Home is where the heart is, as they say. Science tells us that community belonging and social support are key to a long and fulfilling life.
The sense of belonging to a community is increasingly being recognized as an important social determinant of health as well as an important metric for monitoring a population’s health.
It is also good for our longevity: Studies show that feeling at home, and being part of the community is central to our well-being. In fact, various studies have even demonstrated that community belonging is associated most strongly with mental health and well-being while weaker community belonging exhibited a consistent relationship with lower levels of both general and mental health. Furthermore, the sense of belonging to a community can add four to 14 years to life expectancy.
As we celebrated Saudi Arabia’s 92nd National Day, it was a wonderful occasion to honor the values of this vibrant nation, and this year’s theme had a particularly cozy feel about it.
This year’s celebrations were centered on people, citizens and residents, and togetherness under the slogan “This is our home.” This is a home that aspires to provide ample opportunities that enable citizens and residents to contribute to the development and construction of the Kingdom.
Research into so-called blue zones — settlements with the highest concentrations of centenarians worldwide — shows that social support and a sense of community are essential to attaining good health, happiness, and long life.
It is why cultivating a sense of community and belonging is so important.
Under Vision 2030, we realize this. At the heart of the Saudi Vision is a society in which all enjoy a good quality of life, a healthy lifestyle, and an attractive living environment. This includes its new sustainability carbon zero initiatives with the development of green cities, more green parks, and the planting of trees all over the Kingdom, to care for both the well-being of the environment and the wellbeing of the people residing there.
Equally important is safety for well-being and quality of life. In a recent report, an important city in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Madinah, also known as the City of Lights and Peace and Serenity, was ranked the safest city worldwide for solo female travelers. Cities were ranked based on cost, safety, and gender equality, to name a few data points. This in itself is a testament to the quality of life and peace of mind of all who reside or visit there.
Furthermore, Vision 2030 seeks to build a strong and productive society through strengthening families, delivering character-building education, and establishing empowering health and social care systems. In line with this, the Kingdom has made headway in digitally transforming not only its healthcare system for citizens and residents, but also in digitally streamlining the visa process and other services.
The country’s digital transformation aims to make it easier and a seamless process for all who come for Hajj and Umrah to Makkah and visit the Prophet’s Mosque or those who come for tourist purposes. Furthermore, all citizens and residents have their own digital health and vaccine passports through apps such as Tawakkalna and Sehaty.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, free screening and healthcare services were provided by Saudi Arabia for all residents, including migrant workers. Dedicated teams were available to deliver treatment to migrants and nationals alike. Field units were dispensed by the Ministry of Health to neighborhoods where there was crowding. Nearly every corner of the country had satellite healthcare stations providing free vaccines to all.
The bottom line is Saudi Arabia has taken great strides to ensure the wellness of its community, and thanks to ambitious transformation programs and initiatives, we are already seeing promising results, which has led to it becoming a happier and healthier nation. Indeed we are seeing the Kingdom climb up the rankings in the annual World Happiness Report, part of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network.
The report measures life satisfaction ratings and emotional well-being, making it different from the standard GDP measurement. This year the Kingdom advanced one rank from last year, standing out, among other areas, for its healthy life expectancy.
As Saudi Arabia continues to open doors in ways previously unimagined to citizens, residents, and visitors alike, we will create a cultural melting pot to match and, in time, surpass any in the region.
As a healthcare thought leader and change agent who speaks on many fronts of health and well-being, longevity and quality of life in a local, regional and global context, this is so exciting to see. I believe such diversity and inclusion and sense of belonging will benefit us all.
Here’s to a vibrant future.
- Dr. Maliha Hashmi is a prominent global health leader, a winner of the prestigious Forbes Health Leadership Award of 2022 and recipient of the World Leaders Award. Hashmi is one of the Top Seven Most Talented Female Health Leaders of the MENA region and a C-level healthcare executive, public speaker, and WEF Global Future Council Expert. She is also a V2O Delegate of the G20, and an author.