Her Royal Highness Princess Reema Bint Bandar Al Saud is one of the world's most forward-thinking female advocates and prominent entrepreneurs. Having publicly spoken about the need for women in the workforce to sustain economic growth, Princess Reema is a modern thinker and revolutionary leader whose life accomplishments are as varied — and as prolific — as they come.
Having been involved in almost every industry imaginable, Princess Reema is clearly not the bonbon-eating type of royal. Bold, beautiful and unafraid, Princess Reema began her adult life as a museum studies major at George Washington University in Washington DC. At the time, her father was the ambassador to the United States (he served in this capacity from 1983 to 2005), which gave the princess a unique vantage point into Western culture, and undoubtedly contributed to her robust work ethic.
Bold, beautiful and epically motivated, Princess Reema is changing female face of Saudi Arabia.
When she returned to Saudi Arabia in 2005 as a college graduate, she immediately got to work, beginning with a stint as CEO of a luxury retail company. Throughout her career, Princess Reema has emerged as a diversely prolific entrepreneur.
She founded a handbag line, a woman's day spa, a breast cancer awareness association (for which she lead a group of women to climb Mount Everest), and a corporate social responsibility initiative, designed to provide access to opportunities through a proprietary self-branding curriculum. If that doesn't impress you, the Princess is also Deputy Planning and Development of the General Sports Authority in Saudi Arabia.
In this exclusive interview, the princess speaks to SWAAY about women's rights, sports, and social entrepreneurship.
1. Tell us what life was like for you in Saudi Arabia as a young girl.
While I was born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, I actually was raised in Washington D.C. Arriving in the states at age 7, I returned home to live in Saudi Arabia 23 years later when my own daughter was 7 years old. Even though we returned frequently on holiday and for family events I always felt that I wanted a stronger connection to home. That is why my ex-husband and I made the decision to return home when we had our children at a young enough age so they could plant their roots in their nation.
2. You are heralded as a champion for women in business. Can you share your thoughts on equality in the workplace as it stands today?
Women should have no shame in asking for what they deserve, and know that doing so doesn't reduce their femininity, nor does it make them 'difficult' individuals. It has been my experience that respect has to be earned and maintained. The same goes with trust – those are basic principles that in truth should be gender neutral.
3. What is your advice for helping to level the playing field?
Time management and life management are one and the same for me. It is important to recognise that, much as we would like to, we cannot do everything. Once we accept this, the work life balance will be a matter of fact, not a matter of compromise. I believe the journey to success is faster achieved when one has a strong team. We need to honor those who support us outside of the work place, those people who facilitate us having the time to "get work done." I also believe that financial management is a crucial point that many women ignore. The first step to independence is financial literacy and stability. While it is wonderful to live for today, in reality we need to plan for tomorrow.
4. Women's rights are of course a major issue in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East. How is the situation today? Is it improving?
It's improving faster than people who have not been to Saudi might be aware, as reflected in some recently published facts… For example, Saudi female university students today outnumber men; the Saudi Arabian legislative body has higher female participation than that of the U.S., and Saudi female entrepreneurship is on the rise. We are by no means perfect, but we are a nation of capable women who are growing in their fields, rising rapidly and publicly.
5. What advice do you give to female entrepreneurs who may be struggling to secure funding or see an idea to fruition?
Regardless of gender, I always recommend setting personal goals. I've said it before and I'll say it again: The journey to success cannot be replicated. Bill Gates didn't read a book on how to be Bill Gates. Clarity of vision and strategy will take you farther than any book can take you. That is what an investor is looking for – not a savvy quote, but a strategy and an execution plan.
6. Can you tell us a bit about your philanthropic organizations, Alf Khair and Zahra Breast Cancer Association? Why did you pick these two particular causes?
Alf Khair is not a philanthropic organization – rather, it is a social enterprise that I founded in 2013. Its mission is to create access to opportunities through programs that highlight values and financial self-sufficiency at the core. This has been realized through several initiatives, including a training curriculum called Alf Darb, a platform for discourse called Alf Hewar, and also the Guinness World Records-breaking and award-winning 10KSA, which raised awareness about holistic health with a focus on breast cancer. Zahra Breast Cancer Association is Saudi's first breast cancer awareness charity and was the chosen beneficiary of sponsorship raised during 10KSA. I am honored to be a founding member of this charity as it has opened my eyes to many of the nation's health and social issues. Those insights have profoundly impacted the work of Alf Khair as an organization.
7. How do you think women's role in business is changing? Do you see us ever reaching true equality?
What I realized was that it's not impossible, it's just not always been done before. It's okay to be the first one, but I don't want to be the only one.... that means I would not have done anything to help others, rather only helped myself. I believe it is important to leave room for others to grow into – it is important to let others in. Things have to change by default, if not by design. We exist, we are capable and we are here.
8. You vowed to involve (Saudi) women in sports, how are you planning on doing so? Why do you think it's important?
In my role at the General Sports Authority I aim to expand the understanding of sports to include: health, well-being and lifestyle. This dialogue is gender neutral. We need to think bigger than just the athlete – we need to focus on the ecosystem around that individual. That is where the economy of sports is born. Without the basic foundation of sports, hobbies and amateur sports, we will not have elite athletes. Without the trainers and the coaches and the volunteers, we will not have programs. Without the facilities and the products we will not have the tools to play or engage. We're a partner in the health sector, and proud to include women in sports for a healthier society and a more productive economy. Women's participation in sports has the potential to create thousands of jobs. We — especially women — must incorporate physical fitness in our lives. My goal at the General Sports Authority is to offer women the opportunity to engage further in physical activity through access to facilities and programs.
9. What is next for you? Where will you be focusing your efforts on in the next few months and years?
My dedication today is the expansion of the sports economy in Saudi Arabia. My role at the General Sports Authority has evolved to Deputy for Planning and Development, with diversity and women's affairs under my supervision. I'm honored to spend the next years of my life working with and for my community.
10. Do you have a life or business philosophy?
Do good and choose happy.
Personally, I am over the top excited that we are on the cusp of turning the page on not only a new year but also on a new 10-year window of opportunities and possibilities!
You may be thinking, whoa…I am just embracing the fall season…yikes… it is tough to think about a new decade!
Yet it is this groundwork, this forward thought that you put in place TODAY that will propel you and lead you into greatness in 2020 and beyond. Designing a new decade rests in your ability to vision, in your willingness to be curious, in your awareness of where you are now and what you most want to curate. Essentially, curating what's next is about tapping into today with confidence, conviction, and decision. Leading YOU starts now. This is your new next. It is your choice.
Sometimes to get to that 'next', you need to take a step back to reflect. Please pardon my asking you to spend time in yesterday. Those who know me personally, know that I created and continue to grow my business based on enabling the present moment as a springboard for living your legacy. So, indulge me here! True, I am asking you to peek into the past, yet it is only in order for you to bring the essence of that past forward into this moment called NOW.
One of the best ways to tap into what's next is to clarify what drives you. To design a new decade, ask yourself this question about the past ten years:
What worked? What were my successes?
Make a list of your achievements big and small. Don't type them, but rather use ink and paper and sit with and savor them. Move your thoughts and your successes from your head, to your heart, to your pen, to the paper. Remember that on the flip side of goals not attained and New Year's resolutions abandoned, there was more than likely some traction and action that moved you forward, even if the end result was not what you expected. Once you have a full list of a decade's worth of personal and professional accomplishments, think about how this makes you feel. Do you remember celebrating all of them? My guess is no. So, celebrate them now. Give them new life by validating them. Circle the successes that resonate with you most right now. Where can you lean into those accomplishments as you power into the decade ahead?
Now comes a tougher question, one that I used myself in my own mid-life reinvention and a question I adore because in a moment's time it provides you with a quick reconnect to your unique inner voice.
If it were 10 years ago and nothing were standing in your way, no fear or excuses to contend with…what would you do?
Don't overthink it. The brilliance of this question is that it refocuses purpose. Whatever first came to mind when you answered this for yourself is at its core a powerful insight into defining and redefining the FUTURE decade. Bring your answer into the light of today and what small piece of it is actionable NOW? Where is this resonating and aligning with a 2019 version of yourself?
Then, based on your success list and your answer to the above question, what is your 2020 vision for your business and for the business of YOU?
Designing a new decade begins as a collection of 3,650 opportunities. 3,650 blank slates of new days ahead in which to pivot and propel yourself forward. Every single one of those days is a window into your legacy. An invitation to be, create, explore, and chip away at this thing we call life. One 24-hour segment at a time.
While you have a decade ahead to work on design improvements, you have the ability to begin manifesting this project of YOU Version 2020 right NOW. Based on exploring the exercises in this post, begin executing your vision. Ask questions. Be present. Let go of 2019 and the past 10 years so that you can embrace the next 10. Position acceptance and self-trust at the forefront of how you lead you. One choice at a time.
Don't get bogged down in the concept of the next 10 years. Instead position clarity and intention into each new day, starting today. Then chase every one of those intentions with an in-the-moment commitment and solution toward living a legendary life!