Princess Lamia says, it is time to apply the lessons of COVID-19 humanitarian crisis


Princess Lamia bint Majed Al-Saud recently said, Alwaleed Philanthropies has ridden the wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and is set to accelerate its strategy of “creative philanthropy” as the global recovery gathers pace, according to the woman in charge of the Riyadh-headquartered Saudi charitable organization.

Princess Lamia bint Majed Al-Saud, secretary-general of the 40-year-old organization set up by Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, told Arab News that the pandemic had been a demanding time for the organization as it faced extraordinary demands on its resources, but that the time had come to apply the lessons learned during the humanitarian and economic crisis.

“The United Nations came out with a very unique name for doing good in the world, which is ‘creative economy.’ So, you have to be very creative moving forward after the pandemic — how you’re going to reach your beneficiaries, and how you can provide support, and how you can empower and do good in general,” she said.

Her comments came in the course of an interview with “Frankly Speaking,” the series of video interviews with leading policymakers and thinkers in the Middle East and the world.

Princess Lamia, who is regarded as a role model for the empowerment of women in Saudi Arabia under the reforms of the Vision 2030 strategy, also spoke of the progress women have made in the Kingdom, the place of art and culture in the global philanthropy scene, and the need to transcend the “clash of civilizations” approach to relations between the Islamic world and its international neighbors.

Alwaleed Philanthropies responded after the outbreak of the virus last year with a $30 million initiative to provide essential medical goods and services to poorer countries around the world struggling with their pandemic response.

This was on top of Alwaleed Philanthropies’ regular commitment to vaccination programs around the world, and its domestic and international program of medical and humanitarian assistance.

Princess Lamia bint Majed Al Saud

“We actually worked in some countries in Africa, we worked in Iraq, we worked in Syria, we worked in Tunisia, we worked in Yemen. We provided economic support — so, for example in Africa, we collaborated with the Islamic World Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ICESCO) to build small factories to produce masks (and improve) sanitation. It was in favor of empowering women and youth,” said Princess Lamia.

“I think the pandemic shows the importance of having a house and to have a roof over your head. All you need to be safe from COVID is only a room and a roof over your head, and that’s why we worked with Habitat (a UN urban organization) in shelters in Yemen, Iraq and Syria.”
This was in addition to Alwaleed Philanthropies’ established collaboration with the World Health Organization, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

“I’d say it was a quite creative initiative that we covered, and we actually reached over 100 million people around the world,” Princess Lamia said.

Alwaleed Philanthropies works in four main areas — community development, empowering women and youth, providing vital disaster relief and bridging cultures — which combined have benefited close to 1 billion people around the world.

One big learning point from the pandemic was the move to online and digital philanthropic support, with projects in Myanmar and at home in Saudi Arabia going online as lockdowns hit.

“Believe it or not, from a money perspective or a budget perspective, it’s much easier and that’s why maybe this year we reached more people,” Princess Lamia said.

Some observers have been concerned that the intense focus on finding and administering a vaccine against the novel coronavirus might divert attention from other global inoculation programs against infectious diseases such as polio, where Alwaleed Philanthropies has played a big role in vaccination programs in developing countries.

Princess Lamia said there had only been a limited effect. “I agree that at Alwaleed Philanthropies, we transferred some of our funds to COVID-19 due to the urgency of the pandemic, but I don’t think it will have an effect in the long run,” she added. “I believe we’re in a good place now, after having the vaccine against COVID and doing much more research.”

She said Prince Alwaleed varied his contribution to the overall budget “if he sees it’s necessary.” Alwaleed Philanthropies works alongside other big global philanthropies such as the Gates Foundation as well as UN agencies, but is not in competition with them, she insisted.

“I wouldn’t say compete. I’d say we learn from each other, the methodology of this foundation, or the core spirit of this foundation. It’s built on partnership, and this is what Prince Alwaleed believes in — partnership,” she said.

Alwaleed Philanthropies’ international connections have direct benefits for its work in Saudi Arabia. “Maybe what differentiates us from a domestic perspective more than any other foundation in Saudi Arabia is that we have the international experience and expertise, and that’s what we’re trying to do in our projects in Saudi Arabia — transferring knowledge from what we did outside,” she said.

One example is the Turquoise Mountain initiative, backed by the UK’s prince of Wales, which seeks to encourage and promote traditional crafts in various parts of the world, including Saudi Arabia, where some 1,000 mainly female artisans are employed in craft workshops producing high-end goods, most recently under the Mizwada brand.

“We’re upscaling their knowledge. We’re taking the crafts from a very modest or very humble craft to a luxury brand,” Princess Lamia said.

Female empowerment has been one of the main themes of Alwaleed Philanthropies in the Kingdom, and she believes great strides have been made for women in recent years, with the freedom to drive, the relaxation of guardianship laws and greater female employment opportunities.

“I don’t think three or four years ago I’d be sitting and talking with you,” she said, adding that Western media had not given the Kingdom credit for the big advances.

The rise to prominence of a number of women in the Kingdom — such as Princess Reema bint Bandar, Saudi ambassador to Washington, and Sarah Al-Suhaimy, chairperson of the Saudi Stock Exchange (Tadawul) — is further evidence of female empowerment, Princess Lamia said.

Alwaleed Philanthropies is run by a 10-strong team of women appointed by Prince Alwaleed, and it has programs to cultivate the skills necessary for women to enter employment in the private and public sectors.

“It was very clearly announced from the government that we want to support women and we want to empower women. I think some of the entities or the companies took it to a next level in which they literally discarded the men, but I believe that we should empower humans,” she said.

One big part of Alwaleed Philanthropies’ work is the effort to promote better understanding between the Islamic world and other belief systems, which has been controversially called a “clash of civilizations.”

Pointing to the global confrontations after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US in 2001, Princess Lamia said: “I believe this clash isn’t that easy to resolve.” She spoke of how Prince Alwaleed — a well-known investor on Wall Street — was in New York at the time of the tragedy, and decided to do something to help ease long-term tensions.

“That’s why we collaborated with six of the most prominent, I’d say important, universities around the world. We actually created centers for research and promotion of tolerance and understanding,” she said.

There are now Alwaleed centers in six of the most prestigious universities in the US, Europe and the Middle East, part of what she called a “soft power” initiative to reconcile misunderstanding between people of different faiths around the world.

The other angle is Alwaleed Philanthropies’ promotion of art and culture as a bridge between religions. It has established partnerships with the Louvre in Paris and the Pergamon Museum in Berlin to showcase works of Islamic art, but with a universal message.

“That’s how you create awareness of how Islamic cultures were — leaning toward art and beauty,” Princess Lamia said.

This article was first published in BLiTZ

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Saudi Arabia will not approve vaccine until completely safe, says health minister


Saudi Arabia announced 32 more deaths from COVID-19 and 1,213 new cases of the disease on Friday. (File/AFP)

  • The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom has increased to 277,067
  • Saudi Arabia reports 1,213 new COVID-19 cases, 1,591 recoveries and 32 deaths

JEDDAH: The Saudi health minister has revealed that Saudi Arabia is working with Oxford in the UK and with Russia, the US and China on a COVID-19 vaccine, but he confirmed that it would not be used on people until it had passed tests by the Saudi Food and Drug Federation (SFDA)

“Our leadership is keen on boosting whatever is needed to enhance the health of society and vaccine availability, and to be one of the first to acquire a vaccine, but the safety of the vaccine and the procedure employed are also of great importance when approving any treatment,” said Tawfiq Al-Rabiah.
The vaccine is being tested by each country and, once it is approved by the SFDA, it will be used in the Kingdom.
The minister said in his interview with Al Arabiya that the situation is stable in Saudi Arabia, where health services and tests are available to all those who need them.
“One of the reasons for our number of tests is that we have 21 testing centers that are accessible by car. A person can book an appointment on their phone and go to get tested. The number of tests done in a day can exceed 70,000. The high number of tests helps to reveal infected individuals at an early stage, which helps us with prevention. Although our case numbers are high, our number of deaths is low in comparison to total cases; it is also the lowest among G20 countries,” he said.
He said that the number of cases was decreasing — 90 percent of recorded cases have recovered — due to the adherence to precautionary measures.
The minister praised Saudis and expats for their understanding. He noted that it is evident in the way people are wearing their masks and are committed more than ever before to being safe.
“It helps that schools are closed, and the ministry’s decision to continue with remote learning helps to maintain stability,” he said.
Initially, people had to wait long periods because of the pressure on emergency rooms in hospitals, but there now are more than 230 Tettamman (Make sure) clinics open 16 or even 24 hours a day to help anyone experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
“Around 15,000 people visit these clinics daily. Most of them experience symptoms that turn out to be unrelated to COVID-19. Out of the 15,000, 10,000 are tested and only 300 are then transferred to hospitals,” said Al-Rabiah.
These 15,000 used to come to emergency rooms every day, but when hospitals receive only 300 patients, the quality of service increases and people can expect to receive quicker treatment, he said.
“This pandemic has challenged the entire world. In the Kingdom, the situation never became so dire that we had to start choosing who to save and who to let die as in some countries, due to a lack of critical care availability. In the past three months, we have been able to raise our critical care capacity by to 50 percent, adding 3,600 beds,” said the minister.


• 305,186 COVID-19 cases

• 277,067 Recoveries

• 24,539 Active cases

• 3,580 Total deaths

He revealed that the toll-free number 937 receives around 100,000 calls per day to provide medical consultations and other services. The swift response has helped calm the people of Saudi Arabia.
Any psychological trauma or distress caused by the virus was also being dealt with. People were able to call on 937 to report their struggles. The minister confirmed there were a few cases that needed further support, but the overall state is stable.
The minister also confirmed that Saudi Arabia has not witnessed any variations in the virus, nor had any patient reported catching the virus twice. In most cases where this has happened around the world, he said, it was probably that the virus never left the patient’s body, as there are cases where the virus lingered for six to eight weeks.
Throughout the Kingdom, coronavirus cases are decreasing. In Tabuk, King Fahd Specialist Hospital announced it has shut down its COVID-19 isolation ward as the number of patients in a critical condition had dropped to zero.
Meanwhile, the Kingdom recorded 32 new COVID-19-related deaths on Friday, raising the death toll to 3,580.
There were 1,213 new cases reported in Saudi Arabia, meaning 305,186 people have now contracted the disease. There are 24,539 active cases, 1,675 of them in critical condition.
According to the Health Ministry, 1,591 more patients had recovered from coronavirus, bringing the total number of recoveries in the Kingdom to 277,067.
Saudi Arabia has so far conducted 4,563,517 PCR tests, with 62,413 carried out in the past 24 hours.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Young Saudis ‘have learned a great deal’ amid pandemic: Expert


Saudi youth make up 60 percent of the population. (AN photo by Essam Al Ghalib)

Modern internet infrastructure, accessibility in Kingdom ensured smooth running of online education.

LONDON: Despite its short-term challenges, the learning experience from the coronavirus pandemic may prove to be an advantage for young Saudis in the medium to long term, an expert has argued.

The pandemic, and the changes it has caused to education, employment and general wellbeing, have been major challenges for young people all over the world, including in Saudi Arabia.

But Mark Thompson, head of the Socioeconomic Unit at the King Faisal Center for Research & Islamic Studies, believes that there could be a silver lining to the disruption it has caused: A more strategically minded young population.
Speaking on Tuesday at an online seminar attended by Arab News, Thompson said Saudi youth, which make up 60 percent of the population, adapted quickly to the massive changes to their education that accompanied virus-control measures.
Saudi Arabia suspended all schools, universities and educational institutions on March 9 to contain the spread of coronavirus, delivering education entirely online.
Thanks to the Kingdom’s 90 percent internet penetration rate and the wide availability of internet-ready devices, Thompson said, the country successfully navigated “the switch to online learning” and managed to ensure “the continuation of learning through digital methods.”
One standout triumph from this period was the smooth delivery of university exams by the Ministry of Education, which conducted over 220,000 tests entirely online.
But more than just changing their method of learning, the disruptions have been a chance for many young people in the Kingdom to reflect on their own futures.
“This has also changed attitudes to specialization, toward programs such as business degrees, which are more suited to virtual classrooms,” Thompson said.
“The pandemic has altered young Saudis’ idea of education. It has compelled many young people to become more self-taught,” he added.
“They’ve learned a great deal from this experience. They can now develop clearer visions for their future careers, as well as the institutions they want to join.
“If the pandemic helps foster critical and strategic thinking in a lot of young Saudis, in the medium to long term we can consider this an indirect benefit.”
The pandemic has caused major disruption to children’s and young adults’ education worldwide.
UNESCO estimates that up to 60 percent of students globally have been impacted by school closures, amounting to over 1 billion affected learners.

This article was first published in Arab News

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