The first time I met Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would she have her face covered? How intense would her security be? Was there a specific protocol for addressing Saudi Arabian royalty?
“Hi, I’m Reema,” she said, extending her hand. There was no pretense, no head scarf, no bodyguards in evidence. We were at a restaurant in Montreal—I would be interviewing her at a conference nearby the next day—and she looked and acted like any other patron. And then she began to talk: about her efforts to integrate women into the workforce in Saudi Arabia; about the challenges of family and culture and the religious police; about what employing “the ladies,” as she referred to them, might do to reset assumptions and patterns in her kingdom. The princess did not see herself as a revolutionary; indeed, she did not want to be one. She just couldn’t stand by while so many women in Saudi Arabia were denied opportunity. She couldn’t help but use the privilege of her position for something more than personal indulgences.
Fast Company has followed Princess Reema closely since then: She was No. 1 on our 2014 list of the Most Creative People in Business, and now Karen Valby profiles her in detail. Princess Reema’s efforts have not always gone as planned, but her enthusiasm and passion about what can be achieved by a single person’s efforts are inspiring.
As I write this, two articles on the front page of today’s New York Times illuminate the changing nature of our world. The most prominent piece celebrates the U.S. Supreme Court’s support for same-sex marriage. The second highlights a series of deadly attacks perpetrated by the Islamic State, citing the “fast evolution” that has enabled them “to find [new] ways to strike and spread their ideology.” This latter topic is an example of the dark side of the disruptive change that is roiling our world. Our goal here at Fast Company is to help encourage our readers to harness change for more positive purposes. This is not a simple task, nor is it a fait accompli that progress, as we define it, will ultimately prevail. Still, when there are people like Princess Reema in the world, it’s hard not to see the possibilities.
I hope many of you will join me in New York from November 9 to 12 for the Fast Company Innovation Festival, a new event that we’re launching as part of our 20th-anniversary activities. Princess Reema will be there to share her story in person. Confirmed speakers also include this issue’s cover subject, Gwyneth Paltrow (whom editor Anjali Mullany brings to life), as well as Nike CEO Mark Parker, Tumblr CEO David Karp, and many more. The purpose of the event—and of Fast Company—is to inspire your efforts toward positive change, in business and in life, to make the most of whatever opportunities, tools, and advantages may be available.
What connects our world is every bit as powerful as what divides it. If a princess in one of the most ideologically complex places in the world can defy expectations, there’s no limit to what optimistic engagement can create.