HRH Princess Lamia: Satellite Data Offers Way To Slow Deforestation

HRH Princess Lamia: Satellite Data Offers Way To Slow Deforestation

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HRH Princess Lamia: Satellite Data Offers Way To Slow Deforestation

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At last week’s Web Summit in Doha, Princess Lamia Bint Majid Al Saud announced an initiative by the Alwaleed Philanthropies to use satellite data combined with AI to create a publicly available web site tracking deforestation around the world.

Atlai, as the site is called, detects deforestation events, which could range from forest fires to clear-cutting related to agriculture. Generative AI produces a press release that is then sent to media outlets. The site also allows researchers to produce reports on deforestation by country and in seven different languages.

Alwaleed Philanthropies spent about $100,000 on the site, which was built by a Saudi woman-owned company, The Bold Group. Atlai is typical of the strategies and tactics of the $4.4 billion foundation, Princess Lamia said. It empowers researchers and the public, in this case by offering them information. “In philanthropy you don’t have to be expert at everything,” she said in an interview. “We collaborate with partners all around the world.”

Princess Lamia is the Secretary General of the foundation, which is run by a team of 10 women.

The foundation was founded by Prince Al Waleed bin Talal, a well-known global investor. He sets priorities each five years, Princess Lamia said.

The all-women team informs the foundation’s collaborative and strategic approach. “We have the intuition about what’s most important,” she said. “Then we decide: This is what I want to invest in.’”

Previous projects have included working with partners to build mask factories in Africa during the pandemic, and an initiative to train women captains within the MENA region’s prominent ride-sharing app, Careem. The foundation also paid to adjust cars so that people with physical disabilities could become drivers, the princess said.

Transforming Capitalism

Researchers have identified land use change, including deforestation, as a large factor behind climate change. Deforestation and degradation contribute 12-20% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to a report by the London School of Economics. It’s not just that trees are cut down. Establishing a farm where a forest used to be changes the planet’s delicate balance, potentially turning an area from a carbon sink to a carbon source, said the report.


Despite the contribution to climate change, deforestation has continued for decades, increasing worldwide by 4%, according to statistics cited by Alwaleed.

Atlai seems particularly important because it is an example of the way space technology that combines satellites and AI may help revolutionize the field of environmental sustainability. Many governments pay lip service to sustainability, and some have laws regulating the use of natural resources. But one enormous challenge – perhaps the central challenge — has been getting information about the practices, people and companies flouting the laws and overusing the common goods into the right hands.

This is a feature or a problem of our capitalist economy: it’s hard to account for the costs of damage to the commons. Consumer pay relatively little for beef made from cattle grazing on deforested land. If the true long-term costs of deforestation, in the form of a warming climate, were accounted for in the cost of the beef, it would be more expensive. Government regulations are one solution to this problem, but information – or the political will — to make an effective regulatory regime is often lacking.

A few years ago, Stanford University issued a report identifying a sequence of policies to slow or stop deforestation, beginning with government “command-and-control” measures, such as fines, for illegally cutting down trees. Yet, governments can only fine companies or individuals if there is clear evidence that they are responsible. Environmental activists can only mobilize public opinion with good information. And communities can only fully understand the environmental damage if it is tracked over time.

Advocacy as Philanthropy

The Bold Group, which has previously collaborated with the foundation, has proven adept at turning social media into advocacy. Founder Abeer Alessa described an initiative that raised money for Syrian refugees. The initiative used heat-monitoring devices on 20 families’ tents to automatically send Tweets as the temperatures fell, enabling Twitter users to spread awareness of the harsh conditions faced by the refugees.

Alessa also described her pitch to Prince Alwaleed as a new entrepreneur. When he pressed her on whether her company, which had only a few employees at the time, had the track record and staff required, she responded by saying that the foundation could forego paying Bold if the work wasn’t good enough. “And If it is good,” she told him, “we require more work.”

“He just laughed,” she said.

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Little Book of Robo Investing: How To Make Money While You Sleep, and founder of New Builders Dispatch. I write about turning points for entrepreneurs and their companies, and seek to leverage finance to create a fairer world.

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