2009 has brought a newly elected President, a global financial crisis in recovery, and the rise of social innovation and social Changemakers across all sectors of society. The lines between non-profits and social ventures are blurring and philanthrocapitalism is on the rise among donors and foundations. Corporations are developing better corporate social responsible initiatives and others have already embedded conscious capitalism in their business model. Technology is bringing us more closely together than ever providing more opportunities to have authentic global dialogues of diplomacy and shared purpose.
There is an air of social change embracing optimism, hope and new models of collaboration for developing key partnerships from all stakeholders in the social value chain of individuals, academia, business, governments and civic organizations. Throughout the year, I look forward to sharing some of the stories of hope and innovation amongst these sectors and the people leading the change as Bonnventures joins them on their path.
In January, I participated as a guest speaker at the invitation of Governor Amr A. Al Dabbagh of the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority, (SAGIA), for the 3rd Global Competitiveness Forum (GCF 2009) under the patronage of His Majesty King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz. GCF is a global platform for constructive dialogue on core competitiveness issues bringing together world speakers to discuss the world’s most pressing issues and to share and implement best practices for responsible competitiveness.
The theme this year was “Where Competitiveness Improves Lives” http://www.gcf.org.sa held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The Governor’s opening remarks, “the business community must embrace excellence not only in financial terms but also as responsible corporate citizens.” AbdulMohsen Al-Badr, CEO of the GCF, described the conference as a place where the 100 speakers and 1500 attendees can “raise awareness of how nations can increase prosperity while acting responsibly.” Saudi Arabia’s vision is to transform itself into one of the world’s 10 most competitive countries by 2010.We don’t hear much about the good things that happen in the Kingdom, usually Western media blames Saudi Arabia for everything from violence against women, global terrorism to the rising price of gasoline. The truth revealed to me is a much different story. The Kingdom works at stabilizing oil prices as they too are conserving their natural resources, investing in alternative and renewable energy sources, building infrastructure and investments that address issues of poverty, women and a growing youth population, and health and education for the betterment of their society and the world. They are working to address global issues confronting the world at large, albeit through the lens of the Qur’an and governed by sharia laws, which, by the way, promotes great acts of kindness and philanthropy. More importantly, we in the West must realize that we are deeply connected to the rest of the world, including Saudi Arabia. By embracing the interdependence of our nations, our resources both natural and intellectual, we have a much greater chance of seeing peace and prosperity in the future for all people.
My participation at GCF was to help facilitate a dialogue around Islamic philanthropy and social ventures and to discuss the idea of social rates of return balanced with market rates of returns and how corporations can create social value. I had the great pleasure to meet with Basil Al Ghalayini, CEO of the BMG Corporation. BMG is one of the region’s premier Islamic investment banks and through its BMG Foundation, strives to bridge the East and West through the promotion of art and culture through their CCR or Corporate Cultural Responsibility programs, raising funds and awareness to serve “the less fortunate globally and support several charities that assist the needy.” http://www.bmgfoundation.com.
There are three major events each year: The GCC Polo Cup in Windsor with HRH The Prince of Wales; Al Farabi Concerto, a series of concerts presenting works by exceptionally gifted composers from the Arab World with renowned London Orchestras; and Art Alive Exhibitions. In 2008, funds raised went towards the Prince Sultan Bin Abdul Aziz Fund for Supporting Small Business Projects for Women in the Eastern Region. “This micro-finance program, run by HRH Prince Mohamed Bin Fahd Bin Abdul Aziz, was selected from a number of local programs for its initiative in supporting Saudi women under the leadership of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah Bin Adul Azziz and Crown Prince Sultan Bin Abdul Aziz.”
The GCF had many inspiring and distinguished speakers. Among the most auspicious leaders, Mary Robinson, 7th President of Ireland, Founder and President of Realizing Rights, The Ethical Global Initiative, http://www.realizingrights.org and a member of the Elders, http://www.theelders.org/elders/mary-robinson candidly addressed in her speech that competitiveness includes the right for women to work and many of the attendees agreed. Perhaps we will see the laws in the Kingdom change in favor of employing more women. Among other speakers were Michael Porter, business guru & professor from Harvard Business School, Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Nissan, Jean Chretien, 20th Prime Minister of Canada and Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, Chairman of Nestle, and former Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe. Tim Shriver and Michael Phelps with Carl Lewis spoke on the importance of competitive sports.
I sat on the panel “Recession Entrepreneurship: How to Thrive in an Economic Downturn” with Maria Otero, President and CEO of Accion International, http://www.accion.org. Maria has just been confirmed as U.S. Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs, she becomes the highest-ranking Hispanic ever to serve at the State Department. It was an honor to collaborate with her at the conference and learn more about the latest Accion endeavor, the Center for Financial Inclusion calling for standards in microfinance lending institutions.
During my visit to the Kingdom, I was invited for tea at the extraordinary palace of HRH Modi bint Kahalid Al Saud and her daughter HRH Princess Banderi Abdul Rahman Al Faisal. Each is deeply committed to women’s education and economic empowerment.
The Al Nahda Foundation is currently working on the Tourathi project or “My Heritage” project which will empower over 2500 women from many regions in the Kingdom, teaching them business and handicraft skills. http://www.blogcatalog.com/blog/american-bedu-1/a2e8dd058823263d74fce8c143b4d0dd
The King Khalid Foundation was established in 2001 as a royal, independent, national institution using its resources and expertise to make a positive impact in people’s lives and HRH Princess Banderi has been the Director General since its inception, funding social and economic development projects inside and outside of the Kingdom. http://www.oasis-mag.com/site/the-king-khalid-foundation-initiatives/591/
King Abdullah is focused on increasing the awareness of the Kingdom’s humanitarian and philanthropic efforts. A Gala Dinner was held at the Royal Al-Athelyah Farm, for an evening of Saudi Cultural Heritage and Cuisine. The photos include Governor Al Dabbagh, Jane Nelson of The Kennedy School, Jean Chretien, 20th Prime Minister of Canada, who spoke at GCF, emphasizing the need to balance job creation and social goals with fiscal responsibility and transparency.
King Abdullah has worked hard to promote moderation and responsibility, empowering women and promoting education. 70% of the population is under the age of 25, well educated but need jobs, 67% of the women do not work. The Kingdom is working to diversify its economy away from oil by building six economic cities by the year 2020. As Governor Al Dabbagh states, “the hope is that these six economic cities will contribute $150 billion to GDP growth for the Kingdom, 1.3 million jobs are to be created, and accommodate 4.8 million of the total population. The economic cities will help provide jobs for their growing youth population.
King Abdullah is putting the finishing touches on the King Abdullah University of Science & Technology (KAUST). It is an international; graduate level, research university dedicated to inspiring a new age of scientific achievement in the Kingdom and for the world.
My trip to the Kingdom inspired my continued belief that global dialogs, diplomacy and collaboration are the keys to promoting peace and prosperity for the world.
On June 4, 2009, President Obama spoke in Cairo, Egypt, his speech entitled “On a New Beginning.” The Islamic world was listening as our President moved us closer together with his words of hope and social change. http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Remarks-by-the-President-at-Cairo-University-6-04-09/
“All of us share this world for but a brief moment in time. The question is whether we spend that time focused on what pushes us apart, or whether we commit ourselves to an effort — a sustained effort — to find common ground, to focus on the future we seek for our children, and to respect the dignity of all human beings.” President Barack Hussein Obama
Just good sense!