Lessons in giving from the global south

If we can look beyond the US model of giving, diverse and innovative philanthropy is going on under the radar all over the world, writes Arthur Gautier

In the global conversation around philanthropy, the American model dominates, and for good reason. Until recently, there was little to rival the range and quality of knowledge stemming from American universities - or the interest shown by the public in figures such as Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and Mark Zuckerberg. It is a testament to the country’s history where elite and mass philanthropy have often foreshadowed government welfare.

In Europe, where welfare states are prevalent, philanthropic research was much scarcer. Yet the region has long relied on private giving to fund innovative solutions to unmet social needs. Philanthropy has provided a key contribution to medical research, education, poverty relief and the arts, among others.

In other regions, we have even less knowledge of giving patterns. With this in mind, we interviewed 10 so-called ‘frontier philanthropists’ in Pakistan, India, Turkey, Kenya, South Africa and Hong Kong, who are part of the Empower Families for Innovative Philanthropy platform, founded by the Edmond de Rothschild Foundations. Our goal was to uncover the motivations and strategies developed by these entrepreneurs and family businesses to foster social change, as well as the specific challenges they face.

Two key takeaways emerged from our study in the form of dilemmas faced by these families: whether to collaborate with governments or not; and whether to run their own programmes or to fund existing organisations. Their responses yield lessons for us all.

Private foundations need champions among elected and senior officials who share the same willingness to achieve positive changeIn several countries where these frontier philanthropists are active, government interventions are often associated with bureaucracy, governance concerns, weak institutions and a lack of legitimacy. At the same time, wealthy philanthropists are sometimes considered as unwelcome funders of initiatives that could undermine state action. We expected global south philanthropists to stay away from the state as much as possible, so it was surprising to find eight out of 10 families we interviewed actively collaborated with governments.

There are three reasons for this. First, governments can remove hurdles faced by programmes on the ground, notably in terms of security or access to infrastructure like roads and airports. Second, governments can provide additional funding. Third, government support is necessary to expand and roll out programmes that were successful on a small scale, in order to serve more people.

Indeed, given the scope and urgency of social ills such as limited access to clean water, lack of primary education for girls and unaffordable eye care in many developing countries, philanthropists need the government if they want to scale and deliver a long-lasting social impact.

The families we interviewed used their business background to leverage existing ties with key government officials, but this time for philanthropic purposes. Effective collaboration is even more crucial in emergencies, such as the devastating earthquakes that afflicted South Asia in the 2000s. This is what Ali Siddiqui, CEO of the Mahvash and Jahangir Siddiqui Foundation, realised in 2005 after the Kashmir earthquake. His foundation’s camps for internally displaced persons secured police guards thanks to effective, in-person negotiations with the local police.

In fact, more than the state apparatus per se, private foundations need champions among elected and senior officials who share the same willingness to achieve positive change. Mutual trust and a deep understanding of the cultural and political context give global south philanthropists an edge over foreign donors and international development agencies.

“It is important to see officials as good people working in a sometimes dysfunctional system,” noted Nicola Galombik, executive director of Yellowwoods, a family-run holding company in South Africa.

Rich, diverse and innovative philanthropy is going on under the radar all over the world, quietly improving the lives of millionsThe second key takeaway is how frontier philanthropists operate. While some 75 to 90 per cent of foundations in the Western world are grantmaking (and only a minority are operating), this ratio appears inverted in emerging nations. We were struck by the strong involvement of philanthropists on the ground, in addition to financial support. Many run their own programmes and some even build and operate top-tier facilities such as universities, hospitals and museums, because public infrastructures in healthcare and education, for example, are usually insufficient and too expensive to cater to whole populations’ needs. This is the rationale behind AmanAmbulance, the Aman Foundation’s own network of 80 ambulances with doctors providing 24/7 emergency medical interventions in Karachi, Pakistan.

Sometimes no NGO at all is doing the type of work philanthropists want to support in a given area. While the NGO sector is thriving in countries such as the Philippines, India or Jordan, there is a dearth of trusted NGOs with professional staff in some other parts of the global south. Private foundations are forced to carry the operations themselves if they want to achieve their philanthropic goals.

Rather than a handicap, this can be an advantage. Family philanthropists are often entrepreneurs and business leaders, and can capitalise on their skillset to achieve tangible results and even mobilise staff and board members from their own enterprise. They can train and transfer knowledge to NGOs to build management and leadership capacities in the long run. Getting involved on the ground beyond traditional chequebook philanthropy is also a way to set an example, and inspire other public and private funders in their home countries, ultimately leading to more impact for every grant awarded.

Are there any downsides to this hands-on approach? Some fear that philanthropists exert too much power if they are both funders and operators. There are also concerns that overconfident entrepreneurs-turned-philanthropists may think they can solve problems in a snap, overlooking the complexity and subtlety of social ills. But initiating a new programme to address unmet needs is different from clinging to it forever. Global south philanthropists are often eager to gradually transition responsibility for the programme to the government.

Rich, diverse and innovative philanthropy is going on under the radar all over the world, quietly improving the lives of millions. We should acknowledge the contributions of high-profile billionaires from the US, but we also need to shed more light on the giving traditions from all continents. Tomorrow, it could well be that Asian, African and Middle Eastern philanthropy will raise the bar for the rest of the world.

About the writer

Arthur Gautier is executive director of the ESSEC Philanthropy Chair and a research fellow at ESSEC Business School in France.

Life lessons: Salvatore LaSpada

Philanthropists and industry insiders share their advice on intelligent giving, and the experience they’ve gained along the way

Salvatore LaSpada is a global philanthropy adviser focused on family foundations. His former roles include founding executive director of the UAE’s Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation, chief executive of the UK’s Institute for Philanthropy, and director of the Philanthropy Workshop at the Rockefeller Foundation. Here, he shares some advice on intelligent giving:


Truly effective interventions need the input of the community most touched by, and closest to, the problem. If you stay inside the boardroom, you invest huge sums of money that ultimately have no impact

Philanthropy is described as patient capital. It works best when it stays focused and gets involved in it for the long haul. Donors need to stick with issues over time, despite the enormous lure to spread resources over a number of issue areas or, frankly, to give up when the going gets tough.   

"Find partners early. No foundation will solve the problems of the world alone"The philanthropic sector is sorely lacking case studies and research. Some of the best lessons for a philanthropist come from hearing how their peers have approached giving, but the need for evidence is significant, too.

Preparing the next generation through training and early exposure to the family foundation is the best way to guarantee its longevity and vitality. The transition from one generation to the next is one of the hardest things to achieve.

A common mistake among philanthropists is making decisions based on impressions. An anecdote can be informative, but it is not a substitute for having deep, data-based knowledge of an issue.

Find partners early. No foundation will solve the problems of the world alone. But you can solve a bigger piece of the puzzle if you stay focused on an issue, and collaborate with others.

Life lessons: Omar Al-Qattan

Philanthropists and industry insiders share their advice on intelligent giving, and the experience they’ve gained along the way

Omar Al-Qattan is chairman of AM Qattan Foundation, a London-based family foundation set up in 1993. The organisation is dedicated to the educational and cultural development of children. Previously a filmmaker, he is also chair of the Shubbak Festival of Contemporary Arab Culture in London and chair of the Palestinian Museum. Here, he shares some advice on intelligent giving:


Know the human and financial limits of your capacity as a foundation. Set realistic goals about what you can do, and what resources you can muster, and then act.

"Identify experts to help you and have the humility to invest in their talents"Don’t reinvent the wheel, or blindly follow trends. Try and focus on a specific area that doesn’t duplicate or compete for resources with others. Most of all, the idea must be coherent, strong and relevant.

Identify experts to help you and have the humility to invest in their talents. Wealthy people tend to have big egos. Being successful or well educated doesn’t mean you’re best placed to lead every project.

Effective ideas can come from unexpected quarters. In 1998, I wanted to launch a cultural programme and my father was wise enough to let me try for a year. At that time, culture was seen as a luxury. But it was so successful in providing education in the widest sense that it became one of the foundation's main interventions.

Gauging success is complex. There are things you can measure – such as the number of children reached, or how money is spent – but long-term transformative change is subjective and takes time to materialise. Have the sophistication to acknowledge both elements in your work.

The moments when you see the fruit of your labours make you incredibly proud. I recently visited our children’s cultural centre in Gaza, where up to 1,000 children a day can access a library, theatre, IT lab, and an arts and crafts lab. It’s an oasis in a bleak place.

Next generation

From volunteering in Saudi Arabia, to energy efficiency, to fintech solutions for low-earning migrant workers, meet the young entrepreneurs with winning ideas for shaking up business in the GCC

Into the fold

Kat Budd - UAE

For as much as 80 per cent of low-earning migrants in the UAE, a bank account is an unaffordable luxury. As hefty fees, minimum balance rates and charges put traditional banking services out of reach, blue-collar workers rely on a fusion of payroll cards, remittance houses and payday lenders to fill the void.

NOW Money, a Dubai financial technology (fintech) startup, has ambitious plans to change that. Using a free app, it is bringing digital money services to the fingertips of low-income workers, turning their smartphones into virtual banks. Users can pay bills, receive cash and – critically for a group that sends the bulk of its wages home – gain access to a web of remittance providers that promise to transfer money abroad at better rates, and at a fraction of the cost charged by traditional players.

“We’re a financial inclusion project,” says cofounder Kat Budd. “We’re a commercial organisation, yes, but we want to drive change.”

NOW Money works directly with employers to fuse their payroll to the app. Workers receive a link and training before their salary is paid directly into an online account. The account, which is protected by a clutch of biometric security features, comes with an ATM card for use online or for swiping at the cash register, and gives blue-collar migrants round-the-clock access to their money. To date, NOW Money has signed up more than 30,000 users – from delivery drivers, to hotel staff, and retail workers – capitalising on soaring smartphone use and a population already up to speed with mobile money models.

“This is a population that is very tech-savvy, and these solutions have existed for years in their home countries,” explains Budd. “As the price point on smartphones falls, it makes sense that we will see mobile money take off in the GCC as it has in other regions.”

The payoff could be significant. Of the $581.6bn that crossed national borders in 2015, the World Bank estimates banks and courier services netted around 8 per cent, taken in fees. NOW Money charges 2 per cent, says Budd, and its providers charge between 0.5 and 2 per cent per transfer.

“We only make money if people use our service,” she says. “We’re incentivised to make it engaging, and to serve the customer well.”

The idea for the app came in 2014. Budd and cofounder Ian Dillion had worked with online-only startup banks in the UK, and saw a gap in the market for a digital model in the UAE – but one targeting the bottom of the pyramid. They spent $150,000 “if not more”, says Budd, to map out the business and the app, before raising $500,000 in a funding round.

Another break came in 2015, when the pair joined Dubai-based startup accelerator Astrolabs. “It really upped our game in terms of moving the business forward,” explains Budd. More challenging was navigating the maze of red tape around licensing and regulation, in a region where digital banking is in its infancy.

“Fintech is only now catching on here, so we were really breaking new ground,” she says. “It’s persistence that got us through.”

The focus now is on growth. The startup hopes to move into Saudi Arabia this year – the world’s second largest remittance source country – and is in the throes of a fresh funding round, which aims to raise $5m. It has also begun working with Melltoo, the Gulf’s answer to ecommerce platform Ebay, offering its services to the site’s unbanked sellers.  With 100,000 active users, “it is an opportunity to become the region’s Paypal,” says Budd.

In January, NOW Money pitched against three other Gulf social enterprises to scoop first place in the GCC finals of The Venture, a global contest to find social enterprises with the ability to scale. The win gives the company a shot at the global prize later this year, which is backed by a $1m funding pot, and the chance to be a positive voice for the region, she adds.

“People thought we were absolutely crazy to leave our jobs to pursue this,” recalls Budd. “But we see massive opportunity in this market.”

Consult for a cause

Muhammad Al-Bakri - Saudi Arabia

It started with Facebook. In 2009, a group of young people got together via the social media site to distribute goods such as fridges, food and medicine to poor neighbourhoods in Saudi Arabia’s port city of Jeddah. Unlike other initiatives that disbanded after a while, this group of volunteers carried on.

Still, although the group kept returning to the same neighbourhoods nothing was changing. It was then that Muhammad Al-Bakri and his cofounders realised that, despite deep wells of generosity in the kingdom, a large gap exists between doing good and doing well.

“It was always the same people still waiting for food,” he explains. “That’s when we decided there must be a better way.” And so, Young Initiative Group (YIG) Consult was born.

YIG Consult aims to professionalise the nonprofit sector in Saudi Arabia by promoting the tools to plan, implement and measure the impact of charitable projects. “People in nonprofits work from the standpoint of sustainability, whereas [people in Saudi Arabia] tend to work on an emotional platform – God will provide and impact is something others will worry about,” explains Al-Bakri. “There is so much abuse of the nonprofit sector because no one expects reports on the outcomes.”

In 2014, the social enterprise started working with firms to design and carry out corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects, including training for corporate volunteers. YIG has worked with clients such as global consumer goods giant Unilever, and advised Rabea Tea employees on how to encourage young people to take on environmental projects, for example. It is also working with a wealthy client to develop a crowdfunding platform for medical charities.

The money from the advisory arm has helped kickstart YIG’s own projects. Part funded by the King Khalid Foundation, YIG is developing an Arabic web platform that aims to help NGOs plan and measure their performance. While such tools are freely available already, few are in Arabic, according to Al-Bakri. There will be a free version of the platform and a paid version to unlock more advice and tools, he explains.

Another of YIG’s projects is an initiative to boost volunteering in the kingdom. The social business is working with children from all income levels between the ages of three to five, and seven  to 11, to instil a sense of civic duty early on. YIG works with richer children on the responsibility that comes with privilege, while teaching students from lower-income households they are just as able as others to make a difference, says Al-Bakri.

Social enterprise is a relatively new sector in the kingdom, but it has already gained ground among young Saudis thanks to a growing awareness of successful social businesses abroad. “Youth see social enterprise as a better way to do charity,” says Al-Bakri.

At the same time, the rise of social ventures can help tackle youth unemployment, one of Saudi Arabia’s most pernicious problems. “Once you realise you can operate a nonprofit like a business, it will generate jobs automatically,” he notes.

It can also help fill the gap in services as government coffers feel the squeeze of the oil price rout that has hit the Gulf kingdom: “Energy conservation, water conservation, housing – these are all big challenges. We need to start realising as a community that we must address these issues in an entrepreneurial way.”

Al-Bakri hopes young Saudis will start to see the blend of business and philanthropy as an attractive career option, although he acknowledges the social sector is not yet seen as “a serious sector” in terms of talent, and many are wary of the lower salaries on offer. But being a social entrepreneur has its own rewards. “Now young people can dedicate their life to something more gratifying than creating money for a company,” he says.

Powering up

Charles Blaschke - UAE

Charles Blaschke has a goal: to cut the world’s energy consumption by a fifth, by simplifying energy bills. The Dubai-based founder of Taka Solutions believes engaging consumers could shrink usage and pollution faster – and at a fraction of the cost – of more complex fixes such as wind farms and solar power stations.

“The way to solve climate change is to put the tools for energy efficiency in everybody’s hands,” he says. “It’s the most effective way to reduce energy and carbon emissions.”

Launched in 2013 with $150,000 in seed funding, Taka uses a pay-as-you-save model to retrofit buildings and deliver energy savings. Working with clients including Standard Chartered Bank, Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi and Fairmont Hotels, the firm uses building information modeling, cloud-based analytics, engineering and smart technology to spot and capitalise on energy-saving opportunities. Taka foots the upfront bill for making buildings more energy-efficient, in exchange for a cut of the savings generated.

“We make an average saving of about 28 per cent [in energy bills],” says Blaschke. “If we don’t save, we don’t get paid.”

Client contracts are typically between five and eight years in length, and Taka broke even after just 12 months of operation, Blaschke says. With buildings estimated to account for more than one-third of global energy use, however, the profit is outweighed by the potential social return. “Our goal isn’t to save a little bit of energy by turning off a few lights,” explains Blaschke. “Our goal is to make deep retrofits, big savings and generate big impact. The more business we do, the more good we can do in tackling this huge problem.”

Globally, energy efficiency is on the rise, blunting demand for fossil fuels and the carbon dioxide they generate. Investment in the market rose 6 per cent to $221bn in 2015, according to the International Energy Agency. The Paris-based agency believes efficiency could cut the bills of energy consumers by $86bn by 2030, making tens of power plants around the world redundant.

Now, Taka’s focus is these consumers. In 2016, the company’s pay-to-save model caught the eye of The Venture, a global competition that seeks out social enterprises with the potential to deliver wide-scale impact. Though Taka missed out on a place at the global final, the contest helped the firm to sharpen a plan to expand its reach, and bring energy-saving expertise to individuals.

“After years of upgrading buildings to save money and energy, we realised we needed a way to get down to the tenant,” says Blaschke. “We could save a building $1m a year, but that would go to the owner’s pocket. To an individual, saving AED100 ($30) from their monthly energy bill is a lot.”

Taka’s answer is a free app that tracks an individual’s energy usage, gamifying their monthly bill. Tenants receive tips on cutting their consumption and comparisons to neighbours, encouraging smarter use of electricity. This is particularly critical for the power-hungry GCC states. According to the Arab Petroleum Investments Corp, the trade bloc will need to add 69GW of electricity production over the next five years to meet soaring domestic demand.

“It’s customised and all at their fingertips,” says Blaschke. “We want tenants to see how they can cut their bills and the products and solutions that could help. And from an energy efficiency perspective, a high-performing building depends on the people within it.”

In October, Taka launched a joint venture with Corys Environment, the investment arm of UAE-based Green Coast Enterprises. Taka Energy Services will “remove funding barriers” to Taka’s goal of cutting global energy consumption and carbon output by a fifth, says Blaschke.

“This will allow us to offer larger financing and deeper retrofits, and will eventually save more energy, carbon and money for our clients. [This partnership] is going to change the energy and investment landscape of the UAE in the years to come.”

Young Arabs step up to give back

Students with a new enthusiasm for volunteering find altruism has benefits for them - and for their CVs

Ahmed Marey is a first-year architecture student at the American University in Cairo. Along with academic skills, his first year has taught him another valuable lesson: the benefits of giving back.

“I’m on the committee of a club called Volunteers for Action. Every Friday we give English lessons at orphanages in Cairo and play sports with the children,” said the 19-year-old. “I have many skills now that I didn’t before: in leadership, communication, how to deal with mentors. I learnt that I needed volunteering more than the orphans needed me.”

Marey is one of around 100 students learning about the impact of philanthropy. He is part of the first cohort to benefit from a scholarship from the UAE’s Al Ghurair Foundation for Education (AGFE), a $1.1bn foundation that aims to propel 15,000 young Arabs into tertiary education over the next 10 years. The grant covers his tuition fees, but it also requires him to complete 100 hours of volunteering over the course of his university career. In his first year alone, Marey has nearly hit his target.

“You feel satisfied about giving something back,” he added. “We have to give as long as we can, not just when we need something in return.”

“All we ask is they become committed to giving back, to their country and to the region”The scheme chimes with a wider campaign across the Arab world to encourage young people to give back. Civic engagement in the region is among the lowest in the world, shows UN data, with just 9 per cent of youth volunteering their time.

In Saudi Arabia, less than 10 per cent of young nationals volunteer, a figure that rises to 16 per cent in Bahrain and the UAE, and to 24 per cent in Qatar.

Nonprofits and governments alike are keen to up the ante. Society benefits when youth get involved in tackling local challenges – from the charities that gain manpower, to the young people that gain employable skills.

“It isn’t just about the academic experience. It’s about how you link that to the problems and challenges in the Arab world and involve young people in creating solutions,” said Maysa Jalbout, CEO of AGFE. “We don’t ask the students for a financial return. All we ask is they become committed to giving back, to their country and to the region.”

Some students are already innovating. One AGFE student used his hours to find a way to compress online lessons into a format that can be sent and downloaded via Whatsapp to students whose internet access is shaky, such as refugees.

So far, AGFE has enrolled some 100 students at the American Universities of Cairo, Beirut and Sharjah. Half of this year’s intake has already completed more than 30 hours of volunteering, according to the foundation. AGFE tracks their progress via reports the students submit online, as well as from university counsellors who help place students locally with NGOs.

As well as inculcating a sense of civic duty, the students gain a host of skills they wouldn’t ordinarily get in the classroom. These soft skills - such as communication, teamwork and solving real life problems – are those that many employers lament are lacking among Arab youth. In a tough economic climate, volunteering can give students an edge.

“Young people, especially in the Arab world, often graduate from university without any real job experience,” said Jalbout. “Volunteering and being engaged in community service are an excellent way to develop those skills.”

It’s an approach that is beginning to gain traction. Across the Middle East, nonprofits and universities are clubbing together to link students with volunteering placements – and to help create long-term opportunities for those keen to give back. In Saudi Arabia, Ghadan for Consulting and Capacity Building, a social enterprise, works with universities to build volunteering centres.

“We see a high number of youth [wanting to volunteer],” said Badr Al-Khanbashi, Ghadan’s executive director. “But these engagements are often unsustainable – so they only volunteer once or twice.” Training students in how to map community needs is one way to help them become proactive, life-long volunteers, he says.

In Lebanon, the American University of Beirut’s civic engagement and community service centre has a similar remit: it helps students form teams to work on social projects with a budget and a mentor.

AGFE plans to extend its volunteer campaign beyond its scholarship students to other Arab youth. This month, the foundation will launch a drive to encourage people in the private sector to volunteer their time and expertise.

“It’s crucial for universities, the private sector, NGOs and philanthropists to work together,” she said. “Not only to provide more opportunities for students, but also to harness the energy of young people who have a lot of creative ideas and new solutions to give.”

Charity takes a warm heart and a clear head: philanthropist

UAE businessman Brian Wilkie talks to Philanthropy Age about transparency, using business-style acumen and why above all philanthropy should be fun

As many philanthropists will tell you, it is often more difficult to give money away well than to earn it in the first place. That is certainly a feeling shared by Dubai-based businessman Brian Wilkie. “You need a warm heart and a cold head to run a charity,” said the founder and chairman of regional nonprofit, Gulf for Good.

Wilkie is no stranger to the GCC’s evolving philanthropic landscape. Resident in the UAE for some four decades, the chairman of courier firm Universal Express was the driving force behind the AED65m ($18m) raised to launch the Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre (DUCTAC), the city’s first nonprofit theatre. While Gulf generosity is not new, donors have recently started to press nonprofits for more openness, he noted.

“Many charities in the GCC don’t publish their accounts,” he said. “But people are starting to ask for more transparency, and that accountability is important. If [causes] are not clear about how the money will be used, or if they don’t keep accounts, we don’t donate.”

Set up in 2001, Gulf for Good (G4G) organises challenges – such as mountain treks up Tanzania’s Kilimanjaro and long-distance bike rides through Zambia – to raise money for charity. Participants pay G4G a fee of around $500, plus raise a minimum amount of money, typically some AED15,000 ($4,000). Half the minimum sponsorship pays for logistical costs such as flights, while the rest goes to the chosen charity; 100 per cent of any funds raised over the threshold also goes to the charity.

“Whatever you plan to do, from the first moment, do it on business-like lines” To date, G4G has raised close to $4m through 75 challenges for some 30 charities, according to Wilkie. Causes range from girls education in Morocco to building a hospital in Nepal. The hospital was built in an area where a sole doctor was serving 300,000 people. The fatality rate among under-fives has fallen 75 per cent since G4G’s intervention, he added.

“Now, supporting disadvantaged children and girls’ education are our priorities when it comes to causes,” Wilkie told Philanthropy Age. “These are the ones we think will make the greatest difference to the greatest number.”

An entrepreneur, Wilkie applies business nous to his charitable actions. For G4G, this means casting a business eye across the whole process – from choosing a challenge that is highly marketable (hiking the wilds of Borneo, say) to getting multiple quotes for building contracts. Even the gifting of donations is done in stages, once agreed milestones are complete. This professional approach is essential for all donors of projects large and small, he observed.

“Whatever you plan to do, from the first moment, do it on business-like lines even if you are just raising funds for a few kids on a trip,” said Wilkie.

NGOs in the UAE face a challenging environment. Last year, Dubai issued a decree prohibiting the collection of donations without permission from the Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department (IACAD) aimed at boosting transparency among nonprofits. The legislation has slowed charitable activities in the emirate, said Wilkie.

“[The decree] knocked donations to Gulf for Good by about 80 per cent among expats,” he said. “Now, Dubai’s International Humanitarian City and IACAD are working hard to streamline the approvals process. We hope by the end of the year people will be comfortable with donating again.”

“Giving should be fun. If people have fun, they are much more likely to give in future”The charity is turning to corporates to help plug some of the fall in donations. G4G has organised corporate challenges for the local staff of firms such as Emirates NBD, Sony and GE. If they can raise $100,000, the nonprofit also hopes to expand its offering beyond Dubai’s residents by setting up World for Good.

Alongside G4G, Wilkie continues to donate to other important causes, such as sponsoring research on how to clear landmines from areas in the Middle East afflicted by conflict and donating to the UK-based David Nott Foundation, which trains doctors operating in war zones around the world.

And while Wilkie believes that the issues facing the Middle East are deadly serious, giving doesn’t have to be. “Right from the start I believed giving should be fun. If people have fun, they are much more likely to give in future,” noted Wilkie. 

Between one third and a half of all G4G’s 1,200 participants are repeat members, he notes.

“Giving is a satisfying thing,” he said. “It is very emotional and you get a wonderful sense of doing something good. That shouldn’t be denied; it’s part of the pleasure.”

Class struggle

Around the world, 263 million children and young people are out of school. By 2030, the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) wants to reverse that. Former Australian prime minister and GPE chair Julia Gillard explains why – despite the barriers – creating quality, inclusive education for all is within the world’s grasp

Education today has an access problem. Globally, more than 260 million children and young people are out of school, and making education available to them will require a huge shift. For many, given their circumstances, it’s not going to be the traditional model of a school at the end of the road, with classrooms and teachers. To meet the needs of very poor families, of refugee families, we’ll need to be more flexible than that.

But this is not a John F Kennedy moon shot. We are not saying to the world: ‘Let’s do something humanity has never done before.’ If every country was improving its education at the rate of the top 25 per cent of nations in their income band, then we could solve this. We could create a learning generation.

"If we did a stock take today: ‘Are we doing enough to finance education?’ The answer would be an unambiguous no"For a long time, education has been less visible than issues such as global health. When the world came together for the millennium development goals (MDGs), much of the buzz afterwards was in health. It created the big levers we’re seeing now – Gavi, the global vaccine alliance and others – that have made a profound difference. But in the wake of the sustainable development goals (SDGs), that buzz is around education. And that’s because the evidence is so clear that it is a building block. The health agenda can’t be achieved without education. The anti-poverty agenda can’t be met without it. The currents of change are, for the first time, focused on education.

Funding remains a key issue. In recent years, we have seen overseas development assistance go up by 8 per cent, but education’s share has fallen by 12 per cent. In humanitarian appeals, education typically only runs at 2 per cent. If we did a stock take today, and asked: ‘Are we doing enough to finance education?’ I think the answer would be an unambiguous no.

Addressing that requires a step change in private philanthropy. That means at-scale philanthropy engaged in education, as well as catalytic private engagement around the new knowledge we need to create. The field is wide open, and I think philanthropists entering the field now will not only get the sense that they’re doing good, but that they’re at the forefront of innovation. In terms of being reassured and engaged about where your dollars are going, education offers a great deal.

The MDGs showed us that it’s not just about getting kids into school. Many countries have made great strides in building schools, in enrollment, but the quality of teaching within those classrooms isn’t good enough for children to learn. We see classrooms of 100 kids, with one teacher, no or very few books, and learning is done by rote. A few children keep up, and the others are left behind. Fixing this requires patient work. GPE supports countries both in helping to properly plan their schools and schooling systems, and in increasing access and quality.

'If there are large numbers of young people with nothing to do, in the absence of a book, they will pick up a weapon'There is no silver bullet in development. But the thing that comes closest is girls’ education. At GPE, when we work with countries to plan their education systems, we won’t fund against plans that aren’t inclusive for girls. We know that educating girls means fewer children dying of preventable diseases. We know it means less poverty, and more inclusive economic growth. More importantly, countries can see the difference it makes.

In Malawi, in early February, I visited a village where a mothers’ group works to offer informal childcare to young girls with babies, so they can go back to school. A mothers’ group in Malawi is a long way from the UN, yet they too understand the benefits of educating girls.

If we don’t act on education, what will the world look like in 2030? It’s a dark picture. To cite a report from the Education Commission, half of the jobs in the global economy will have disappeared as new technology impacts on the workplace. Of the 1.6 billion children in school, half will be on track to leave secondary school without basic secondary-level skills. It’s clear the crisis that arises from having high-level jobs, and young people unequipped with the skills to do them. It means lower global growth. It means people without hope, which we know leads to conflict, to displacement, to political instability. We’ve watched this movie before. We know that if there are large numbers of young people with nothing to do, in the absence of a book, they will pick up a weapon. In our globally connected world, that sort of instability infects us all.

Education requires patience. Kids don’t learn in five minutes; they learn every day. And unless you are getting their education right every day, they won’t reach their full potential. But we all know from our own experiences that there are literally moments when you can watch a penny drop, or a concept land, and that child knows something they’ve never known before. You have that delightful sense that you’ve changed a life. In asking people to support GPE, and to support global access to education, we’re really asking people to feel that moment of wonder – and not at the scale of 1 to 1, but at a scale of hundreds of millions.

Taking wing

In the cradle of Dubai’s industrial zone, the city’s dynamic arts district is propelling local artists into the global spotlight. Abdelmonem bin Eisa Alserkal, founder of Alserkal Avenue, talks progress, patronage and cultural history in the making

Al Quoz industrial zone is not the first place you’d look for Dubai’s brightest and edgiest arts district. But amid the gritty cacophony of auto-repair shops, grimy factories, storage hangers and concrete plants, that’s exactly what you’ll find. Barely a decade after its launch, Alserkal Avenue has become the urban nerve centre of Dubai’s arts scene: an explosion of galleries, studios, workshops, pop-up projects and more, housed in a dense grid of repurposed warehouses. It’s a leap, says founder Abdelmonem bin Eisa Alserkal, from the days when the city’s cabs struggled to find it. “At least people can locate it now,” he laughs.

“We like to take risks on the risk-takers. I believe in people who are passionate about what they do”In fact, Alserkal is a testimony to slow, organic growth. In an abrupt departure from the identikit economic clusters that sprung, fully formed, across Dubai in its boom years, it has instead unfurled gradually as a noisy hub for the city’s creatives. It was born in 2007, when Abdelmonem – whose family owns the site – began to rent lots to  galleries and other cultural enterprises. The purpose was “to give a base to the local artists and mediums that commercial galleries traditionally didn’t support,” he explains; a break with the art scene’s existing, market-orientated dynamic. “We wanted to create a global platform for art in and from the region.”

It’s for this reason that Alserkal’s focus is curatorial rather than commercial. Local lights such as The Third Line sit alongside global heavyweights Waddington Custot, and offbeat upstarts such as TheJamJar, a DIY painting studio. A subsidised rental system means the avenue is one of only a few spots in Dubai where early-stage or fringe artists and nonprofits can gain exposure.

“I always say we like to take risks on the risk-takers,” says Abdelmonem. “I believe in people who are passionate about what they do. I think the city needed this scene, and this community.”

“What Alserkal offers as a cultural district – there’s nothing comparable in Dubai. It’s an incredible support,” says Deborah Najar, director of the Jean-Paul Najar Foundation, which opened its doors in 2016. “We’ve had the directors of the world’s top five museums visit us here. I don’t think we could have achieved that anywhere else.”

The private museum houses a 500-strong collection of post-1960s European and US abstract art accrued by Najar’s father, and shown in a striking, dual-level space designed by Mario Jossa of Marcel Breuer & Associates. The nonprofit’s aim is three-fold: to showcase its expanding collection, to support its artists, and to converse with a new generation of collectors via shows and public events. Its subsidised rent is “essential” to this mission, says Najar.

“I feel we are doing our part to help write the arts history of the region”“As a nonprofit foundation, we’re a first mover in a difficult environment,” she explains.

Abdelmonem is reluctant to be described as a patron of the arts, and his modesty belies his position within one of the UAE’s most prominent families. But private capital and entrepreneurship has underpinned Alserkal’s emergence as an experimental cultural district, blowing open a scene previously dominated by polished galleries and auction houses.

“As a family present here, we wanted to give something back to the community,” he explains. “With Alserkal, I feel we are doing our part to help write the arts history of the region, and to give that global exposure to local talent.”

And as Alserkal’s profile has risen, so too has the success of its artists. In 2015, the district commissioned a performative talk by Lantian Xie, which appeared as part of the London-hosted Shubbak Festival. Soon after, says Vilma Jurkute, Alserkal’s director, Dubai-based Xie signed with the gallery Grey Noise.  “This is where we come in, by supporting ephemeral, conceptual mediums not easily embraced by the commercial scene,” she says. “I think it is important for artists to develop creatively, but they should also have the means to support themselves commercially.”

This year, the avenue plans to open its first artists’ residency.

Alserkal’s canvas is still evolving. Last year, courtesy of a disused marble factory, the complex unveiled a 250,000 sq ft expansion, doubling its size. For the 50 units that came online, the hub received more than 1,000 applications. “We always joke and say the community demanded an expansion from Abdelmonem,” laughs Jurkute.

New tenants include black box theatre The Junction, New York’s famed Leila Heller Gallery, and the locally conceived Cinema Akil; all  speeding Alserkal’s growth from visual arts, on to music, theatre, film and design. But the jewel is arguably Concrete, a vast events space designed by architects OMA, which opened in March. Hung on the bones of a former warehouse, the venue’s movable walls, huge ceilings and translucent front façade form an art piece in themselves, with endless spatial variations.

Alserkal’s programming activity has been as bold as its construction, with curated shows, screenings, workshops, talks, performances and commissions. Free to the public, these offer one of few places in Dubai where blue-collar workers and fashion types can cross paths. “During events, you see the multicultural population of Dubai that meets here and blends together,” says Abdelmonem. “Nothing would matter if the audience wasn’t here. Without them, it would just be buildings.”

There is also a broader legacy in play. At a time when the Middle East is in thrall to conflict, and when its oldest and most beautiful cities –Damascus, Baghdad – are under attack, preserving and documenting its culture has never been more vital. In this, the Arab world’s artists, filmmakers, storytellers are frontrunners, recalling a region beyond the chaos and helping to craft its future. 

“With the times we are living in, to support the arts and culture scene, to see a brighter future, to contribute to that future of the region – this is why art matters,” says Abdelmonem. “I hope we are contributing to history in the making.”

Leading man

Ten years ago, billionaire Mo Ibrahim launched a foundation to inspire democracy and good leadership in Africa. Today, he warns that progress has stalled

People ask, ‘how much have you achieved?’ And I don’t know, maybe very little, but at least I’ve tried. If you can just move things a few inches forward that’s great, because I’m sure a lot of other people are also helping to move that big animal forward.”

The ‘big animal’ to which Mohammed ‘Mo’ Ibrahim refers is no less than the reshaping of government in Africa, the continent of his birth and the passion of his life. Through his eponymous foundation, he has worked for more than a decade to foster democracy and build pressure for better, less corrupt leadership – and in doing so, has helped raised expectations and outputs across the region.

“Leadership is about vision, those rare leaders who can really transform a society”Today the foundation is considered the preeminent independent voice on governance in Africa. Ibrahim, meanwhile, is a magnetic presence, all exclamation and exhalation, at once galvanised and exasperated by the pace and direction of change on the continent.

“We don’t lack resources, we don’t lack land, and we don’t lack space, so what are we doing?” asks the Sudanese-born philanthropist. “Nelson Mandela [South Africa’s first black president] put it beautifully when he said that Africa is a rich continent, but the African people are poor. That for me was an amazing statement; it just slaps you in the face.”

As founder of mobile phone operator Celtel, Ibrahim spent decades travelling the continent, working within and across byzantine power structures in both the public and private sectors. He became convinced of the value of strong institutions and the rule of law – and for a country’s leaders to inspire, not hinder, development. “Good governance is really about institutions and the way the country is run,” he explains today. “Leadership is about vision, those rare leaders who can really transform a society.”

Ibrahim himself cannot be accused of a lack of vision. Having sold Celtel in 2005, in 2006 he launched a range of initiatives designed to foster good governance and reward superlative leadership. The most high profile is the Ibrahim Index of African Governance, which ranks government effectiveness across the continent. Established initially with the John F Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, the index tracks 58 criteria in five main categories.

A country’s score reflects how well it is providing services to its people – and nobody likes to be told publicly that they can do better. Upon its publication in 2006, the inaugural index was greeted warily in the corridors of African power.

“The body language was not friendly,” recalls Ibrahim. “But nobody criticised us for doing it because people could not find an angle. We are Africans so nobody could accuse us of being colonialist. We are using our own money, African money, so they could not say we were agents of the CIA. And we have no outside incentive because there’s no political or financial motivation for us to do this.”

It was not uncommon for disgruntled leaders to pick up the phone and complain to Ibrahim directly, to which they would receive a straightforward response: “I don’t write it.”

The data is compiled from the foundation’s own measurements as well as 34 other sources. Every digit is indexed, every decimal point referenced against its source. While Ibrahim insists leaders are welcome to contest the figures, “in 10 years we have not changed a single number”.

Today the index is both a benchmark and an incentive. A team headed by Abdoulie Janneh, the former under-secretary-general of the UN Economic Commission for Africa, spends its time flying from capital to capital, meeting with government leaders and discussing a country’s ranking. It helps that major global donors – from USAID to the UK’s Department for International Development – use the index to aid in the disbursement of billions of dollars annually. A high score, then, can bring high reward.

“Countries accept that we’re not using the index to criticise any one government,” says Ibrahim. “We say, ‘This is the outcome of your policies; are you happy or is there something you need to change? And by the way, this is how your neighbours performed in all the same areas’.”

The benefit of this objectivity, Ibrahim notes, is that “it’s not a shouting match. It’s not personal or down to tribal or religious background. It’s down to achievement.

“It is not acceptable that leaders just rely on good speechwriters to sell whatever,” he adds. “It’s not about nice phrases or rhetoric or personal charisma. It is time to talk numbers, to talk facts.”

Not all the leaders in Africa’s storied past – and present – have relied solely on words to entrench their positions. A handful of dictators have achieved and retained status through brutal means. In so doing, says Ibrahim, they have stained international perceptions of what an African leader can be.

“Who doesn’t know about [Uganda’s] Idi Amin? I haven’t yet met a person in Europe who doesn’t know Idi Amin, who doesn’t know [the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s] Mobutu,” he notes. “But why do people know only about our bad leaders when there are a lot of very good leaders too? This sends a very damaging message to young people.

“We need to bring those good guys out of the shadows to really recognise them,” Ibrahim continues. “If a Nobel Prize is given to a physicist or physician or songwriter, what about the leaders who take 2 or 3 million people out of poverty? Is that not a wonderful achievement?”

Ibrahim’s response was to launch a prize for excellence in African leadership. Awarded by a seven-member judging panel, according to strict criteria, the Mo Ibrahim Prize credits rulers who govern well and step down peacefully. The first winner was Joaquim Chissano, the former president of Mozambique, in 2007. Mandela received an honorary prize the same year. However in the decade since, the prize has only been awarded three times, due to a lack of suitable candidates.

“This award is for excellence, it’s not a pension, and excellence by its nature is rare,” insists Ibrahim. “To have come to power democratically, moved the country forward, and then to have handed that power over peacefully; it’s a high bar. When there’s no winner we also send a strong message, which is important for our credibility.”

Criticism of the prize centres on its financial aspect: winners receive $5m over 10 years, followed by a $200,000-a-year pension.

“A good leader is not one who uses the country’s resources for private gain,” he says. “How do we deal with those guys who came out clean, those guys who come out and call a taxi?

Ibrahim, however, argues that the salaries and pensions of African leaders are insufficient for productive life after office. He cites the example of Pedro Pires, who when he stepped down in 2011 had no house or car. When he lost the election, the former president of Cape Verde called a taxi and took his wife and two daughters to stay at his mother’s apartment.

“We want them to come back to public life as part of civil society, to show that there is life after leading,” he continues. “So we take care of them financially while they go around telling young kids what it means to be a leader, and engaging in the political arena on behalf of Africa.”

Since stepping down as president, Pires has founded a governance institute and is training civil servants on service delivery. Chissano has undertaken peacekeeping efforts in Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Madagascar. Botswana’s former president Festus Mogae, who won the prize in 2008, has launched a foundation focused on education for women and girls. “These guys are working and they are able to be involved because they don’t have to worry about feeding their children,” says Ibrahim.

“Bill Gates has done a wonderful job in Africa and I love him to bits, but I look for the day when Africa doesn’t need Bill Gates”Their efforts are timely. Much of Africa blossomed in the first decade of the new millennium; political progress was accompanied by a rise in commodities prices, which in turn fuelled investments in infrastructure. Now, however, stagnation has kicked in. “No major developments have been made and we raised a flag about this three years ago,” says Ibrahim. “What happened in the north of Africa of course affected the overall performance of the continent. The Arab Spring countries have suffered a lot because if you are in the middle of a revolution then development is not taking place, people are losing tourism, and the energy of the country is spent somewhere else.”

In 2013 Ibrahim signed the Giving Pledge, the philanthropic campaign led by Bill Gates and Warren Buffet that will see more than 150 billionaires give away at least half their fortunes in their lifetimes. It was, he says, “a no brainer because I was already doing it”. Yet these efforts do not represent the answer for Africa.

“Bill Gates has done a wonderful job in Africa and I love him to bits, but I look for the day when Africa doesn’t need Bill Gates, doesn’t need anybody else, because what happens after Bill Gates is gone?

“I don’t think of myself as a philanthropist, but more as an activist, because all the stuff we’re doing is trying to change the way we run our countries,” he adds. “We are pushing to build better institutions, better policies, because unless we run our countries in a better way, no amount of aid will solve our problems.”

Advocates for change

Princess Banderi bint Abdulrahman AlFaisal is the director general of Saudi Arabia’s King Khalid Foundation. In an exclusive interview, she talks failures, tackling youth joblessness and the foundation’s role in the changing shape of philanthropy in the GCC’s wealthiest economy

Saudi Arabia is no stranger to large-scale generosity and charity. Yet the infrastructure of giving – from foundations to the nonprofits on the ground – has struggled to play in the same league. The Riyadh-based King Khalid Foundation (KKF) is one agency seeking to redress the balance. Founded in 2001, KKF aims to help cultivate and scale the country’s fledgling nonprofit sector to meet national challenges and lobby for socioeconomic change. And while there is still much work to be done, says director general Princess Banderi bint Abdulrahman AlFaisal, change is underway.

KKF has a broad mandate. How do you gauge your success?

We set out to change the face of philanthropy in Saudi Arabia, and if you look at where the sector was 10 years ago, it is enormously different today. When we began even the term ‘nonprofit sector’ was unknown.  About four years ago, in the second of our annual development debates, we talked about the underrepresentation of – and lack of consultation with – the nonprofit sector in the kingdom’s National Development Agenda. The Ministry of Planning was sceptical, but over time we convinced them to include us in discussions.

Today, the nonprofit sector is front and centre in the government’s economic plan, Vision 2030, and we’ve been asked to contribute to policy planning. The nonprofit sector currently accounts for less than 1 per cent of GDP and the goal is to increase that to 5 per cent by 2030, so the government has absolutely bought in to the work we are doing.

"We’ve learned through trial and error"These elements of our work are difficult to measure. If we are working on youth employment, for example, gauging impact is easy: we can track how many candidates got jobs and stayed in those jobs. Other aspects of our work are less tangible, but I’ve no doubt KKF has played a key role in driving change in our industry.

How has KKF’s own approach changed since inception?

We’ve learned through trial and error. The foundation started as a grantmaking organisation – initially we wanted to work with local partners in rural communities on development projects. We failed miserably; we were talking different languages. KKF talked about sustainability and impact, while the nonprofits focused on cash handouts and charity. As a result, we stopped all grant activity and for the next two years focused on building the capacity of local NGOs and helping to change mindsets.

That was 10 years ago. We gradually reintroduced grants, which today comprise more and more of what we do;  in just two days this week, we’ve signed 20. Grants are typically between SR100,000 ($26,500) and SR750,000, but ultimately it’s about the quality of the grants rather than their size. Many local organisations don’t know how to apply for a grant, to draw up an action plan or a budget, or report back. We want them to develop those skills and will help them to do so. We believe our approach means nonprofits will be far better prepared to fundraise in future.

I have changed a lot, too. My father challenged me to be ambitious and give back, but while I certainly wanted to be involved with the foundation, I didn’t want to be the boss – I was slightly bullied into taking it on. Over the years, I’ve learned more from our failures than our successes. I’ve also learned that leaving your ego at the door, as a person or as an organisation, goes a long way to developing successful partnerships.

Is there a particular grantee or project you are proud of?

Many, although there’s one in particular, which came in response to the high rate of school dropouts in Saudi’s Eastern Province. A nonprofit requested a grant to address the problem. It emerged that the parents’ reading level was poor, so they were unable to help their children with schoolwork. And, as a result, they began lagging behind their classmates and eventually became embarrassed and dropped out.

We helped to implement an after-school programme to assist students with their reading and writing skills. It was very simple, but it was lifechanging for them and their families. These kinds of things make it all worthwhile.

Youth unemployment stands at 11 per cent. How can the country move the needle on jobs for young Saudis?

This is the topic of the day. It’s a frequent discussion for us, because we have a youth unemployment programme that trains young Saudis, with employment as the goal. However,  nobody is hiring in the current economic climate, which opens up a whole new challenge and we’re not entirely sure how to address it.

Broadly speaking, our impact as a foundation will be limited as long as the country’s education system is not doing what it should. Philanthropy is a sticking plaster that stops the bleeding, but it does not help the patient. Saudi Arabia’s education system is the elephant in the room – everyone knows there is a problem, but nobody seems able to fix it. It is beyond what we can do as a sector.

Is more support needed to help young Saudis compete in the workplace?

Running the ‘Our Youth, Our Future’ project, a three-year programme with the Human Resource Development Fund, has been eye-opening. Attitude is the missing piece of the puzzle among young people. Having the right soft skills, attitude and work ethic is crucial. A qualification is one thing but desire, passion and interest are another. When jobs are scarce these are the skills that will help youth in their personal and professional lives.

But the right attitude is also necessary among employers. We’ve seen all sides exploit the system intended to promote Saudisation [getting more Saudi nationals into the workforce]: firms with so-called job openings, training institutions’ lacklustre involvement, and young people happy to take the training but not the job. It’s a box-ticking exercise all round. I hope the situation will change, but it is still a significant challenge.

"Saudis are extremely generous, yet very little giving is channelled through institutions"Are more young Saudis looking to the third sector for a career?

We are certainly trying to get young people excited about the nonprofit sector. Last year, we teamed up with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to fund Shaghaf, the Saudi Philanthropic Fellowship Programme. The pilot run has an intake of 10 young Saudis who will do a two-year placement with an NGO in Saudi Arabia, a summer course at New York’s Columbia University and an internship at the Gates Foundation. We hope they’ll see the nonprofit sector as one with legitimate career prospects, and gain an affinity for philanthropy. Hopefully they’ll be its ambassadors in whatever they choose to do.

Is Saudi philanthropy evolving?

Philanthropy has become more fashionable globally, and we see this trend in the kingdom, too. Over the last five years, more and more family businesses and businessmen in Saudi Arabia have created foundations, becoming role models in turn. New regulations have also made it easier to open a philanthropic organisation. Still more needs to be done. Saudis are extremely generous, yet very little giving is channelled through institutions, even local ones, with people preferring to give directly to beneficiaries. The philanthropic sector needs to establish more trust among wealthy and middle class donors.

The notion of a philanthropist is also changing. The first three charities registered in the kingdom were nonprofits launched by women from the country’s royalty or elite. We’re starting to see this evolve; today it is more about the cause than where you come from.

Finally, the younger generation is pushing the concept of strategic giving. There is a growing awareness that giving directly does not necessarily benefit the most needy or most deserving. Young people want to see tangible results, and we are starting to see the fruits of this in family businesses.

Where do you believe KKF can have the most impact?

The foundation has a unit focused on evidence-based policymaking to influence decision-makers. The plan is to increase that aspect of our work.

Our experience shows the impact we can have. In 2013, we pushed for a Women and Child Abuse Prevention Law, which was subsequently adopted and passed by the government. It was the first time a nonprofit had been involved in developing policy.

Rather then identifying areas we think need to be addressed and saying: “You need to fix that,” we try to focus on giving policymakers ideas. It is very easy to complain about problems, but putting the hard graft in towards finding solutions is the fun part. I hope that will be part of our legacy.