Research by the Abu Dhabi Gallup Center shows 52 per cent of Emiratis have donated to charity in the past month.
UAE citizens choose discreet charity
ABU DHABI // Emiratis are more likely than people in other wealthy nations to give money to charity but less likely to give their time for volunteer work.
The study's findings reflect what experts call a cultural emphasis on helping others through donations rather than organisations.
Among the 4,000 respondents, 52 per cent of Emiratis said they had donated money to charity in the past month, while 13 per cent said they had done volunteer work for an organisation.
In high-income nations worldwide, a median of 47 per cent of respondents had donated money and 25 per cent had volunteered.
"The culture has so far been more of a philanthropy culture," Anisa al Sharif, the head of social development for the Dubai Executive Council, said in a talk on the non-profit sector this year.
Islam highlights the importance of alms-giving, or zakat, which is one of its five central obligations.
The emphasis on giving is reflected in government foreign aid which, as a proportion of gross national income (GNI), is comparable to that of developed nations. The UAE gave Dh9 billion in 2009, the latest year for which figures are available.
That year, 0.3 per cent of its GNI went to development aid, an analysis of government data by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development shows. That matched the average of member states and was the highest among non-member states.
UAE authorities have supported initiatives to boost volunteering through programmes such as Takatof, which alerts people to opportunities. But the structure for volunteer work and the concept of it are still taking root.
Non-profit groups in the UAE tend to focus on donations rather than hands-on activities, said Masood Razaq, the founder of Goodgate, which tracks the non-profit sector in the Muslim world.
"Most of the NGOs here are focused on fund-raising rather than volunteering," Mr Razaq said.
That stems partly from the lack of tradition. For generations before the UAE population mushroomed, families and neighbours tended to help one another informally, said Rebecca Donaldson, a US Fulbright scholar who is researching attitudes towards volunteering in the UAE. "It wasn't necessary to go through an organisation because communities were small enough that you would just pitch in," Ms Donaldson said.
Even as young people adopted the idea of formal volunteer work, their efforts remained ad hoc, she said. They often volunteer for one-off events rather than return to an organisation every week.
Emiratis ranked lowest in the Gulf for volunteering, behind Bahrainis at 17 per cent, Qataris at 18 per cent and Kuwaitis and Saudis at 21 per cent. They were second in giving to charity, behind Qataris at 59 per cent and ahead of Kuwaitis on 47 per cent, Bahrainis on 39 per cent and Saudis at 36 per cent.
Emiratis were more likely to help strangers than citizens of other wealthy countries and most other Gulf states, although it was unclear whether they did so by giving money, time or other forms of assistance.
Fifty-six per cent of UAE respondents said that in the past month they had helped a stranger who needed help, compared with the 49 per cent median in high-income nations, 70 per cent in Qatar, 54 per cent in Kuwait, 48 per cent in Saudi Arabia and 44 per cent in Bahrain.