How the UAE's wealthy use philanthropy to give back

Besides donating money, they aid causes with their time, support and mentorship

Philanthropy can take many paths and for people experiencing success, it is a vehicle for paying it forward that is often laced with a feel-good factor. Getty Images
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As the managing partner of a human resources solution provider, Anjali Samuel is what many would label a “people person”.

When it comes to philanthropy and good causes, however, creatures that cannot speak up are in her sights alongside guiding fellow humans during tough times, such as the pandemic.

Ms Samuel, 50, says her career as a head-hunter for nearly 25 years has helped to shape the latter.

“There has to be a purpose to life, something that is not about your work or your bank balance,” says the founder of Dubai-based Mindfield Resources.

Anjali Samuel, managing partner of human resources solution provider Mindfield Resources, says there has to be a purpose to life beyond work and bank balance. Photo: Anna Nielsen for The National

“You have a ringside view of people's journeys; their stories of resilience against the odds and the struggles they have overcome to be where they are is quite inspiring – it brings home the thought that you can be a change agent and [have] a volunteering mindset.”

The daughter of an Indian army colonel, Ms Samuel embraced extensive travel, cultural experiences and significant life lessons early in her life. Moving to the UAE 27 years ago, she launched Mindfield in 2004 to help corporates and organisations across the Middle East and Africa region hire best-in-class talent.

And while billionaires such as Microsoft’s Bill Gates and the planet’s most generous giver, Warren Buffet, who has donated a staggering $44 billion so far, are headline philanthropists, for successful local people such as Ms Samuel, philanthropy also has a cherished place in their lives.

An ardent animal welfare supporter, protecting and aiding canines, she has also targeted poverty mitigation, uplifted underprivileged children and other critical social issues, both with cash and time.

“I don’t think I chose the cause, it was the other way around,” she says of her work for K9 and Umm Al Quwain’s Stray Dog Centre that was born from her “lifelong love for dogs”.

The joy of giving or just being able to help in whatever shape or form is real and that’s the true motivation behind it for me.
Anjali Samuel, managing partner, Mindfield Resources

“SDC has done an amazing job of creating a safe environment … dogs abandoned in the searing summer heat, dogs shot or hit by vehicles and left by the side of the street, whatever the situation, they work tirelessly rescuing, treating and raising funds for their operations.

“It is difficult not to be moved to action when you see/hear the stories from SDC and their volunteer network.”

Ms Samuel’s quest was initially driven by a difficult emotional experience with a fostered dog, while also hearing of pets being abandoned due to domestic issues.

“The struggle of families trying their best to retain their pooch when faced with financial hardships has been heart-breaking, but what gives hope is the community of volunteers.

“I have supported SDC for over six years, financially, and leveraging our network of clients and candidates to get involved.”

Ms Samuel, mother to two daughters, also values helping resolve human issues.

“Counselling, whether career or personal, and providing emotional support is an ongoing agenda, which requires me to squeeze time out of the day on a regular basis and keep my emotional self-resilience as well,” she adds.

Philanthropy can take many paths, and for successful people, it is a vehicle for giving back, which comes with a feel-good factor.

“I have never considered this aspect as such because for me one does something because they find it fulfilling, soul-satisfying to make a difference, however big or small,” says Ms Samuel.

“The joy of giving or just being able to help in whatever shape or form is real and that’s the true motivation behind it for me.”

For others in need of guidance, wealth management groups such as Julius Baer offer an advisory service to help the wealthy “navigate the philanthropy universe”.

Often what drives someone to help – in many cases complete strangers sometimes thousands of kilometres away – is more tangible.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - Reporter: N/A. Business. Money and Me. Portrait of Jane Ashford, CEO of the PRO Partner Group, an expert in company formation. Thursday, October 22nd, 2020. Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Jane Ashford, chief executive of PRO Partner Group, which specialises in company formations, previously sponsored Nepalese children through school after visiting the country in 2014.

“Travelling and visiting several orphanages … it was a humbling experience,” she says of her motivation.

“I’m also in a fortunate position that I am able to give back a little.

“I fell in love with the place, the people have very little, but they are happy, contented and very warm and welcoming to foreigners.”

Friends were running a charity in Kathmandu and Pokhara, and Ms Ashford witnessed several projects.

“I ended up sponsoring two children through school – they would write to me every year and send pictures,” she recalls.

I’m in a fortunate position that I am able to give back a little. I enjoy making a difference and helping others to help themselves
Jane Ashford, chief executive, PRO Partner Group

“Charity focuses on eliminating the suffering caused by social problems, while philanthropy focuses on eliminating social problems.

“I enjoy making a difference and helping others to help themselves – like getting job satisfaction.”

Ms Ashford, herself a mum of two adult daughters, plans to do more.

“I’m looking to take a bit of a back seat in the business and spend more time out of the office – therefore, now is a good time to think about giving back to the community and helping others.”

Sanjay Tolani, chief executive and managing director of multi-family office advisory firm Goodwill World, also visited the destination of his donations.

Born in India and raised in Dubai, he says the concept of philanthropy entered his life when he became successful quite young, but that it is also about “giving time, support and mentorship”.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES , Feb 25– 2020 :- Dr Sanjay Tolani, Managing Director & CEO - Goodwill World at his home office in the Meadows 8 in Dubai. (Pawan Singh / The National) For Business. Story by David

Mr Tolani has authored several books on subjects including personal finance and channels sales proceeds to selected causes.

“I sponsor [underprivileged] children in China,” he says. “Just $1,000 covers three years of schooling and I also travel there to guide and mentor them.”

For Dubai real estate entrepreneur Myles Bush, his wealth has enabled him to assist those in less fortunate situations.

The British-born millionaire’s “charity work” has included helping fund a Nepalese school wrecked by the 2015 earthquake.

“What’s the point in having it if you’re not going to do anything with it?” the co-founder of Phoenix Homes says.

Mr Bush, 37, a recent first-time dad, adds: “My grandpa used to say to me: 'Do not be the richest man in the graveyard’.”

Myles Bush, a real estate entrepreneur and co-founder of Phoenix Homes, has helped fund a Nepalese school wrecked by the 2015 earthquake. Photo: Ruel Pableo for The National

As founder and chief executive of Lincoln Hospitality Group, Ralph Homer, 46, has also done good with his fortune, and plans to devote more time to philanthropic causes when he retires.

“In the company, we have sponsored the education of 300 kids worldwide,” says the F&B entrepreneur, a Maltese national born in Abu Dhabi and partly raised by godparents after losing his parents.

The pandemic hindered his philanthropic efforts, but Mr Homer has his sights set on doing more.

“Perhaps that will be my sort of retirement, where I have more time dedicated to things that I love,” he says.

“My goal … thousands. I would like to focus, me and my family and directors to keep growing this.

“That will be my passion when I have more time, to keep on making a difference to people’s lives, because someone made a difference in my life when I was in need [as] an orphan.”

Ralph Homer, chief executive and founder of Lincoln Hospitality, says his company has sponsored the education of 300 children worldwide. Supplied

Mr Homer has partnered with Compassion, a company from London, because “they roll up their sleeves … are actually in the field”.

He has been doing this for seven years and it remains “very personal because I was once in these kids’ shoes”.

“The company is involved, it’s not me alone, [but] I know the value of developing leaders and sculpting their characters at this age in order for this world to be a better place for my kid and the next generation,” he adds.

Dr Sarah Rasmi, a licensed psychologist and managing director of Dubai’s Thrive Wellbeing Centre, says many studies have examined why people give and how it makes them feel.

“Research shows that charitable giving – whether donating money or volunteering our time – makes us feel good,” she says.

“We know that charitable giving activates the reward system in our brain, which helps explain the boost that we tend to feel after giving.

Some research has found that people are happier when they spend money on others, as opposed to themselves
Dr Sarah Rasmi, a licensed psychologist and managing director, Thrive Wellbeing Centre

“Additionally, some research has found that people are happier when they spend money on others, as opposed to themselves.”

Research suggests a number of factors make philanthropy more likely, including altruism and trust/social impact; namely the belief that funds/time will be used to facilitate change, Dr Rasmi says.

Research also earmarks personal relevance to a cause – for example, people who have been or had a loved one affected by an illness – and egoism, where an act makes us feel good and can look good to others.

“It’s also important to note that there has been an uptick in giving, according to recent research from the US,” adds Dr Rasmi.

“This comes at a time when so many more people are in need … this is a good thing for those in need and it also has benefits for those who give.”

Ms Samuel admits part of her reward is very simple – even “selfish”.

“I feel good about it,” she confirms.

“The fact that I can make a difference to a living being is a big motivator … there is nothing profound or complicated.

“I try to keep it simple and just lend a helping hand wherever I can. I love to encourage anyone in my orbit to volunteer for any cause or, at least, start developing a volunteer mindset.”

“In the cacophony brought upon by social media and no rest for the brain or the heart, it is important personally and professionally to step back a bit," Ms Samuel adds.

“When you volunteer, you are only focused on achieving a sustainable outcome, it is not driven by ego, competition or financial gains.”

Updated: December 07, 2021, 5:00 AM