottles before they are recycled; circular fields, part of the green oasis of Wadi Al-Dawasir. (AFP/File Photos)
Updated 16 May 2021

Organic waste offers Saudi Arabia a plentiful and sustainable resource

Clockwise from left: Sanitation workers collect litter during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in the holy city of Makkah; piles of plastic bottles before they are recycled; circular fields, part of the green oasis of Wadi Al-Dawasir. (AFP/File Photos)
  • Most of the 15 million tons of garbage generated every year ends up in giant landfills
  • With recycling incentives, discarded plastics could be reused in housing, roads and even artwork

RIYADH: Once upon a time, mankind produced a small amount of waste. Food was not packaged, fruit and vegetable peelings were fed to animals and the dung from horses and camels was used for fertilizer or dried and burned for heating. Most of what came from the earth went directly back into the earth with little or no harm to the environment.

Today, we live in a consumer age in which multitudes of products are purchased and the ensuing trash disposed of with little or no regard for its detrimental impact. Many single-use goods are manufactured and distributed at considerable expense, only to be momentarily used and then thrown away forever.

Saudi Arabia produces no less than 15 million tons of garbage per year — most of which ends up in giant landfills, full of dangerous toxins that seep deep into the ground.

Fortunately, there are now signs of a sea change, both in the Kingdom and around the world. An emerging concept known as “the circular economy” holds that any form of solid waste can be the raw material for a new and more valuable resource.

This is a contemporary answer to alchemy — the medieval quest to turn base matter into gold.

The circular economy involves both upcycling (the process of transforming waste materials into products of greater value) and downcycling (whereby discarded material is used to create something of lower quality and functionality).

Plastic is an obvious starting point. Heralded as a miracle substance almost a century ago, it became ubiquitous in our groceries, clothing, cars and electronic devices.

That initial enthusiasm for plastic has gradually led to a sober realization that it takes up to 500 years to decompose — presenting an environmental calamity that we witness daily on streets littered with plastic bags, cups, bottles and straws.

But did you know that some 50 percent of the plastic waste in Saudi Arabia is collected for recycling?

Plastic bottles before they are recycled. (AFP/File Photo)

Once cleaned and processed, this used plastic can be transformed into pellets, which in turn are melted down to form anything from household tiles to benches to roadside curbs. Japan is the leader in this respect, now recycling almost 90 percent of its plastic waste.

In fact, it is normal in Japan for households to have over half a dozen different containers for various kinds of trash, to ease sorting for recycling purposes.

India’s Kerala Highway Research Institute has developed a recycled, plastic-derived road-surfacing material that is more durable than conventional tarmac and able to withstand the heavy monsoon rains.

Household waste can also produce the energy needed to heat homes and charge electric cars of the future.

As organic matter (that is, anything from apple cores to onion skins) decomposes, it produces methane gas — a source of energy. Other solid waste — for example, cardboard and wood — can be incinerated, again to provide energy.

These processes are collectively known as “waste-to-energy” (WtE). Methods also exist for the filtration of the resulting fumes, reducing carbon output from WtE to almost zero.

A sanitation worker collects litter during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in the holy city of Makkah on August 22, 2018. (AFP/File Photo)

A 2017 study by King Saud University’s Department of Engineering Sciences concluded that Jeddah alone has the potential to produce 180 megawatts (MW) of electricity from garbage incineration and another 87.3 MW from garbage-sourced synthetic gas (syngas).

Another study by Dr. Abdul-Sattar Nizami, assistant professor at the Centre of Excellence in Environmental Studies at Jeddah’s King Abdul Aziz University, estimates that 3 terawatt-hours per year could be generated if all of Saudi Arabia’s food waste was utilized in syngas plants.

Sewage is another valuable resource, in two ways. First, just like household waste, sewage produces methane, which can be harnessed to produce energy. Second, sewage water can be treated and reused for irrigation and industrial purposes.

The potential gasification of solid waste and sewage is especially pertinent to Saudi Arabia, which derives a large proportion of its freshwater from desalinated seawater, every drop of which is precious.

RECYLING IN SAUDI ARABIA

* 15m - Tonnes of garbage produced by KSA per year.

* 50% - Plastic waste collected for recycling.

* 3TW-hours - Energy potential from food waste per year.

The Saudi government has already realized this and is taking proactive steps to generate at least half of its energy requirements from renewables by 2030. “Waste to energy” will no doubt play a role in this new paradigm.

In the city of Marselisborg in Denmark, sewage-derived methane now generates over 150 percent of the electricity needed to run its water-treatment plant. The surplus power is used to pump drinking water to homes and offices.

Much of Saudi Arabia’s sewage is filtered and repurposed, presenting an opportunity to produce cheap and abundant energy.

A similar philosophy can be applied to land use. Areas currently dismissed as wasteland can be reimagined as beautiful public spaces.

A partial view of the Sharaan Nature Reserve near AlUla in northwestern Saudi Arabia. (AFP/File Photo)

King Salman is a pioneer in this regard. Up until his tenure as governor of Riyadh Province, Wadi Hanifah, the dry riverbed that winds down the western edge of Riyadh, was an unsightly dumping ground for garbage and industrial effluent.

Working with an international team of landscapers, botanists and water-management experts, King Salman transformed the wadi into the exquisite meandering parkland it is today, with its thousands of trees, lush wetlands and charming picnic spots.

Another example of wasteland regeneration is the Highline of Manhattan — an elevated rail track that was abandoned after the Port of New York was largely shut down in the 1960s.

Instead of being demolished at great trouble and expense, this rusty eyesore was turned into a lovely green walkway through the concrete jungle and is today a major tourist attraction.

And just as wastelands can be repurposed to create attractive new spaces, many artists are using discarded materials to create stunning sculptures, while making powerful statements about our abuse of the planet.

The Milan-based artist Maria Cristina Finucci used two tons of plastic bottle caps and thousands of red-net food bags, placed inside recycled plastic containers, to spell out the word “HELP.”

One critic described this work as “a cry from humanity ... to curb the environmental disaster of the pollution of the seas.”

A McDonald’s table covered with trash. (Supplied)

In a similar vein, two Singaporean artists, Von Wong and Joshua Goh, created a work called “Plastikophobia” — an immersive art installation made from 18,000 discarded plastic cups, to raise awareness about single-use plastic pollution.

After decades of short-termism and willful denial of environmental destruction, all-encompassing smart waste-management policies are still in their infancy. The know-how and technology exist. They just need to be put into practice.

The Kingdom is already striking out in the right direction. Its Saudi Green Initiative, launched in March, calls for regional cooperation to tackle environmental challenges, boost the use of renewables and eliminate more than 130 million tons of carbon emissions.

The Middle East Green Initiative likewise sets out to reduce carbon emissions by 60 percent across the region.

There are also plans to plant 10 billion trees in the Kingdom and restore 40 million hectares of degraded land, while across the wider region there are plans for 50 billion trees and the restoration of 200 million hectares of degraded land.

Much will depend upon enlightenment and imagination at a societal and individual level. Do we continue to regard our world as a supposedly infinite source of material for our consumption and as a dumping ground for the resulting junk, or do we aim for a cleaner, more sustainable circular economy?

Young people, in particular, are increasingly concerned for the future of their planet and are highly motivated to protect it. This awakening is already beginning to translate into government policy, in Saudi Arabia and around the world. 


Saudi, Egyptian, Kuwaiti foreign ministers call for immediate ceasefire in Palestinian territories

Saudi, Egyptian, Kuwaiti foreign ministers call for immediate ceasefire in Palestinian territories
Updated 15 May 2021

Saudi, Egyptian, Kuwaiti foreign ministers call for immediate ceasefire in Palestinian territories

Saudi, Egyptian, Kuwaiti foreign ministers call for immediate ceasefire in Palestinian territories
  • Prince Faisal and Sameh Shoukry discussed developments in the Palestinian territories
  • They renewed their demand for the international community to confront aggressive Israeli practices

RIYADH: The foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and Egypt called for an immediate ceasefire in Palestinian territories on Saturday.

Prince Faisal bin Farhan and Sameh Shoukry discussed developments in the Palestinian territories as part of continuous coordination between the Kingdom and Egypt.

They renewed their demand for the international community to confront aggressive Israeli practices against the Palestinian people.

The foreign ministers highlighted the importance of working to resume peace efforts in a manner that guarantees all legitimate Palestinian rights.

Prince Faisal also received a telephone call from his Kuwait counterpart during which the two officials discussed the escalation in violence in the region.

Prince Faisal and Sheikh Ahmad Nasser Al-Mohammad Al-Sabah discussed the Palestinian cause, developments in the region and bilateral relations.