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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Her Majesty Queen Rania Al-Abdullah Remarks at Skoll World Forum 2007

Oxford, United Kingdom

Thank you, Stephan, for those kind words and thank you, Jeff, for the privilege of being here today at the Skoll World Forum.

Not many of you know this, but I am married to a Trekkie…and not just any Trekkie, but one who, for a few seconds, proudly shared the deck of the Starship Enterprise with Captain James T. Kirk and his crew.

You might not know this either, but yesterday marked the birthday of Captain Kirk... albeit 226 years from now.

Age difference aside, I am sure that Captain Kirk would be very much at home in this room today, not because you all have pointy ears, but because creativity, risk-taking, and exploring new frontiers for humanity’s sake…are what you do best.

            You might not have the Enterprise, but it does not stop you from leaping into the future.  You are masters at imagining products and services that do not yet exist, and crafting solutions for problems that have been around for too long.

Together with NGOs and corporations, you are expanding the way we measure the bottom line to include the number of lives changed….from reducing the world’s carbon footprint to enabling a generation of village telephone ladies…to distributing life saving bed nets and vaccines.

But as you know, not so long ago, companies and civil societies did not see eye to eye--some might say they came from different planets altogether!  Companies focused on the bottom line…..while civil society organizations criticized them for a lack of social and moral responsibility.

Just over a decade ago, images of Greenpeace protesters landing on the Brent Spar oil rig in the North Sea were splashed across the front pages.  And oil companies were not the only ones under fire.  Apparel companies, pharmaceuticals, and the food industry, to name a few, were forced to address the social impact of their actions.

Now, it might not be at warp speed, but I am pleased to say times are changing.

In fact, the recent Harvard Business Review speaks of a new social compact between the corporate world and civil society--as they begin to see each other in a new light.

Companies now realize that NGOs can provide access to, and knowledge of, new markets…while civil society realizes that they can draw on the competencies and strategies of the corporate world.

Today, public, private, and nonprofit sector executives are starting to speak a common language – as corporate social responsibility… social investing … sustainability … and double and triple bottom lines… have entered the lexicon of progress. 

Companies, today, increasingly realize that they are a part of society and not apart from society, that corporate profits and social prosperity are closely linked.

But let me tell you, our post-global society is not prospering.  Our post global society is poverty stricken--with a new kind of poverty.

Today, we live in a world plagued by a poverty of multicultural knowledge, a poverty of multicultural tolerance, a poverty of multicultural respect.

As a Muslim, as an Arab, as a mother, and as member of the global family, I am alarmed at the way in which the Muslim world and our Western counterparts are looking at each other with suspicion, fear, prejudice… then turning away.

In its most extreme forms, this polarization shows itself in the violence that has been committed by terrorists acting in the name of Islam.  We see it, as well, in the cycle of retaliation, resentment, and retrenchment that has followed – as each side feels increasingly threatened and misunderstood by the other.

Last year, a Gallop Poll in the United States found that 22 percent of Americans did not want a Muslim as a neighbor. A third said they would feel nervous if they noticed a Muslim man on their flight. And as all of you know, these negative perceptions go both ways.

Yes, we all belong in some sense to East and West.  But let us not forget that East and West are neighbors.  And good neighbors do more than live alongside each other – they live together. 

We have all come to recognize that social inequality is wrong; we must also appreciate that social intolerance is wrong.  Both hold us back.

And so just as corporations and NGOs have found common ground on the social responsibility terrain, so too we must build a shared commitment to multicultural responsibility.

This is not just a job for one side or one sector.  We all have a role to play in promoting multicultural responsibility…in our homes, schools, neighborhoods, universities, places of worship, and places of work.

Companies must play a key role in bridging the East West divide, in making us better neighbors... I call it Corporate Multicultural Responsibility.

Global firms already do business with the Muslim world, and already have established lines of communication—across zones of time and culture.  They are already on the front lines of cultural exchange.  They need to understand other cultures, or they risk losing out in the scramble to tap enormous, lucrative new markets.

Corporate Multicultural Responsibility is more than a formula to relieve one’s conscience – I believe that it is an essential strategy for success.  As economies become global, so do our obligations to each other.  In today’s post-global world, cross-cultural training is just not enough.

Corporate Multicultural Responsibility, or CMR, should go beyond equal opportunity hiring or cultural competency training for a handful of overseas executives.

CMR means insisting that all staff get as much time learning about global diversity as time management and communication skills –

ensuring a truly global employee population.

CMR means that company strategies must reflect cultural challenges alongside market, distribution and pricing considerations.

CMR means taking the time to break down cultural barriers within and out with the firm, so the manager in the business suit really gets to know the woman in the hijab on the next floor and at the next PTA meeting.

CMR means reaffirming the healing values of humanity within the company and encouraging employees to carry them to their homes and communities.

I plan, in the weeks and months ahead, to expand on these ideas – with the aim of championing a culture of trust and respect between Islam and the West.  And I do not think I am reaching for the stars.

But, if I see the mountaintop I am trying to reach, right now, I am still at base camp.  It is a long way up.  The path ahead is steep and poorly marked.  So I need your help – your moral compass…the bright light of your creativity.

And I know that I am talking to the right crowd…as our host, Jeff Skoll, said this time last year…you guys have the ability to make molehills out of mountains.

Thank you very much.