RAED ALBASSEET. May 11, 2024

Raising awareness, building capacity, and providing essential knowledge and resources can empower local communities. (SPA)
Raising awareness, building capacity, and providing essential knowledge and resources can empower local communities. (SPA)

Short Url


Experts and advanced technologies can only do so much to protect the environment. Effective stewardship of a natural habitat hinges on the involvement of the people who live and work there.

Communities understand local environmental issues from firsthand experience. They are personally affected. They are the ones with skin in the game.

Red Sea Global, the company I work for, is creating luxury resorts on the western coast of Saudi Arabia, helping to put the Kingdom on the global tourism map.

Upon completion, our flagship destinations — the Red Sea and AMAALA — will be powered exclusively by renewable energy, with some 760,000 solar panels already in place.

We aim to achieve a 30 percent net conservation benefit at our locations by 2040. We are gardening corals to help replenish reefs and we have planted more than 1 million mangrove tree seedlings, one of nature’s best carbon sinks, out of a planned 50 million by 2030.

To sustain and nurture our environment, we need to do much more than obey rules and regulations. We must involve the farmers, fishermen and townspeople who are our neighbors.

Our approach must extend beyond mere engagement with local communities; we must empower them. By helping them find their voice and express their wants and concerns, we can forge the partnerships that are vital for protecting and enhancing our environment, while we also try to improve people’s lives.

It is essential that we empower local communities, enabling them to become our genuine partners in regenerating our natural habitats.

Raed Albasseet

At Red Sea Global, we distill this concept into a core principle that directs all our actions: We aim to serve both people and planet. It is an ambitious goal and we know we cannot achieve it on our own. That is why we advocate for a collective approach and the forging of strong partnerships.

Our collaborations range from grassroots to strategic, involving the private sector, government agencies, such as Saudi Arabia’s National Center for Environmental Compliance, and a broad spectrum of civil society and nonprofit organizations.

Empowering local communities means raising their awareness, building their capacity, and linking them with essential knowledge and resources. A good example of such empowerment is Tamala, the farmers’ co-operative that Red Sea Global co-founded.

In 2021, we approached some of the 2,000-plus farmers in our areas, looking for supplies of fresh vegetables and fruits for our future hotels. These farmers told us about the many challenges they faced, from overpriced fertilizers and a lack of technical expertise, to limited transportation that made it hard for them to sell their produce.

So we stepped in, helping to establish Tamala in 2022. Today, local farms are delivering high-quality cucumbers, tomatoes and other vegetables directly to The Red Sea destination. Traveling from farm to table, this produce leaves a much smaller carbon footprint than would be the case if we had to truck it north from our supply hub in Jeddah.

Tamala also employs an agricultural engineer who advises farmers about producing to higher and more sustainable standards. Going forward, this should help ensure that local farms use water, chemicals and fertilizers more wisely.

Our partnership with local farmers through Tamala is a success because we listened to local communities. We collaborated with them to solve their challenges and mitigate environmental impacts.

A much different example of local empowerment was Red Sea Global’s project in January to restore traditional sailboats in the town of Umluj. Our aim was to help the community revive and preserve its rich maritime heritage.

The month-long event was supervised by local fishermen and their families. We ensured that the boat restorers followed the best environmental practices. A private-sector partner even supplied environmentally friendly paint for the restoration.

Yet another initiative for community empowerment is a mobile phone app that we designed for people living near The Red Sea destination. It is an open, two-way communication channel that lets communities share feedback, suggestions and complaints directly with us. The app is called Jewar, which translates roughly as “Good Neighbor.” Even though Jewar is still in its beta phase, almost 17,000 people have already downloaded it.

We used this app to notify the Umluj community about our sailboat restoration project. We can also use it to announce environmental campaigns, such as the one we held in December to clean up trash.

These diverse examples — a farmers’ co-operative, the restoration of sailboats, and a mobile phone app — show that the only limit to community engagement is imagination.

Yet, to achieve truly outstanding success, we must go beyond the basics. It is essential that we empower local communities, enabling them to become our genuine partners in regenerating our natural habitats.

Like any successful partnership, the grassroots initiatives that can protect the environment develop from trust and respect. Our experience at Red Sea Global has taught us to act with humility and listen to local communities. If more of us can do that, all of us — and our environment — will be better off for it.

• Raed Albasseet is the group chief environment and sustainability officer of Red Sea Global, the developer behind The Red Sea and AMAALA, two tourism projects on the northwestern coast of Saudi Arabia.