Opinion: why we should open up to the business of philanthropy

We must be open about humanitarian challenges - and the ways in which organisations solve them
Opinion: why we should open up to the business of philanthropy
Education for all only six percent of Syrian refugees between 18 and 22 years are qualified for university
By Jeremy Lawrence
Fri 09 Nov 2018 01:27 AM

Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair has an emphatic message to share in this week’s cover story: “Our culture has always kept philanthropy as a private matter. We always say that whatever your right hand gives, your left hand should not know about,” he explains. “But to scale up and have a larger impact, we need to open up.”

While personal charity can and should be a private matter, his point is that when we talk about solving really big problems then business principles – accountability, measurability, ROI – must all come in to play.

Laws of finance

As CEO of Mashreq Bank and chairman of his family’s investment business, Al Ghurair has a long track record of success when it comes to organisational success. This experience has greatly benefitted his other passion, running the Abdullah Al Ghurair Foundation set up by his father, and the Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair Refugee Education Fund founded earlier this year. The latter is already supporting 6,500 refugee youth displaced by wars and disasters.

When we talk about solving really big problems, accountability, measurability and Return on investment must all come in to play

“Today we are passing through a unique period in which 50 percent of refugees around the globe come from the Arab world,” says Al Ghurair of why he felt compelled to help. “Somebody needs to look after this issue.”

Luckily he is not alone in his call to arms. Another “reformed banker” featured in this issue is Tariq Al Gurg. The Dubai Cares CEO has transformed his organisation over the last decade from one that simply signed cheques to becoming a major global agency that helps countries around the world make sure they don’t leave their children behind.

Al Gurg notes that there were only three departments when he left National Bank of Dubai to join Dubai Cares. “All we had were programmes, campaigns, and back-office support. But we needed to work like a business, with a marketing and communications department and a fundraising function. Otherwise everyone would forget the point of why we were here.”

Tied since its inception to the UN Millennium Development Goals, designed to help alleviate a global education imbalance, promote gender equality in education, and get governments, donors agencies, UN agencies, and third party providers working closer together, Dubai Cares is bridging an essential gap, especially for a country in the Arab world.

“I love numbers,” Al Gurg happily admits. “As an ex-banker I realised that return on investment (ROI) is something both companies and charity foundations have in common. At Dubai Cares the ROI is the number of teachers trained and children educated. In 2017, that number was 18 million in 53 countries. And it’s going to be a lot more soon.”

Now for the rest of us

Al Gurg shares some stark facts in his interview on page 34: 260 million children globally are out of school. Almost a billion children can’t properly read or write, yet the proportion of global humanitarian funding to education is one percent.

“What do those numbers mean to you? To me, those are figures I can’t stop thinking about,” he says of his ambitious plan to improve millions of lives.

But as Al Ghurair notes of his hope that the Refugee Education Fund will serve as a catalyst for individuals and businesses to help however they can, everyone can play their part. “It doesn’t have to be a huge fund, it could be at a country or city level,” he says. “Or if there are unfortunate kids in the neighbourhood, it’s good to have the residents set up an organisation. “If even 15 kids are looked after, I think that’s very good.”

Our Arabian Business Achievement Awards, which take place this week on November 12, will celebrate a stellar cast of individuals who have made an impact in the region. And when we talk about their success, this is exactly what we mean.

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