UAE’s Al Ghurair gifts third of assets to educate Arab youth

The Abdulla Al Ghurair Education Foundation aims to help at least 15,000 promising Arab youth pursue higher education in the UAE and abroad

Abdulla Ahmad Al Ghurair, one of the UAE’s biggest family business owners, has donated a third of his assets to setting up a foundation that will provide scholarships for underprivileged Arab youth.

The Abdulla Al Ghurair Education Foundation, announced Tuesday, aims to help at least 15,000 promising Arab youth pursue higher education, with an initial budget of AED4.2bn allocated for the next 10 years.

“It is through education that we will effectively tackle inequality, enabling youth from low-income families to fulfill their individual potential and to help their communities thrive,” said Abdulla Al Ghurair in a statement.

The Al Ghurair family’s net worth is estimated at $6bn by Forbes magazine and $7.5bn by Bloomberg Billionaires. The family business is among the largest in the UAE, with interests in areas including banking, food, construction and real estate.

“My father was always fond of education and he started by building the first school in a remote area of the UAE, in Masafi, during the sixties,” Abdulaziz Al Ghurair, one of his sons and the CEO of the UAE’s Mashreqbank [pictured above with his father] told a press conference today.

“Historically, people have done it [philanthropy] with utmost secrecy in the Arab world because there is a belief that what you give with your right hand your left hand shouldn’t know about. But our economy and population have come to a stage where now we have to move to institutionalise our charity and philanthropy. What we are doing here is creating an institution, not a one-time reaction to an issue, and we look forward to UAE nationals and Arabs talking about the great things they do.”

The announcement comes days after Saudi Arabia’s billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal pledged to give $32bn to charity in the coming years. The amount is equivalent to his entire wealth, with funds to be channeled into charities that promote health, disease eradication and relief, poverty alleviation and women’s rights. The trend has been a global one, with pledges by some of the world’s richest people to donate their wealth to philanthropy; many through an initiative known as The Giving Pledge. The campaign, championed by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet, boasts signatories including Mark Zuckerberg, David Rockefeller, Michael R. Bloomberg and – most recently – Dubai-based education entrepreneur Sunny Varkey.

The foundation’s board of trustees is chaired by Abdulaziz Al Ghurair, with a plan to appoint a CEO this month and a board of directors that will approve, direct and execute its strategy. The programme will begin with targeting UAE nationals, followed by Arabs in the Gulf state and beyond.

“There are brilliant students who made it through high school, but they drop out because they cannot go to university due to cost. My priority now is to identify those outstanding students who cannot afford schooling. I want to give them access to proper university education. It’s a shame outstanding students cannot complete their university degrees,” said Abdulaziz Al Ghurair.

The details of the programme are being drawn, with the help of Boston Consulting Group, with a target to launch and start operations in the first quarter of 2016. The foundation owns one third of the assets of the Abdullah Ahmad Al Ghurair group of companies, including all revenues and profits.

“This is a pledge for life, as long as the companies continue to be profitable. It is not an endowment when you put the money and when it’s finished you’re done. It is actual operating companies and the dividend and profit from this will be used to fund the programmes. As long as our economies and companies are doing well, it will continue,” said Abdulaziz Al Ghurair.