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.

Educating India

Azim Premji is India’s most generous man, having donated more than $8bn of his personal wealth to his eponymous foundation. In an exclusive interview, he describes his mission to transform public education, and help a new generation of Indian philanthropists to make a positive difference

Azim Premji is the chairman of Wipro Ltd, the seventh largest IT company in the world and one of the largest publicly-traded companies in India. He is also a passionate philanthropist who has spent decades working to alleviate poverty and inequality. Since 2001, he has done this through the Azim Premji Foundation, which works at primary school level to test new approaches in education with the potential for systemic change, and the Azim Premji University, which offers programmes to develop education and development professionals, and also invest in educational research.

Q. How did your philanthropic journey begin?

A. I became responsible for Wipro in the late 1960s, and for more than three decades I dedicated myself almost completely to building the business. During this time I travelled extensively within India, and this gave me a first-hand view of the two extremes that had emerged in our country: rapid development and opportunities making people unimaginably prosperous, even as sections of society continued to be steeped in poverty and want.

I saw that many of those who remained in poverty lacked some of the basic amenities that any human being should have. It felt unfair and wrong: a society must take care of everyone, and those who are well
off have a responsibility to do their bit to ensure that everyone’s basic human needs are met, and that opportunities are created for everyone to develop and grow.

So I had a very simple idea when I started: what could I do to contribute to a better India? To me, it meant that we must focus on the most disadvantaged and underprivileged.

Q. Why did public education become your priority?

A. The only way that you can hope to make a difference is to focus on a specific social issue. For me, education stood out as the key process and building block of a good society. Its importance goes far beyond the economic opportunity it offers: it has a vital role in empowering individuals and societies alike – socially, economically and politically. If we really wanted to build a just, humane and equitable society – as envisaged in India’s constitution – then education would be the transformative force, and because children from the most disadvantaged families go to government-run schools, we knew that we had to work with the public system.

We don’t expect to achieve what we set out for in five or 10 years. We know it is going to take decades.

Q. How has the foundation engaged with capacity building?

A. Today we work in eight states, which have about 350,000 schools, although of course we should remember that India has 1.5 million schools. Our foundation works very closely with all levels of the public education system – at the operational level in districts, blocks and clusters; at the level of institutions that support the operations; and at the policy level. We also work on all dimensions of the system, from capacity building among teachers and headteachers, to curriculum development, and assessment reform.

Q. What do you hope will be the impact of your giving?

A. As well as visiting schools in the field, I also regularly interact with students at the Azim Premji University. These are remarkable people who could have had very lucrative careers [in the private sector] but have committed themselves to working in education, with all its complexities. There is meaning and purpose there, not financial reward or glamour, and I am very proud we have been instrumental in getting talented and committed people to work in the sector.

We hope one day to see an outstanding public education system in the country. When I say ‘we’, I don’t just mean our foundation, but all our partners and the government working together. We have to remember that social issues are complex and take a long time to change, and so we don’t expect to achieve what we set out for in five or 10 years – we know it is going to take decades.

Q. You have paid tribute to your mother as a significant influence on you. How did she inspire you?

A. My mother, Gulbanoo Premji, was one of the first qualified women doctors in the city of Bombay. In those days men went to work and women usually stayed at home, and therefore, although she had a medical degree, she did not actually work as a doctor. However, she wanted to contribute to society, so she decided to help an organisation that worked with physically challenged children.

In the 1950s, the Children’s Orthopaedic Hospital opened at Haji Ali in south Bombay. She worked there tirelessly for almost 50 years. Every morning vans went out to bring in children who needed treatment and care. Most of these children came from families in poverty, and they had to be fed as well.

My mother was unfazed by all of the challenges they faced, whether it was lack of funds or the management of staff. She was so busy, but she always found time for us. She was an inspirational figure, as was my father, and their selflessness and integrity shaped my thinking.

Q. What do you tell your own children about philanthropy?

A. As a family, we spend a lot of time discussing what we are doing and attempting to do, but I don’t really ‘tell’ my sons about philanthropy. I don’t think that telling anyone, whether they are your own children or others, does much. People need to see, think and understand for themselves, as realisation is an intrinsic process, one that can be aided by open discussion, but cannot be forced. My sons are deeply engaged in different aspects of our philanthropic work, and they are making their own discoveries.

Q. In February 2013 you signed the Giving Pledge. Why did you choose to make this commitment?

A. I have always considered myself a trustee of the wealth and was very clear that I would give a substantial part of my wealth away. Participating in the Giving Pledge was a kind of formalised communication, something that would help start a discourse on personal philanthropy and provide a fillip to philanthropy in India.

In my opinion India’s business leaders have always been quite socially aware. If you study some of the old business families – such as the Tatas, Birlas, Bajajs, and Murugappas – you will find they have been active in philanthropy for many decades, and in some cases, for over a century.

Philanthropy can never substitute the government’s work, let us be clear on that. Ultimately, overall social development requires strong public services, which have to be provided by government. But philanthropy can play a crucial role in helping the public system, filling gaps it is not able to address and taking on high-risk projects that it cannot fund.

Q. How important is it that there are philanthropic role models for the younger generation to emulate?

A. Traditionally, philanthropists in India have been very discreet about their giving. As a country, we have believed the idea of giving should be for others and society, not for self-promotion, and that makes perfect sense. In the last few decades, however, we have seen significant wealth creation in the country and many of the newly wealthy are very serious about understanding and addressing social issues. I feel it is important to have a discreet and thoughtful engagement with them, to start a discourse. This is what we are trying to do through the India Philanthropy Initiative, an informal effort I am driving with a few other like-minded individuals.

I refrain from passing on advice and generally ‘telling’ people what to do. However, I hope my reflections might help some who are contemplating engaging in serious philanthropy. Whenever people seek my advice, I always encourage them to start early: social change takes time, and the sooner you start the best chance you have to make a positive difference.

Photo credit: Azim Premji Foundation

How to spend $32bn doing good

In her first interview as the head of Alwaleed Philanthropies, Princess Lamia AlSaud explains how the organisation hopes to build bridges towards a better world

In 2015, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal announced he would give his entire wealth to philanthropic causes. The news, given in a press conference in Riyadh, marked a turning point for giving in the Middle East – not least because of the sum involved; an astonishing $32bn. In that moment, Alwaleed became the first Muslim Arab to make such a landmark pledge, redrawing the boundaries of giving in a region well already known for its generosity.

The Saudi royal has long been a major donor to causes around the world. This year alone, Alwaleed has pledged $1m to aid victims of twin earthquakes in Japan and Ecuador and a further $1m to the thousands affected by flooding in Sri Lanka. His aid has, to date, reached people in 120 countries. But it is his $32bn pledge – and the creation of a new master vehicle, Alwaleed Philanthropies (AP), to support it – that has, for the first time, pushed his philanthropy into the international spotlight.

The reality is that little has changed in the prince’s approach, but the pace has certainly quickened. Fellow Saudi royal, Princess Lamia AlSaud, the new secretary general of AP, quotes the aspirations of her chairman, when she says: “After 35 years, HRH says he is only taxiing; we haven’t taken off yet.”

But there is little doubt his giving has become more prominent. In June, Alwaleed was one of 17 new signatories to the Giving Pledge, the global campaign led by Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, which asks billionaires to give away at least half their wealth to philanthropic causes. He is the first Gulf Arab to sign the pledge, joining names such as the UK entrepreneur Richard Branson, Airbnb founders Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia and Nathan Blecharczyk, and the US businessman Michael Bloomberg.

“We are living in an era of unprecedented humanitarian disasters and so far the global response has been inadequate. We need to do more”The stated mission of AP is to build bridges and move towards a better, more tolerant world. It seeks to foster cultural ties through education, to develop communities, and empower women and youth. It also aims to provide relief in times of catastrophe. All of these strands are already work in progress. Tolerance and respect are central. In the words of its founder: “Humanity has no religion, no race, no gender. That’s why the radius of our contribution will cover the whole world, and not just one region”.

AlSaud describes the prince as a role model. “I hope that his pledge will encourage and inspire others.”

The $32bn gift will, she says, be given during his lifetime, with the amounts given by his businesses increasing gradually, but working to a schedule. “We want his businesses to keep growing for obvious reasons,” she says, smiling. Already, there are 100 million beneficiaries worldwide.

Three foundations now sit under AP: one in Saudi Arabia to support local projects, another in Lebanon dedicated to philanthropy and humanitarian projects there, and a third, AP Global, the vehicle for international cooperation. The team meets with Alwaleed each quarter to present new projects under consideration.

The size of the team under AlSaud is small – just 10 Saudi women – so its role is to ‘work smart’, and to make the greatest impact through partnerships. Existing tie-ups include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which received $30m towards the global campaign to eradicate polio; GAVI, to aid in the delivery of vaccines to children in the world’s poorest countries; and the US-based Carter Center, which received a grant towards its work to eliminate river blindness.

The foundation backs a raft of projects to support young people and women. Among them, is the network of locally run nonprofit groups supported by Education for Employment (EFE), a US-based organisation that hopes to equip young Arabs with the skills to enter the workplace. EFE offers workshops, courses and training in an effort to combat a regional youth unemployment rate of around 30 per cent.

There are also 30 initiatives around the empowerment of women, education, employment and intellectual freedom; topics on which Alwaleed has been a vocal advocate for many years.

AP has a number of strategic partnerships with trusted agencies working on the Syrian refugee crisis, including the UN refugee agency, UNHCR. The pair joined hands in January to launch the ‘Tweet for Heat’ campaign, which aimed to trigger widespread support for the plight of Syrian refugees facing harsh winter weather conditions.

Also in the Middle East, there is funding for agricultural projects generating income for Palestinian communities, and for family housing units in both Egypt and Saudi Arabia, earmarked specifically for those who are otherwise ineligible.

Globally, AP has shown a perhaps surprising ability to move rapidly in times of real crisis, and in some unexpected areas. When last year’s devastating earthquake struck in Nepal, it lent immediate support to agencies including International Medical Corps and Habitat for Humanity.

“We acted faster than you can imagine,” says AlSaud. “We were the second responder providing aid for victims.”

“We are without boundaries. There is one world and we have one goal: we believe in human. We don’t differentiate”Moving decisively has become the modus operandi for AP since AlSaud took the reins in early April, with announcements of new initiatives and commitments coming at speed. There is a new sense that the foundation is finding its voice and becoming bolder in its decision making, as well as being more open; telling the world about its donations, and its ability to make an impact.

In May, £20m (about $28.7m) was committed to the Humanitarian Leadership Academy (HLA) to help launch 10 rapid response centres around the world, in partnership with Save the Children. HLA, the world’s first academy for humanitarian aid, hopes to train people in 50 countries as frontline aid workers, able to respond to crises in their own communities. AP’s funding, and its global network of partners, will be leveraged to scale the initiative. Centres have already opened in the Philippines and Kenya, with three more set to be launched this year – in Bangladesh, the Middle East and a collaboration centre in the UK. The foundation also has plans for Latin America, South and West Africa.

“We are living now in an era of unprecedented humanitarian disasters, and so far the global response to these disasters has been inadequate,” says AlSaud. “We need to do more to ensure that humanitarian needs are better served at the point of impact, especially in the critical and lifesaving 72-hour aftermath of any crisis.

“HLA will be central to our efforts to meet this challenge. This is what the future of disaster relief looks like, and we are proud to be involved.”

This is not short-term aid. AP is committed to being a long-term support to its many partners, and places sustainability at the heart of its agenda. “It’s not just about the immediate aid, and then we’re out,” says AlSaud, specifically referring to the earthquake in Nepal, but indicative of the holistic approach being taken by the organisation. “When we enter a project it should always be sustainable. The minimum period of commitment for us is five years.

"In Syria, for example, it’s not just about paying for the refugee camp,” she continues. “We give craft workshops for the ladies, and offer education for those of all ages, including higher education. These people are not just finding themselves in the camps for a short period. We have to act longer term. We don’t want to just tap in and provide one element of help. We are looking at having an impact beyond shelter to embrace education and skills.”

For what the team calls AP Global, it is all about the wider vision. “We aim to be more organised, focused and strategic. If it’s sustainable, we have trusted partners and we can see a goal that can take us towards something even bigger, then it’s worth the investment,” AlSaud says. “We are without boundaries. There is one world and we have one goal: we believe in human. We don’t differentiate.”

That wider vision has tolerance and understanding at its heart, and intercultural and interfaith dialogue is being encouraged in many ways. There are now six Prince Alwaleed Academic Centres at key seats of learning around the world, from Cambridge to Harvard, Beirut to Cairo; between them beneficiaries of more than $70m. They support conversations and the exchange of ideas, innovation and creativity that aim to foster closer ties between the Muslim world and the West. Fellowships, exchanges, events and community initiatives are used to scale the message internationally, but there are also specific, micro-level outcomes. In Edinburgh the initiative set out to move aside cultural barriers with a series of workshops about Islam for police officers, and offered advice about best how to work with the Muslim community.

“It helped them to better understand. The outcome was helping to change the mindset,” explains AlSaud. “In bridging these gaps, providing aid and developing communities, it all comes down to one goal for us: simply living in a better world.”

A new school of thought

In July last year UAE businessman Abdulla Al Ghurair announced he would donate $1.1bn to create one of the largest privately-funded philanthropic education initiatives in the world. Together with his son, Abdul Aziz, he tells us about laying down a blueprint for change for young people across the Arab world

In the early 1960s when Abdulla Al Ghurair built his first school, he did so in the foothills of Fujairah, an emirate known more for its jagged mountains than the glass-and-steel skylines of other UAE emirates. The Masafi School was built beside the Al Ghurair family farm and attracted students from all over the country. Although it was open for less than a decade, the UAE’s first boarding school counts cabinet ministers and business leaders among its alumni.

Today it is still possible to spy the old school, a handful of concrete buildings bounded by scratched-dirt roads, from the farmstead. Yet Abdulla’s perspective has shifted fundamentally in the half-century since that facility opened. His gaze is now fastened firmly on long-lasting change, on a legacy that will stand for far more than just the sum of his past.

“The foundation did not stem from a dream but from my faith, and it is Islam that urges me to do good on this journey” In July last year Abdulla announced that he would donate one third of his wealth, amounting to an estimated $1.1bn, to education in the Arab world, over a 10-year period. The Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education (AGFE) would take a systematic approach to tackling one of the region’s greatest challenges. It would strive to improve education standards across the region, through offering scholarships enabling a minimum of 15,000 promising Arab youth from underprivileged backgrounds to pursue quality higher education.

“The first Quranic verse that descended on Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) said ‘Read’,” notes Abdulla today. “The foundation did not stem from a dream but from my faith, and it is Islam that urges me to do good on this journey.

“The formation of our identity begins with education; education is where it all starts,” he continues. “It is a necessity and other charitable causes don’t have the same vast potential.”

Abdulla will not carry this fight alone: AGFE is a family affair and one intended to enshrine a culture of giving within future generations of Al Ghurairs. Abdulla’s son Abdul Aziz, CEO of Mashreq bank and a former Speaker of the House of the UAE’s Federal National Council, is chair of the foundation’s board of trustees. He is the man charged with ensuring that his father’s vision becomes reality for a new tranche of Arab youth – those with the potential to become either the region’s greatest asset, or liability.

“As a region, education will be the key to our future and to any success we might enjoy,” says Abdul Aziz. “We don’t want to focus on anything else but that. And we don’t want to do anything else except give bright young people access to the best education in the world.”

Within that remit, the foundation is concentrating on areas of study that will enable students to match the needs of employers across the Arab world. Graduates of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects are in acute demand, and so AGFE is channelling its efforts into that space in a bid to peel back youth unemployment, which stood near 30 per cent in the Middle East in 2014, according to the World Bank.

“We need to make sure that all of our candidates graduate in subjects that are needed by their nation and the region, so that they can contribute to building and supporting the region,” says Abdul Aziz. “We want our scholars not only to be successful and leaders of the future, but also to give back. I hope that the beneficiaries today will be in a position to help others in the future.”

Father and son are alike in frame and bearing: tall, imposing, and each disposed to long moments of stillness, as if observing their surroundings with an analytical eye – a characteristic honed, perhaps, through lives spent charting the myriad complexities of the business and banking worlds. Their studied demeanour is reflected in the foundation’s approach, which is committed to maximum impact and minimal overheads: every dollar must count towards an education.

“My father was initially of the view that we shouldn’t announce the work of the foundation and continue to work discreetly, away from the spotlight,” recalls Abdul Aziz. “However this is a huge undertaking: how can we get 15,000 students within 10 years without announcing or promoting the initiative? My father agreed that the work should be institutionalised, and accordingly we now have a foundation that is run by a CEO just like any of our other enterprises.”

To fill this role the family turned to Maysa Jalbout, an expert in education for sustainable development. Before joining AGFE, Jalbout was founding CEO of the Queen Rania Foundation for Education and Development, where she spent five years working to improve opportunities for young people in Jordan.

“We’ve made a commitment to ensure that impact and assessment is embedded in the way we are set up, in the way we design the programmes, and the way we function as an organisation,” says Jalbout. “We have hired a monitoring and evaluation expert and we have rooted it in our operational plan: results will inform not only board decisions but how we review our programmes and change them on a regular basis to respond to the needs of students.”

The foundation will support students through three distinct channels. The STEM Scholars programme will fund undergraduate and graduate students wishing to study at leading universities in the region and abroad: if they have the talent and the application, AGFE will provide the means. The Young Thinkers programme, which has yet to launch, will cater exclusively to Emirati students completing their high school education and transitioning to university. Finally, the Open Learning programme will allow students from anywhere across the region to study at top accredited universities through online degrees and credentials.

“We know for a fact that there is a hunger among Arab youth to learn"Applications for the first cohort of STEM Scholars closed in June; the foundation received more than 14,500 submissions in five weeks. Those who have been successful will be notified in August, though the final award of the scholarship will depend on the student securing admission to one of four universities with which the foundation has partnered so far: American University in Cairo, American University of Sharjah, American University of Beirut, and Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi.

The foundation has also signed a collaboration agreement with the US-based Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), to expand access to and use of accredited digital learning environments. MIT, through its Office of Digital Learning, will provide academic credentials to Open Learning students across the region. The promise of this collaboration has encouraged AGFE to issue an open invitation to academic institutions to pitch innovative ideas to tackle some of the challenges with which Arab youth are faced. Take refugees: conflict in the region has forced 13 million children out of school, according to a 2015 UNICEF report; find a new way to deliver quality education to some of those displaced millions, and the foundation will provide support to pilot and scale.

“Secondary education is not enough in today’s world if we’re going to get ahead, innovate, and be able to compete on a global level,” says Jalbout. “We know for a fact there is a hunger among Arab youth to learn, to go to universities that provide higher quality education, and for students who have been through the cycle, to upgrade their skills so they can attain the jobs of the future. Scholarships are becoming an increasingly important tool for achieving those things.”

Successful applicants, Jalbout says, will be possessed of a spirit familiar to Abdulla and the family. “We’ve clearly articulated that hard work is essential in success and we’re looking for young people who want to work hard and aspire to big things,” she says. “That’s an ethos that has come directly from the family and we hope to pass on to as many young people as possible.”

“I remember in the 1960s when [my father] was giving zakat he would do it himself, going from door to door and handing it directly to people,” recalls Abdul Aziz. “He made sure that my brother and I came with him to seewhat he was doing and to learn about the importance of charity.”

It is a message that has been passed down the generations. In summer 2015 Abdul Aziz’s daughters volunteered to travel to Zanzibar in Tanzania, East Africa, to work at an orphanage and in schools on the island. Word spread among their friends and fellow students, and in the end around 50 young people made the trip.

“I was shocked that so many would do something like this,” he says. “But I realise that in the region there are many good people who wish to help others. They need a role model and I believe that in institutionalising his giving like this, my father can be that role model. Today I am blessed to have a father like him, not only one who gives his money away, but one who ensures that this giving will be sustained long into the future.”

While Abdulla and his children may no longer press alms directly into the hands of those they help, their actions today carry a greater weight than any coin or purse. The impact of such a strategic approach to investing in youth is invaluable; the number of Al Ghurair scholars who might one day change the world themselves, incalculable.

Ideas to change the world

He is the world’s richest man, and now he is its most influential philanthropist. Bill Gates talks giving, the Gulf, and his plan to help combat poverty in the Muslim world

Of the 1 billion people worldwide existing in extreme penury, 40 per cent live in the Muslim world. For these stricken households, life may be looking up. Last June, to little fuss, Bill Gates, cofounder of the world’s wealthiest private foundation, and the Jeddah-based Islamic Development Bank (IDB) unveiled a $2.5bn fund aimed at hoisting some 400 million people over the poverty line, and out of destitution.

“We have the expertise, and IDB knows how to get things done in the region,” Gates says of the partnership. “Those are really the things that count.”

The plan hinges on cheap loans. Over five years, the IDB will disburse $2bn to projects in health, agriculture and infrastructure in the 30 poorest Muslim countries. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) is raising $500m in grants to trim the interest payments on these loans and put them in reach of the most impoverished states, chipping in $100m itself. The IDB-backed Islamic Solidarity Fund for Development has pitched in a further $100m, while Qatar in April put in $50m. Gates, beating the drum for further donors, hailed it as “an incredible opportunity for anyone who cares about driving social change”.

“It’s a pretty significant fund,” he says today. “I’m hopeful.”

At 60, Gates is still seeking out new frontiers. A Harvard dropout, he made his name as a tech titan, building the world’s first software fortune in the totemic Microsoft Corp. The company listed in 1986 and within a year, Gates, at 31, had become the youngest self-made billionaire. He stepped down in 2008, as one of the world’s richest men, to devote his time to the foundation launched eight years earlier with his wife, Melinda. Today, BMGF is the world’s biggest private philanthropic foundation, doling out close to $4bn a year to causes as diverse as education, sanitation and women’s health, in the pursuit of battling poverty and disease. By all accounts, Gates is the most influential philanthropist on the planet.

“The goal of philanthropy is to be a laboratory of innovation for breakthrough work."

For all involved, it’s been a rapid ride. The foundation’s approach is catalytic philanthropy; or seeding high-risk innovations that could offer outsized payoffs for some of the world’s biggest social and economic ills. This giving exists in the gap between government and market forces and its role – as Gates explains it – “is to get things started” where others can’t, or won’t.

“The goal of philanthropy is to be a laboratory of innovation for breakthrough work; to have that willingness to think about things,” he says.

Malaria is a case in point. The mosquito-borne disease killed 438,000 people in 2015, mostly children under the age of five. There are 200 million cases of the illness each year. Yet because its victims are mainly poor, there has been little appetite for finding a breakthrough vaccine.

The BMGF is changing this. The foundation has funnelled millions of dollars into efforts to eradicate the disease, most recently in January unveiling a $4.28bn fund with the British government. Its end goal is audacious: a malaria-free world by 2040.

BMGF is not without its critics. Some argue the foundation has disproportionate sway: with its $40bn clout, it can skew the thrust of research and aid priorities, potentially smothering rival approaches. In answer, BMGF points to its transparency, and its close ties to the myriad governments, nonprofits and partners that help drive its giving priorities. “The way that people can hold us accountable is to look at what we’ve achieved,” CEO Sue Desmond-Hellmann told the FT in March.

Moving the needle takes more than just money. Gates has brought the same unflinching intellect to bear on philanthropy as he did business. From rethinking the vaccine cold chain, to reinventing the toilet, no issue is too mundane or unglamorous to escape scrutiny, if the gains are big enough. (Meeting the press after a 2011 meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and then-president Christian Wulff, Gates memorably told waiting journalists they had not talked politics, but instead had discussed the idea of the “ultimate toilet”.)

“The generosity in the Gulf is very, very strong. But some of it tends to favour the pure charity side”And BMGF’s goals, rather like its budget, are huge. Its vaccine strategy calls for the global rollout of existing, lifesaving jabs – from rotavirus to measles – to all people, in all communities by 2020. The plan, which has the backing of 194 countries, has the potential to prevent more than 11 million people dying worldwide and some 3.9 million disabilities.

In sub-Saharan Africa, it wants to ignite a green revolution. Taking its lead from the post-war shake-up that transformed agriculture in Asia, BMGF believes farmers in Africa could, with the right help, bolster their productivity by 50 per cent. By 2030, the continent could feed itself – scrapping a food import bill that currently weighs in at $50bn a year.

“Africa’s agricultural productivity is currently a sixth of the United States’ and getting it up to half is very doable,” says Gates. “That’s how you get rid of malnutrition; that’s how you feed the world. That’s how you raise incomes to help parents to pay for school fees.”

The foundation has spun more than $2bn into helping small farmers beef up crop yields and earnings, and gain better access to markets. Ideas it has backed range from snazzy hybrid seeds able to resist disease and drought, to systems able to deliver vital data on soil, livestock, prices and more to farmers’ mobile phones.

Then there is the issue of persuading states to repair shoddy roads, and fund vital infrastructure projects. It currently costs up to four times as much to move goods along roads in Africa as it does in developed nations. Fixing these bottlenecks could do far more than aid alone to reverse poverty and encourage inclusive economic growth.

“If you can manage to get health and education and stability right, then you get miracles like China where they lifted more people out of poverty between 1980 and today than any country ever has,” adds Gates. “What we see in Africa is very encouraging.”

Saving the world is not a one-man job. Coaxing others into the fray is critical. In 2010, Gates and his wife, along with Warren Buffett, launched the Giving Pledge, a campaign that asks billionaires to donate at least half their wealth to charity. Some 154 pledgers have joined to date – from the UK’s Richard Branson, to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg – taking up the cudgels against global challenges.

“Some have been giving for decades and others are just starting out, but they all see the value of giving in a bold and effective way,” Gates says.

In June, Saudi Arabian royal Prince Alwaleed joined their ranks, the first Arab Muslim to do so. Less than a year earlier he’d pledged to give his $32bn fortune to charity via his foundation, Alwaleed Philanthropies, citing Gates as a major influence. He joins two other GCC residents – entrepreneur Sunny Varkey and PNC Menon, the Dubai-based founder of Sobha Group – on the list, in a sign many hope infers a new pattern of strategic, big-ticket giving among the GCC’s super rich.

“The generosity in the Gulf is very, very strong,” says Gates. “But some of it tends to favour the pure charity side. The willingness to be open about what is being done – to encourage others to do it, to share what is going well and what is not – I think there is a trend in that direction, and I hope we’re helping to push that forward.”

This trend matters. By Forbes’ lights, the Middle East is home to 72 of the world’s richest people, worth a combined $174.8bn. Yet few have created the kind of large-scale endowments that go hand-in-hand with bold, long-view philanthropy. If more did, it could go some way towards fuelling the fight against maladies such as poverty, unemployment and disease, which blight many Muslim states. Achieving a measure of economic stability in these countries, says Gates, could work wonders. “There’s no doubt that as countries move up to middle-income level, and as you end extreme poverty, you won’t see this level of instability,” he notes. “It’s a journey – but there’s still decades to go to get there.”

The $2.5bn Lives and Livelihoods Fund launched by BMGF and IDB may be a blueprint for future tie-ups, pairing regional capital with the foundation’s philanthropic expertise. And already, the roots of catalytic giving are beginning to bloom. Last year, the UAE’s Abdullah Al-Ghurair gave more than $1bn – a third of his business empire – to a foundation supporting education in the Arab world. BMGF itself is part of the Shefa Fund, a giving initiative backed by Saudi’s elite, which aids global health projects. The fund, led by businessman Khaled Ahmed Al Juffali and his wife, Olfat, supports the creation of low-cost vaccines and treatments for diseases that impact the very poor. As this form of impact-led investment gathers pace, the returns for the Middle East region – both in social and economic terms – could be gamechanging.

“There is a trend towards more philanthropy, better philanthropy and philanthropists learning from each other,” Gates says. “I’m very happy to be a part of it, and to see it grow.”

Getting to zero

This year, the world may see its last case of polio. Against all odds, a virus that as recently as 1988 blazed its way through 150 countries is teetering on eradication. Just 12 cases have been recorded worldwide so far this year, in remote areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The global campaign to combat polio has been in play since 1998, and BMGF became its lead donor in 2004. Since then, thanks to mass vaccination and surveillance campaigns, the virus has been wiped out in India, with Nigeria also on course to be declared polio-free.

“A victory here wouldn’t only mean that we’d go from 300,000 kids a year being paralysed to zero,” says Gates. “It would also mean our confidence that now we can go after malaria, measles and other diseases would be greatly enhanced.”

The GCC has been key to this battle. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE have all invested in the global eradication effort, with the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi donating $100m to vaccinate children in Pakistan and Afghanistan. At a 2013 summit held in the UAE capital, donors pledged a mammoth $4bn to fund a six-year eradication plan.

“We’re willing to be aggressive on the spending,” says Gates. “And absent a surprise, with a little bit of luck, the last case will be sometime next year.”

Photo credit: Bahr Al-Alum

Startup puts tech to work on the Syrian refugee crisis

From 3D printing to robotics, Refugee Open Ware is bringing industry 4.0 to Syrian entrepreneurs in Jordan

With 3D printing, artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality transforming sectors from cars to healthcare, one Jordanian startup saw an opportunity to apply such technology to help some of the 655,000 Syrian refugees living in Jordan.

In 2015, cofounders Dave Levin and Loay Malahmeh turned a group of technology geeks, aid workers and entrepreneurs into Refugee Open Ware (ROW). The startup uses two channels to make a difference. ROW Ventures, an impact investment fund, finds investors to fund makerspaces in Jordan – labs and coworking spaces equipped with laser cutters, milling machines, 3D printers and scanners – where Syrian and Jordanian entrepreneurs can test new technologies. ROW hopes that encouraging such innovation will result in social enterprises that improve life for refugees, such as businesses that 3D-print prosthetic limbs for a fraction of the current price.

In parallel, ROW’s nonprofit arm – ROW Labs – provides support to get startups on their feet. From a social enterprise that uses robots to provide education to Syrian children, to advising a Greek NGO on up-cycling waste from life vests into useful items such as shelters, ROW Labs hopes to support the people doing aid differently.

Speaking to Philanthropy Age, cofounder Dave Levin explains how he thinks we can hack a solution to create jobs, reduce aid costs and produce dignity for refugees.

Why did you help co-found Refugee Open Ware (ROW)?

Everything ROW does tries to bring greater stability to some of the world’s most fragile places. In the short term, that could be reducing the costs of humanitarian goods, for example using 3D printing to make humanitarian supplies on the spot, rather than shipping it across the world. Or, in the long term by creating economic opportunities for the most excluded so they can live with dignity and purpose. We have the technology now where drones use computer vision to take selfies. It’s absurd we can do that and not use the same technology to save lives.

"The three biggest challenges anywhere are always funding, talent and politics"What impact has ROW Ventures, your for-profit arm, had so far?

My partner put in $1m of investment and we’ve been able to catalyse $10m from that. With the money we’ve proved concepts and tried to de-risk further investments. For example, in Jordan we built a fab lab – a fabrication lab, or makerspace – with a local social enterprise. The fab lab has trained more than 500 Syrians and Jordanians on 3D printing, basic computing and designing software. From that we were able to gather a consortium to raise €5.5m ($5.9m) from the EU to build an incubator and full fab lab near Irbid, Jordan. In the next three to five years, ROW Ventures wants to raise $20m in order to catalyse at least $100m in impact investments in this space.

Traditional social enterprises shouldn’t produce wild returns; I think that presents a moral challenge. But what is attractive is companies with twin models: a humanitarian mission, and also a commercial side built out of your core asset – such as a great team, or a new technology.

What are the difficulties in impact investing in the Middle East and North Africa?

The three biggest challenges anywhere are always funding, talent and politics. The politics in the region are extremely challenging and the environment is dynamic to say the least. That makes it difficult to do just about anything. On the funding side, our supporters find it difficult to invest in active conflict areas; you see impact funds investing in South Asia and Africa, but not here. We’re trying to build a new asset class for humanitarian technology and innovation in the impact investing world, but that asset class doesn’t exist yet. Finally, brain drain puts pressure on talent in MENA. It takes time to build that up.

"Our plan eventually is to have a fab lab in Zaatari camp itself; there is huge demand"What do robotics, AI and automation mean for jobs in the Middle East? 

Industrial revolutions have historically shaped the contours of wealth and power. If it’s hard for us to create enough jobs already in areas affected by conflict, how will we do it in future when robotics and technology transform economies and make it harder?

If so much of the technologies of the future are about hardware, then we want to give people access to tools that allow them to create hardware solutions. You can create a prototype of almost anything in the fab lab. Makerspaces have a combination of old-fashioned and digital tools. People can start with analogue tools, such as welding equipment, then gradually work their way up.

We launched the Irbid fab lab a couple of months ago, just 25 minutes from the Zaatari refugee camp. It’s built in a special economic zone, which allows Syrian refugees to work and earn a living and also benefits the host community. So far 24 companies are being incubated, there are 16 startups and 8 small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in a 900 sq m facility, with a coworking space on top. We hope to replicate the model in other places.

Our plan eventually is to have a fab lab in Zaatari camp itself; there is huge demand. The lab there would be less about job creation than about self-sufficiency, reducing idleness and reducing the costs of humanitarian goods if people can make them themselves. We’re looking for $1.25m for the first 18 months to get it started.

What potential does advanced manufacturing have in the aid sector?

The aid world isn’t viable in the long term. It’s essential to co-create solutions with and for communities, not create something in a hackathon in San Francisco one weekend and expect it to work in the field. In 3D printing, for example, we were frustrated with a lot of the R&D being done abroad, with materials that are inappropriate for the environment, such as robotic hands made out of materials that melt in the heat.

We’ve been working with one company, which just closed a seed round, that produces 3D printed replicas for organs so surgeons can plan operations and use them for educational purposes. 3D printing reduces prosthetics costs by 40 to 70 per cent over time. They are easier to customise, too. A prosthetic arm in Jordan now costs upwards of $2,000; the materials we use cost only $20.

AI and machine learning is also promising. One instance is in helping to clear mines. Right now, clearance teams have to use pictures on playing cards to identify different types of ordnance to dispose of them safely. Hala Systems, a startup we’re supporting, is working on an app that takes a photo of unexploded bombs, geotags it, identifies it, and alerts the closest team to deal with it. Technology is no magic bullet. You shouldn’t throw advanced technology at a problem because you think it’s cool. But - if we use the asset well - it can improve the impact we have in the development sector.

Want to solve global crises? MIT project seeks fresh ideas

Solve initiative aims to crowdsource new answers to global woes by tapping inventors, entrepreneurs, experts worldwide

A global initiative is calling on the Middle East’s brightest minds to help spur fresh thinking around solutions for some of the world’s most intractable problems.

Solve, which is backed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), aims to tap inventors, entrepreneurs and experts worldwide to crowdsource new ideas for global issues, from energy, to health and education.

Individuals with bright ideas will be connected a hive of businesses, philanthropists, nonprofits and academics able to help turn these concepts into reality.

"We are firm believers in the ingenuity of people everywhere"“Global problems are complex and interdependent and no one actor or sector can fix them alone,” said Alex Amouyel, director of Solve. “Solve is a marketplace. We broker connections between innovators and people with resources.”

It’s an open platform, she added. “Anyone can submit an idea: from tech entrepreneurs in Gaza, to a refugee in Zaatari camp, to a teacher in Abu Dhabi. We are firm believers in the ingenuity of people everywhere. It’s just a matter of developing and publicising the amazing work already being done.”

Solve targets four areas where new ideas and emerging technologies have the potential to drive change: health, education, energy and inequality. Its next round of challenges will be announced in May.

Its most recent cycle took aim at three areas: improving education outcomes for young refugees; preventing and treating chronic diseases in areas where resources are limited; and reducing carbon contributions.

“We want to give visibility and scale to ideas that might otherwise struggle to be seen"Finalists are due to pitch their solutions at the United Nations on March 7, with the most promising moving on to present to Solve judges at MIT in May. A number will then be named Solvers, opening the door to MIT’s network of mentors, impact investors, companies and academics, all able to help get their ideas off the ground. 

Participants at the first Solve event in October 2015 included Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Alphabet, Inc, philanthropist and businessman Ratan Tata, and Laurene Powell Jobs, founder of the Emerson Collective.

“It’s a non-monetary award, because we focus on connections,” said Amouyel. “That could be anything from Google giving free developer time, to office space, capacity building, or in some cases, financing. It’s a long-term model.”

Ideas can be at any stage when they are submitted to Solve, from concept to a fully working model. Among the solutions that have caught Solve’s attention to date are Kiron, a free online learning platform for refugees and displaced people. The Germany-based startup blends online and offline elements to help refugees gain new skills, or earn degrees, in preparation for integrating into their new country or returning home. Another, ClimateCoin, suggest using cryptocurrency to motivate people to offset carbon.

“We want to give visibility and scale to ideas that might otherwise struggle to be seen,” said Amouyel. “Solve is the matchmaker able to pair innovators with resources.”

Dubai fintech company edges closer to $1m prize pot

Startup NOW Money takes top spot in GCC finales of The Venture, a global contest to find scalable social enterprises

A Dubai startup whose aim is to give low-income workers access to banking services has won first place in the GCC finals for the $1m global competition The Venture.

NOW Money, a smartphone app that offers bank transfers, remittance and other services to migrant workers unable to afford traditional bank accounts, pitched against three other Gulf social enterprises to win over the judging panel.

The company will now have the chance to represent the GCC at the global final in Los Angeles in July, and to compete for a share of the $1m prize fund, which is designed to find and scale promising social enterprises from around the world.

“It was the last thing we were expecting, so I’m absolutely overjoyed,” said cofounder Kat Budd. “The Gulf can at times be underrepresented globally, so we can’t wait to get to Los Angeles, and hopefully be a positive voice for the region.”

The company aims to meet the needs of the estimated 70 per cent of the UAE population that are ‘unbanked’, or unable to afford to maintain a bank account. Many of these workers receive their wages via pre-paid ATM cards, and can struggle to gain regular access to financial services.

Across the GCC, an estimated 25.5 million migrant workers are classed as low-income.

“What Now Money offers is critical services like remittances and bank transfers at a competitive rate using our app – which also can top up prepaid mobile credit and pay utility bills,” said Budd.

The cost of remittance transactions via the app is under 4 per cent, so typically lower than that offered by high street transfer houses, she added.

The four finalists each made a 10-minute pitch to the judging panel, before undergoing intensive questioning. The panel, which included the managing director of Pernod Ricard Gulf, Gaurav Sabharwal, as well as Charles Blaschke, cofounder of Dubai-based Taka Solutions and last year’s regional winner, ranked each venture for factors including potential social impact and scalability.

The final decision was unanimous, Sabharwal said. “Their business can positively benefit the lives of literally millions of people and can be replicated geographically, quickly and cheaply. Its potential social impact is astounding.”

The four finalists were drawn up after a two-month search and consisted of NOW Money; eco-friendly feminine product provider Health Gate; t-shirt company Ilovemypocket, and Charicycles, which upcycles forgotten bicycle frames into sleek vintage designs. A portion of its revenues go towards funding bicycles for children in refugee camps in the Middle East.

Consumers in the GCC are increasingly keen to spend their money with firms doing good, said Rania Kanaan, co-creator of Charicycles, smoothing the path for more companies designed to target social development alongside strong returns.

“When the customer knows that the product that they’re buying affects the economy, society, the environment, they are more willing to purchase a product that speaks to them on these different levels,” said Kanaan.  “They become the agents of change – not just contributors to change.”

Next, Budd and NOW Money cofounder Ian Dillon will join 30 other social enterprises from around the world in attending an accelerator week at the Skoll Centre for Social Enterprise in Oxford, UK. A handful will then go on to compete at The Venture’s global finale in July.

 

Turning rubbish into opportunity

Lebanese social enterprise Recycle Beirut is using the country’s garbage crisis to help get refugees back on their feet

Few people see opportunity in waste. But in a warehouse in Beirut, Lebanon’s capital, pile upon pile of glass bottles, walls of plastic, paper and towers of cardboard represent more than the detritus of modern living. They are the building blocks of a new, dignified life.

Recycle Beirut is a company hoping to overcome two of Lebanon’s big challenges: waste disposal and the refugee crisis. The business launched in 2015 with a simple model: to offer jobs to refugees to collect, sort and package recyclable rubbish, which is then shipped off to recycling centres.

“We wanted to change the refugee crisis from something negative to something positive for the country,” says Kassem Kazak, the firm’s president.

The scale of the challenge is immense. The summer of 2015 saw bags of rubbish pile up throughout the capital’s neighbourhoods and spill onto the streets after the government shut the main landfill site. Residents joined mass protests to decry the eight-month crisis, including over what became known as the 2 million tonne ‘river of trash’ that formed in Jdeideh, a suburb.

The crisis threatens to flare again as waste remains uncollected – a by-product of Lebanon’s complex politics. The unsightly problem is also a health hazard as the waste’s toxins risk leaching into the water table.

“The garbage crisis hasn’t gone away. You can still see waste being burned, or dumped in the forest,” laments Kazak. The problem highlighted just how little rubbish gets reused, he adds: “People don’t have the mentality of recycling; they don’t sort [rubbish] at the source. This is what we focus on.”

The social enterprise employs 17 people to collect, sort and clean non-organic materials, such as wood, cans and plastic. If clients want Recycle Beirut to pick up the waste, it costs $10 for households and $25 for a building. Or, they can drop it off at the warehouse for free. Currently the company sells the sorted waste of some 800 clients to recycling centres across the country. They collect two to three tonnes of rubbish a day, according to Kazak.

All the employees are refugees, either from Syria or Palestine, who make up a staggering proportion of the country’s population. Palestinian refugees account for an estimated 10 per cent of people in Lebanon, according to UNRWA. The six-year conflict in neighbouring Syria added to the strain: more than 1 million people crossed the border, bringing Lebanon’s refugee population to one in four people, says the UN.  

Life is tough. Palestinians are restricted in the jobs they can take, with as many as 20 proscribed professions. Exploitative labour among Syrian refugees has become rife, according to Freedom Fund, a charity dedicated to ending modern slavery. Desperate to support the household, many Syrians work on farms in the Bekaa Valley earning around $5 or $10 a day for women and men, respectively. Child labour is also rampant, with an estimated 60 to 70 per cent of Syrian refugee children working in Lebanon rather than going to school. Children as young as six-years-old have joined the workforce, according to the fund. Peeling garlic for restaurants earns young Syrian girls $1 a day.

“We can create job opportunities from something that was once a headache for the government"Women make up one-third of Recycle Beirut’s employees, mostly sorting waste in the warehouse. There, 7 to 8-hour days net $20 a day in income. The men work as truck drivers, collecting waste from clients or off the streets, earning $25 a day for 8 to 9-hour shifts.

For women such as Razan Mostafa Ghazal, 40, from Salheia in Syria the job has returned a measure of independence.

“Before working with Recycle Beirut I had a very difficult life. There was not enough money to pay rent and other expenses. I was constantly borrowing money from my relatives,” she explains. The work at the warehouse offers “reasonable working hours and good salaries”, she adds, helping to support her four children.

Employing refugees is challenging. Many of the women were from deeply conservative, rural areas, and Recycle Beirut is their first job since losing their husbands to war in Syria. More pressingly, Syrians registered with the UN’s refugee agency are not legally allowed to work. The company’s drivers regularly get stopped and fined by the police.

“We can create job opportunities from something that was once a headache for the government,” says Kazak. “Our reward for this service shouldn’t be a ticket.”

“If you want to change something, you have to do it yourself"Set up as a social business, Recycle Beirut has yet to turn a profit. It has raised some funds from the International Committee of the Red Cross and a meagre $4,000 from a crowdfunding campaign. Kazak believes more donors should come forward because the end result – a cleaner environment – benefits everyone.

The company is keen to expand. It is working with another firm to extend its efforts to organic waste, such as food, by adding composting to the menu. Recycle Beirut is also experimenting with upcycling: “We have started a new project manufacturing tiles from construction waste and recycled glass,” explains Ghazal.

The ultimate goal is to boost recycling in Lebanon – and help people help themselves. “Especially after the garbage crisis, people started to realise they needed to take a step forward,” explains Kazak. “If you want to change something, you have to do it yourself. You can’t wait for someone else to solve the problem.”

UAE entrepreneur seeks jobs with a social twist

Founder of Social Tent aims to match skilled talent with impact-led organisations driving change in the Arab world

When Sami Khoury returned to the UAE to seek a job, he knew he wanted to work for a company with social impact embedded into its business model. But finding regional employers that blended profit and purpose proved tricky. 

“There wasn’t anything designed for the Arab world that connected me to jobs in organisations with a social mission,” said Khoury, who later took the role of executive director with the UAE-based nonprofit Young Arab Leaders. “I found it hard to find something regional.”

"We want to help match socially-conscious talent with the organisations really making a difference"

In response, Khoury launched Social Tent, an online platform that aims to pair jobseekers with firms making a positive impact on the Arab world. Employers range from aid agencies, to nonprofits and fellow social enterprises, all hoping to use commercial channels to kickstart social, environmental or cultural change.

“Many of these organisations have limited resources, stretched teams and evolving staff structures,” he said. “We want to help match socially-conscious talent with the organisations really making a difference in the region.”

Around the world, young people increasingly prize social impact over financial gains. Almost nine in 10 believe businesses should be rated on more than just their profits, according to Deloitte’s 2016 Millennial Survey, which polled 7,700 young employees in 29 countries.  Despite this, many nonprofits in the Middle East say they struggle to attract talent, with graduates instead favouring well-paid state or private sector jobs.

This is a matter of concern, particularly in the humanitarian sector, where a shortfall in local aid workers can slow the delivery of aid and squeeze funding.

“When the Syria crisis response began in Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq, we found the number of [aid workers] able to hit the ground running, speak the language and understand the cultural aspects, were minimal,” said Saba Al-Mubuslat, CEO of Humanitarian Leadership Academy (HLA). “That’s concerning because it translates into costs. If each aid worker needs a translator, for example, to communicate with the affected population, then you are in trouble.”

HLA, the world’s first academy for frontline aid workers, aims to train 100,000 people in more than 50 countries as first responders to local disasters and conflicts. It expects to open a Middle East office this year.

Part of the challenge for Social Tent lies in persuading Arab professionals of the value of a career in the third sector, said Khoury. Instead, it is often derided as a poor and risky substitute for the government or private sector.

“Many view work in the social sector more in terms of volunteering or providing donations, and not as a viable career path,” he said. “We want to show professionals that there are opportunities to apply their skills for the betterment of society – and still get paid for it.”

Pages