Emaar chairman calls on UAE’s private sector to step up giving

Mohamed Alabbar pledges 2 per cent of developer's annual profit to national fund, calls for growth in corporate philanthropy

The UAE’s private sector should step up efforts to invest in society as the government engineers a shift to a post-oil economy, the chairman of Dubai’s Emaar Properties said on Sunday, as he announced the developer would contribute 2.2 per cent of annual profit to a philanthropic fund to support young Emiratis.

Mohamed Alabbar said businesses have benefited from a stable economy and sustained government support, and should deepen their giving as the UAE tries to swing away from oil to more entrepreneurial and innovation-led growth.

“It is basic common sense: companies operate in societies and societies have to be looked after,” he told reporters in Dubai. “I operate in many countries where I’m pleased to pay 30 per cent tax. But nobody has asked me to pay anything here, nobody. We take so much: so what are we giving back?”

"If our programme gives us two leaders who can change the world, it will be a success.”Emaar has so far donated about AED180m ($49m) to Sandooq Al Watan, a private philanthropic fund backed by a group of Emirati businessmen, which aims to invest in young nationals, support startups and fund research and development. The fund has raised more than AED500m in its first year, with a goal of securing AED1bn by 2020.

Major supporters include Abu Dhabi’s Aldar Properties, which donated AED48m, and the Bin Hamoodah Group.

Emaar is a founding partner of the fund, and will contribute 2 per cent of its annual profit to it over the coming years, Alabbar said. It is the developer’s largest single philanthropic commitment.

“Our focus is on youth and leadership,” Alabbar said. “If we are able to give a chance to small entrepreneurs to succeed in their business, if we give intelligent, smart people a chance to lead our companies and our society, that is enough. And if our programme gives us two leaders who can change the world, it will be a success.”

The GCC’s second-largest economy has a fledgling culture of corporate giving, with national initiatives traditionally drawing support from local firms. In the context of the UAE’s Year of Giving, a federal initiative that aims to encourage social responsibility, fresh focus has been given to the role of the private sector in accelerating national development.

In June, the UAE Ministry of Economy unveiled new rules around corporate giving that included mandatory disclosure of any contributions and marked the establishment of a national index to rank companies by their philanthropic spend.

Mohamed Al Qadhi, director general of Sandooq Al Watan, said the fund’s ability to convene private sector leaders marked it out from other charitable initiatives.

“We’re not building schools, we’re building human capital,” he said. “It’s a long-term goal, and the access we have to private sector expertise is invaluable. There is an opportunity here to really redefine what corporate social responsibility represents.”