On Thursday March 1st, 2018, we hosted a public discussion with HRH Reema bint Bandar Al Saud about Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 and its initiatives for advancing the role of women and youth in the Saudi society and economy, particularly in the business and sports sectors.
Her Royal Highness Princess Reema Bint Bandar Al Saud is one of the foremost advocates for the inclusion of women in the Saudi society and economy. As CEO of Alfa International, a leading luxury retail corporation, she created new opportunities for women in the company's workforce. She is also the founder of Alf Khair, a social enterprise that has provided professional guidance and career management for Saudi women.
Princess Reema has raised awareness of breast cancer in Saudi Arabia in events that have set Guinness world records and she led the first-ever team of Saudi women to Mount Everest Base Camp in 2012. As the Vice-President of Development and Planning of the Saudi General Sports Authority, she plays a leading role in HRH Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman's ambitious Vision 2030 and its commitment to expanding opportunities for Saudi women and youth.
Princess Reema started her remarks by linking her past experience working for a social enterprise to her current role in the government. She defines this as social return on investment (SROI) and linking government investment to tangible social returns in priority areas for development in the Kingdom. Because the sports arena is linked to both healthy living, gender integration, and greater financial self-sufficiency for women, this role is critical in impacting young people’s lives, particularly as Saudi Arabia pursues some of the ambitious reforms associated with Vision 2030.
More specifically, Princess Reema communicated how diversity and inclusion are central pillars of her mandate at the Sports Authority. In the Saudi context, the concept of segregation relates more to gender than it does to race. Women have been excluded from the sports arena, so a lot of the efforts of the Sports Authority have been encouraging female participation in sports, something that received a significant boost from the recent decree allowing women to enter sports stadiums.
These efforts are directed towards developing a sports economy in Saudi Arabia. The decree allowing women to enter sports stadiums can lead to job creation, as these women can now work in many of the jobs tied to sporting events. The goal is to begin the process of broader citizen participation in the economy in a manner that isn’t entirely government-guided. Princess Reema suggested that engaging with companies on corporate social responsibility efforts is one example of how the traditional top-down approach in Saudi Arabia could evolve.
The discussion was enriched by questions from event attendees, many of whom were associated with offices on Capitol Hill, academic institutions in Washington, DC and members of the Middle East Policy Council Board of Directors.