Wealthy donors, companies advised as to how to give their fortunes away

Annual philanthropy conference preaches value of donating money to worthy causes.

DUBAI // Businessmen who have worked their lives to accumulate a fortune yesterday heard how they might best give it away.

Projects geared toward lifting thousands of people out of poverty around the world were given free time at the annual World Congress of Muslim Philanthropists. In the audience were some 250 corporate representatives and private donors, many of whom were willing to part with their cash when presented with a good cause.

"I would give as much as I can as long as it does not affect my necessities," said Sultan Alshaali, the chief executive of the Ajman-based Alshaali Group. "As long as I can live and provide for my family, anything extra I would rather give.
"It's like karma. What goes around comes around. Whatever you give it will come back to you in another way."

The two-day conference has been held annually for the past four years and was created with a view to linking Muslim donors with ethical non-profit organisations.

This year’s event featured few grand gestures akin to those made by Warren Buffet, Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg. However, over snacks and coffee outside the conference hall, important contacts were indeed being forged, said Dr Tariq Cheema, the chief executive of the congress.

“It’s not just about writing a cheque,” he said. “It’s about building partnerships with the community which get strengthened over time.”

Philanthropy is different from charity in that also requires an additional investment of time on the part of donors. It has been likened to an investment in that donors expect accountability and transparency on how their former money is spent.

Dr Cheema said that philanthropy was a more strategic tool for charitable giving, adding that Muslims should use it as a vehicle for fulfilling their Zakat donations - normally 2.5 per cent of total savings every year.

"Zakat can be a tremendous anti-poverty tool provided it is used strategically and properly," he said. "You can give a person a loaf of bread or you can help him grow his own food.
"Just as we have a capital investment, we should look at our giving as a social investment. If I am spending a dollar I want to know that it will bring a dividend and that it will bring something good."

Figures on the total annual sums donated to charity are difficult to obtain from regional sources. That owes in part to a religious aversion to openly discussing one’s acts of charity. However, the example of others can inspire new donors, said Arif Masood Naqvi, a philanthropist and the founder of the UAE private equity firm Abraaj Capital.

“The more you see other people do, the more you want to do yourself,” he said. “Muslims are expected to give Zakat. It’s just a question of institutionalising that.”

He said that it was a Muslim’s duty to give away the majority of the wealth he had accumulated in his life before death.

“The formula should be give as much as you are given, and He will find a way of giving it back,” he said.

The congress is based in Chicago and the annual conference was held in Istanbul and Doha before being hosted by Abu Dhabi in 2009. It has included presentations from several leading lights from the governmental and philanthropic sectors, including the former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, the current Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prince el Hassan bin Talal of Jordan. This year’s gathering featured a televised address from the former US President Jimmy Carter.

The organisation is funded philanthropically by a board of trustees. However, there is a possibility it could turn into a self-funding enterprise by offering donors a risk-analysis service on several charities, which would look in detail on spending patterns and success in previous projects.

"We are becoming intermediaries," said Dr Cheema. "Just as the chamber of commerce allows the business community to flourish, we hope to do the same with philanthropy."