Somaya Badr

Founder and GM of Saudi Arabia’s Art of Heritage Group

I grew up in a family of academics and scientists. My Father and mother are both university professors in hydrology and analytical chemistry respectively, and my siblings all come from scientific backgrounds.

I was the odd one out with my passion for culture, society and art, and ended up studying economics and political science. While I didn’t share the specific interests of my family, I learned from them the love of hard work and of constant self-improvement and a passion to excel and innovate in my specialization of choice. When I started to work, I was lucky to be able to engage in the field that was closest to my heart, namely that of culture and handicrafts.

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 After years of experience in both for-profit and non-profit institutions, I was able to establish and continue to direct Art of Heritage LLC (AOH), which replaced Al Nahda Heritage Centre as the public marketing and retail arm of Saudi’s oldest women’s philanthropic organization when the charity organization shifted its focus to core educational values and women’s issues. I realized that not only could I educate future generations about their heritage, but that I could also support marginalized groups to transform from being totally dependent to being confident and productive members of society. AOH trains disabled Saudi women as handicraft artisans, enabling them to acquire unique and valuable skills and become independent. Every day when I see these girls overcoming their challenges to produce high quality work, my hope is renewed and my motivation is strengthened to give my absolute best. 

I have always believed in the importance of having a purpose and a career and in continuing to broaden my horizons and knowledge. I have proudly raised my children to value these principles and to be independent and open to different cultures. My husband has also strongly supported me and our children and encouraged me to work, travel and continue my education. My daughter just graduated from medical school and my son is currently studying in the United States. I taught my children the importance of working in a field that they love, because this is what will enable them to innovate and excel. From the scale of my small family to the scale of the country as a whole, I strongly believe that we have to learn how to listen to young people and support their out-of-the-box thinking in creating their future. Doing this will instill the capacity in each member of society to be an ambassador for their country through their confidence in their heritage and their engagement with the wider world. 

 I have brought these same principles to my work at AOH. For example, AOH cooperates with well-known international fashion designers in order to create a fashion line inspired by traditional Saudi dress. Further, we are working to conserve and share the rich Saudi material cultural heritage through establishing an extensive collection of artefacts, jewelry and clothing. Recently, we have been able to bring our work to both local and international audiences through collaborative exhibitions such as “Hajj” Journey to the Heart of Islam” with the British Museum, “Design Cross-Roads: Jewelry from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia” with the Bahrain National Museum, and “Hidden Treasures: Jewelry from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia” with L’ecole Van Cleef and Arpels in Dubai’s Design District. My passion for using cultural heritage to improve the lives of marginalized women and my belief in the importance of conservation is also linked to my strong belief in the need for further advanced study and inquiry in the cultural field. To that end, I have personally worked with the School of Oriental and African Studies in London to organize a two-year pre-PhD program on Saudi tribal embroidery and dress patterns. 

I am very optimistic about the future of the Kingdom, and I believe what is to come will only be better and better. There is an enthusiasm in the Kingdom for progressive thinking and for meeting the challenges and opportunities of globalization with a modern and authentic self. Not only are we challenging outside stereotypes about our culture and region, but women and youth truly have more of a voice,  and have been invited to participate in all areas of life.  With the 2030 vision for the future supported by increased opportunities for women and with a newly established Ministry of Culture, new groups will be able to understand their cultural heritage and participate in enriching it. Both through the values I have instilled within my family and the ones I demonstrate in my professional life, I hope to continue to support this hopeful vision for our shared future. 

Follow Somaya Badr
Instagram:  @somayabadr
Linkedin:  @somaya-badr

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