The legacy of the UAE's Founding Father drives the defining themes and far-reaching influence of both 2017 and 2018
How the Year of Giving and the Year of Zayed offer the same strong message
There was a moment last month when the Year of Giving seamlessly merged with the Year of Zayed.
It was at the Reaching the Last Mile forum in Abu Dhabi on November 15, an event that brought together many of the world’s best health experts with the aim of stamping out terrible diseases like malaria and polio.
One of the diseases targeted for eradication is Guinea worm disease, a parasite that once destroyed the lives of hundreds of thousands, but now afflicts only a handful.
That astonishing achievement can be traced back to a meeting in 1990 between former US President Jimmy Carter and UAE Founding Father Sheikh Zayed in Abu Dhabi.
It was then that Sheikh Zayed offered a substantial donation to the Carter Centre, the philanthropic organisation set up by the former president that had made the fight against Guinea worm disease its priority.
Now, 25 years after that first pledge, Sheikh Zayed’s son, Sheikh Mohammed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, also had an announcement to make.
It was a new fund, the Reaching the Last Mile Fund, dedicated to eradicating other diseases that are still widespread and equally devastating to communities. Sheikh Mohammed would give $20 million (Dh73.5m) of his own money to the goal of $100 million to make this happen.
Through his example, it is impossible to disentangle the legacy of the 2017 Year of Giving from anticipation for the 2018 Year of Zayed. Sheikh Mohammed indicated as much at the recent launch of the official logo that will kick-start next year’s celebration.
"From his selfless dedication to the welfare of his people and unshakable commitment to building the UAE of the future, to his far-reaching influence in the global community,” the Crown Prince said, “Sheikh Zayed’s life and legacy are a never-ending celebration of the principles, values and beliefs that are foundational to our country’s identity."
As it nears its conclusion, the Year of Giving will not be measured by the generosity of the contribution’s made, no matter how substantial, but more as an affirmation of the principles of giving as one of the pillars of a healthy society.
There were, for example, the awards given last month to those who had devoted so much to helping others. They included Saif Al Mansoori, a 105-year-old former diver from Dubai who would deliver his catch to those in need.
Also honoured were six members of a UAE humanitarian team killed in a terrorist explosion in Afghanistan less than a year ago. Their death was a stark reminder of the price paid to rebuild that troubled country, including a vaccination programme against polio, in one of the last strongholds of the disease. The sacrifice is the ultimate expression of the Year of Giving — it is not really about how much, but how willing, you are to give.
The three pillars of the Year of Giving support its ambitions: to promote corporate responsibility; to create a culture of volunteering; and the expression of philanthropy and altruism, both now and in the future.
These pillars hold up an already sturdy platform, but their further development is helped by Community Development Authority measures that use incentives and write-offs to encourage private companies in Dubai who wish to give to charity or set up their own corporate social responsibility programmes.
Looking to the future, hundreds of young Emiratis have signed up to give freely of their time for the Special Olympics, which will be held in Abu Dhabi in 2019. In 2020 when Dubai Expo comes to town, the ultimate test of volunteering will see around 30,000 needed for six months.
Further afield, a team of Emirati medical volunteers is already working in Bangladesh, offering desperately needed health care to the thousands of displaced Rohingya who have fled Myanmar since August.
This principle — that giving comes from willing — will also be at the heart of the Year of Zayed, but that does not mean that 2018 will be without its share of spectacular occasions marking the life of Sheikh Zayed and the centenary of his birth.
January is expected to see the opening of the Founder’s Memorial, a specially created installation on the Corniche that will surely take its place as one of the must-see places to visit in Abu Dhabi in the coming year.
And there are hopes that after 10 long years of restoration and rehabilitation, the Year of Zayed will also be the year in which Qasr Al Hosn, the historic palace where Sheikh Zayed was born, will be returned to the community.
It may reopen around National Day, as a fitting end to a year set aside to mark his achievements.
But while Government agencies and private contributors will doubtlessly vie to produce their own high-profile contributions to the Year of Zayed, any assessment of its achievements, a year from now, may well be judged elsewhere.
This was surely the message of the newly created Founder’s Office, which will oversee plans for the coming year, in conjunction with the Ministry of Presidential Affairs.
The invitation from the Founder’s Office to participate in the Year of Zayed is sent to everyone — individuals, residents, businesses and all other organisations across all seven of the Emirates.
Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs, has said that his father’s foresight and vision for the UAE continues to “provide us with a road map for the future.”
That is the point of maps — they work best when people willingly decide to follow them. That will be as true for the Year of Zayed as it was of the Year of Giving.