Community engagement will be key to foreign investment in Saudi Arabia, Princess Reema says

  • Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud says businesses operating in Saudi Arabia need to engage with local citizens more.
  • Greater community engagement will lead to better understanding of opportunities in the country, she says.
  • Saudi Arabia has announced a slate of deals with U.S. businesses as it hopes to lower its economic dependence on oil.

As foreign investors do more business in Saudi Arabia, Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud called on Western businesses to engage more with local citizens.

Speaking to CNBC on the sidelines of the 2018 Saudi-U.S. CEO forum, the princess explained that societal changes are critical to Saudi Arabia's economic transformation. She said that many expatriate employees conduct their lives exclusively within the confines of their compound or offices.

Most foreigners who work in Saudi Arabia live in compounds — gated communities that provide expats with many of the comforts of Western life, spaces which often bar entry for local residents. Within those walls, expat families have everything from schools to Olympic-sized pools to grocery stores, a Western life protected by armed security.

But the princess argued that greater community engagement between expatriate employees and local Saudis is necessary for understanding the opportunities in the country.

"That kind of cultural exchange is where I believe our country will have a tipping point in cohesion and inclusion and understanding of the other," she told CNBC's Michelle Caruso-Cabrera on Tuesday.

"And today, it's not possible if we're constantly separated within the boundaries of our own nation."

Within the kingdom, cultural changes are already visible. The princess, who is vice president for development and planning at the General Sports Authority, said these changes are happening quickly in the sports arena.

"The environment that would allow these young people to feel the ability to use public spaces wasn't there, and it's there today," the princess said.

That shift, she argued, has allowed the kingdom to hold sporting events that it wasn't able to just five years ago.

Princess Reema's comments come as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman spends nearly three weeks in the United States, most recently meeting with business leaders in New York City.

On Tuesday, the crown prince unveiled a slate of deals as part of the Saudi-U.S. forum. The 32-year-old prince has been tasked with spearheading Saudi Arabia's efforts in diversifying the kingdom's economy and its shift away from oil dependence.