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.

Giving for results

The UAE's Big Heart Foundation disburses more than $4m each year to refugees in the Middle East and to children in Palestine. Director Mariam Al Hammadi describes how the foundation works to make every dollar count

Her Highness is a role model and her name brings great credibility to the work we do,” says Mariam Al Hammadi, director of the Big Heart Foundation (BHF). “More than that, she has a deep personal commitment to this work: when she goes into the field she doesn’t do it for show, she does it to learn. She helps us to better understand the needs of beneficiaries – and after all, that’s what really matters.”

The BHF is the creation and passion of Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, the wife of Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, ruler of the UAE emirate of Sharjah. It disburses around AED10m ($2.7m) each year for the welfare of refugees in the Middle East, and a further AED5m in support of children in Palestine. It also funds programmes in Africa and South Asia, and conducts advocacy on behalf of refugees and underserved groups from Tanzania to Indonesia – causes adopted over the course of a busy decade during which Sheikha Jawaher has emerged as one of the region’s most engaged humanitarians.

The origins of the foundation date back to 2008, when Sheikha Jawaher launched Salam Ya Seghar (‘peace for the children’), a fundraising campaign to provide Palestinian children with healthcare, education, food security, water and sanitation and more. Her endorsement of Salam Ya Seghar, Al Hammadi says, reassured donors and persuaded them to reach into their pockets: in its inaugural year the campaign raised more than AED80m; four years later it would raise a further AED40m.

In 2013 Sheikha Jawaher was appointed as the first Eminent Advocate for Refugee Children by UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, and launched the Big Heart Campaign, which was based broadly on the Salam Ya Seghar model but which would direct funding towards those displaced by the conflict in Syria.

Two years later, having provided lifesaving medical services to more than 365,000 Syrian refugees and given more than 400,000 others vital food and financial aid, Sheikha Jawaher consolidated all her humanitarian efforts under the banner of the BHF. Al Hammadi, who joined the royal office in 2012, was the first employee to be recorded with the foundation, which today retains nine full-time staff members.

Salaries and administration costs, Al Hammadi explains, are drawn not from donations but from “other sources” within Sharjah.

“Her Highness has always said that the donors are giving money to help the children, so we should not deduct anything from the money we receive in charity, to cover our own costs.”

Of total annual donations to the BHF, around 60 per cent come from the private sector, with private individuals and government entities accounting for the remainder. If the foundation does not spend its budget in a single year, then between 50 and 60 per cent of the balance is invested in sharia-compliant vehicles to raise further funds.

“Whatever investments we enter into must be 100 per cent capital secure, so we’re sure that we won’t lose our money. We never take even a 1 per cent risk of losing anything, and that makes the donors comfortable with our approach – after all we are making their money go further,” says Al Hammadi.

Such invention is crucial at a time of limited budgets and ever-expanding humanitarian crises. Al Hammadi notes that donations to the foundation earmarked for Palestine have dropped by around 70 per cent, as media attention has shifted towards refugees from Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

“I don’t blame donors,” she says. “If, as a donor, I have supported the Palestinians for one or two or 10 years, and then there is a new crisis, I might focus on the other group because I have already spent years helping the Palestinian community. So that money is still coming into the foundation, but donors are asking us to channel it in another direction.”

Like many of its peers, the foundation witnessed a downturn in funding in the wake of the financial crisis in 2008, and is now feeling the effects of donor fatigue – as well as the oil price slump that has slowed economies across the region.

“I would expect that we [will see] a drop in donations,” she says. “[It is harder to raise money], especially now with the financial situation.”

Al Hammadi hopes that the issuing of a royal decree in May this year will enable the foundation to expand its donor base and bring in additional income.

“Now we will be able to welcome donations from people outside Sharjah and the UAE,” she says. “We will also be able to open an online page through which people can donate to us.”

In the meantime, Al Hammadi and her team will endeavour to select partners that will enable what money it does spend, to go further. The foundation has strict criteria by which it selects its partners, and proposals for funding are analysed rigorously. Once a project is launched, partners can expect to find themselves the subject of intense scrutiny.

“We tell our partners what we expect from them, and that’s quarterly reports with specific information including which performance objectives have been met in that quarter, and what objectives will be achieved in the next,” explains Al Hammadi.

“We compare the quarterly reports against the proposals we received before launching the project, and then assess whether our targets are being met or not,” she continues. “We also work with third parties who compile their own assessments, and we can then match those against the reports we receive from our partners, to make sure that everyone agrees on what targets are being met.”

The foundation also engages directly with beneficiaries, either face-to-face or via video conferencing, to gather feedback and build a complete picture of a project’s effectiveness. Funding is released in stages and the payment of each tranche is dependent upon results. “If the project is succeeding then I’ll send you the next instalment. Otherwise you won’t get it,” says Al Hammadi.

So far, she adds, the time the foundation spends assessing potential partners and projects, has proved time well spent.

“There have been no disappointments because we try our best to select the right partner and we are very clear before we sign any agreement,” she says.

UNHCR is the foundation’s partner of choice for the majority of its work with Syrian and Iraqi refugees.

“UNHCR has been in the field for decades and they know more about the situation than anybody,” says Al Hammadi. “It’s not right to launch or support projects just for the sake of being able to tell people that you have done it. You have to find the right project and implement it in the right way. Large organisations such as UNHCR have the knowledge and experience to guide in those decisions.”

Between 2013 and 2016 BHF directed more than AED70m through UNHCR towards education, healthcare, sanitation, protection and emergency relief for refugees. More than 650,000 refugees have benefitted from BHF-funded programmes, which run from basic needs to cash assistance, psychosocial support and WASH programmes.

A BHF-supported healthcare clinic at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan has so far treated more than 48,000 patients.

“We built the clinic and we have covered the running costs for the past four years,” says Al Hammadi. “We’re willing to cover the costs for the next few years, too, because we know that the services are very important.”

The foundation’s work in Palestine, meanwhile, employs global bodies such as the World Food Programme, but also counts on the efforts of a wide number of other NGOs. Among its partners are Oxfam, Save the Children, Mercy Corps, MSF, and SOS Children’s Villages – the latter of which channelled $744,000 of BHF cash into the care, protection, and education of children in Gaza in the first six months of 2017. Over the period 2013 to 2016, BHF spent close to AED25m on programmes in Palestine, benefitting more than 184,000 people.

“Someone is always waiting for our support, and someone is always waiting for us to make a difference in his or her life.”All partners, large and small, are scrutinised on their operations as well as their impact. “We have been clear from the beginning that no more than 7 per cent of the money that we give can be spent on admin fees,” explains Al Hammadi.

“When smaller organisations are unable to fulfil the criteria that we have, for example in terms of the reporting schedule, or admin costs, then larger organisations can help them out with training and implementation.”

The wide scope of BHF operations – as well as the hands-on nature of Sheikha Jawaher’s leadership – demands dedication at all levels of the foundation. Long hours and working weekends are common and met without complaint.

“Someone is always waiting for our support, and someone is always waiting for us to make a difference in his or her life,” says Al Hammadi. “That thought pushes us to do more, to do everything we possibly can.”

The new Canadian dream

Canadian businessman Jim Estill put up $1.5m to bankroll an Ontario town’s resettlement of 58 Syrian refugee families. Now, he hopes to galvanise others around the world to do the same

A one-hour meeting was all it took for Jim Estill to get a plan to bring 50 Syrian refugee families to Canada off the ground, and into play. The CEO of multimillion-dollar home appliance firm Danby, he rounded up aid and religious organisations in his home city of Guelph, zipped through a brief PowerPoint presentation, and asked them to join the cause. “And they said they would,” he says easily, “so that was that.”

Estill is a doer. A serial entrepreneur, he has built companies and a career on the maxim that even indecision is a decision and that – when in doubt – do the right thing. In the summer of 2015, as the count of Syrians fleeing their country reached 4 million and the toll of those dying at Europe’s shores rose, Estill felt the need to act.

“I thought that if every Canadian citizen did their part, we’d be able to empty the lake with a bunch of thimbles”Over the next few days he appraised local rents, calculated a food budget, and checked his sums against the government’s welfare rates. Based on his estimates, he worked out that it would cost him C$30,000 a year to fund a family of five in Guelph, a small city about 93km outside Toronto. By putting up a budget of $1.5m, he could afford to support about 50 Syrian families for a year under Canada’s private sponsorship programme.

That was the plan he pitched to the Muslim Society of Guelph, the Salvation Army, and a clutch of local churches and synagogues, to ask for their help in fostering a citywide volunteer network to help settle the families into their new lives.

“I didn’t think it was a big deal,” Estill says today. “As an entrepreneur, I always say ‘I do something’ – it’s not in my DNA to look the other way. Bringing in 250 people – it seemed proportional in a city of 130,000, and I thought that if every Canadian citizen did their part, we’d be able to empty the lake with a bunch of thimbles.”

Much of the world has reacted to the global refugee crisis with a mix of hesitancy and hostility. In Canada, citizens have rallied to welcome them. Private sponsorship began in the country in 1978, in the aftermath of the Vietnam war, and allows private citizens to bring in and settle refugees as long as they commit to shouldering their expenses for the first year.

More than 250,000 refugees have come to Canada so far under the scheme, including thousands of Syrians since the outbreak of war in 2011. As a child, Estill’s own family billeted two young men who had fled Uganda, though he mainly recalls annoyance at being moved out of his bedroom to accommodate them. “I was eight,” he laughs. “But they became fast friends.”

“The aim has to be independence. Success is not 50 families on welfare”Estill’s scheme was ambitious. Though staffed by volunteers – and buoyed by donations - it would run like a business: a full-scale operation offering refugees everything from English-language classes, to furniture, housing, and job training.

Each family would be matched with Arabic and English-speaking mentors, to aid in tasks ranging from finding a doctor, to setting up a bank account and  grocery shopping.  For the first month to six weeks, newcomers would be billeted with a host family.

The scheme’s success would hinge on a clear definition, Estill decided: 50 families who work, pay taxes, buy groceries, speak English and have a degree of integration. “The aim has to be independence,” he says. “Success is not 50 families on welfare. It’s not people who are ghettoised. You don’t help anyone by just writing cheques.”

Getting the city on board proved easy. Within weeks “we had people coming out of the woodwork,” says Estill, as more than 800 volunteers scrambled to join the cause. They were spun off into teams – healthcare, finance, education, jobs, transportation, mentorship – each led by a director, and charged with helping newcomers navigate one aspect of their new lives. In town, a large, rented warehouse strained at the seams with donations of furniture, kitchen appliances, bedding, dishes and clothes.

“I tell my friends, if you can run a business with 800 employees, you can run an organisation with 800 volunteers,” Estill says briskly. “This was no different. It’s just organising and executing on a bigger scale.”

“How do you choose who to help, when you can’t help them all?”Harder was choosing who would come. In November 2015, a story about Estill’s plan appeared in a local Guelph paper. Within days, it had been translated into Arabic and shared across the Middle East, lighting up news feeds from Beirut to Cairo. At first, Estill received just a trickle of messages from refugees pleading for his help. But as the weeks passed, the emails stretched into the thousands, as families in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and even Syria begged to come to Canada. Estill read them all.

“It’s terrible, because you are playing with their lives,” he says quietly. “How do you choose who to help, when you can’t help them all?”

Estill favoured those he thought were most likely to integrate in Canada: families with someone able earn a living, and those with relatives already in the area. Gradually, painstakingly, 58 families were selected, or about 220 people. The first reached Canada in January 2016, after a series of bureaucratic bottlenecks delayed their arrival and left pre-rented housing standing empty. The final families arrived in April of this year.

“It’s been incredible, how people have given their time, their money, their skills to help them settle in,” says Sara Sayyed who, along with her husband, Muhammed, of the Muslim Society of Guelph, helps oversee the volunteer network and the families’ resettlement.

The challenges, when they came, were not of the large-scale variety Sara had braced for. Instead, it was smaller tensions over the presence of pets in billet houses – something at odds with Syrian culture – or patting down a host family, ruffled by their guests’ failure to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.

“We had to explain they had almost no English, and were struggling to communicate at all, so it wasn't a matter of being impolite,” Sara says. “I’d expected big, logistical problems – but it was the little cultural nuances.”

Estill encouraged refugees with little English to watch television and gain exposure to the language. During a home visit, he was surprised to find one family closely following a French-language show. “They just assumed,” he grins, “that if it was on TV it had to be English. I suppose it would be like asking me to distinguish between Chinese and Korean.”

As the families settled in, Estill found many struggled to break into the job market because they lacked the necessary experience and English skills. Some were almost illiterate in Arabic, which made learning a new language a titanic task.

“If you want to inspire your company, do a project like this. People are inspired by purpose”His response was to establish the ‘Ease into Canada’ programme at Danby, which offers the refugees three months of work experience to help them find their feet, along with interview coaching, résumé writing, and daily in-house English classes.

“We do 40 minutes a day of English, we have a lunch buddy scheme, we have an English word of the day – we introduce it in Arabic, then English – and we do our best to help them get used to the Canadian way of doing things,” says Estill.

His employees have risen to the challenge. “If you want to inspire your company, do a project like this,” he confides. “People are inspired by purpose. I’d love to say selling another 1,000 bar fridges is purpose enough, but it seems this has the edge.”

The scheme is open to all Syrians – not just those who are supported by Estill – and some have relocated across Canada to enroll in it. When the 90 days are up, Estill reaches into his rolodex and does his best to land them all jobs. “If we have work, we’ll keep them on. If not, I’ll try and transition them to my friends,” Estill explains. “I call around local employers and say, ‘give the guy a chance. He’s hardworking: you’ll be thrilled with him.’”

He has placed around 100 refugees in jobs so far, helped by his business network and Guelph’s largely blue-collar economy, where factory work is plentiful. It isn’t glamorous – and it can come as a shock to some highly educated Syrians, used to a professional role – but the goal is employment, however it comes. “It’s a way to support your family while you train to do something else,” Estill drills them.

It’s also been a way to head off any slow-burning tensions with local residents. “The community isn’t looking at these people and saying, ‘they’re living off my tax dollars,’” explains Estill. “They have jobs and are paying tax. I think of it in terms of helping people get on their feet – you want to teach people to fish.”

“I don’t know what would have happened to us without this opportunity. We had no hope and no future” Firas, 39, arrived in Guelph in December with his wife and six-year-old daughter. A qualified geologist, he’d lived in Damascus until war broke out in 2011 before leaving to take up a role with an oil company in Iraq.

His parents later fled to Saudi Arabia to live with two of his brothers, leaving him with no family in Syria. Firas, his wife and daughter stayed in Iraq until 2015, when rising unrest and falling oil prices saw his employer shutter its operations.

The family took a bus across the border to Turkey where, after seven months of searching, Firas found temporary work as a translator. He eventually secured a job with a global NGO, acting as an interpreter for fellow Syrian refugees, but – following Turkey’s attempted military coup and a spate of terror attacks – says the family “never felt safe” in the country.

In early 2016, Firas heard about Estill through a friend, who had already been accepted into the programme. He filled out the applications, and then endured almost a year’s wait to hear that his family had been successful.

“I was shocked, but so happy,” he says. “I don’t know what would have happened to us without this opportunity. We had no hope and no future.”

Today Firas works as a supervisor in Danby. He is studying, rents a home with his wife and no longer needs the $1,900 monthly allowance given through the sponsorship programme. Enrolling his daughter in kindergarten was “the greatest pleasure I’ve had in Canada,” he says.

Firas’ deep gratitude to the people who have helped settle his family into their new life is clear. “I once asked a volunteer if he was paid for helping me,” he remembers. “He said no: that he wasn’t able to stop the war in my country, but he was happy to do his bit and help a refugee from Syria.”

Estill is looking to the future. He hopes to bring at least another 50 families to Canada, and is lobbying to lift government caps on immigration. He also wants to motivate other wealthy businesspeople to put their money in motion, and find homes and jobs for refugees. The refugee response needs this new blood, he says.

“Entrepreneurs know how to scale, and they’re connected. We need good people to stand up.”

He remains baffled by the attention he’s received for his efforts. At best, his many previous gifts to charity earned him a plaque on a wall, but never global headlines. “I’m blown away by this,” he admits. “I really don’t see what the big deal is. It’s just – you know: do the right thing. I didn’t want to look back and know I stood by and did nothing.”

The payback he receives is from the families, becoming enmeshed in Canadian life. Of those who have lived in Guelph for more than four months, 80 per cent are now working and paying their way. For Estill and his wife, weekends and evenings now consist of visiting the homes of newcomers and seeing their progress.

“I drink more tea than I’ve ever drunk in my life,” he laughs, “but these families are friends. I see their children doing well; it’s extremely heartwarming.”

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.”

$1m prize for UK teacher named ‘world’s best’

London-based educator Andria Zafirakou wins global teacher prize in star-studded Dubai ceremony

A teacher from north London has been announced as the first British winner of a competition worth $1m to find the world’s best teacher.

Andria Zafirakou, an art and textiles teacher, became the fourth winner of the Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize in Dubai on Sunday, beating nominees from more than 170 countries.

She accepted the award at a lavish ceremony hosted by South African comedian and The Daily Show host Trevor Noah, and attended by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai, former US vice president Al Gore and Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton.

“Being a great teacher requires resilience, ingenuity and a generous heart”In a congratulatory video message broadcast during the ceremony, UK prime minister Theresa May said the award was a powerful celebration of the work of teachers.

“Being a great teacher requires resilience, ingenuity and a generous heart,” said Ms May. “These are the qualities that you share with your students every day; so thank you for all you have done and continue to do.”

Zafirakou, who was one of 10 finalists for the award, used her acceptance speech to call for more support for the “power of the arts”, saying schools can help to transform children’s lives – particularly in poorer communities.

“I have seen how the arts help students to communicate. The arts help to give so much confidence and really create incredible young people.”

Zafirakou was recognised for her work at Alperton Community School, an inner-city school in Brent, where more than a third of children live in poverty and where pupils come from a variety of backgrounds. Some 140 languages are spoken in the borough.

In an effort to build ties with pupils, Zafirakou learned basic phrases in languages such as Hindi, Tamil and Gujarati, and visited family homes.

“By getting pupils to open up about their home lives, I discovered that many of my students come from crowded homes where multiple families share a single property,” she said.

“It's often so crowded and noisy I've had students tell me they have to do their homework in the bathroom, just to grab a few moments alone so they can concentrate.”

In response to this, Zafirakou organised extra lessons during the day and the weekend, including giving pupils a quiet place to work.

She also redesigned the curriculum with fellow teachers to make it more relevant to pupils, and launched girls-only sports clubs for those from conservative communities.

Sunny Varkey, founder of the Varkey Foundation which runs the competition, said he hoped Zafirakou’s story would inspire those who wanted to enter the teaching profession.

“[It] shines a powerful spotlight on the incredible work teachers do all over the world every day.”

The 10 finalists were drawn from more than 30,000 nominations in 173 countries, including Colombia, Norway, the Phillippines and South Africa.

Zafirakou will receive $1m and be asked to serve as a global ambassador for the Varkey Foundation. She will be required to remain working as a teacher for at least five years and will be paid the prize money in instalments.

The struggle for water in rural Mozambique

The struggle for survival in rural Mozambique

In Niassa province, water is a matter of life and death. More than half the population in this northern Mozambique region has no clean water supply and just 21 per cent have access to safe sanitation. For many families, their only source of water is stagnant, filthy rivers, which dry up during the hotter months. The result is an endless cycle of long, exhausting journeys to collect water unfit for drinking.

In November last year, Mário Macilau, a former Maputo street child who is now an award-winning photographer, began a three-year project to document the impact of WaterAid’s efforts to provide clean water and sanitation to the rural community of M’mele. These images show the starting point. “I never imagined that there were people in my country who are struggling to such an extent for water,” says Macilau. “We all know that water is life, but if you’ve never experienced [lack of it] for yourself, you’ll never realise how hard basic survival can be.”

Abu Dhabi crown prince backs $1.2bn drive to beat polio

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahayan pledges $30m as part of a new international effort to end the disease

Donors including the crown prince of Abu Dhabi promised $1.2bn to help finish the job of eradicating the crippling disease polio at a meeting in Atlanta, US, on Monday.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahayan joined with the governments of Canada and Japan, the Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and others to pledge $30m towards the estimated $1.5bn needed to snuff out the last pockets of polio.

The money will be spent on vaccination – including reaching children in conflict areas - disease surveillance and other activities critical to stopping the spread of the virus.

“We are closer than ever to making history,” said Chris Elias, global development president at Gates Foundation. “These new commitments will help ensure that we finish the job.”

Polio is a virus that attacks the nervous system and can cause irreversible paralysis within hours. Children under the age of 5 are most at risk.

An international effort has cut polio cases by more than 99 per cent since 1998, and the disease is now close to being only the second in history – after smallpox in 1980 – to be banished. India – historically the biggest barrier to eradication – hasn’t reported a case in more than six years.

The virus remains endemic in only Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria, but imported cases from these countries threaten other developing nations, where conflict, poor sanitation and transient populations have hampered vaccine access.

Three new cases of polio were confirmed last week in an area of Syria partly held by Islamic State, in the first reemergence of the virus since 2014.

“The key to ending polio will be to ensure that millions of health workers – some of whom work in the most challenging environments in the world – are able to reach every child, everywhere in the world,” said WHO director-general Margaret Chan. “Eradicating polio will be a perpetual gift to coming generations.”

Major pledges announced today included $450m from the Gates Foundation, $75m from Canada, $61.4m from the European Union, and $55m from Japan. Bloomberg Philanthropies, the giving vehicle of US billionaire Michael Bloomberg, promised $25m.

Members of service club Rotary International, a partner of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), will give up to $150m over the next three years. These donations will be matched by the Gates Foundation, as part of its own pledge.

“We are, together, truly on the verge of eradicating polio from the planet—but only if we work relentlessly to reach the children we have not yet reached,” said Anthony Lake, director general of the UN’s children agency UNICEF. “We cannot fail to make this last effort. Because if we do not now make history, we will, and should be, judged harshly by history.”

Sheikh Mohammed has been a long-term supporter of the global campaign to eradicate polio. In 2011, he joined with the Gates Foundation to give $100m for vaccination drives in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In 2013, during the inaugural Global Vaccine Summit in Abu Dhabi, the crown prince gave a further $120m.


The flying hospital treating blindness around the world

Preventable eye disease can be a life sentence in poor countries. Global charity Orbis aims to change that

From the outside, the liveried Boeing MD-10 aircraft parked on the tarmac looks like any other passenger plane. In fact, the jet is a 46-seat classroom, a cutting-edge operating theatre and features an audiovisual studio; one able to transmit live surgeries in 3D to watching doctors. It is the Orbis Flying Eye Hospital, and – since 1982 – it has helped global charity Orbis to travel the world, tackling preventable blindness in developing countries.

Globally, 285 million people are blind or visually impaired. Yet for 80 per cent of them, with treatment or surgery, their condition could have been avoided or cured. The plane’s high-tech fit-out delivers the relatively low-tech tools needed to tackle vision loss to some of the world’s poorest, most remote regions. Aided by volunteer doctors, anaesthetists and nurses, Orbis carries out hundreds of free eye surgeries a year, mainly in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

“We want to equip local doctors with the skills to treat their own patients"As importantly, Orbis collaborates with local doctors, nurses, eye care technicians and others to strengthen capacity in the 18 countries where it works. By sharing lectures, live surgeries and hands-on training, the charity aims to see eye care integrated into national health programmes in poor nations, where 90 per cent of the world’s 39 million blind people live.

“The old adage ‘teach a man to fish, and he will teach others to fish’ is very true,” says Robert Walters, the former chairman of Orbis UK, and a consultant ophthalmologist himself. Walters first volunteered with the charity in 1994, and remains a board trustee and Orbis’ special envoy to the Middle East.

“We want to equip local doctors with the skills to treat their own patients, so they’re able to meet local needs once we leave,” he explains.

In 2015, Orbis’ training missions reached more than 30,300 medical professionals, in areas ranging from paediatric ophthalmology, to treating cataracts and glaucoma. An online platform, Cybersight, means trainees can continue to seek advice and to access online courses once the programme has ended.

“The aim to teach the whole team involved in eye care – from prevention, to treatment – the most efficient methods to serve the population in their countries,” says Walters. “They are often desperate for support and education.”

The benefit stretches beyond individual patients. The most common surgery taught by Orbis doctors is the removal of cataracts: the clouding of the eye’s lens. More than half of preventable blindness is caused by the ailment, yet it can be cured by surgery costing from as little as $10. Trachoma, an infectious disease that – left untreated – causes the eyelids to turn inward, can cost as little as a few dollars to treat in its early stages. Treatment can help entire families break out of the cycle of poverty.

“These patients may have become an economic burden on their families and communities because they aren’t able to drive, work, read or write,” Walters explains. “These interventions are life-changing.”

Orbis’ model hinges on partnership – with its volunteers, with other nonprofits, with governments, health ministries and local medical professionals. It has joined with the US-based Carter Center in a effort to eradicate trachoma worldwide – “something that is achievable in my lifetime,” says Walters – and, more recently, with the Qatar Fund for Development. The joint venture, called Qatar Creating Vision, will provide up to 5.5 million eye screenings and treatments to children across India and Bangladesh, aided by charity partners Sightsavers and BRAC.

It will also see the expansion of 19 paediatric eye centres in the two countries, and the creation of a specialist centre in Bangladesh to treat retinopathy of prematurity, a condition affecting premature babies. 

Funding for Orbis comes through cash from countries, governments and individual donors, and also as gifts in kind. The flying eye hospital was donated and fitted out by FedEx, while pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has donated more than $100m-worth of antibiotics globally for use in the treatment of trachoma.

“We gain hugely in terms of fundraising and clinical delivery when we partner,” says Walters. “Where once we might have had great intentions but poor focus, now there is tight strategic thinking. Orbis is run like an efficient business, because we owe it to our donors to ensure our funding is efficiently spent in the field. At all times, we keep the philanthropic goal of what we’re trying to achieve top of mind.”

Today, Orbis has some 200 permanent staff, but draws on the expertise of 400 volunteers during rotations in the field.

“In the field, we set out to train whole teams – from ophthalmologists and nurses, to mechanical engineers and hospital administrators. So we need the whole gamut of talent and equipment to deliver the right result,” Walters says. “Volunteers have to be broad based. They might be a good technician, but they need to be well rounded: prepared to work as a team, culturally aware, and able to engage with people of all different types and cultures. Not everyone can do it.”

For those who do, the experience can be transformative. Dr Ian Fleming is a UK-based anaesthetist who has previously volunteered with Orbis.

“The most striking thing is helping young children with bilateral cataracts, who have had poor vision from birth,” he told Philanthropy Age. “Quite often I don’t get to see them because I’m anaesthetising again the next day, but when I can be there to see the seals taken off for the first time, it is truly amazing. The look on their faces when they realise mum or dad is no longer this blurred shape – it’s phenomenal to watch.”

Saudi foundation pledges $50m to help eradicate measles

Funding from Alwaleed Philanthropies will be used by UNICEF to vaccinate more than 51 million children in 14 countries

Saudi-based Alwaleed Philanthropies on Monday pledged to give $50m to the United Nations children’s agency in a donation intended to boost the fight to eliminate measles and rubella.  

The funding will be used to vaccinate more than 51 million children in 14 countries against the diseases, at a time when recent measles outbreaks in Nigeria, Italy and Romania have fuelled concerns about its resurgence.

Anthony Lake, UNICEF’s head, said the money would “serve as a catalyst, to spur greater investment and greater practical action to immunise the children at the greatest risk.”

More than 100,000 babies are born with congenital rubella syndrome every year, a disease that can leave children blind, deaf or with other serious health defects if their mothers are infected with rubella during pregnancy.

An international effort has cut measles deaths by 79 per cent in 15 years – a fall from more than 651,000 in 2000, to 134,200 in 2015. But the contagious disease remains a leading threat to young children, killing more than 300 a day, according to World Health Organisation data.

It can be prevented with two doses of an inexpensive and effective vaccine, but a fall-off in immunisation rates has contributed to a sharp rise in infection rates.

In Nigeria, where insecurity has limited vaccination efforts, a measles outbreak in 2016 affecting some 25,000 children led to at least 100 deaths, UNICEF said.

The UN agency used a window of stability to vaccinate 4.7 million children against in northeast Nigeria in January, covering Adamawa, Borno and Yobe; the three states most affected by the Boko Haram conflict.

“The number of children around the world still suffering from measles and rubella is astonishing – but what is more astonishing is how easy it is to prevent these diseases through safe and effective vaccines,” said Princess Lamia AlSaud, secretary general of Alwaleed Philanthropies. “This is the kind of philanthropic partnership we need… to protect some of the most vulnerable children in the world.”

Alwaleed Philanthropies is the giving vehicle of Saudi royal Prince Alwaleed bin Talal. In 2015, the billionaire investor pledged to give his entire $32bn fortune to charity over the coming years.

‘You carry on because you’re saving somebody else’s life’

British surgeon David Nott has spent two decades operating on thousands of people in war zones, making life and death decisions under fire. Now he hopes to pass his hard-earned skills on to a small army of frontline volunteers

There’s a simple reason why I keep going back: I feel sorry for those who are caught up in conflict. Everyone needs access to healthcare, and I try to be the person to provide it.

I first volunteered in the besieged city of Sarajevo, Bosnia, in 1993 after seeing TV coverage of the conflict. What happened to me there changed my life. I’ve worked in conflict and catastrophe zones ever since: from Liberia and Darfur, to Haiti, Syria and Yemen.

In places wracked by war or natural disaster, there are few surgical provisions. There are limited blood supplies, few drugs and no diagnostic aids to speak of, so you rely on your medical skill. Yet, in war, most of the senior surgeons will have fled and it is the junior medics who are left behind. They may know basic surgical techniques, but they are faced with the most difficult wounds imaginable, from gunshots, snipers, IEDs and mines.

I take part in up to three missions a year with organisations such as Syria Relief, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). I go for three weeks at most if it is a really hot war zone; six weeks if the frontline is further away.

If there are no casualties from the night before, my day starts around 7am, with a security briefing at 7.30am. I take an hour to visit patients and from 9am there are either new patients to see in the clinic or, if there are casualties in the emergency room, I begin operating. I can be doing that all day and sometimes all night. At my longest stretch, I operated for 22 hours. You forget the time, although you’re absolutely worn out. You carry on because you’re saving somebody else’s life – and then somebody else and somebody else. You sleep where and when you can.

"In war zones, you have to hope you will be among the lucky ones who come back"In quieter periods, I teach. In Syria, for example, there are lots of junior surgeons who are not particularly well trained. They accompany me in the operating room and we do the surgery together. I show them first, and then they pick up the knife, scissors and forceps. Speed and accuracy are very important. I teach techniques to limit blood loss, and quick procedures. You get very engrossed in surgery – even though you are in a war zone, your mind is utterly focused on the job at hand.

War surgery is all to do with decision-making. There isn’t enough time or resources to treat everyone. You need the insight to see what the problem is and how you could treat it. But you also need foresight; to think ahead to after the operation – is there an intensive care unit? Is the patient going to have chest problems as a result? If there are likely to be post-operative complications, then the right thing is not to start at all. You need to preserve blood and provisions for people with injuries you can possibly save.

You have to be unemotional. If you become emotional you can’t make rational decisions. But sometimes it is impossible, such as when a child comes in very badly blown up and there is nothing you can do.

In war zones, you just have to hope you will be among the lucky ones who come back. So far, I’ve been that person. Five of my colleagues in Aleppo were killed going from hospital to hospital. You must always have your wits about you and be extremely neutral.

While in Aleppo, a group of ISIS fighters came into surgery with their Kalashnikovs and surrounded the table as I was operating on one of their group who had a gunshot wound to the chest. It was very tense. I just had to try and ignore them and continue. You are a humanitarian surgeon there to save lives – not to be political or pass judgement.

Sometimes the difficulties are more prosaic, such as getting sick yourself. If you need to go to the toilet every 20 minutes while trying to operate that is very challenging; never mind the bombs in the distance.

"People put their hands up for humanitarian work but few do it where it is needed most – on the frontline"In 2014, I treated a 4-year-old boy injured by a barrel bomb in Aleppo. It took out all the blood vessels in his lower leg and foot. It would have been easy to amputate, but all the surgeons got together and I showed them how to take a vein from one leg, make it into an artery and put it into the damaged leg, and then cover it with a plastic surgical skin flap. It was a very difficult operation. But we saved his leg and he was walking in two months. The Syrian surgeons sent me a Whatsapp picture of him playing football – what a fantastic feeling.

The idea for the foundation came in 2011, when I was in Libya. The surgeons were struggling to manage the very severe injuries that came in, so I held lectures and courses, and this gave rise to the idea of training surgeons for the frontline. The David Nott Foundation launched in February. We offer a course three times a year at the UK’s Royal College of Surgeons, and around 30 surgeons from all over the world attend to learn 50 operations they will need in war or disaster situations. Most volunteer with MSF and ICRC. The course costs £2,000 (about $2,640) and the foundation aims to pay for those who can’t afford it.

I also run a three-day satellite course that takes the training to local surgeons. The course is free for participants, but costs the foundation anything from £20,000 to £75,000 to run, depending on the location. In April, we ran one in Gaziantep, Turkey, for 30 Syrian surgeons. Yemen and Jordan are planned for later this year.

People put their hands up for humanitarian work but few do it where it is needed most – on the frontlines. It is the local doctors and surgeons who are left to manage. I hope to help them.

Photo credit: Philanthropy Age/ Jason Dutch