Charities must innovate for maximum social impact
Adel El Huni, Tayeb Al Rais, Clare Woodcraft and Maysa Jalbout debating philanthropy in the Muslim world.
The Muslim world must look to both modern innovations and traditional practices if it is to put under-used capital to work in improving society, according to a panel of experts in philanthropy at the Global Islamic Economy Summit in Dubai on Tuesday.
The plenary session, 'Philanthropy in the Muslim world: Harnessing the abundance of underutilised capital for social development', was held after the keynote address by Abdulaziz Al Ghurair, chairman, Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education and Board and member of the Dubai Islamic Economy Development Centre.
Tayeb Al Rais, secretary-general of the Awqaf and Minors Affairs Foundation, told delegates that the concept of charitable giving is a foundation of Islam, but that certain practices were struggling for relevance in the modern world. He highlighted waqf - the practice of giving assets, traditionally a building, land or even cash for religious or charitable reasons - as an example of charitable giving that was in decline.
"Waqf was established to support communities in the beginning of Islam but is being overlooked in modern Islamic societies," he said. "What we want to do is take waqf and make it better. Societies in the Muslim world need to take another look at what waqf can do today and how it can meet our present needs."
Clare Woodcraft, CEO of Emirates Foundation, said that foundations could benefit from narrowing their focus. "It's frustrating when you see funds that are not maximised to meet the potential," she said. "There are core principles that can help you maximise impact. Focusing on output is key; we went from having a diverse portfolio to focusing on one core area of youth, that way we can have more impact."
Maysa Jalbout, CEO of the Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education, agreed that focus was key and added that charities and foundations need to be more innovative if they are to maximise impact.
"The three areas we focus on is to ensure that our giving is high-impact. Education is often a root cause of the challenges we face in this region. We are supporting the education of 15,000 Arab youth. Secondly, we are committed to be transparent and accountable. Thirdly, we are committed to the concept of innovation - this is why we are looking at using the potential of technology to spread access to education in the region.
"Tracking and reporting, investing, monitoring and evaluating are areas where the Muslim philanthropy community can improve. We need to look at the concept of leveraging and pooling funds. There is potential to take funding from institutions such as the Islamic Development Bank and combining that with those in the public and private sector. There is tremendous opportunity in doing that."
Woodcraft agreed that charities need a more modern approach: "We measure output of all our programmes with core KPIs and metrics. We report the social impact and cost of delivery. We ask ourselves: how do you deploy philanthropic capital to maximise social impact?"
She said that Western foundations have much to learn from Islamic finance with its focus on ethical investment. "Traditional Islamic finance has influenced ethical investments and foundations in the West are learning from Shariah finance," she said. "We are seeing a big conversation about how we can learn from each other, and acknowledging what is working and not working. Muslim scholars are now arguing that Islamic philanthropy does not have to be anonymous, so we are sharing a lot more now in this field."
Responding to a question about the key aspects to successful philanthropy today, Al Rais said: "We need to make sure that people who come forward to donate are informed of how we are spending their money. There needs to be transparency."