INTERVIEW: Abeer Al-Fouti sees Alwaleed delivering global response to COVID-19 pandemic


Abeer Al-Fouti runs the global side of Alwaleed Philanthropies and is convinced that only a global approach will work in the face of COVID-19, the biggest health challenge for nearly a century. (Illustration: Luis Grañena)

Abeer Al-Fouti explains how the philanthropic world has come together in the COVID-19 era
DUBAI: Charity begins at home, they say, but in the era of the world pandemic such a domestic-focused approach is neither desirable nor effective.

That is why several global philanthropic organisations, and big name donors, have come to the fore in the course of the COVID-19 crisis to offer financial, practical and logistics support to those people in the world whose governments do not have the means to extend assistance to their entire population.

Perhaps the best known is Bill Gates, the American entrepreneur who has pledged to give away his entire multi-billion dollar fortune to beat the virus. Other eminent entrepreneurs have also given billions in the attempt to find an elusive vaccine or effective treatment.

But Saudi Arabia has its own famous philanthropist in the shape of Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the Kingdom Holding magnate, who has for many years been dispensing charity via his organization Alwaleed Philanthropies.

Abeer Al-Fouti runs the global side of that enterprise and is convinced that only a global approach will work in the face of the biggest health challenge for nearly a century.

“The simple message is that actually COVID-19, despite all the challenges, whether economic, or emotional or health or luck, has one important lesson that we have all learned, or should learn: That we are one world, we are one.

“If you think selfishly, it is going to come back and haunt you anyway. So this is the time when we all need to come together and think we are one. Otherwise, we are all going to go down together,” she told Arab News.

As one of the ambitious young women coming to prominence as part of the Vision 2030 strategy of female empowerment, she obviously takes great pride in her work.

“This year we’re celebrating 40 years of our existence. If I can summarize it in numbers, we’ve been working for four decades in six continents, serving 200 countries with 355 global partners. We’ve finished 1,000 projects and spent over $4 billion, and we reached one billion beneficiaries across the world. That’s our latest update. And it’s all run by 10 Saudi females from Riyadh,” she said.

Alwaleed Philanthropies plays a major role in charitable giving within the Kingdom, supporting organizations and individuals across the spectrum of community development, health, education and empowerment. But Al-Fouti’s responsibilities are more global.

“I believe philanthropy pays a major role in filling the gap, with a regional platform bringing the government and private sector together, and focusing on those who maybe the system does not serve or does not cover. This is why His Royal Highness called us together, to do our research and then to explain who we think we should support,” she said.

“We decided to focus on those that were most vulnerable in the Arab world, in the Middle East and Africa,” she said.

Fighting the pandemic has been the main focus for the organization since the virus broke on the world earlier this year. In April, Alwaleed Philanthropies gave an extra $20 million to provide medical and economic help to poorer countries during the pandemic, bringing its total COVID-19 support to $30 million, on top of its usual budget.

“In these times of unprecedented crisis it is more important now than ever that we pull our resources together in the battle against COVID-19. With many developed nations struggling to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, we must spare a thought for the developing countries of Africa and the less fortunate countries in the Middle East,” Prince Alwaleed said then.

“I’m sure you know it’s in the DNA of our culture and our religion — giving and charity. Everyone is required to give as part of the culture,’ Al-Fouti added. Alwaleed’s work runs alongside an equally generous program of charitable initiatives funded by the government of Saudi Arabia for projects both within the Kingdom itself and the rest of the world.

Maintaining the international partnerships that have been cultivated over the decades is a vital part of her work. The Gates Foundation, Gavi, the vaccination organisation, the World Health Organization and the United Nations are important allies in the global sphere.

“We have criteria for selection, and mainly we want to work with partners that are credible and share common values, and those which have long-term impact, in addition to other criteria. We have a detailed list of criteria and we tick those which have compatibility, reliability and credibility. We have to ensure that the money we give will reach those in need,” she said.

Another important ally is the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, ISESCO, which has partnered with Alwaleed on many regional projects.

“We support initiatives in 200 countries, regardless of gender, race or religion — as long as they have shared values,” she explained.



Born: Alkhobar, Saudi Arabia

Education: Bachelor’s and master’s degrees in health and hospital administration, King Saud University

Career: Various roles in government and private sector in human development, management and public relations

– CEO Al-Khair

– Partner, RVCC property development

– Co-founder, Smile Productions

– Executive manager, Global initiatives, Alwaleed Philanthropies


Those initiatives fall into four main categories. Community development involves work on essential infrastructure — housing projects, employment initiatives and educational opportunities to help achieve the UN’s sustainable development goals.

Second comes empowerment initiatives for women and young people. In partnership with international institutions such as the UN, Alwaleed works to enhance opportunities for underprivileged women across the Middle East and Africa and to advance the interests of the big youthful demographic in the region. “We want people to become self-sufficient and empowered, Al-Fouti said.

For example, Alwaleed was a leading partner in the Turquoise Mountain project in Afghanistan, which sought to revive traditional craft industries in the war-ravaged country, providing employment for thousands of women and young people and helping to restore traditional buildings for use as medical and educational facilities.

Next comes disaster relief, again often in conjunction with UN organizations. Alwaleed played an active role in helping Albania to recover from the recent earthquake there, for example.

Finally, there is what Al-Fouti regards as her “favourite” work — the initiatives to “bridge cultures” through educational and cultural activities in several countries. Alwaleed is involved in projects in the Louvre in Paris and with Berlin Museum to explain Islamic culture to Europeans.

“We believe the best way for people to understand each other is through art and culture. We’re planning to work this year with all our educational centres, and with the Louvre and Berlin, to see how we can revisit this strategy and see how we can have more impactful projects in terms of bringing people together,” she said.


READ MORE: Alwaleed Philanthropies, ICESCO MoU to help 10 African countries

Prince Alwaleed pledges $30m to fight pandemic

How Louvre-Saudi Islamic cultural ties are promoting peace and tolerance


But the reaction to the pandemic has understandably taken up a lot of the organization’s time this year.

“We decide to get in and minimize or control the spread of the virus by strengthening local capabilities, for example through or work with ISESCO. In Africa they asked us to provide them with masks and with alcohol cleaning products. We decided that we were also going to go in and create or scale up factories, get jobs going and make the initiative available and sustainable, and this is what we are doing,” Al-Fouti said.

Through the collaboration with Gavi, Alwaleed has been able to bring medical relief to remote areas in the region. One of the repercussions of the pandemic has been that other essential medical projects, such as polio vaccination or routine immunization for children, have been scaled back drastically, partly because of travel restrictions but also because of the pressure on funds.

“In some places when people were being asked to stay at home, some didn’t have a home to go to. They were asked to wash their hands and they didn’t have water. That’s why we invested in areas where we thought there is a gap,” Al-Fouti explained.

So, those 10 women in Riyadh have the support and back-up of hundreds of partners around the world, with a global perspective in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.

“We have partners and embedded collaborative relationships that we consider to be an extension of our team. So we are not alone. There is a saying ‘work smart, not hard.’ But we work hard as well. In fact, we really do work hard,” she said.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Prince Alwaleed pledges $30m to fight pandemic

Time: 29 April, 2020

Prince Alwaleed bin Talal at the Elysee palace in Paris. (Reuters)
  • Prince Alwaleed bin Talal: With many developed nations struggling to cope with COVID-19, we must spare a thought for the developing countries of Africa and the less fortunate countries in the Middle East
  • The $30 million comes after the prince pledged the use of his hotels, schools and other businesses in Saudi Arabia to support the government’s measures against the pandemic

DUBAI: Alwaleed Philanthropies, the charitable organization founded by Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, has given an extra $20.6 million to fight the coronavirus pandemic in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

The donation, in partnership with some of the world’s leading philanthropies, comes on top of the organization’s existing funding of $9.4 million, which has been reallocated to fight the pandemic. This brings the prince’s total commitment to medical and economic help to $30 million.

“In these times of unprecedented crisis it is more important now than ever that we pull our resources together in the battle against COVID-19,” he said.

“With many developed nations struggling to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, we must spare a thought for the developing countries of Africa and the less fortunate countries in the Middle East.”

The $30 million comes after he pledged the use of his hotels, schools and other businesses in Saudi Arabia to support the government’s measures against the pandemic, and support for Lebanese students studying in virus-ravaged Europe to return home.

The funds will be spent on a variety of initiatives, including those led by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the GAVI vaccination projects, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

“The series of impact-driven initiatives will seek to tackle the health and economic implications of the pandemic, such as manufacturing rapid diagnostic tests for developing countries and reducing the long-term impact of the potential economic fallout of COVID-19,” Alwaleed Philanthropies said.

“Continuing to support the Middle East and North Africa, the fund includes a significant allocation towards initiatives including allocation to UN-Habitat to improve water, sanitation and hygiene in the most vulnerable communities, and to establish shelter and rehabilitate damaged housings in order to address overcrowding and enable social / physical distancing in disadvantaged neighborhoods.”

Alwaleed Philanthropies is also working with the Islamic World Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ICESCO) to mitigate the economic fallout of the crisis in Africa while promoting hygiene in developing countries.

The amount allocated to ICESCO will strengthen local manufacturing capabilities to produce hygiene products and protective equipment, while empowering women and young entrepreneurs in the informal and local sector.

Many of the initiatives will support vital work to support communities and curb the spread of COVID-19.

Alwaleed Philanthropies will be working with Gates Philanthropy Partners to fund health projects to accelerate the development of therapeutics and delivery of diagnostics to protect vulnerable populations across Africa.

This includes an allocation to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, which will allow for additional diagnostic laboratories and testing capabilities throughout the continent.

Additionally, Alwaleed Philanthropies is building upon its existing relationship with Splash to provide clean water and promote hand washing in rural and urban areas in South Asia and Africa.

Supporting scientific research to reduce future outbreaks, Alwaleed Philanthropies has built on its four-year relationship with GAVI, with a further amount allocated to provide accessibility and innovative solutions to reach remote areas, and an allocation to support the WHO in strengthening its existing procurement capacity to rapidly secure needed emergency products and build a global stockpile.

Separately, GAVI — backed by Saudi Arabia — on Monday made $40 million available to the UN Children’s Fund to secure personal protective equipment, diagnostic tests and other vital supplies on behalf of 58 low-income countries in response to the pandemic, bringing its total support so far in the crisis to $200 million.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi girl scouts attend 24th US jamboree


The scouts will participate in activities aligned with the World Scouting’s flagship ‘Scouts for SDGs’ initiative.

Alwaleed Philanthropies, a global foundation that invests in programs to support cross-cultural understanding, is participating in the 2019 World Scout Jamboree by supporting the first five Saudi girl scouts to attend the event.

The scouts will participate in activities aligned with the World Scouting’s flagship “Scouts for SDGs” initiative, which has pledged to make the world’s largest coordinated youth contribution to the SDGs by 2030.

More than 45,000 scouts and scouting leaders from over 150 countries have come together in West Virginia to “Unlock a New World” — the theme of the 24th jamboree.

The aim is to inspire scouts to become active citizens and create a more sustainable world by learning about global issues such as climate change and gender inequality.

Through activities that range from zip-lining and hiking to public speaking and leadership workshops, young people will develop skills to help them thrive in and contribute to a rapidly changing world.

Princess Lamia bint Majed Saud Al-Saud, secretary-general of Alwaleed Philanthropies, said: “We are proud to support the first young female Saudi Scouts to attend the jamboree as part of our six-year commitment to World Scouting to increase the participation of girls and boys in community service in Saudi Arabia and across the Middle East. Their involvement in the jamboree’s ‘Scouts for SDGs’ program will help empower girls and young women to drive social, environmental and economic progress in the Kingdom and contribute to Saudi Vision 2030.”

The jamboree, jointly hosted by the US, Canada, and Mexico, is the largest outdoor educational event organized by the World Organization of the Scout Movement, gathering scouts aged 14 to 17 and leaders every four years.

A staff of 10,500 volunteers will deliver a life changing experience for scouts from around the world at the campsite, the 10,000-acre Summit Bechtel Reserve in West Virginia, for the July 22-Aug. 2 event.

Almost 100 scouts will travel from Saudi Arabia, Oman, the UAE and Qatar.

“The jamboree is an extraordinary opportunity for young people to connect and learn from each other, while celebrating the diversity and unity of our global movement of over 50 million strong,” said Ahmad Alhendawi, secretary-general of the World Organization of the Scout Movement.

“We are pleased to see contingents from Saudi Arabia, the GCC, and around the world participating in the jamboree, and for the support of Alwaleed Philanthropies to engage young people in education for peace and sustainable development. Together we are enabling young people to become active global citizens who are creating positive change in communities around the world.”

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi Prince Advocates Healthier Living With Region-Wide Vegan Restaurant

Prince Khaled Bin Alwaleed Alsaud, son of billionaire Prince Al-Waleed Bin Talal, has announced plans to open at least 10 vegan restaurants across the region by 2020. The Prince, who was recently named president of the Saudi CrossFit Federation and is known as a true health buff, made this announcement on his Facebook profile:

“Our region occupies parts of the top ten most obese counties in the world. This is crazy and frankly a joke we have reached this level. I’m not saying opening 10 restaurants will solve this issue, but you better believe it’s a step in the right direction.”

In a bid to help tackle the region’s obesity epidemic and give people the option of healthier food options, Prince Khaled will be opening at least 10 restaurants in the UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Lebanon, and Jordan.

Outside his role as founder and chairman of KBW Investments, a private equity firm and venture capital firm, the Prince is an avowed vegan and an avid campaigner against cruelty to animals.

According to Arab News, Prince Khaled “was named among the world’s top influencers toward veganism in 2017 for his investments in Matthew Kenney’s vegan lifestyle company. He took the brand international by opening the first vegan restaurant in the Middle East with Bahrain’s new Plant Cafe.”

In 2016, he spoke to Arabian Business on his food conscious decisions, saying, “I want to be successful and to be a better person than I was yesterday, and hopefully to leave this planet in a better state than it was when I arrived.”

In the same interview, he was also asked it was that he considered his greatest fear. The Prince answered: “I think about my daughters[…] What kind of world am I leaving them? And what did I do to make their life better? What did I instil in them to make them a better human? […] At the end of the day, we’re here temporarily. I’m not taking my money with me, or my shoes or my watches. People are just going to remember me for what I did. If I’m gone, and my daughters can say he really did everything he could for us, I can’t ask for anything more.”

This article was first published in  About Her

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Alwaleed’s Kingdom and partners to sell New York Plaza for $600m

May 5, 2018

The deal for the hotel which opened in 1907 is set to be completed on June 25

New York’s iconic Plaza Hotel is about to change hands.

Its buyers are Shahal Khan, founder of Dubai-based family office White City Ventures, and Kamran Hakim, of New York landlord Hakim Organization. They agreed to pay $600 million (Dh2.2 billion) for the hotel, at the southeast corner of Central Park, in a deal that is set to be completed on June 25.

“We worked for three and a half years to get to this stage and can’t wait until it’s closed,” said Mr Khan, who confirmed the purchase but declined to speak further. Mr Hakim didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. The agreement was first reported on Thursday by the Real Deal.

Mumbai-born British billionaires David and Simon Reuben are providing a loan of roughly $415m, or almost 70 per cent of the transaction’s value, according to a person with knowledge of the matter, who asked not to be identified because the details are private. A spokesman for the Reubens, who owned debt on the property, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The Plaza, which opened 111 years ago, is known as the fictional home of children’s book character Eloise and has been featured in films such as “Home Alone 2” and “North by Northwest.” Among its prior owners is President Donald Trump, who was forced to sell it more than two decades ago as part of a bankruptcy. He also married his second wife, Marla Maples, there.

A previous owner, Elad Group, controlled by Israeli billionaire Yitzhak Tshuva, converted part of the Plaza to condominiums. The hotel portion is managed by Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, a unit of France’s Accor SA.

Its current owners include Sahara India Pariwar, Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal’s Kingdom Holdings and Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp. Sahara has been trying to sell its stake, in part because its chairman, Subrata Roy, is under pressure from the Indian government, which has ordered him to return billions of dollars to investors.

Representatives for Sahara, Kingdom and Ashkenazy didn’t respond to requests for comment.

This article was first published in  The National

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