Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair, chairman of the Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education, and chief executive of Mashreq Bank, has delivered a stirring message to fellow Arab philanthropists: now is the time for giving to be institutionalised, professionalised and made as transparent and accountable as possible.
It could not be better timed, given that international and multilateral aid is being politicised like never before. Think of how aid to the Palestinians has been steadily cut by the Trump administration. There is an urgent need to ensure that private donations are as effective as possible. In the UAE, there has already been a wave of reform for private-sector giving, including the regulation of fundraising and charitable donations in Dubai, which has increased transparency for donors. Now is the time to push this forward.
Twelve per cent of Americans surveyed this year by Public Interest Registry and Nonprofit Tech for Good claim they do not donate to charity because of a lack of trust in organisations to spend their financial donation well. Also, according to the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, released in January, prospective donors in the United States viewed non-governmental organisations, the category within which the renowned Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation falls, with far less confidence than they did a year previously.
That is despite the $410 billion that was poured into philanthropic causes last year, representing a rise of 5.2 per cent compared to 2016. Of this, Giving USA estimates that 70 per cent of charitable giving came from individuals, as opposed to corporations.
In the UAE, wealthy individuals have also come forward, with Badr Jafar and Razan Al Mubarak, Dr Shamsheer Vayalil, who founded VPS Healthcare, and NMC Health’s BR Shetty, among new signatories to the Giving Pledge. The Giving Pledge was created by Microsoft founder Bill Gates, his wife Melinda, and Warren Buffett in 2010. Its central idea is to provide sustainable support for good causes around the world by persuading the ultra-rich to give away more than half their wealth. Outside of this initiative, there exists a long line of generous Arab and Muslim benefactors − including the Firoz Merchant Foundation, which funds the treatment of cancer patients who cannot afford their medical care − but it seems that giving money on its own is now no longer enough.
First of all, people want to know far more about who is giving what to whom, and how effectively funds are being used. Welcome to a world where generosity must be matched by governance. The age of anonymous donations is over.
It is Mr Al Ghurair's belief that the benefits of public giving now far outweigh the merits of staying out of the spotlight. This point of view is shared by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Since the Giving Pledge was first announced, 184 pledges have been made, including seven from the Middle East. The record of the Gates Foundation and its partners in tackling poverty and disease around the world is impressive, as highlighted by Mr Gates in The National.
Certainly Mr Al Ghurair, who is not part of the Giving Pledge but whose charitable organisation partners with the Gates Foundation on specific initiatives, is also hoping to inspire more to make commitments like the Dh100 million he has provided for the education of child refugees. The opportunity to become part of a global group that includes individuals such as Mark Zuckerberg and David Rockefeller − who have both signed up to the Giving Pledge – has a definite appeal of its own, but it also encourages a broader culture of giving. This is not dissimilar to the approach of 2017's Year of Giving in the UAE, which reflected the country's values by raising awareness about philanthropy and supporting good causes both at home and abroad.
Going public creates opportunities to create effective partnerships, as seen in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s youth-focused work with the Misk Foundation in Saudi Arabia. After all, if no one knows what you are doing, how can they offer to help? In addition, these developments create opportunities to build a streamlined infrastructure for giving, including data gathering, research and the nurturing of talent. There will also, of course, be greater accountability from the increased transparency when donors go public.
Mr Al Ghurair’s rallying cry heralds an exciting time for private philanthropy in the Middle Eastern region, in which charitable donations will be guaranteed to help people in the most profound ways.
Mustafa Alrawi is an assistant editor-in-chief at The National