From charity to philanthropy

Emirati philanthropist Badr Jafar on the evolution of philanthropy in a region built on the value of giving

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Badr Jafar is an Emirati businessman and philanthropist. He is the founder of the Pearl Initiative, a partner in Circle, and patron of the Strategic Philanthropy Initiative based at NYU Abu Dhabi.

The terms charity and philanthropy are often used interchangeably without much consideration for what they might mean and how each impacts our societies. In the Middle East, charity is deeply ingrained in our culture, religion, and traditions, but we often overlook the element of strategic planning in our generous contributions — and this feature can make all the difference.

It is important to recognise the opportunity we have to evolve and enhance charity and philanthropy in our region, where giving is second nature.

Every year, between US$250billion to $1 trillion is deployed in Zakat and Sadaqah in and from Muslim countries. These massive amounts are typically given as charity, catering to the immediate needs of society. By redirecting at least some of our charitable engagement beyond immediate needs to empowering the growth and development of our communities, we can generate a multiplier effect on philanthropic impact, which our region and the world needs today perhaps more than ever.

Philanthropy, as against the notion of charity, is more targeted and strategic, and can make a tangible difference to achieving long-term development goals for our societies. This in turn means people who need support the most can look beyond securing their next meal and start building stable and fruitful futures with confidence.

This is of particular significance today, with nearly $68 trillion expected to be passed down to members of the next generation globally over the coming decade — the largest inter­generational wealth transfer in history.

In growth market regions, which includes the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), nearly $26 trillion will be transferred across generations within the next 20 years, with three quarters of global gross domestic product (GDP) consumption expected to evolve from these places.

Not surprisingly, we also expect to see a substantial increase in philanthropic capital in the coming decades. A global survey by the Philanthropy Alliance Foundation revealed that 89 percent of respondents believe Africa and Asia, including the Middle East, will see the highest growth in its philanthropic giving over the next 25 years.

"It is our collective responsibility to steer our societies toward a better and more equitable future for all."

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Badr Jafar speaking to world leaders and philanthropists at COP28. Photo: UNFCC

Access to capital is not the main impediment in scaling philanthropic impact in our region – the lack of coordinated and strategic deployment of this capital is. As as this already major pool of philanthropic capital grows significantly in the coming years, the availability of strong infrastructure and conducive systems for strategic giving will be especially critical within the MENA region, and we have an immense opportunity in front of us to work together to create this.

Many countries across our region suffer from poverty and unemployment, especially amongst our youth. While there may be several stubborn factors that contribute to this, we need to use all resources available to us to address these threats to our societies, including embracing philanthropy as risk capital deployed to help create solutions that promote sustainable and inclusive financial and social growth. This approach is a vital pathway to addressing the compounding inequity in our region and beyond.

Fortunately, we have the tools, energies, and resources to build the infrastructure needed to empower the next generation in their giving journeys. For instance, technology is enabling the unprec­edented gathering, processing, and understanding of data, with artificial intelli­gence (AI) and digital platforms having the potential to reimagine philanthropy for greater impact.

There are also a growing number of entities and initiatives focused on improving philanthropy’s regulatory frameworks, by leveraging data that reflects on-the-ground realities, and embracing stronger governance models to make it easier to pool resources with a long-term, impact-oriented view.

One such entity is the Pearl Initiative, a nonprofit, private-sector led organisation founded in 2010 that is committed to promoting a corporate culture of accountability and transparency across the Gulf Region.

In collaboration with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Pearl Initiative, a partner in Circle, has developed a programme to help strengthen the Gulf region’s philanthropic ecosystem by working with leading family business donors to support them in sharing experiences and learnings with a view to driving results-driven philanthropic activities.

In September 2021, New York University Abu Dhabi launched the Strategic Philanthropy Initiative (SPI), an academic and community-based platform. Through research, convening, and train­ing, it aims to shape a more vigorous and strategic practice of philanthropy in the Gulf and the broader Middle East and North Africa region.

The SPI has also announced plans to launch the region’s very first philan­thropy accelerator to help nurture innovative philanthropy start-ups, and pro­vide their founders with the tools and resources needed to thrive.

While a number of similar initiatives are helping create a more supportive environment for philanthropy, what really stands out is the new generation’s commitment to impactful giving.

The Arab Giving Survey, for example, reported that 76 percent of donors today require transparency in rela­tion to the impact achieved and the effectiveness of a charity in achieving its goals, while 71 percent of respondents said they would increase their donations considerably based on transparent reporting by the charity organisations on how and where funds are spent.

It is our collective responsibility to steer our societies toward a better and more equitable future for all. As an important part of this quest, we must expand philanthropy’s role in our main­stream capital system, and utilise every opportunity to dis­mantle key barriers to strategic giving.

It is crucial that we take practical steps to maximize the efficiency and effec­tiveness of strategic philanthropy for the good of our region and the world, both now and in the future.

This article first appeared in Gulf News here. It is an abridged version of a longer essay written by Badr Jafar published here by The Fiker Institute, a UAE thinktank. It has been reproduced with permission. For an Arabic version, translated by Circle, click here.