As the global focus on sustainability intensifies, Goumbook emerges as a leading force in promoting environmental consciousness and green initiatives in the UAE and the Middle East. In an exclusive interview with The Integrator, Tatiana Antonelli Abella, Founder and Managing Director of Goumbook, sheds light on the organization’s pivotal role in the region’s sustainable development. As COP28 approaches, we delve into Goumbook’s efforts to drive positive change and create a greener future for all.
What motivated you to establish Goumbook and focus on advancing sustainability in the Middle East?
From a young age, I have always felt a strong connection with nature, and growing up in Europe, I had, and still maintain, a very strong link to our traditional passion for natural, homemade, and fresh products. When I moved to Dubai in 2005, I felt privileged to see and be part of a city growing day by day, but also felt the need to reconnect with nature, a completely different environment from which I needed to learn from. Eco-awareness and sustainability were not a priority at that time, and I felt I could somehow help raise awareness among the community about sustainable practices and support the local eco-movement. Goumbook is a social enterprise based in the UAE that focuses on promoting sustainable living and business practices. Founded in 2009, Goumbook aims to raise awareness and inspire action among individuals, governments, the private sector, schools, universities, and communities to adopt environmentally friendly and socially responsible practices and make more responsible choices. We do this under 3 key pillars:
- The first step to change is awareness and education. Goumbook supports entities through think tanks, panel discussions, awareness sessions, working groups, and training.
- Action through campaigns and initiative drives to raise awareness and support sustainable efforts in the UAE.
- Advisory and consulting to accelerate advancements across public and private sectors in their sustainability journey.
Through its various initiatives and collaborations, Goumbook strives to create a positive impact on people and the planet and promote sustainable development in the UAE and wider region.
Can you provide us with an overview of the notable projects that Goumbook has undertaken in 2023 to promote sustainability in the Middle East?
In 2023 alone, in addition to our numerous ongoing campaigns and work with corporate and government entities across sustainability and CSR, 2023 saw the launch of these new campaigns:
- The inaugural MENA Oceans Summit, the first of its kind in our region focused on accelerating the pace of comprehensive clean ocean action, to conserve and restore ocean ecosystems, tackle climate change, and ensure the development of blue economies within sustainable frameworks.
- UNISOAP UAE, in partnership with the French NGO, Goumbook aims to accelerate sustainability efforts and circular business models within the UAE tourism sector. The initiative takes used soap bars bound for landfill, from participating hotels, and hygienically recycles them into new soap that is distributed to people in need, providing them with the basics of health & hygiene.
- Our Special edition of our Forward Talks podcast Climate Leaders – Rising up to COP28 in partnership with Mastercard Middle East and supported by the Dubai Government Media Office. Forward Talks highlights conversations with leaders and professionals from the corporate, entrepreneurial, and public sectors, who through their initiatives, stories, and unwavering commitment, inspire positive impact, environmental awareness, sustainability, and corporate social responsibility in the UAE and beyond.
- We have considerable campaigns that expanded under the umbrella of reducing Food Waste called “Eat it or Save it,” applying circular economy principles to benefit those in need, reducing food fit for consumption, from ending up in landfills and allowing companies to come together around a cause for employee team building and Corporate Social Responsibility. This also includes our partnership with the UN Environment Programme and the hospitality industry in a wonderful initiative titled “Recipe for Change.”
With the UAE hosting COP28, what are your expectations for the conference, and how is Goumbook inspiring communities to take further climatic action?
The UAE was the first country in the region to sign the Paris Agreement, the first to commit to an economy-wide reduction in emissions, and the first to announce a Net Zero By 2050 Strategic Initiative. The UAE has demonstrated its strong climate action credentials to host such a crucial summit.
COP28 will be a milestone moment as the world takes stock of its progress to achieve the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. 2023 is the first year where countries will present their Global Stocktake, offering a pivotal opportunity to correct course.
In the lead-up to COP28, we encourage all our corporate partners to participate in our Climate Fresk workshops, designed to go beyond building widespread climate literacy and put a specific focus on coming up with actionable, industry-specific solutions.
Another focus area for us will be prioritizing youth engagement across all campaigns: Key activities continue to revolve around climate literacy, circular economy models, and low-impact living in general. We strive to make the future generations growing up in this country aware of their own carbon and water footprints, how it compares globally, and help them assess their activities and habits that contribute the biggest share.
How has Goumbook been successful in integrating sustainability into the curriculum of schools and other educational institutions?
Our Learn, Do, Share program engages the youth in educational settings on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In each session, we focus on one of the SDGs and have an entrepreneurial presentation by a mentor showcasing their passion and journey for supporting this SDG. The youth deepen their knowledge and understanding and learn directly from mentors on how passion can turn into action and a career.
We educate the youth through these and other awareness sessions and provide hands-on experience to learn more about sustainability at our campaigns, including Save the Butts (a beach clean-up activity that removes plastic pollution, notably polluting cigarette butts, and turns them through circularity principles into new material for the construction industry).
Could you share some notable achievements or positive outcomes that Goumbook is particularly proud of?
Our Give a Ghaf campaign, launched by Goumbook 13 years ago, has contributed to tremendous growth in awareness around the National Tree of the UAE, the local environment, and the role of indigenous species, and we are proud of our program’s crucial role in this.
From this, Goumbook grew and created the Trees Matter planting program, regenerating thousands of mangroves and contributing to climate action with the UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment (MOCCAE) as part of the national sequestration program.
Other campaigns, including Drop It, raising awareness about single-use plastic and its effect on the environment and our health, have grown into national programs like Dubai Can under His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Dubai Crown Prince, and Chairman of The Executive Council of Dubai. Working with the private sector and Municipality, Goumbook has reduced millions of plastic bottles.
These campaigns led Goumbook to drive collaborative engagement in climate action of oceans and marine environment through the MENA Oceans Summit. Goumbook is the first women-led social enterprise working on sustainability in the UAE, 13 years on Goumbook is still raising awareness, driving change, and sustainability impact.