Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 3 August 2020

FUTURE

Coronavirus: New platform to encourage charitable giving amid unprecedented need in the Arab world

An initiative by the Al Ghurair Foundation for Education, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Philanthropy Age aims to inspire a new generation of Arabs

Abdul Al Ghurair visiting the Azraq Refugee Camp in Jordan in 2019. Courtesy Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education
Abdul Al Ghurair visiting the Azraq Refugee Camp in Jordan in 2019. Courtesy Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education

The next generation of Arabs will face unprecedented demands to give charitably and help the least fortunate in society, one of the UAE’s biggest philanthropists said.

Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair said the pandemic would only add for the need for people to give generously and publicly, inspiring others to do so in the process.

The banking tycoon and chairman of the Abdullah Al Ghurair Foundation for Education spoke as he launched a new platform with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Philanthropy Age.

It features Arab philanthropists speaking about their work, many publicly for the first time. Giving generously is a crucial part of Arab society, but it is seldom spoken about.

That should change, Mr Al Ghurair said.

We kept noticing voices from philanthropy in the Arab world were missing from global forums, despite philanthropy being part and parcel of life there

Parastou Youssefi, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

“These unprecedented times force the next generation to address challenges previous generations had not even imagined,” he told The National.

Two years ago, he hosted Bill Gates and his team in Dubai, where they hatched a plan to tell the stories of Arab philanthropy. They never imagined how relevant it would be when the online platform launched this month, amid a global pandemic and an unprecedented scale of job losses in the region and worldwide.

At least $12.7 billion (Dh46.6bn) has been donated globally, according to charity watchdog Candid, which is tracking major grants to address the health crisis.

But also the way in which giving is being done is unique during this time: capital is being given faster and in greater collaboration with other philanthropists, Parastou Youssefi, a senior programme officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, told The National.

The new platform, called Project Inspired, is an unprecedented collection of video interviews and case studies, drawn from conversations with some of the region’s leading philanthropists through a media collaboration with Philanthropy Age.

“We kept noticing voices from philanthropy in the Arab world were missing from global forums, despite philanthropy being part and parcel of life there,” Ms Youssefi said.

Mr Al Ghurair said the pandemic is set to reshape the approach of future philanthropists in the Arab world, and they will take on a larger role at a global level to participate. He hopes they can learn the lessons of those who came before them.

“My generation has taught the new one that giving money is not enough,” Mr Al Ghurair, who is also the chairman of the UAE's oldest financial firm, Mashreq Bank, said.

The next generation of philanthropist now confronting the pandemic is by nature more strategic and collaborative in their giving approaches, he added. He is observing higher expectations for partnerships and data-backed assessments on the social impact of capital donations.

“My father’s generation was the 'silent generation',” Mr Al Ghurair said. He hopes by sharing case studies and stories, the project will inspire higher impact giving and a larger dialogue about the tradition of philanthropy in the Arab world.

He said his generation, what he called the “second generation” of philanthropists, is following a more strategic approach, which focuses on continuous learning and on-the-ground experience.

His own visits to refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon inspired him to expand the remit of his father's eponymous foundation, which focuses on education.

"I did not accept that refugee children and youth lose their education and a chance at a better life," he said. "So I created the Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair Refugee Education Fund."

The fund has helped 17,000 young refugees in the UAE, Jordan and Lebanon access school, graduate and get on a path to gainful employment.

During the pandemic, classes - typically held in-person at the camps - went remote. The foundation coordinated with local officials to safely distribute laptops and re-tool educators, while gaining buy-in from parents for remote learning.

It was challenging work but Mr Al Ghurair said it was a lesson in seeing a need and responding quickly. The learning outcomes exceeded expectations and the rapid scale-up in technology has actually improved access to education at a cheaper cost, he said. The remote learning programme is likely to continue in some form beyond the pandemic.

"My hope is the new generation of Arab philanthropists will learn from these times," he said.

"And that they will strive to explore homegrown innovative solutions to the rooted challenges facing our region and collectively maximise impact."

Updated: July 26, 2020 11:58 AM

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