Gulf philanthropy valued at $210bn 

New study shines light on giving trends in GCC philanthropy.

We believe this is a very exciting time for philanthropy in the Gulf region.”

Samsurin Welch, research associate, Cambridge Judge Business School

Philanthropists, families, and individuals from the six countries of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) make annual donations estimated to be worth $210bn, according to a new research report.

Giving in the GCC – a collaboration between the Centre for Strategic Philanthropy (CSP) at the University of Cambridge Judge Business School (CJBS), and LGT Private Bank – presents an overview of regional philanthropy based on selected stakeholder interviews and desk research.

The study outlines giving motivations of donors in GCC countries (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates), assesses giving trends in the region, and considers the cultural and regulatory barriers holding back the sector’s growth.

A key goal of the research is to "deepen the knowledge about the motivations and practices as well as the trends of philanthropy and the wider sector,” explained Samsurin Welch, a research associate at CJBS, who co-authored the report.

“Hopefully, this inspires future research, discussions, and debates because we believe this is a very exciting time for philanthropy in the Gulf region,” he added.

Making the case for regional donors to be more transparent about their giving and to share more data, to both sharpen impact and facilitate greater collaboration, Giving in the GCC notes a growing appetite for more strategic engagement among an emerging generation of philanthropists and business leaders.

However, it also acknowledges the discrepancy between this desire for “greater visibility” and a longstanding “culture of discretion”— and it warns that the region’s philanthropists need to find ways to balance the desire for data-driven insights with the sector’s deep-rooted traditions of discretion and privacy.

Welcoming the moves towards more institutionalised giving, and the closer alignment between private donors and governments, report co-author Clare Woodcraft, a fellow and former executive director of the CSP, called for better regulatory frameworks to support GCC philanthropists. 

“We still know that regulation in the region is not necessarily facilitating private capital as well as it could… it's still very complicated to navigate that legislation,” she said. And she added that it was still “very difficult” to do cross-border giving, which she described as “a real missed opportunity”.

Giving in the GCC was formally launched in Dubai on October 11th with a panel event featuring the report authors speaking alongside Prince Max von und zu Liechtenstein, LGT Chairman and founder of LGT Venture Philanthropy; Kuwaiti philanthropist Sheikha Intisar AlSabah; and Nina Hoas and Silvia Bastante de Unverhau, from LGT Philanthropy Advisory.

The report was informed by more than 30 interviews conducted with experts, donors, and practitioners based in the six countries of the GCC.

It arrived at its $210bn figure using a triangulated calculation based on regional household wealth, giving data from Saudi Arabia, the number of billionaires in the region, the value of obligatory Zakat calculations, and other expert estimates. For more about the methodology, you can download the full report here.  - PA

Key findings from the report include:

  • Religious beliefs are tightly interwoven with family and societal values that shape giving.
  • GCC philanthropists tend to prioritise funding for education and health, but also support anti-poverty and international relief efforts.
  • Generational shifts are leading to growing aspirations to achieve more systemic, longer-term sustainable impact.
  • Regional philanthropies are increasingly looking to align with government priorities for national development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
  • Interest is growing in applying innovation and entrepreneurial principles in philanthropy, particularly among younger donors.
  • The Covid-19 pandemic has encouraged new reflection on the need for systemic change.
  • More donors are expressing an interest in collaborations and partnerships.
  • Concerns remain about the capabilities, efficiencies, and trustworthiness of the region’s nonprofit organisations.
  • Despite the growing desire for data and evidence-based impact assessment, actual data gathering (and dissemination) remains limited.
  • Digitalisation is creating additional fundraising, marketing, and outreach opportunities – as well as presenting new ways to deliver programming.
  • Regulatory frameworks need to cater for a shift towards more strategic approaches.