Life Lessons: Dr Atallah Kuttab

Philanthropists and industry insiders share their experience and advice on intelligent giving

Dr Atallah Kuttab is the founder and chairman of Saaned for Philanthropy Advisory, which is based in Jordan. He is a founding member of the Arab Human Rights Fund and the Arab Foundations Forum, among others, and chairman emeritus of the Worldwide Initiatives for Grantmaker Support (WINGS).

Here, he shares his thoughts on regional philanthropy, giving with impact, and the key mistakes for philanthropists and nonprofit organisations to avoid.

It is naïve to think philanthropists can change the world. Their function is not to bring about change themselves, but to pilot new ideas and methods for others to scale.

I recommend keeping the African adage in mind: “If you want to walk fast, walk alone. But if you want to walk far, walk together.” 

The Arab region is seeing the early shoots of social businesses, or companies that blend profit and purpose. This is positive, as it widens the pool of capital available for tackling social problems beyond just charitable donations. But it will be a missed opportunity if these firms limit themselves only to delivering services: we need to tackle the causes of social inequality, not just the symptoms. 

In the Arab region, grantmaking is still the exception rather than the rule. Many philanthropists choose to create and run their own programmes, rather than giving funds to existing NGOs or nonprofits on the ground.

Never assume that what you think will make people happy will actually make them happy. The solution to this is simple: ask. Give those you seek to help a voice in the process and empower them to continue improving their lives beyond the scope of your investment.

I assumed for years there was a unified lens through which to look at Arab philanthropy. But it is a complex mix, shaped by funding sources, actors and beneficiaries, which varies greatly from the GCC, to the Maghreb and in the Levant. But what unites us is our deep tradition of social giving, which spans all borders, faiths and people.