Remembering the UAE’s humanitarian president

Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan spearheaded extensive aid programmes at home and abroad, establishing the UAE as a leading global donor.

The United Arab Emirates will observe 40 days of mourning to honour president Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who died on May 13th aged 73. But his humanitarian legacy will live on for generations around the world.

Born in 1948 in Al Ain, Sheikh Khalifa trained at Sandhurst, the royal military academy in England, and became the UAE’s second president in 2004, following the death of the country's first leader, his father, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

During his presidency, Sheikh Khalifa steered the UAE to become a global player in trade, tourism, finance, and energy, and attracted leading names in academia and cultural such as New York University and the Louvre to set up satellite sites in Abu Dhabi.

He also established the UAE as a leading humanitarian and development actor, providing international aid worth Dhs 206bn (US$56bn) to more than 130 nations between 2010 and 2021, according to data from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MoFAIC).

During this period, the country was ranked as the world’s largest Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) donor by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development on five occasions.

“His goodness reached all corners of the world,” said Hussain Al Hammadi, the UAE’s minister of education. “He empowered the vulnerable and the poor without discrimination on the basis of religion, race or colour.”  

Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, UAE deputy prime minister and minister of presidential affairs, meanwhile, described the late leader as “a role model of morality, kindness and giving.”

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The UAE grew to become one of the world's leading humanitarian donors under the leadership of Sheikh Khalifa. Photo: Karim Sahib.

In addition to sending emergency food and other aid to countries at war, recovering from natural disasters, and most recently dealing with the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, the UAE has also been at the forefront of funding the last mile fight against polio.

Much of this work delivering vaccines has been in Pakistan, through the Emirates Polio Campaign, launched by Sheikh Khalifa in 2014 under the auspices of the UAE Pakistan Assistance Programme.

The late president also established two of his own charitable entities, picking up the baton from his father, also a renowned philanthropist, who during his rule set up the Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan Charitable and Humanitarian Foundation with a reported endowment of $1bn, and established partnerships with global organisations such as the Carter Center, which endure today.

The Khalifa Fund for Enterprise and Development supports local entrepreneurs and SMEs and was ground-breaking at its inception for its focus on marginalised Emiratis, including women, offenders, and drug addicts. It has also sought to preserve the country’s cultural heritage by encouraging female handicraft businesses, and support nationals with special educational needs find employment and incomes.

Meanwhile, the Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan Foundation, has contributed to projects and communities across 90 countries, with initiatives ranging from food aid for the Horn of Africa and Ramadan campaigns in Gaza, group weddings in Bahrain, a children’s hospital in Turkmenistan, and flood relief in India and Pakistan.

In homage to his father’s philanthropic legacy, Sheikh Khalifa declared 2017 to be the Year of Giving, encouraging UAE nationals, expatriates, and corporates to donate to charity as well as volunteer their time and skills for good causes.

“Our pride in our achievements is the pride of our nation’s founders. Our history is one of benevolence, led by Sheikh Zayed’s spirit of generosity,” he said at the time.

Sheikh Khalifa is succeeded by his half-brother, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, formerly the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. - PA