The nature of philanthropy is the same all around the world: Whenever and wherever there is a desire to improve the well-being of fellow human beings, philanthropic efforts will emerge. But the way individuals and organizations carry out their noble work varies from one region to another, and this has a lot to do with cultural affinity as well as with religious backgrounds.
In the Islamic faith, for example, giving alms to the poor is one of its religious pillars, and this is a dogmatic preamble to philanthropy. But, in recent years, there has been a shift from charity to development among many Arab foundations. Just like in the Western world, where we are now seeing foundations dedicated to promoting technology literacy, human rights, individual freedoms, and economic development, the Arab world is also experiencing a philanthropic change.
With the above in mind, there is one particular Arab foundation that is doing things a bit differently while still keeping a focus on improving the welfare of society:
Empowering Policy Change at the Highest Levels
In the United Arab Emirates, the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research was established by the political leader of Ras al Khaimah. Since 2009, this foundation has been working towards improving the social, cultural, and economic conditions of this Emirate, which has experienced considerable development despite lacking the oil riches of Abu Dhabi and Dubai. His Highness Sheikh Saud is a Member of the Supreme UAE Council, and his vision of economic development in Ras al Khaimah has completely transformed the economic outlook of his jurisdiction through comprehensive collaboration with the private sector. Even though the trickle-down theory of economic growth has certainly benefited residents of Ras al Khaimah, Sheikh Saud believed that empowering the community through education was crucial, thus moving him to apply a quasi-governmental approach through the foundation.
In the beginning, the foundation mostly worked towards empowerment through education; the idea was to ensure that the good people of Ras al Khaimah were able to get lucrative jobs with the multinational companies setting up shop in the free trade zones within the Emirate. Public education is something traditionally managed at the government level, but Sheikh Saud recognized that a foundation was more suitable in this regard because it invited research, opinion, and the involvement of various stakeholders. His Highness provided the initial endowment using family funds, which were later augmented with governmental and private sector contributions. To a great extent, the foundation worked as a think-tank that welcomed research for the purpose of implementing the best policies to improve educational opportunities.
The early success of the foundation prompted directors to expand the scope and include efforts towards improving development at the community level, particularly in terms of public health management, cultural activities, wellness, and the arts. For the government of Ras al Khaimah, working with the foundation provides more than just insight; it also gives officials with an opportunity to collaborate with scholars and organizations that have common goals in mind. Coming up with strategic decisions related to the empowerment of society is always easier when informed opinions are provided, and this is somewhat unusual among the governments in the Arabian Peninsula.
Since the foundation works directly with communities across the Emirate, the policies formulated and implemented by the government are more likely to benefit those in need. This approach brings about a view that is more people-centered because it thrives on stakeholder collaboration. Nowadays, the foundation is engaged in research, community outreach, and capacity development; these are all functions that are normally carried out through governmental operations, but they can miss the mark unless they are based on the right decisions, which is what the foundation constantly strives to reach.
The Work of the Foundation
Some of the early activities conducted by the foundation included assessment of teacher quality, identifying gifted students, improving schools, and providing educational grants as well as scholarships. A more ambitious project that was successfully completed in just a few years was the establishment of an institution of higher learning dedicated to health sciences. Current projects include a series of art festivals and support of artists interested in completing a residency period in Ras al Khaimah.