Misk and the Gates Foundation are changing the Saudi philanthropy model

The Gates Foundation and Saudi Arabia's Misk Foundation are throwing their weight behind cultivating young minds, writes Hassan Damluji

Dubai, United Arab Emirates, November 21, 2017:   Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Crown Prince of Dubai presents Badeer Al-Asaker, secretary general of the Risk Foundation with the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Knowledge Award during the Knowledge Summit at the World Trade Center in Dubai November 21, 2017. Christopher Pike / The National

Reporter: Caline Malek
Section: Business
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One year ago, I had the honour of accepting the Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Knowledge Award on behalf of Melinda Gates. The prize, presented annually at the UAE's Knowledge Summit, recognises outstanding contributions to the development of knowledge and innovation. Since being launched in 2015, it has rapidly become a beacon for the region and the world, shining light on new ways of doing business in a rapidly changing world. As Melinda said on receiving the award: "New knowledge is the key to solving the world's biggest problems."

So I was particularly pleased to see that this year's Knowledge Award honoured one of our great partners, the Misk Foundation, headed by director-general Bader Al Asaker. Misk, which was founded by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, focuses on empowering young people through education and culture. As I've got to know the team there over recent years, I have been amazed by their youth, ambition and hard work. Seventy per cent of their staff are women and the majority are under 30. They are changing the business model of philanthropy in Saudi Arabia through a fresh approach that speaks directly to the technology-enabled generation that now constitutes most Saudi citizens.

It came as no surprise, then, to see Misk Foundation honoured in Dubai in recent days. And it is also natural that our foundation has teamed up with Misk on the topic of youth empowerment. We have done this by jointly launching Misk Grand Challenges, a new three-year initiative that seeks to bring innovation to the thorniest problems affecting young people.

Misk Grand Challenges was announced in Riyadh by Bill Gates at the Misk Global Forum last month. At its heart is a US$10 million (Dh36.8 million) fund, which will award 100 grants of $100,000 each over the next three years. Grants will go to innovators who have succeeded in inspiring a panel of expert judges with their transformative ideas, submitted in a simple application just two pages long. These ideas must respond to the specific challenges which are announced in two annual rounds. Round one, featuring a pair of challenges, was kicked off at Misk Global Forum, with a closing date of May 2, 2018 for the submission of ideas.

The challenges we launched last month get to the heart of what it means to empower youth. We want young people to be able to solve for themselves the problems they face in the 21st century economy. To do that, they need just two things: the will to engage in the world’s biggest problems, and the skill to invent and implement solutions to those problems.


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To instill in young people the will to engage in big problems, we launched a challenge called "activating global citizenship". This challenge is seeking innovators who can figure out how to engage young people in the Global Goals, which every country signed up to at the United Nations in 2015. The goals include zero hunger, gender equality and good health and well-being for all people. We'll never reach those goals unless young people are mobilized to care about them. We're looking for evidence-based approaches build that global movement amongst the young.

To ensure young people have the skill to come up with solutions, we also launched an education challenge called "reinventing teaching and school leadership". Basic education has spread rapidly across the world in recent decades, meaning that the number of children who are not in school is at record lows. But the challenge remains to make sure that they are learning as much as they should be. Too many children leave school without the skills they need to earn a living and build their communities. To make progress, teachers and school leaders are the key. We're looking for ways to empower them to improve the educational provision for millions of children and young people.

With more than four months still to go before the first challenge window closes, we have been amazed to see hundreds of applications already pouring in. These reflect the wide range of approaches that diverse minds can bring to any problem. Judging between them will be no easy task. But if Misk Grand Challenges can inspire some truly transformative approaches from among the 100 ideas that we will fund, there is a huge potential for this initiative to better prepare young people for the world they are entering and shaping.

Both of the partners in this initiative, Misk and the Gates Foundation, are honoured to have been awarded the Knowledge Award over the last two years. Now, our task is to create a new generation of award winners from among the bright young minds in this region and globally.

Hassan Damluji is head of Middle East relations at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation