Nobel laureates and influential global figures called for “action to save humanity” at a conference in Saudi Arabia as they discussed solutions to global economic and social issues.
The three-day Hegra conference, held in the Nabataean civilisation's historic region of AlUla at the weekend, hosted 35 Nobel laureates of peace, economics, literature, physics, chemistry, physiology and medicine, social change makers and political leaders, alongside Saudi ministers, led by Prince Turki bin Faisal, former director general of Saudi Arabia's intelligence agency.
Richard Attias, curator of the Hegra conference, and Chief Executive of the Future Investment Initiative, said the limited access was important to nurture intimate and facilitate free dialogue for the guests.
“Every human has a purpose; this is the legacy I want to leave behind,” he told The National, adding that the conference comes at a time when people around the world want change. “People around the world are concerned about the lack of leadership,” he said, adding that Saudi Arabia is the greatest example of change, spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
“This place [the Kingdom] is for dreamers and 'do-ers' and that's what we have going on today. I also believe, 'who cares, wins'.”
At a youth panel titled “How Youth Will Build the Next Decade”, Prince Turki, who attended the conference with his daughters, shared with the audience his pride and great hopes for Saudi youth as “the future of the kingdom.”
Young men and women shared their success stories and journey with Mawhiba, one of the initiatives of the government that provides skills, training and internship opportunities to gifted students, as well as KAUST (King Abdullah University of Science and Technology), that is fostering and providing opportunities to young bright minds in the kingdom.
During a panel discussion on Sunday titled “Uniting the World: Is a Common Cause What We Miss?”, Prof Mohan Munasinghe, the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, from Sri Lanka said he feels “a strong sense of obligation to provide the tools to young people”.
He said that mistakes were made by the older generation including economic underdevelopment and an increasingly worsening social system.
“We have started out with the wrong set of social values — selfishness, greed, a world that is built on debt, overconsumption by the rich — all that is seen in terms of poverty and inequality in the world today. I would ask young people to seek ways to break this cycle,” he told The National, adding that this can be done by considering the long-term economic consequences of actions. in an inclusive and environmentally-friendly way.
The first conference was held in 2020. On Thursday, the Nobel laureates will publish the "10 decisive actions," a source told The National, that will help “humanity thrive in the 21st century in a collective and sustainable approach”.
In his closing address for this year's forum under the theme “New Openings: Decisive Moments for a Decisive Decade,” Prince Turki said, “if it were not for the Vision 2030, we wouldn't have been possible.” Referencing Julius Caesar, he said: “You came, you saw, and I hope you were conquered by what you have seen — by the majesty and grace of AlUla.”
His daughter Princess Noura bint Turki, founding partner of Aeon Strategy, and Ibrahim Muhammad Al Sultan, a member of the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU), also participated in the panel sessions.
Saudi Shoura Council member Maha Al Senan said the conference helps give people a different perspective about “our nation, and our society.” She said the aim of the conference is to create decisive outcomes that will be implemented in the next 14 months.
The laureates also participated in a cultural experience, visiting Unesco world heritage sites and Desert X AlUla — an open-air art exhibition with interactive large-scale artworks.
“I never imagined it to be like this. I am so happy to be here and pleasantly surprised at how welcoming and warm Saudis are. The only way to know this is to visit the kingdom,” Prof Karen Hallberg, the 2019 L'Oréal-Unesco For Women in Science Laureate, and research director at the Bariloche Atomic Centre, from Argentina, told The National.
Young students who participated in the forum described their experience at the forum was an eye-opener.
“The Hegra conference of Nobel laureates opened my eyes on a world of humble, courageous, world changers," Faisal Alkhwaiter, a Saudi student who won 2nd place and the grand prize in the international science engineering fair (ISEF) in plant sciences category told The National.
"As an 18 year old, being in the same room and having conversations with people with such high caliber made me realize that changing the world is possible by any human being regardless of their social status,” he added.
Philip Jones, Chief Destination Marketing Officer of the Royal Commission for AlUla, said that Maraya, which entered the Guinness Book of Records as the world's largest reflective mirror-covered building and hosts prestigious world and cultural events, as well as exclusive premium concerts, is the ultimate destination for world-class premium events such as the Hegra Conference of Nobel Laureates & Friends.
AlUla received more than 250,000 visitors in the past year as international flights resumed, with an increasing number of luxury hotels set to open this year, including Banyan Tree Hotel in October and a property designed by renowned French architect Jean Nouvel.
Philip Jones said sustainability comes at the heart of the vibrant landscape, and it is imperative that AlUla's “community is involved and employed in all the Royal Commission of AlUla” initiatives.
“I have had the best experience working with young Saudis, including the extremely hard working and committed generation of young Saudi women, who have done a fantastic job for this conference,” he told The National.
The RCU aims to host the conference every year, he confirmed.