By Tamara Pupic
Throughout her career, Clare Woodcraft-Scott, CEO of the Emirates Foundation for Youth Development, has used her time and skills in impactful ways and managed to enforce her vision of a professional approach to philanthropy across the MENA region.
When Clare Woodcraft-Scott became the CEO of the Emirates Foundation for Youth Development, an independent philanthropic foundation set up by the Government of Abu Dhabi, it seemed as a tall order to persuade people that philanthropy needn’t rely only on the traditional cheque-writing approach.
“Having a scattered ‘spray and pray’ approach where you are spraying money out into the ether and praying that something comes out of it, makes it difficult to create social value at scale,” Woodcraft-Scott says.
“This approach might have an impactful intervention for a small community, but will not impact the lives of hundreds or thousands or millions of people. Traditional ‘cheque-writing’ no longer cuts it. We need to think about net asset value and look at solutions at scale.”
Woodcraft-Scott speaks with the authority of somebody who has repeatedly witnessed the many success stories that effective philanthropy can produce. Before she assumed the mantle of the foundation’s chief executive in 2012, she had been instrumental in the success of the Shell Foundation’s enterprise-based approach to social challenges, which has been widely recognised as a best practice model for delivering sustainable social value.
With the rise of active and passionate advocates of catalytic philanthropy, such as herself, worldwide, much has changed over the last few years. A determination to achieve long-lasting social change binds today’s philanthropists together regardless of the causes they want to address and the means they adopt to achieve their goals, according to the fourth edition of the BNP Paribas Individual Philanthropy Index, published in April 2016.
“I think that the shift to catalytic, strategic and high impact philanthropy has actually emerged not on the back of the creation of a specific entity but on the back of the failure of traditional models,” Woodcraft-Scott explains.
The BNP Paribas survey measured the commitment of those willing to donate at least $5 million to charity from the US, Europe, Asia and the Middle East, to reveal that 41 percent of them seek to achieve a sustainable outcome by establishing an initiative that provides ongoing funding (70 percent) or creating a self-sustaining organisation (57 percent) with a strong entrepreneurial culture which will enable it to make a profit.
“Traditionally, it was assumed that business had nothing to offer to the third sector,” Woodcraft-Scott says. “Now, however, many of these market-based principles are being adopted by foundations and not-for-profits and applied for the creation of social rather than commercial value. I think that it is that epiphany that has happened over the last decades that has led to the rise of catalytic philanthropy.”
Founded in 2005 by His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the President of the UAE, the Emirates Foundation for Philanthropy was aimed at fostering the establishment of sustainable public-private partnership that would continually develop and implement various community-based initiatives.
However, in 2012, following a year-long review, the foundation was re-launched under the name Emirates Foundation for Youth Development as an integrated national initiative that seeks to invest in the UAE’s youth.
“When we transitioned from a fairly traditional grant making organisation into one that is operational four years ago, we went from working on multiple different areas to working on just one – youth development. We were able to transform the nature of our impact,” says Woodcraft-Scott. “That was a challenging transition because we were essentially turning the organisation on its head and moving away from administrative skills into more entrepreneurial ones.
“We strongly believed that focusing on doing one thing makes it much easier to figure out what works and what does not, to deploy institutional learning and to redesign the whole organisation so that you focus on the most effective and most high impact aspects of your work.”
With youth development at the core of its mission, the Emirates Foundation has been targeting the UAE residents of any nationality, aged between 15 and 35. The new business model encompassed a “systems thinking approach” and investing more heavily in upfront research in order to, simply put, listen to their beneficiaries and respond to their needs.
“From the very beginning we were very clear that it had to be in our culture, in our DNA, to keep asking the question: ‘is this working or not? It is those questions that lead you to metrics,” she says.
“It is really important at first to assess the reasons behind doing a certain programme. What is the problem you are trying to solve? Can it be solved at scale and will it eradicate the problem? From these answers, specific metrics naturally emerge.
“So I think starting with a logical framework for any new solution or initiative is ideal.”
The foundation focuses on three key themes – social inclusion, community engagement and leadership and empowerment.
For each of them, it has developed specific programmes in-house, all based on adequate evaluation systems and performance assessment tools.
“For example, historically we only had ‘input’ data, such as how many grants we issued and how much money we spent. Now we have comprehensive data and a score card that allows us to track our output, our cost efficiency and our social impact,” she explains.
“We collect data on many aspects of our work including the number of youth we work with, the number of hours of voluntary service, the satisfaction of the beneficiaries, the cost per youth, and similar. We can now build baseline data and track our systemic impact over time.
“Now that we have done that, we see a tangible improvement in our impact. We see that the fact that we are focused means that we can engage more effectively in the community, we can engage our corporate partners better, we can understand and measure our impact better and learn from our mistakes better.”
Each of the foundation’s six programmes addresses a specific challenge. Their financial literacy Esref Sah programme educates youth on how to better manage their current and future financial and asset base; Think Science programme encourages them to innovate in science by teaching them STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) skills; the Kayani programme empowers unemployed Emiratis to work as teacher assistants in public schools; and the Kafa’at programme delivers career development projects.
In addition, two programmes are focused on volunteering – the Takatof programme offers opportunities to volunteer for important social causes while the Sanid emergency volunteer response programme unites volunteers motivated by a sense of civic responsibility and trains them to cope with crises.
To date, the foundation has engaged directly with over 60,000 young people in the UAE, representing over 15 percent of their total target audience, while their cost per youth has been decreasing over time creating economies of scale.
“We now measure our programmes just as a business would,” she says. “Each one of our six programmes is run as a social enterprise with a five year business plan, key performance indicators and with an underlying cost recovery and revenue generation model.
“We measure specific social output in addition to our financial viability. We look at our cost effectiveness, how scalable we are and then we revise the business plan based on our outcomes, just like any other private sector organisation would do.”
In addition to its main backer, the government of Abu Dhabi, the foundation’s focused, strategic and measurable work on youth empowerment has attracted a number of private sector partners. Furthermore, the foundation is a founding member of the OECD’s Global Network of Foundations Working Development (NetFWD). Woodcraft-Scott was recently elected the Chair of the Arab Foundations Forum, a regional network of Arab foundations.
Their annual Emirates Foundation Philanthropy Summit is now recognised as a key learning platform in this field. “I think a core challenge for us and others in this sector is simply the culture change,” says Woodcraft-Scott.
“How to go from being a traditional, often bureaucratic foundation to one that is entrepreneurial, lean, and innovative and one that encourages its teams to take risks? How to convince people in the third sector that not all philanthropy is effective and to acknowledge where it is not and learn from mistakes.
“Philanthropy – like business – has to be accountable and transparent. It has to provide a value proposition. It has to offer a solution that works and acknowledge if it doesn’t. And you have to be constantly working on further developing the solution, redesigning it, upgrading it, making sure the impact is maximised.”
The need for their educational programmes seems higher than ever.
According to the annual Asdaa Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey, which was published last month, young people believe a lack of jobs in the region is the primary reason why many are attracted to ISIL, with 24 percent citing this as the primary factor. Another 25 percent said they did not know why anyone would be attracted to the militant group. The Arab Youth Survey conducted face to face interviews with 3,500 young people between the ages of 18 and 24 in 16 countries around the region.
“If there has been one constant over the near decade we have been compiling this report, it has been employment, or rather the lack of it,” said Sunil John, the CEO of Asdaa Burson-Marsteller.
“This year’s survey adds a dangerous dimension; young people today see a lack of job opportunities as the single biggest factor driving a minority of their brethren into the arms of Daesh and other extremist groups.”
Bridging the gap between the education system and the needs of younger generations, Woodcraft-Scott believes, is one solution. “What we forget is that our education systems were mainly built in an analogue world,” she says. “I think education is changing globally and in the region, but it is not a quick process and results don’t show overnight. I think there are individual schools and institutions in the Middle East that are adopting much more innovative progressive ways of teaching young people.
“It is difficult for those who were born in the analogue age to advise those who were born into a digital age. So there is still a huge amount of work that needs to be done to help young people have the self-confidence, self-mastery, support networks, peer mentors, that they can use to help them thrive professionally and personally and that is exactly the kind of skill sets that we are trying to offer to young people through our Kafaat programme.”
The Arab Youth Survey further stated that 22 percent of young Arabs said the UAE was the country they would most like to live in, with 24 percent of respondents adding that the UAE was the top business destination in the Arab world, followed by Saudi Arabia (18 percent) and Qatar (13 percent).
Woodcraft-Scott adds that the education systems across the region also should support entrepreneurship more. Mentoring, she says, is crucial. The Emirates Foundation Youth Mentoring Platform, a structured three month youth mentoring programme, links UAE-based mentors with young Emiratis looking for advice in a specific field. Since its inception in 2015, the platform has managed to connect over 67 mentors with more than 180 mentees.
“Such things can be born or they can be nurtured into an individual,” she says about the entrepreneurial skills of the local youth. “But I think the most important thing that we often overlook is that it is the business acumen that is required to translate those ideas into a viable enterprise.
“We hear a lot of talk about innovation in the region. Innovation is a wonderful thing, but without enterprise, innovation is going nowhere. Therefore, we need to make sure that young people have the tangible, practical, pragmatic skills to be able to run either a regular or a social business effectively.”
With the digital world developing at an extraordinary pace, Woodcraft-Scott adds that young people in the region and globally also need to be encouraged to understand the power of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). “We have looked at global, regional and local numbers, and we see that in many places there is a decline in young people wanting to study science-related disciplines,” she says.
“This creates a huge challenge because we know that the future of industry in the UAE and many other parts of the region relies on these technical skills. We know that this is where the best jobs are and that this is where the best career prospects are - when you have STEM capabilities and work in the STEM field.
“Somehow there seems to be a disconnect between our formal education systems and our ability to encourage young people to both study and choose a career in those areas.”
Furthermore, she says, young people also face difficulties in navigating today’s complex financial sector, which led the foundation to establish the Esref Sah – meaning Spend Right in Arabic – financial literacy programme. After studying the market, her team discovered that many young people in the UAE had disproportionatelly high levels of personal debt and often very limited understanding of the costs of banking and financial products and, most importantly, when to spend, save, and invest.
“We believe that financial illiteracy is perhaps one of the most pressing challenges of the 21st century,” she says. “We found that if young people have a personal budget it directly has an impact on their spending habits because it allows them to assess how much disposable income they have, which in turn allows them to understand what they can afford to purchase and what they can’t, understand when to borrow and when not.”
When asked whether she has noticed a greater willingness among younger people to take the risk of investing their savings into local start-ups, she says: “What we have seen is that young people who have gone through the programme are now seeing that they have more disposable income to save and therefore more disposable income to invest.
“Where we have seen consumption habits in the past, we now see young people looking to purchase assets, buy real-estate instead of simply buying consumer goods.
“Has this translated specifically into angel investment? I don’t think we have sufficient data at this stage to show that, but I would like to think that through the programme we are creating a positive momentum around understanding investment and the importance of how to invest and ultimately, of course, how to invest for social impact.
“I think young people in general are much more interested in start-ups than older generations.
“I think Generation Y is intrinsically better placed to look both for social purpose but also for entrepreneurial solutions. If you ask young people whether they would rather be a bureaucrat or an entrepreneur, most would choose the latter.
“They are excited about enterprise and about the opportunities that the 21st century and the digital revolution bring.”