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Maryam Telmesani

Chief Sustainability Officer and Executive Committee Member, Saudi Arabia


Your professional career began in the fashion industry. What was your motivation for addressing the various aspects of sustainability? How would you describe your journey towards becoming a recognized leader in this area?

Indeed, I started in Fashion Design and Merchandising which enriched my design thinking capabilities, creativity, and developed my customer-centric approach way before it became a business area of focus. Moreover, before my career in fashion I have certain values of humanity and nature reservation that I take seriously! So, when I was introduced to the concept of sustainability as a business framework that balances economic growth with consideration of the environmental and the social elements, I knew that this would be my path to create an actual impact. The journey was not easy, as I led the concept differently in the region, developing my own methodologies and tactics while doing a lot of research and working across various industries.

Could you tell us about sustainability strategies that you have implemented during your career? What are the biggest challenges you have encountered in implementing these strategies?

My main focus was around two areas (1) embedding the right understanding of what Sustainable Development is and how to build a successful sustainability strategy, (2) shift the businesses approach to sustainability from project-based into process-based one in which the company involves sustainability in all its functions having KPIs and objectives spread out for all departments and not carried solely by 1 manager/ department as it is the holistic effort that will enable an effective strategy.  The biggest challenges we still face is resistance from different levels of the organisations, which is understandable as it is a new way of conducting business and not everyone is comfortable around change.  

Could you describe your work as an advisory board member for various organisations focused on sustainability and ESG? From this workspace, what are your goals regarding the advancement of these issues?

I try to be involved in boards of entities that work around numerous sustainability areas (technology, research, accelerators, conferences, development courses, etc.) that will impact the advancement of sustainability as a whole; as I bring from a practical perspective of what businesses are looking for, what solutions are missing, what topics need to be tackled in research or discussed in conferences, and so on.

From your experience and perspective, how would you describe the development of sustainability in the Middle East? What changes do you think need to be made in order to expand the growth of sustainability in the region? 

The development is thrilling, we see regulatory changes, conversations and initiatives to enforce sustainability. However, what we still lack, in my opinion, is a governing body that sets a country/region plan to commit and achieve targets! Moreover, we need to expand the focus from NetZero and environmental issues to a wider more inclusive topics of social elements that are still underdeveloped like the education and career path of people with disabilities and what can businesses do to accelerate that. Also, certain industries are advancing faster in sustainability while the rest is not catching up, and we need to make sure that advancement is happening across all in a steady paste with realistic targets.

Finally, since you have been recognized as the Women Icon of the Year Award, what would be your message to young women who are just starting their professional careers in the sustainability world?

Since Gender Equality is a main topic of sustainability, I will address this to both males and females: This career path is full of passion and if you are in it, you have to advocate for its principles against all odds and challenges! You will face challenges and difficult situations, but let your passion help you through those difficulties and be reminded that your smallest effort will have an impact and the collective effort of all of us will change the world.


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