Olivier Wenden and the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation

In June 2006, H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco established His foundation to address our planet’s alarming environmental situation. Dedicated to the protection of the environment and the promotion of sustainable development on a global scale, the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation supports initiatives of public and private organizations, in the fields of research, studies, technological innovation and socially-aware practices. 

Since 2008, it has been expanding its message and mission internationally and now has 10 representations in the world: France, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Spain, the United States, Canada, China and finally, Singapore.

The Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation Award has also rewarded notable figures who have contributed to the preservation of our environment. “I wanted to create these awards to show my support to exceptional men and women who are committed to saving our planet.” stressed H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco. The winners are presented by the Sovereign Prince himself, a trophy designed for the occasion by famous sculptor, Gilles Chabrier.

In 2019, after 6 years as the Executive Director, Olivier Wenden was appointed as the Vice President of the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation. With a background in international trade and political sciences, diplomacy has always been a passion of Olivier who believes that bridging environmental issues, politics and the economy with world leaders is the essence of diplomacy at the Foundation. In this interview with Olivier, we find out the various positive impacts on the environment which the Foundation has permitted since its inception in 2006.  

As the Vice President of the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, can you introduce the Foundation and explain how it operates internationally? 

The Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation was created by His Serene Highness, in order to address the threats hanging over the environment globally, with one mission: first of all, to preserve the environment and also to promote sustainable development on a global scale. The Foundation has therefore developed its strategies and its actions in 3 main areas:

(i) The fight against climate change and the promotion of renewable energy 

(ii) Preservation of biodiversity at land and at sea and

(iii) Improving access to sustainable water 

We have 3 main areas of action, although not exclusively, which are the Mediterranean Basin, for historical and geographical reasons. The Polar Regions because they stand as laboratories for what will happen on a global scale if no action is taken. And the third area, the largest geographically, concerns the Least Developed Countries, those which suffer the most from the threats on the environment, due to excessive exploitation. 

In the past 14 years of existence, the Foundation has contributed to more than 470 projects internationally, for a total amount of 55 million Euros. Of course, not on our own, we have developed these activities thanks to a network of more than 100 partners such as NGOs, universities, local organizations and multilateral entities. We are also grateful for the network of foreign branches of the Foundation developed following the willingness of H.S.H. to be present locally. We currently have 10 foreign branches including one in Singapore, chaired by Mrs. Jacky Deromedi who has been doing an amazing job, as have all our chairs.

The 10th Anniversary of the Ball in Monaco in Singapore

What are the main challenges which the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation wishes to address in Asia?

There is only one planet, so it would be erroneous to pretend that we should concentrate on specific threats in specific areas: it would draw an incorrect picture of our environmental challenges. In Asia we are tackling all the issues that we deal with elsewhere. That said, the Foundation cannot deal with everything, so we chose to work on marine-protected areas, one of the key challenges the Foundation is addressing today. We are also much involved in campaigns to prevent shark finning, which are serious issues in Southeast Asia and Asia in general. 

For a couple of years now, we have also been tackling the problem of deforestation through 2 active projects: one is the creation of a Centre of Excellence to train rangers and students to manage sustainably these incredible assets which the primary forests represent. Indeed, the exotic woods are of high value. It is by preserving them that they will offer a good source of income in the long term. We are also conducting vast programs of reforestation through the Thirty Hills Project, in partnerships with WWF, Michelin and the DiCaprio Foundation, to recover vast primary forest areas in Indonesia. 

Prince Albert II de Monaco appears alongside Indonesian President Joko Widodo at the official opening of the “Our Ocean” Conference in 2018 ©Antara Foto

In the frame of the 3 pillars elected by His Serene Highness for the Foundation’s missions, which promotional events aiming at the public are you organizing in Monaco and abroad?

Well, the Foundation is, first, an entity that brings funds for chosen environment protection projects. But that said, one also needs to raise awareness which implies a long-standing commitment to convince people to change their behavior at all levels, the individual, the corporate and, of course, the political level. 

To accomplish these missions, the Foundation has indeed developed a series of events in Monaco and around the world. In Monaco, we have now 2 major milestones. One, in spring, is the Monaco Ocean Week, a platform of activities based on ocean conservation, organized in association with the Oceanographic Institute, the Monaco Yacht Club and the Scientific Centre of Monaco. It also gathers international entities involved in this specific topic. The participation of the media is equally important, to raise awareness of all matters linked to the ocean. It is crucial to activate and leverage the capacities of individuals and the private sector, to address these issues, because everything is connected: the ocean and the climate are both entirely linked. 

We also organize in Monaco or in countries where we have a representative office, on a biennial basis, an award ceremony which is a very institutional moment for the Foundation. This series was created from the willingness of the Prince to acknowledge the outstanding work of scientists in the 3 fields of activities of the Foundation. So, we have every year an award for climate change, an award for biodiversity and an award for water protection.

The Monte-Carlo Gala for the Global Ocean (now Monte-Carlo Gala for Planetary Health) is organized every September

And since September 2017, in synergy with the Monaco Yacht Show, we developed another event – the Monte-Carlo Gala. The intention was to gather around His Serene Highness, international philanthropists committed to ocean conservation and international celebrities that have become ambassadors for the ocean. It was very successful, and the Prince decided to organize it every year. 

There are other key moments for the activities of the Foundation and abroad. Thanks to the dynamism of our offices abroad, we organize – every other year – scientific conferences in the presence of the Prince or our representatives of the Foundation. We also partner with local institutions such as the Formula E-Prix, the electric championship of the FIA (International Automobile Federation). We also organize fundraising gala events to support the Foundation’s long-standing efforts.  

Can you give us examples on how H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco has turned tables on the environmental agenda?

Well, first of all, His Serene Highness established his own Foundation and this is very unique today as He is the Head of State of a country, Monaco, and at the same time He runs his own foundation on a daily basis. He is very personally involved; He believes in the cause and He is very much into the day-to-day operations. His personal involvement is of great help to the Foundation. First, to achieve more projects on the ground and also to bring up pressing environmental issues at its highest political level through bilateral meetings with heads of states, heads of government and multilateral arena such as the United Nations. 

One of the most successful stories is what has been accomplished with the Bluefin Tuna of the Mediterranean. It is owing to His Serene Highness’ personal initiative in 2008 to publicly raise awareness on this emblematic species, then almost extinct in the Mediterranean, that the European Commission looked after the problem and implemented more control. In only 5 years, the stock of Bluefin tuna had started to rise again. 

Thanks to His Highness’ involvement and personal determination, the Foundation took an active role in the protection of the largest marine-protected area in the Antarctic peninsula. The Foundation has also been able to convince the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to create and release a specific report on the current state of the ocean. The IPCC agreed and Monaco and the Foundation managed to convince many other states to approve this decision. The report was launched in Monaco in December 2016 and released in September 2019. So, of course, the successes of the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation are absolutely linked to the personal involvement of His Serene Highness and to His efforts to convince the great powers on these topics.

HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco reached the geographic South Pole with Mike Horn and the team (Credits: Palais Princier Monaco)

What are the pivotal projects that the Foundation wishes to tackle in the next 5 to 10 years? 

I think that the Foundation will particularly be involved in 2 main issues: the first one being plastic pollution and the second one being marine-protected areas. It seems that today the world has just discovered the impact of plastics on the ecosystem and on the health of people, because it has now unfortunately penetrated the food chain. So, when we celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Foundation back in 2016, we created BeMed, which stands for Beyond Plastic in the Mediterranean, to clearly address the source of plastic pollution. Why do we use plastic? Can we stop using plastic? How to prevent these plastics from getting into the sea? We initiated a platform with many local and regional partners in this beautiful area of the world, to start tackling these issues. 

In parallel, we are funding microprojects, which must be completed within 18 months and for which the grant is 15,000 Euros. The intention is to reach a higher volume of projects and to push for bottom-to-top initiatives, as opposed to waiting for national decisions and legislations to take effect.

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