HRH Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed is a hip, young vegan Saudi Prince who invests in clean energy and supports animal rights.
Earlier this year, his story was picked up by multiple outlets including One Green Planet. This Saudi Royal, now 38, is the son of the 26th wealthiest person in the world (billionaire investor and philanthropist HRH Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, often referred to as the “Saudi Arabian Warren Buffett”).
Part of the Prince’s journey started when he had a head injury in his teens while jet skiing in the south of France. He had to learn to walk again and witnessed his dad, a person he looked up to as strong and invincible, weep with worry in his hospital room. Somehow, when confronted with the fragility of life and the effect it can have on loved ones, it makes a person realize that being true to one’s own self is the only way to live. His social media feeds (Twitter and Instagram) are filled with animal welfare posts, vegan food posts, and in the case of Instagram, plenty of goofy comedy.
Several years ago, Prince Khaled was diagnosed with high cholesterol and started to change his diet. As he began exploring what it meant to adopt a plant-based diet, he became more and more knowledgeable about the challenges our current animal agriculture-based food systems place on personal and animal health and, especially, the environment.
An enthusiastic consumer of media exploring these topics, books such as How Not to Die by Dr. Michael Greger and documentaries such as An Inconvenient Truth and Before the Flood also shaped his interests. Born and university-educated in the U.S., he keeps a foot firmly planted in the Middle East. He started his business career with his father’s investment company, Kingdom Holding Company, and then branched out to start KBW Investments. KBW Investments has holdings on five continents in the areas of construction, property, engineering, automation, finance and hospitality. Following that, he founded KBW Ventures, which focuses exclusively on venture capital, value creation and growth equity.
He is a business leader, not only for the millions he has invested in emerging and established businesses, but for standing in contrast to his home country’s biggest export: oil. He long ago divested any interests in dirty energy and oil, and owns one car, a Tesla.
The weekend that U.S. President Donald Trump visited Saudi Arabia, Khaled was speaking at a panel and meeting with other plant-based food leaders at the Reducetarian Summit in New York.
For our first meeting, I chose the DC vegan diner that I had mentioned in my article for Triple Pundit about plant-based dairy, Fare Well.
He showed up unaccompanied and actually Ubered to our brunch from the Four Seasons. Of course he’s familiar with the famed hotel — its management company is 45 percent owned by an investment company controlled by his father. For brunch Khaled wore baggy jeans, black Converse sneakers (he owns a number of pairs) and a hoodie. Doron, the owner of the diner and DC’s famed vegan bakery Sticky Fingers was there that day and we cracked jokes. Khaled took it all in, in good humor, and after our meeting, was off to CrossFit and a meeting with some documentary filmmakers.
A month later at the Reducetarian Summit, he was on a panel discussing conscious capitalism and the role business and investment have in moving the needle towards a more sustainable food system. He talked about his own journey to veganism and told stories like the time he took an omnivorous tennis pro to Cross Roads in LA and didn’t tell him it was plant-based until after the meal. He explained that he has taken on the role to “bridge the gap and create awareness for the benefits of a plant based lifestyle in the region.” He even convinced his father to go vegan.
Khaled greeted me warmly and with familiarity, like friends. Following his session, we stepped outside for an interview. I specifically wanted to explore his involvement in the plant-based food movement and his new involvement with documentary media. This interview has been edited lightly for clarity and length.
TriplePundit: How did the relationship with [vegan chef] Matthew Kenney start? What are your future expansion plans?
Khaled bin Alwaleed: We wanted to open a plant-based café in the Middle East. Originally, we were looking into a restaurant in Bali, Alchemy, that does plant-based and coincidentally at the same time we heard about Matthew Kenney. He seemed a much better fit. We looked into the licensing fees and I thought “Why am I paying him a fee, when I can just invest in the company?” We invested and decided to make [Bahrain’s] Plant Café a branch of Matthew Kenney’s restaurants. We’re going to have ten more in the region by 2019.
3p Last time we met, you mentioned backing a documentary about the plant-based food movement. Tell me about the name of the project and what are the plans for distribution?
KbA: That’s “Eating Our Way to Extinction.” We’re working closely on an agreement with Ludo [Brockway] and his brother to make this film happen, but it’s early days on that one. They actually just got back from the Arctic where they were shooting some footage, but they haven’t shot much yet. It’s early days. [Ludo and his brother Otto are slated to start shooting in around September 2017 for a 2018 possible release.] Another film we’re working on, which is further along in production, profiles former UFC fighter James Wilkes, and other elite vegan athletes. It’s a documentary about athleticism and veganism. The filmmakers are close to finishing and we’re working with them to see how we can help with distribution.
For both, we’re looking at online distribution, and for the athleticism one, going through the proper channels of the festivals first as well.
3p: And so this has been in the last year or so that you’ve begun to get involved with media production?
KbA: The last year? No, this has only been the last two months.
3p: This is exciting, that you’re looking towards media because it’s a big influencer [in lifestyle decisions]?
KbA: Oh, it’s not just an influencer, it’s what tipped the point for me. I was on and off being vegan, but it was films like Food, Inc., Food Matters Hungry for Change…
3p: It changed your life.
KbA: It really did. It opened up my eyes to what exactly is really happening.
3p: How do you think we can work to have a more sustainable food system? People are still starving and others eat far too much of the “wrong” things- what are your thoughts on how society can address these problems?
KbA: One of the main things, I think, is “How do you feed 9.7 billion people by 2050?” That’s the biggest issue that food innovators are addressing right now. Companies like Hampton Creek, companies like Memphis Meats are working to solve these problems. The main problem is that governments need to back these initiatives as much as they are backing the animal agriculture industry. There are gross inefficiencies within the animal industry, when you look at calories in versus calories out.
3p: Moving on to tech and innovation, we’ve talked previously about specifically sustainable hardware companies like iameco computers and Fairphone. As a connoisseur of all things “tech,” how do you think that the hardware business can become more sustainable? What are your thoughts on innovation toward sustainability in this area?
KbA: I think that companies like Fairphone and Apple each have their own markets and it lies with each company to work to make themselves more sustainable. For example, Apple just did this huge initiative where they took phones and recycled them to make other phones. I’d love to see this type of initiative with companies like Samsung and Huawei. Fairphone will continue to grow in its niche market, but you have to address these big companies…
3p: It’s like shopping- not everyone is going to shop at Whole Foods, you have to address WalMart.
KbA: Exactly, yes.
3p: You have many years left to work with numerous other positive innovators to do even more- what are the kinds of projects that catch your attention and interest?
Khaled bin Alwaleed: I’m a big believer in technology. I truly believe that technology is changing and will change the world even further. I’m not too big on brick and mortar, “analog” types of companies as opposed to digital companies. What gets me excited are new things that are changing the world, as clichéd as that sounds.
3p: So ideas you haven’t heard of before?
KbA: Yes, it’s ideas that make me open my eyes and say “Wow, this is actually happening in this world, where we say, ‘we just have to get in there no matter what.’
For someone who is equally at home in traditional Saudi attire as he is in a hoodie and baseball cap, Prince Khaled’s outlook can be summed up by the quote that greets you when you open his personal website, “Never let anyone limit your aspirations.”
Photo credits: Lisa Dietrich, Green Product Placement