Green grants

How a Saudi foundation is creating climate-friendly job opportunities for low-income youth and women living in the Kingdom.

Saudi Arabia’s King Khalid Foundation (KKF) is blazing a new trail with the launch of its green grants programme seeking to engage the next generation of social enterprises and nonprofits to tackle social inequalities such as poverty and youth unemployment in a climate friendly way.

Begun initially as a pilot in 2022 to build the capacity of nonprofits and social enterprises working to develop the Kingdom’s green economy, the SAR1m (US$267,000) Green Grants initiative is now running a second round and is inviting interested organisations to submit proposals for consideration.

“What we are trying to do is to create interest on the part of the nonprofit sector to come up with development projects that combine social justice and economic and environmental sustainability,” explained Nadine Hassassian, KKF’s social investment programme director.

Some 98 entities registered for the first round of Green Grants. Of these, 31 were invited to a workshop about the “green economy” featuring university experts defining sustainability and explaining “green jobs”.

Nineteen applicants continued on after the workshop, from which KKF chose the eight most relevant before selecting four organisations to each receive a grant of between SAR 100,000 to SAR 250,000.

“We want the nonprofit sector to come up with development projects that combine social justice and economic and environmental sustainability.”

Nadine Hassassian, social investment programme director, KKF

Acknowledging the initiative’s modest scale, Hassassian said: “We want to start a conversation around what is the green economy? What is a green job? How can we tackle social issues and at the same time help the environment?”

This dual focus on economic and sustainable development is a relatively new concept in Saudi Arabia and the wider Arab region, where Hassassian said most organisations’ environment programmes were linked to awareness raising or tree planting.

“But we’re not looking for that,” she told Philanthropy Age. “We want these organisations to come up with new solutions to environmental and economic issues because they are there on the frontline and they know best what is needed and crucially, how to do it.”

Among last year’s grantees was the Al Ahsa-based Al-Shuaba Social Development Association, which is training unemployed young women to weave discarded palm fronds - which would otherwise be burned or placed in landfill - into bags, cushions and other products to be sold in local markets.

Across the Kingdom in Jeddah, the Social Responsibility Association (SRA), was selected for its project teaching out-of-work Saudis to turn factory waste, such as wood and acrylics, into toys, home accessories, and stationery items. In addition to being shown how to laser cut and engrave their items, participants are also given training in graphic design and basic marketing skills.

“We aim to create an innovative industrial model for entrepreneurs that preserves the environment and promotes sustainable development practices,” explained Hiba Bukhari, CEO of SRA.

A third organisation, meanwhile, is developing a nursery to train smallholder farmers to grow organic products, while a fourth has since dropped out of the programme.

The roll-out of the Green Grants programme is the latest move by KKF, one of Saudi’s most respected nonprofits, to boost its sustainability credentials. In 2022, it revised its core strategy to create a dual focus on both equal opportunities and environmental sustainability. 

Earlier this year, KKF became the first regional foundation to sign the International Philanthropy Commitment on Climate Change, initiated by global philanthropy platform WINGS and the European Philanthropy Coalition for Climate. - PA

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Handcrafts made by Saudi women in Al Ahsa using palm leaves. Photo: Mustafa Holimi / Al-Shuaba Social Development Association


Palm trees have long been central to the culture and economy of the Gulf region, dates being both a staple food as well as a major export. Dead or browning fronds have traditionally been woven to make handicrafts and tools such as brooms, baskets, fans, bags, and mats, and even walls of homes. In recent years, however, as these skills have been forgotten amid modernisation, the deployment of more intense farming methods has also led to a surge in palm leaf waste.

With an area spanning 84 km sq, the Al Ahsa region in Saudi Arabia is home to the world’s largest oasis with more than 2.5 million palm trees. According to the Al Ahsa Chamber, these trees produce more than 41 tonnes of waste that in most cases ends up being burned or sent to landfills.

Hussein Al Jaber, the head of Al-Shuaba Social Development Association, an NGO based in Al Ahsa, told Philanthropy Age that his organisation had been seeking a way to stop the burning and dumping of old palm fronds when it came up with the idea of reskilling people locally to turn the leaves into useful products to sell to visitors.

Thanks to the KKF Green Grant, Al-Shuaba is now training 28 young unemployed women from low-income families in Al Ahsa to weave the leaves into craft products.

The year-long training programme, which is run solely by women for women, teaches weaving and product development as well as giving participants an introduction to entrepreneurship and marketing. On completion, the women will receive business licences enabling them to sell their products across the Al Ahsa region, which is growing in popularity as a visitor destination thanks to Saudi Arabia’s new tourist visas.

Al Jaber said the project was tackling youth unemployment, which he described as “the most pressing socio-economic issue of his native region”, as well as reviving traditional crafts, and reducing the waste of resources.