‘My great-grandfather was a visionary’: How Sheikha Shamma Al Nahyan channels the values of Sheikh Zayed in her philanthropic journey

'We are reaping the rewards of the legacy left to us by our forefathers,' says the entrepreneur and philanthropist as she reveals how she marks Ramadan

The UAE's Founding Father, Sheikh Zayed, was a passionate naturalist and environmentalist. Courtesy Al Ittihad
The UAE's Founding Father, Sheikh Zayed, was a passionate naturalist and environmentalist. Courtesy Al Ittihad

The importance of giving back was instilled in Sheikha Shamma bint Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan from a young age.

“I remember, as a young child, representing my mother at Emirates Red Crescent recognition ceremonies and visiting hospitals and special needs centres," she tells The National.

Widely recognised for her expertise in sustainability, Sheikha Shamma is an entrepreneur, philanthropist, author, chief executive of Alliances for Global Sustainability, founder of the Circle of Hope Foundation, and co-founder of Aurora50.

My great-grandfather was a visionary who cared deeply for the environment and was committed to sustainable development, knowing it would advance the nation

Sheikha Shamma bint Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan

She attributes her success to focusing on three key elements in her endeavours: creating change, learning and empowering others.

“It is always rewarding for me to see change happen that will create opportunities for future generations," she says.

“For example, a few weeks ago, the Securities and Commodities Authority announced that every board will require one female representative. This announcement opens the doors for many other women who aspire to have a seat at the table but currently cannot find that opportunity – not because they don’t merit it, but because cultural barriers prevent them from being nominated.”

Sheikh Zayed, the UAE's Founding Father, was a pioneer in philanthropic efforts. His compassion and kindness have always been a source of inspiration to Sheikha Shamma, particularly in the realm of sustainability.

“My great-grandfather was a visionary who cared deeply for the environment and was committed to sustainable development, knowing it would advance the nation. We are reaping the rewards of the legacy left to us by our forefathers," she says.

“Seeing the impact made by my family encourages me to continue this journey.”

As Covid-19 disrupts the way many observe the holy month, it also creates an opportunity to learn and reflect. Sheikha Shamma says she has used this Ramadan in particular as a time to expand her knowledge.

“It is a time of year that is unlike any other, a time of reflection, connection and giving," she says. “For me, this Ramadan is focused on study and learning and, because of Covid-19, it will be a quiet time of contemplation."

Sheikha Shamma says that the holy month is a special time for her family, particularly her mother.

"The day before Ramadan is always exciting, seeing the decorations go up and the lanterns lit on the first day of the holy month. As a child, it touched me so deeply to see houses distributing meals for iftar,” she recalls.

This picture taken on April 11, 2021 shows a view of traditional lantern and crescent moon decorations in the Seef district of Dubai ahead of Ramadan. AFP
Traditional lanterns and crescent moon decorations in the Seef district of Dubai ahead of Ramadan. AFP

When it comes to the projects that motivate Sheikha Shamma to create a positive impact, she holds the plight of refugees around the world close to her heart.

“A few years ago, on one of my trips to Jordan, it was heartwarming to witness the determination of young children living in camps trying to put together a solar light. As the lights came on, their faces shone with excitement," she recalls.

Caring for the planet means caring for humanity because, without the ecosystems that support us, we would not be able to live

Sheikha Shamma bint Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan

"On another visit, a refugee living in Amman received a note from someone in the UAE, and, although she was too young to read the message, she was so happy someone was thinking of her."

Sheikha Shamma describes such empathy as "not only a way of giving back to the planet but giving back to all living beings".

"Caring for the planet means caring for humanity because, without the ecosystems that support us, we would not be able to live," she says. "We form part of a community and all have a role to play, no matter how big or how small – even just a small act of random kindness can go a long way.”

Updated: May 9, 2021 11:13 AM

SHARE

More on the holy month
NEWSLETTERS
Sign up to:

* Please select one