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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

Emirati philanthropist calls for 'new era of giving'

Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair says company executives should announce their charitable work to encourage others to follow suit

Abdulaziz Al Ghurair says the traditional way of private giving is no longer the best practice. Satish Kumar for The National
Abdulaziz Al Ghurair says the traditional way of private giving is no longer the best practice. Satish Kumar for The National

Philanthropy among Muslims has always been generous but a leading donor has questioned the impact of donations, calling for more collaboration.

When Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair, chairman of the Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education, addressed a donor conference in London last week, he aimed a message of reform at fellow Arab philanthropists.

As family banks and businesses of the UAE have adapted to modern conditions, Mr Ghurair said charitable giving has not kept up.

“Learning should never stop. It all boils down to institutionalising the organisation, professionalising it, working for focus, being transparent and accountable,” he told The National after his keynote address and receiving a prize for philanthropist of the year for establishing a $27 million (Dh100m) fund for refugees.

Outlining a manifesto for improvements to family foundations, Mr Ghurair said the traditional way of private giving was no longer the best practice. He said many entrepreneurs leave it too late to move their work out of the private realm.

“Many people delay their philanthropy work until too late for the founder to have an impact and they lose direction,” he said. “I would love to see that the entrepreneur does it when they are young and can improve on the model.”

Abdulaziz Al Ghurair, chairman of the Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education, receives the 'philanthropist of the year' award at World Congress for Muslim Philanthropists in London. Courtesy Abdullah Al Ghurair Foundation for Education
Abdulaziz Al Ghurair, chairman of the Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education, receives the 'philanthropist of the year' award at World Congress for Muslim Philanthropists in London. Courtesy Abdullah Al Ghurair Foundation for Education

Adoption of such ideas would promote a more modular nature to good works in Arab countries, allowing donors to exchange donations between spheres and foundations.

“We should treat our work like a publicly listed company – say everything. The benefit of this is that you will get more donors believing in your programme, accountability, transparency and they will give you more money, and the government will be more trusting and you can work together,” Mr Ghurair said.

“You just have to set a standard and move on.”

The Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation is dedicated to educational opportunities for disadvantaged students not just in the UAE, but in Egypt, Jordan and elsewhere in the region.

It has supported the educational ambitions of more than 800 scholars. Up to 50,000 applications have been received, vetted and processed.

“We are focused on education, we don’t build schools, that’s not our speciality, we don’t know how to build schools,” he told The National.

The application system ensures that only the truly needy, with standout personal qualities, benefit. “They may make it on the grade side but we want to make sure they are disadvantaged – we check their address and their electricity bill,” Mr Ghurair said.

The beneficiaries are mentored and given opportunities for internships to bolster their employment chances once they graduate. “We have to educate them, then we find them suitable jobs,” he said.

The foundation provides access to the best education worldwide – up to 28 masters degrees are in its programmes.

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Plans involve collaboration with the Government to support young Emiratis for education and jobs. The aim is to promote Emiratisation through a stronger connection between the business community and education system.

Mr Ghurair founded his fund this year after encountering a 4.0 student at a UAE university who was a refugee. “I stumbled over this programme when I was running my father’s programme,” he said.

The result is a $27m initiative for refugee educational opportunities over three years in Jordan, Lebanon and UAE.

The Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair Refugee Education Fund – launched this month – provides secondary school, vocational and university education for 6,000 children.

Mr Ghurair wants to make the scheme a model of collaborative giving and is inviting other donors to participate.

“Many people like this programme and want to partner with us,” he said. “For the refugee programme, if there is a donor who wants to do this, we will show them how and we show them where. Co-sponsor or co-fund, it’s up to them. We are willing to join hands.”

It is a novel approach that could super-size charitable operations in a part of the world where the instinct to give is hidden by the modesty and humility of the giver.

“The Muslim world has always been generous and done great stuff, but we have stopped making progress,” Mr Ghurair said. “We need to have a new era of Muslim giving.”