Food for thought: the Year of Giving and how you can help

Hend Al Otaiba examines the many benefits of charitable giving and community service

The Emirates Red Crescent Authority workers distribute aid in Yemen. WAM
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On December 24, the President, Sheikh Khalifa, decreed 2017 as the Year of Giving, following a successful Year of Reading in 2016. The act of giving and engaging in humanitarian support is no novelty for the UAE, and it is embedded in the solid legacy of the late Sheikh Zayed, our Founding President.

This initiative is “embraced by the UAE as a continuous approach to promoting the values of volunteering and community responsibility so as to bolster cohesion and solidarity of society”, declared Sheikh Khalifa. The three objectives for the year are: to strengthen social responsibility in the private sector, promote a spirit of volunteering, and solidify the concept of serving the nation in new generations of Emiratis and expatriates.

The UAE has established itself as a pioneer for welfare and philanthropic work initiatives supporting the less fortunate around the world. In a report released by the Development Assistance Committee of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development in 2015, the UAE ranked as “the world’s largest donor of development assistance in proportion to its gross national income (GNI)”.

A recent report submitted by the Charities Aid Foundation, with the aim “to provide insight into the scope and nature of giving around the world”, ranked the UAE in the top 10 of the most charitable nations. Its research also showed that about 75 per cent of Emiratis had shown inclinations towards helping strangers, with an average of 63 per cent contributing in some form of charitable donation and 21 per cent actively volunteering within the population.

An article in The National reported that by donating Dh19.84 billion, representing 1.34 per cent of its GNI for official development assistance in 2013, the UAE had far exceeded the United Nation's target of 0.7 per cent. This put the UAE significantly ahead of Norway, which was ranked as the second-largest donor with a 1.07 per cent ratio.

In light of Sheikh Khalifa’s announcement, it is imperative that we examine the various ways in which charitable giving, community involvement and self-sacrifice for the nation and those around us are fundamental pillars of positivity, and a profound and deep sense of life fulfilment. Regardless of the way one decides to contribute, the reasons to give are innumerable. The UAE has worked hard to eradicate many social ills across the world, however there is still much to do. Poverty, homelessness, human trafficking, illiteracy, crime, drug addiction, discrimination and other social dilemmas still exist on a global level and it is our responsibility to make a difference.

Volunteering is one of the social sectors that has seen exponential growth rates in Abu Dhabi emirate over the past years due to the rapid population growth and the resultant need for people of various backgrounds to commit themselves to working for social causes and community development programmes. Organisations such as the Takatof Voluntary Social Programme, the Zayed Giving Initiative, the Emirates Red Crescent, the Tamm Voluntary Programme and Nahtam Social Responsibility are all actively involved in building an efficient voluntary sector. There are many others.

We all have the ability to affect the life of someone in need. The intrinsic value of giving back to the community and serving the nation is immeasurable.

By giving we strengthen social cohesion and encourage others to do the same. We teach our children the importance of social responsibility and morality by modelling the values of self-sacrifice, hard work and togetherness.

We demonstrate that each and every one of us is able to make a palpable difference in communities and in the lives of individuals through basic humanitarian pursuits.

Charitable giving and community involvement are great ways to spread awareness about fundamental tenets. It is imperative that values espoused by an individual or organisation translate seamlessly into their enacted values. By way of civic initiative, you gain credibility and legitimacy. As an organisation, you have a vested interest in the well-being of your surrounding community, which will perceive your sense of ethics and social responsibility. This is a way to boost your career and gain valuable skills and a solid reputation.

Giving back is also healthy. There have been many studies showing this. Brain scans have revealed that as individuals, we receive a profound sense of joy, peace and happiness by giving back. According to a 2010 Psychology Today article, the act of being charitable elicits a sense of transcendence, similar to exercise and meditation. These activities "activate an anatomically and biochemically defined pleasure circuit" in our brains. They release dopamine, a neurotransmitter linked to pleasure and happiness.

Wherever your interests may lie, there is a method, organisation or programme for you. Therefore, get involved, be it as ambitious as creating your own start-up or as humble as buying a meal for someone in need. Whatever you do, don’t just talk – act.

Hend Al Otaiba is the director of strategic communications for Abu Dhabi Media