The second session of the United Nations (UN) Habitat Assembly was held at the UN-Habitat headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, recently, under the theme A sustainable urban future through inclusive and effective multilateralism: achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in times of global crises. Saudi royal, Princess Lamia Bint Majed Al Saud, the Secretary-General of Alwaleed Philanthropies and Goodwill Ambassador for UN-Habitat in the Arab region, was also present as she spoke to FORBES AFRICA about social and affordable housing on the continent as well as the role of philanthropy in economic development.
You were recently reappointed as Goodwill Ambassador to UN-Habitat, what does your role entail?
I work closely with UN-Habitat to advocate for sustainable urbanization, and to help address urban challenges and their implications on societies, economies, and environments in the Arab world. Obviously, a component of this is funding and resources, however, through Alwaleed Philanthropies, we see our role as a facilitator and convenor to sustainable change. In practice, this means leveraging our influence to connect governments, organizations, and communities to each other, and working with our partners to bring concrete solutions; something I will be continuing to do in my role as Goodwill Ambassador to UN-Habitat for the Arab Region.
I would also just add that with our global population continuing to grow, it’s critical that we take the steps necessary to ensure that all people are able to live in safe and sustainable settlements, which is why it is a privilege to be able to help advance UN-Habitat’s agenda and work towards delivering SDG11: sustainable cities and communities.
What are the highlights of your partnership with UN-Habitat?
The four-year partnership between Alwaleed Philanthropies and UN-Habitat has helped to advance the discussion on sustainable urbanization in the Middle East and demonstrate why it is so important for the region’s development agenda. And in doing so, we have seen a significant increase in resource mobilization and targeted, sustainable humanitarian support that has helped to create more resilient societies throughout the region.
I’m incredibly proud of every project we have been able to work on with UN-Habitat during this partnership, but some notable achievements that spring to mind are rehabilitating damaged housing and improving living conditions for 4,000 families of internally-displaced people in Yemen; upgrading seven health facilities’ water and sanitation capabilities in conflict-affected Iraq; and providing 25,000 people with water, sanitation and hygiene facilities during the Covid-19 pandemic in Sudan.
These are just a few of this partnership’s far-reaching impacts and we look forward to continuing to help deliver SDG11 and address the key challenges that many of the most vulnerable face today.
As Africa pursues goals towards affordable housing, what would you describe as ‘proper housing’?
Our belief is that ‘proper housing’ is about more than just a roof, it is an opportunity to better the lives and futures of people – housing is a precondition for access to employment, education, health, and social services – and it must be accompanied by the necessary infrastructure including water and waste management and sanitation services.
I firmly believe that the provision of this sort of housing is a basic human right and as the African continent continues on its development journey, it is critical that this forms part of it.
Through your experiences, what key lessons were learned through the process that other African countries can emulate to deliver social and affordable housing?
An important lesson that came out of our projects was the need to collaborate with relevant stakeholders. It is through pooling resources and expertise that we can overcome global challenges, which is why we partner with many of the world’s leading organizations. Involving authorities to explain our projects’ objectives and agree on the roles and responsibilities of each stakeholder is particularly relevant to deliver adequate housing.
We also understand that for a project to have lasting, sustainable impact you cannot just drop the money and run – you must be in it for the long haul. This is why we work with communities to develop different tailored solutions to their most pressing challenges, from gender mainstreaming adaptation to community-based and self-help housing. Our vision of resilience cannot be met without investing in social transformation.
What are some of your housing projects in Africa?
We have a long history of supporting projects in Africa, to help address the Covid-19 pandemic which had such a devastating impact on the continent. However, when it comes to housing, our flagship project on the continent is undoubtedly the Nubian Vault. The project has helped to provide both housing and job opportunities in Burkina Faso, Mali, Benin, Ghana, and Senegal, by training young people to build Nubian houses. As a result of this partnership, families are now living in healthier houses and local revenue was generated and reinvested in the local economy, with 13,900 project beneficiaries.
What do you see as the role of philanthropy in development and how can partnerships work better towards the SDGs?
We truly believe that philanthropy is an integral part of the development landscape and is helping to address some of the world’s most complex challenges. There is the funding that philanthropic organizations provide; however, effective philanthropy is about so much more than the provision of funds. We adopt a humanity-first approach to philanthropy which is grounded in an understanding that to make a sustainable, long-lasting impact, the interests and needs of beneficiaries must be the foundation of everything we do. And this means actually taking the time to work with beneficiaries throughout the project lifecycle to ensure we maximize its impact and deliver solutions that will stand the test of time.
When it comes to delivering the SDGs, we have seen first-hand the positive impact that partnerships can have on accelerating development. And it is important that organizations within the philanthropic sector do not lose sight of the value of these partnerships and continue to look to work with stakeholders from a variety of sectors – from governments to development organizations – to help many of the most vulnerable meet the SDGs.
What does Africa portend to Alwaleed, anything in the pipeline?
We have multiple projects in Africa and are keen to expand our support on the continent. We obviously have the aforementioned Nubian Vault project, whilst during the Covid-19 pandemic, we partnered with the Islamic World Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation to support 10 countries in their efforts to address the repercussions of the pandemic – these included Niger, Senegal, Morocco, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Nigeria, Sudan, Mauritania and Cote d’Ivoire. Similarly, in partnership with the Carter Center for Global Alliance to combat the spread of guinea worm disease in Angola, Cameroon, Chad, South Sudan and Ethiopia, we reached 1 million people and participated in the drop of cases, approaching the goal of global eradication.
Of course, there is always more to be done, and we are constantly in conversations with potential partners – many of whom are based in Africa – to explore ways of combatting some of the world’s most pressing challenges.