Saudi student leading the way in volunteering and global sustainability

Majed Alqatari’s life has been driven by a passion for volunteering and sustainability. Attending the UN Youth Assembly earlier this year gave him the opportunity to continue representing not only his country and Colorado State University, but his generation as well.

Majed Alqatari attends the UN Youth Assembly in New York, New York, February 2018. Photo courtesy Majed Alqatari
Majed Alqatari attends the UN Youth Assembly in New York, New York, February 2018. Photo courtesy Majed Alqatari

“Our generation thinks more long term about the planet,” said Alqatari, a junior in environmental engineering. “It’s critical that all generations and cultures sit together at the same table to exchange our ideas and knowledge.”

Last February, he participated in the United Nations Youth Council on Global Sustainability, alongside youth representatives from around the world. Representing his home country of Saudi Arabia, he was appointed the ambassador on global sustainability for the assembly, a first for an Arab national.

Members of the assembly met with UN ambassadors and government leaders from many countries in an effort to work towards the UN’s sustainability goals. The 17 challenges that form the UN Sustainable Goals include global issues like poverty, inequality, justice, environment, and climate concerns.

Many of those goals harmonize with what Alqatari is learning at CSU. Water scarcity, affordable and clean energy, sustainable communities, and climate actions are all challenges the UN is working towards by 2030 — goals that mirror his own passions.

His passion for research in clean air and water perfectly aligns with his environmental engineering coursework. That includes a concentration in ecological engineering, and minors in global environmental sustainability and sustainable water, helping him focus on the goals he represents.

Generational and cultural communication gaps

The differences between cultures and generations create challenges for people working towards those goals. In some countries there are many steps to work through before being able to talk with high officials, while in others it is often as simple as sending an email directly to anyone at any level of government.

“There’s a gap between youth and high officials that I am always trying to shrink,” he said, “so that we can speak together and transfer our knowledge. Everyone has unique ways of thinking, and we need a dialogue together.”

For dialogues to work between diverse cultures and generations, he said that it is important to research each country’s culture and individual goals. As a UN youth ambassador and cultural mentor, he tries to participate in local and UN events. He is always ready to speak about sustainability and volunteering, enthusiastically crossing majors, cultures, and interests to do so.

He suggested that students who cross majors and cultures become more versatile. They are able to communicate more broadly about the world around them, particularly when it comes to being conversant about the UN’s sustainability goals. To that end, he is working towards an additional minor in math, and has added several economics courses to his workload.

“Not all of the people you talk to about sustainability are scientists or engineers,” he said. “It is important to understand how to communicate with them, to understand their viewpoint.”

Finding different viewpoints through volunteering

Majed Alqatari on a volunteer trip to Puerto Rico. Photo courtesy Majed Alqatari
Majed Alqatari on a volunteer trip to Puerto Rico. Photo courtesy Majed Alqatari

Volunteering for humanitarian projects also helped him to see viewpoints different than his own, and sheds light on the importance of giving back to the community. His humanitarian efforts took him to Puerto Rico to help build houses.

In Puerto Rico, he was able to see a perspective completely different from his own. Seeing the social and political situation first hand, particularly after the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria, he could see the significance of volunteering.

As the UN Youth Ambassador, he uses what he learned in Puerto Rico to emphasize to his generation the importance of volunteering. He hopes that the university will encourage volunteering and more of the UN’s sustainable goals.

“When we volunteer it is affecting our soul and our way of thinking,” he said. “Volunteering is all about being a good person and helping others.”