Time: August 16, 2019
- Conversely, when we visited our family in Madinah, although going there always gives me a great sense of pride in my heritage, I never felt completely connected
Abeer Al-Fouti I am a passionate supporter of diversity and inclusion and have spent much of my career working to support human capital development in nonprofit organizations. I have done so by closing cultural gaps and promoting acceptance both in the workplace and in the community.
Passionate about helping others, my career has been diverse and impactful. It began at the renowned Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Humanitarian City, which is one of the largest rehabilitation centers in the world. While I was there, I oversaw training, talent and career development. My success there led to an opportunity to be involved in women’s empowerment, by leading Alf Khair, a social enterprise founded by Princess Reema bint Bandar, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US.
With Alf Khair, I worked on empowering women across Saudi Arabia by helping them identify their personal and professional development goals. For me — and the women I helped — my work at Alf Khair really inspired me and those I was helping. Under my leadership, Alf Khair helped equip women across the Kingdom with the necessary tools to be productive, engaged, competent and integrated members of their communities.
I was born in the Eastern Province, in Alkhobar, and grew up in Abqaiq which is a very small town in the largest and most productive oil field in Saudi Arabia. The population is largely composed of those working for Saudi Aramco, with a large expatriate community.
Both of my parents were from the holy city of Madinah. My father was a businessman who moved from Madinah to the Eastern Province in his teens. He was a hardworking and self-made young entrepreneur who wanted to make sure that his three children had the best possible education.
I remember when going to school in Abqaiq in the late 70s, I looked and sounded different to my classmates with my skin color and western regional Hejazi accent. Many times my classmates would ask me if I was even Saudi!
Conversely, when we visited our family in Madinah, although going there always gives me a great sense of pride in my heritage, I never felt completely connected.
This helped me not just to realize the importance of acceptance and tolerance but also gave me the skills needed to build strong connections with people no matter how different they are. Another important factor was my strong family value system. I always remember my late father’s wise advice with his great emphasis on the importance of tolerance, empathy and respect for others as the key factors to leading a successful life.
Later, after my experience in working closely with disabled patients at the Humanitarian City, I gained an even greater perspective about the importance of empathy and understanding. When I married my British husband, a joining of two different cultures, our experiences inspired us to launch our company, Smile Entertainment, in 2008. We both believed that one of the most effective ways of promoting acceptance, tolerance and understanding is culture, especially when combined with humor. We created an entertainment platform dedicated to encouraging and promoting cultural dialogue through live comedy. When people laugh together, all barriers are broken down.
Currently, I am blessed to be entrusted by Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal to manage the Global Initiatives arm of his foundation, Alwaleed Philanthropies, alongside a team of ten powerful Saudi women and inspiring leadership.
I am responsible for international projects, which includes women and youth empowerment, community development, disaster relief and interfaith and intercultural dialogue.
In today’s world, where the voices that call for division are very loud, I believe it is vital to invest in impactful and collaborative cultural bridging initiatives. Effective communication, understanding, and empathy are essential to overcoming cultural divide. For many years, I have worked in promoting cross-cultural understanding among different cultural, ethnic and national groups from around the world.
I now feel that these cross-cultural skills are desperately needed to better understand the “other” and bring people together which I am passionately committed to doing so.