As the daughter of Prince Majed bin Saud of Saudi Arabia, HRH Princess Lamia Bint Majid AlSaud was born into privilege, but a life of leisure was not her destiny. Driven by an imperative internal need to raise up others, she shaped herself into a champion for women’s and children’s rights. Considering her role as the Secretary General and member of the Board of Trustees at Alwaleed Philanthropies, Princess Lamia uses her power and status for the good of others, including a partnership with UNICEF to which Alwaleed Philanthropies contributed $50 million towards completely eradicating measles and rubella worldwide.
In a country that is experiencing rapid societal change, Princess Lamia is also leading efforts to improve the lives of women by offering them access to education, protection from domestic violence, and other projects that empower women. As such, she was awarded the prestigious Arab Women’s Award in 2017 for her charitable efforts, her integrity, and her compassion. Savoir Flair is honored to name Princess Lamia is one of our most inspiring #WCWs to date. In this exclusive interview, below, we discuss her choice to live a philanthropic life, the challenges she has faced along the way, and what she sees for the future of Saudi Arabia’s women and children.
What prompted your interest in philanthropy?
Philanthropists have such a key role to play – globally and in the Middle East. Of course, as donors to effective causes, philanthropists can have a huge impact, but even more so as advocates and role models. I think that is what especially appealed to me about my role with Alwaleed Philanthropies: the opportunity to be an advocate for causes like women’s empowerment. I have had the amazing opportunity to meet so many inspiring individuals and learn how their lives have changed as a result of our initiatives. I feel an obligation to share their stories and ensure others like them are reached.
Why is this the path you have chosen in life?
The more I learned about the world, the more I understood the need for certain causes to be granted not only sufficient resources, but also a voice. I have always been an advocate for women’s empowerment both, at home in Saudi Arabia and globally. So many powerful women have inspired me throughout my life; my mother, who taught me the importance of speaking up for those who are vulnerable or marginalized, and women on the world stage, too, like Oprah Winfrey, who has achieved so much professionally and always remains a passionate advocate for important causes.
Living in a region that has witnessed conflict, I wanted to help promote tolerance and cultural understanding as so many of us who have lived with conflict in and around our borders. Alwaleed Philanthropies has both of these as focus areas, as well as empowering youth, and it was a privilege to be able to take on the role of Secretary General and take the implementation of our work to the next level. I find immense fulfilment in what I do.
If you are fortunate enough to be privileged and you have time to dedicate wherever you please, you have an absolute obligation to use your resources to help those who are not as fortunate.
Given your status and privilege, you could have chosen a life of leisure, but you work to help others instead. What drives your passion?
I never saw it as a choice. If you are fortunate enough to be privileged and you have time to dedicate wherever you please, you have an absolute obligation to use your resources to help those who are not as fortunate. My passion is driven by the individuals I meet who have told me firsthand the ways in which our work has transformed their lives for the better.
What are some of your proudest philanthropic accomplishments to date?
In March 2017, alongside Thomson Reuters Foundation, we held the first women’s empowerment conference in Saudi Arabia. The theme of the conference was Saudi Women Can, and it brought together many high-profile women to share their experiences and difficulties, including British women’s rights campaigner Cherie Blair and Raha Moharrak, the first Saudi woman to climb Mount Everest. The aim of the conference was to shed light on the aspirations and achievements of women in the country. That was a momentous moment for women in Saudi Arabia, and we were so proud to be at the forefront of calling for women’s empowerment.
I’m also incredibly proud of our work to support the launch of the Wa’iyah Initiative for Women’s Legal Rights, which aims to raise awareness of women’s legal rights and prevent them from being victims of violence. This initiative is the first of its kind in Saudi Arabia, and it has helped thousands of Saudi women know their rights and provide them with legal consultation from certified Saudi female lawyers.
What your goals are and what do you hope to achieve through your partnership with UNICEF?
In December 2017, we announced a US$50 million partnership with UNICEF to help achieve a world where no child dies from measles or is born with severe disabilities caused by rubella. The number of children around the world still suffering is astonishing, but what is more astonishing is how easy it is to prevent these diseases through safe and effective vaccines.
This partnership was about practical action to eliminate these preventable illnesses, and our experience has taught us that we have to collaborate and work together in order to create sustainable impact. By establishing effective partnerships, we are able to maximize our impact through a deeper understanding of the local context, whilst fostering a collective environment of giving where we can spread hope for the future.
The landscape for women is changing fast in Saudi Arabia. What progress is being made? What are you seeing that you are most excited about?
Women face challenges both in Saudi Arabia and all over the world – there is no denying that – but I think it is important to emphasize how far we have come in a short space of time. We have a long way to go, but we are making great improvements, and this is a significant moment of change in Saudi Arabia.
As we strive towards Vision 2030, progress is more rapid than ever before. Women being able to drive is a very important milestone – it will transform the way women can live and work in Saudi Arabia. It is also a true signal from our leadership that, as a society, we are ready to move forward and modernize. Women are now running for municipal councils and participating in the workforce, especially in the fields of law and business. They are also being educated – in fact, women now outnumber men in the Saudi university system.
I am excited that more and more opportunities are opening for women in Saudi Arabia. I believe we are on the right track, and the drivers of this are the voices of women around the world who want to activate this change. I am optimistic about our future. Alwaleed Philanthropies fundamentally believes in women empowerment and is committed to continue playing a central part in leveraging female empowerment both in Saudi Arabia and throughout the world.
I believe that a society can only flourish once men and women are given the same opportunities to thrive.
Would you describe yourself as a feminist?
Yes, of course. I believe that a society can only flourish once men and women are given the same opportunities to thrive. Alwaleed Philanthropies works tirelessly to empower young women, encourage them in every aspect of their lives – personally and professionally – and ensure they fulfill their potential. I am proud to lead an all-female team of ten highly dynamic, highly empowered Saudi women at Alwaleed Philanthropies. We are committed to providing the same level of opportunity to others all over the world and a shining example of what we can all achieve.
Culturally, Saudi women are among the most misunderstood by outsiders. What are some misperceptions you would like to correct?
There is a persistent stereotype that a Saudi woman covered up in her abaya is oppressed, and a Saudi man dressed in his thobe is an oppressor. We recently launched a campaign called Hero Next to Hero to challenge this stereotype and show Saudi men and women working together for women’s empowerment.
Generations of brave Saudi women have fought hard to win progress, and many Saudi men were standing beside them in support without being intimidated by their progress, their power, or their voice. Too often, Saudi men are associated with oppression and restriction or as obstacles in the fight for women’s empowerment. We want to reverse those misconceptions and recognize the Saudi men who have stood strong in their support of women’s empowerment – and encourage more to do the same.