Introduction

Abeer S. Al Saud is a peacebuilder, humanitarian actor, and development professional in the arena of multilateral organizations, with strong values based in a belief in common humanity and the importance of cultural and environmental sustainability in her work. Her work encompasses development practices, policy building, international dialogue, and capacity-building. Born and raised in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Abeer attended Alfaisal University in Riyadh before earning her MSc in International Development at SOAS University of London. She began her career by engaging in volunteer work in fragile states, working in the development of value chains for local development practice, from fishery supply chains in Vietnam to working to empower people in the Nile Basin through the creation of a local hospitality and tourism industry, to working on creating agricultural industries for international buyers in the mountains of Jizan, in her hometown. Her most recent work is on introducing the concept of the blue economy in the region, for the purpose of creating new industries and jobs, linking innovation with prosperity.

Her work has shifted to international cooperation and multilateral organization but she has never let go of the core value of sustainable development & culture, in peacebuilding through a communal method and a community level of cultural-sensitivity, connection, communication, and dialogue.

Career

Abeer has started her career in multilateral organizations, with a focus on the nexus of culture, development, and peacebuilding where she worked for over three years at the bilateral European Affairs Department at the Gulf Cooperation Council – GCC Secretariat and the head of the technical GCC-UK Strategic Partnership. She then took a new role and is currently the head of the EU Affairs Department to promote GCC-EU regional relations. To this role she brings her knowledge of international development and her communication and facilitation, working towards strengthening multilateral platforms and inter-regional dialogue. Before the pandemic forced it to shut down, Abeer was assigned and managed a capacity-building project of conducting workshops on peacebuilding and facilitation and had already trained over 60 people from 16 inter-agencies on how to implement peacebuilding, drawing from many different schools of theory on physical and social reconstruction, justice sector reform, disarmament, demobilization, reintegration (DDR), trauma-informed practices, and economic recovery. This was part of an effort to do nationwide capacity building in the arena of peace.

Before beginning this work Abeer founded The Association for Sustainable Development (Talga), based in Riyadh, whichab aims to elevate the capacities of the Saudi society to achieve sustainable development goals using a cultural-relevant approach with a specific focus on localizing and integrating cultural practices into the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals in the Kingdom, in addition to future efforts relevant to sustainability. Before she began work with the GCC, Abeer established this association in her spare time, the inspiration for the name, Talga, coming from the name of an imported tree that has, against all odds, grown to thrive in Saudi. Abeer emphasizes this idea of ‘thriving, not just surviving’, something she sees as representative of the goals and struggles of the region and the world as a whole.

Personal Values and Goals

Abeer notes that part of her interest in mediation and peacebuilding comes from the fact that her life had always been impacted from a young age by constant conflict in the Middle East, from seeing human rights violations published in the newspaper – for example, the publicized rape and murder of a child in Iraq, 12-year-old Abeer Al Janabi to the regional trauma after the assassination of a Lebanese philanthropic-driven figure, Rafiq Al Hariri, who remained devoted to the country’s institutional and social reconstruction through to the end of his life. Her understanding of conflict is nuanced, like all peacebuilders, and she knows that conflict can be a productive force if it is handled properly and with compassion, adding the aspects of forgiveness and principle and elements of will spirit and compliance as tools to reach peace and hence, prosperity for all; I feel an inclination to be part of linking those people and helping them to understand each other more through fostering interpersonal communications, model listening, encouraging meaningful closure with an objective of having the group reach a higher level of self-actualization.’

As accomplished as she is in her career, Abeer has also brought to her work a conscientious and holistic inclination which shines through in her application of the values of sustainability and longevity. She is particularly passionate about the environment and the innate connectedness of the human condition. Her curiosity and compassion shines through in the work that she seeks out, but also in the ways in which she seeks to learn from everyone around her and in any way she can.

To become the best version of herself in peacebuilding projects, Abeer has invested in learning mediation, conflict coaching, compassion cultivation training, equanimity trainings, and facilitation and practiced appreciation for the holistic nature of tailoring peacebuilding, mediation, and dialogue projects at all levels of human interaction. Her original interest in her undergraduate degree was in neuroaesthetics, and she continues to believe in the relevance of the study of neurology and strives to bring a better understanding of the limbic system to mediation as a whole. Her recognition of the prominence of the human physical form carries forward into her practices today.

‘I think conventional mediation has to evolve into integrating the future skills of peace and successful mediation which will replace intergenerational cycles of conflict with cycles of peace through integrating a meaning-centric approach such as logotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy for instance and have it both easily accessible to both practitioners and civilians.’

Her work and her values are trauma-informed and culturally-sensitive to the ways in which we carry trauma into everyday life and activities. Personally, Abeer finds, for herself, the best way to release the stress of working in a conflict-heavy environment is to exercise with deliberation and body awareness; ‘I believe trauma is stored in the cells, and conscious moving can help to release that trauma.’

Abeer believes that although she works on an international scale, peacebuilding is accomplished through one person at a time, something she learned from Ken Cloke. ‘If you can change one person or one family’s life, in your lifetime, that in itself is a huge accomplishment’. In joining MBBI, she co-convened the Arabic version of “Pandemics and Peacebuilding” Majlis, and she aspires to add immense value to the practice of the organization by providing a new cultural perspective. She may be new to the field of mediation, but her constant exposure to UN events on top-level mediation dialogues and personal experience on simpler community-level mediation, in addition to her values, promise to take her far as a peacebuilder and practitioner.

Article by Lizzy Nestor, MBBI Writer