Why Saudi, Arab Gulf charities are taking a strategic approach to philanthropy

Special Conjoined twins Yousef and Yaseen were successfully separated in a 15-hour operation supported by KSrelief. (Supplied)
Conjoined twins Yousef and Yaseen were successfully separated in a 15-hour operation supported by KSrelief. (Supplied)
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Updated 04 June 2022

Why Saudi, Arab Gulf charities are taking a strategic approach to philanthropy

Why Saudi, Arab Gulf charities are taking a strategic approach to philanthropy
  • A University of Cambridge study has identified Saudi Arabia as an effective practitioner of strategic philanthropy
  • Philanthropists, nonprofits are supplementing government efforts to create long-term sustainable change

DUBAI: The culture of charitable giving in Saudi Arabia has been highlighted as a noteworthy example of “strategic philanthropy” by a new report from the Center for Strategic Philanthropy at the UK’s University of Cambridge Judge Business School.

The report, titled System Change in Philanthropy for Development: A Research Framework for Global Growth Markets, recommends philanthropists pursue greater localization alongside the utilization of new financial instruments to optimize charitable giving.

The Kingdom is well known for national philanthropic institutions such as the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSrelief), which provides international aid, the King Khalid Foundation, which works to improve social and economic development, and the Mawaddah Women’s Charity Association, which aims to ensure women are aware of their civil rights.

Now, as a nation that frequently combines state and philanthropic resources to meet regional development goals, Saudi Arabia has been identified by the study’s author, Shonali Banerjee, as an effective practitioner of what is known as “strategic philanthropy.”

“Some of our research in Saudi Arabia has revealed some really interesting insights about philanthropic transitions that are happening in the Kingdom but also in the Gulf, more broadly,” Banerjee told Arab News.

A team from Alwaleed Philanthropies at an event in 2021. (Supplied)

“One of the key insights for the region in particular is that we all know that philanthropy, giving and being charitable has been a huge part of Gulf and Saudi society for a very long time, for many generations, but recently it has become quite a lot about the transition to what we at the center call strategic philanthropy.”

In recent years there has been a proliferation of foundations, charities and nonprofit organizations, part of a so-called third sector that belongs to neither the public nor private sectors, that are structurally involved with development issues aligned with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

In the process, the function of these entities has become more strategic in nature, with philanthropists and nonprofits working hand in hand with the government sector to create long-term sustainable change. According to Banerjee, this model of cross-sectoral cooperation breaks with the traditional division of the public, private and third sectors, to their mutual benefit.

“What was very clear in the report was the need to create local networks, local collaborations, local partnerships between different sectors that have historically been siloed in the region and in the country,” she said.

Banerjee believes that, harnessed properly, philanthropy can be a catalyst for bringing these sectors together to work toward common goals.

“In many cases, something that our research has shown is that if you have the private sector, you have corporate social responsibility,” she said.

KSrelief's volunteer program in a refugee camp in Jordan. (Supplied)

“A lot of times, companies are acting in their own silos and they’re not really necessarily always looking to form a collaboration with the local government. There is a huge opportunity here, as institutional philanthropy is getting bigger. It’s becoming more popular, particularly for Saudi Arabia.”

Indeed, the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 agenda for economic diversification and social reform has created an environment that is ideal for greater cross-sectoral collaboration.

“That’s where, potentially, philanthropists who have been successful in the corporate sector can really bring the nonprofits and the government together and fulfill a bridging role,” Banerjee said.

Arab philanthropies have a potentially crucial role to play in helping to fill the gaps in service delivery in weak or failed states in the region. However, there is a danger that third-sector entities can take on too many state functions in situations where a cross-sectoral approach might be a better fit.

Cambodia in the 1990s is one example of a developing country in which the third sector has taken on a prominent role in service delivery, functioning “almost too much” like a quasi government.

“They’re not making major policy decisions but they’re perhaps providing the majority of early-childhood education, building lots of hospitals, trying to work toward alleviating poverty or they’re providing a huge amount of solar energy,” Banerjee said.

“We’ve noticed that, unfortunately, even though those things are very necessary they’re not sustainable models because you can’t build a model where you have essentially two parallel forms of government functioning alongside each other.”

Students at MIT, where J-PAL is headquartered. (Supplied)

Instead, Banerjee said, the aims and responsibilities of both sectors ought to work in harmony because even the wealthiest of philanthropists cannot solve systemic issues on their own.

“From our perspective, the most strategic and sustainable way for any government to achieve some of their targets and make a lot of these systems work for them is to work with the philanthropic sector but not see them as challengers or any sort of real tension there,” she said.

Ensuring a more strategic approach to philanthropy also means being smarter about how money is allocated and used and, for good measure, showing a commitment to evidence-based assessments to ensure funding is targeted efficiently.

“This means supporting organizations like the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (also known as J-PAL), which conducts rigorous evaluations of poverty-alleviation interventions and works with philanthropists, among others, to ensure the evidence generated by those evaluations is translated into policy and into decision-making,” Uzma Sulaiman, associate director of partnerships for Community Jameel, an international organization that uses an approach grounded in science, data and technology to tackle global issues and challenges, told Arab News.

“This is especially relevant for philanthropists to understand where their financing will be most effective. In the Arab world, J-PAL works across the region through its Middle East and North Africa office, which Community Jameel helped launch in 2020 at the American University in Cairo.”

Another notable philanthropic organization in Saudi Arabia is Alwaleed Philanthropies, which supports firms and academic institutions that are working to empower women, alleviate poverty and enhance public infrastructure and service provision.


* Saudi Vision 2030 has created an environment that is ideal for greater cross-sectoral collaboration.

* Experts say event the wealthiest philanthropists cannot solve systemic issues on their own.

The growth of the philanthropic sector in the Kingdom has come hand in hand with changes in the way people donate. The digital transformation in the country has expanded to the charitable sector through the creation of new regulated services, including Ehsan, Shefaa, KSrelief, and the National Donations Platform developed and overseen by the Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority.

Ehsan, a platform launched in 2021, enables philanthropists and donors to choose from a selection of charitable causes close to their hearts, including social and economic issues, health, education and the environment.

By focusing on individual values and specific societal issues, Ehsan aims to encourage a greater sense of social responsibility among the general public and private-sector organizations, while also promoting a culture of transparency related to charitable giving.

Last year, King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman made multiple donations through Ehsan that pushed the total amount collected through the platform since its launch to more than SR1.4 billion ($373 million). The money has been distributed to more than 4.3 million beneficiaries.

Saudi Arabia is not the only Arab Gulf state encouraging such cross-sectoral collaborations. Last September, NYU Abu Dhabi launched the Strategic Philanthropy Initiative, the first academic and community-based platform of its kind in the region. It was established through a multi-year framework agreement between NYUAD and Badr Jafar, an Emirati businessman and social entrepreneur.

A KSrelief volunteer distributing cooking oil. (Supplied)

Such initiatives reflect the growing role of philanthropy as part of the region’s development agenda, the adoption of new financial mechanisms, and perhaps even the decolonization of aid as local actors take over from foreign benefactors.

According to a 2021 global survey by Alliance, a UK-based publisher that analyzes trends in the charitable sector, 89 percent of respondents said they believe countries in Africa and Asia, including the Middle East, will witness the largest growth in their philanthropy sectors over the next 25 years.

Against this backdrop, the evolution of philanthropy in Saudi Arabia and the wider Gulf region appears to reflect a generational shift that will become more apparent in the coming decades.

“There has been some research about this sort of next-generation and millennial philanthropy but most of it has been focused on the West,” Banerjee said.

“We are really interested, at the center, in these huge shifts that are happening in the Middle East and the Gulf.”


11 dead, hundreds hospitalized after toxic gas leak at Jordan’s Aqaba port

11 dead, hundreds hospitalized after toxic gas leak at Jordan’s Aqaba port
Updated 8 min 38 sec ago

11 dead, hundreds hospitalized after toxic gas leak at Jordan’s Aqaba port

11 dead, hundreds hospitalized after toxic gas leak at Jordan’s Aqaba port
  • Specialized teams dealing with the leak
  • Local authorities call on Aqaba citizens to close, seal doors and windows and to avoid going out

AMMAN: At least 11 people have died and more than 250 were being treated in hospital after a toxic gas leak from a storage tank in Jordan's Aqaba port, according to government spokesman Faisal Al-Shaboul.

Specialized teams were dealing with the leak after a tank filled with toxic gas fell during its transportation, leading to a leak at the site, Petra said, citing the spokesperson of the Public Security Directorate.

Video carried by state-run media showed a crane hoisting a large tanker from a truck and then dropping it on the deck of a ship, causing an explosion of yellow smoke and sending dock workers racing away.

The area was immediately evacuated, according to Aqaba Governor Mohammad Al-Radayaa, who said the situation “had been controlled.”

Local authorities also called on Aqaba citizens to close and seal doors and windows and to avoid going out.

The Director of Aqaba Health Department, Dr. Jamal Obeidat, announced the city's hospitals are full after they reached the maximum capacity in addition to opening a field hospital to receive injuries.

Obeidat added that cases of gas suffocation are referred to health centers, noting that the health condition of the injured is between medium and critical.

Chest diseases consultant, Dr. Mhammed Al-Tarawneh, said the gas leaked from the tank, believed to be chlorine, is a very toxic substance, which may significantly affect the surrounding areas.

Al-Tarawneh added that contact with this gas leads to irritation of the mucous membranes and the occurrence of a red rash in the flesh, in addition to pneumonia, pointing out that the gas entering the mouth also leads to burning in the esophagus and the occurrence of cases of diarrhea, headaches, impairment, and loss of consciousness.

The Minister of State for Information Affairs, Al-Shaboul, said that Prime Minister Dr. Bishr Al-Khasawneh instructed the formation of an investigation team, headed by the interior minister, into the accident and explosion.

The US ambassador to Jordan, Henry T. Wooster, expressed his condolences to the families of the victims and those affected by the accident.

“Along with the entire staff of the US Embassy in Amman, I extend our deepest condolences to the families of the victims of the explosion in Aqaba,” he said.

“We stand ready to support the government of Jordan as it responds to this tragedy, I urge all US citizens in Aqaba to follow all public health guidance,” he added.

The Secretary-General of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC), Nayef Falah M. Al-Hajjraf, also expressed his sincere condolences to Jordan, the king, government people, and the victims.

Al-Hajraf affirmed that the GCC stands with the government and the Jordanian people, in these difficult moments, extending his condolences and sympathy to the families of the victims, asking “God Almighty to bless them with his mercy, to grant the injured a speedy recovery, and to protect Jordan and its people from all evil and calamities under the leadership of King Abdullah II.”

Saudi Arabia, Egypt hold talks on increasing investment

Saudi Arabia, Egypt hold talks on increasing investment
Updated 27 June 2022

Saudi Arabia, Egypt hold talks on increasing investment

Saudi Arabia, Egypt hold talks on increasing investment
  • The meeting followed the visit of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Egypt,

CAIRO: A delegation from the Saudi National Real Estate Committee has held talks with the General Authority for Investment and Free Zones in Egypt on how to boost investment cooperation between the two countries.

The talks were led by Mohamed Abdullah Abdel Aziz Al-Murshed, who chairs the Saudi committee, and Mohamed Abdel-Wahab, CEO of the Egyptian investment authority. Also present were Tariq Shukri, who chairs Egypt’s real estate development chamber, and representatives of 27 leading Saudi companies in the fields of real estate development, industry, agriculture and building materials.

The meeting followed the visit of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Egypt, on the sidelines of which 14 investment agreements were signed between the two nations, according to a press release.

Abdel-Wahab stressed the “importance of strengthening investment relations between the two countries, especially in light of what the current period is witnessing in providing unprecedented support to the private sector, and encouraging Arab and foreign companies to pump more investment into the Egyptian market, including the construction sector.”

He said the sector was “one of the main pillars of the national projects being implemented, such as the Suez Canal axis, and fourth generation cities such as the Administrative Capital, New Alamein and others, which aim to create smart cities based on electronic services and renewable energy, in addition to implementing a huge network of roads and bridges to connect national projects and new cities.”

The meeting looked at ways to enhance cooperation by exploiting the competitive advantages of Egypt as a destination for investment in the region, and reviewing the investment opportunities available.

It also highlighted the importance of strengthening economic cooperation between the two countries.

Abdel-Wahab said the investment authority was keen to attract more Saudi investment in Egypt by intensifying communication with major companies and introducing the Saudi business community to the latest developments there.

Ukrainians in Gaza describe shared experience of homeland and Palestinian struggle

Ukrainians in Gaza describe shared experience of homeland and Palestinian struggle
Updated 27 June 2022

Ukrainians in Gaza describe shared experience of homeland and Palestinian struggle

Ukrainians in Gaza describe shared experience of homeland and Palestinian struggle
  • Ukrainian local community in Gaza highlight similar struggles civilians face in the Russian occupation and Israeli occupation

LONDON: There are around 830 Ukrainian-born people living in Gaza, the largest population of foreigners living in the blockaded coastal zone, according to community leaders.

While for decades, their families in Ukraine have feared for safety in the Gaza Strip, these expats are now also fear for their families’ safety in Ukraine.

Natalya Hassoumi, a endocrinologist in Beit Lahia, was frequently unable to contact her family in Ukraine for days at a time while airstrikes targeted the Palestinian territory.

Now, she has not heard from her parents and siblings in Russian-occupied Kherson for three weeks.

“I never thought that war could happen in Ukraine, no food, no electricity … Gaza and Ukraine have the same problems now,” she told the Guardian.

The Soviet Union was a major supporter of the Palestinian cause, offering scholarships and business visas to people from West Bank and Gaza for decades, according to Hassoumi.

Many of those ties remained after Ukraine declared independence in 1991.

The vast majority of Ukrainians in Gaza are women who met their Palestinian husbands while studying at Ukrainian universities.

Approximately 120 Gaza families with ties to Ukraine were evacuated during the 11-day war last May between Israeli forces and Palestinian militant groups, which killed 256 people in Gaza and 14 people in Israel.

However, less than a year later, Viktoria Saidam and her husband Ibrahim have decided to seek refuge with Ibrahim's parents in the southern Gaza Strip, where the population suffers from electricity shortages, polluted water and political turmoil, according to the Guardian report.

Natalya Mabhouh has lived in Gaza since 1997. Her mother, sister are still in her home town of Kharkiv.

“When I came to Gaza the economic situation was good, there was peace, but we got used to wars and escalation since then. This has been a huge shock. Russians and Ukrainians are like one people … I still don’t understand how this could happen,” the hairdresser said to the Guardian.

In general, the Palestinian society have supported Russia over Ukraine, viewing it as a proxy superpower struggle with the US, Israel’s most important ally.However, neither Hamas nor the Palestinian Authority has taken a public position on the Russian invasion.

The Russian invasion has also heightened tensions between Gaza's Ukrainian and Russian-speaking communities.

Many local Ukrainians were upset after a pro-Moscow demonstration was held in March.

In March, many local Ukrainians were upset after a group of Russians held a pro-Moscow demonstration, causing many long lived friendships to end.“It is really difficult,” said Hassoumi. “My mother is Ukrainian and my father is Russian and suddenly people are not talking to me. I feel like many people don’t care about the details, but it’s an occupation, like the Israelis.”

The Ukrainian community in Gaza remains worried about the prospects of both their homeland and their adopted home.Ashraf Al-Nimr, a leader of the local Ukrainian community, told the Guardian: “We built a life here, so despite everything we will stay”.

He says that 15 of his wife’s family members in Mariupol have gone missing since Russia’s siege began. “We can help by giving people in Ukraine instructions on how to deal with war, how to hide, and raising money. Any way we can help, we will,” he said.

Lebanon must act against torture, human rights groups warn

Lebanon must act against torture, human rights groups warn
Updated 27 June 2022

Lebanon must act against torture, human rights groups warn

Lebanon must act against torture, human rights groups warn
  • Country’s anti-torture unit lacks govt budget, laws and courts ‘ineffective’

LONDON: Lebanese authorities must protect people from torture and ill-treatment in detention, a group of organizations including Human Rights Watch said on Monday.

The appeal came on International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.

Aya Majzoub, Lebanon researcher at HRW, said: “Despite an improvement to Lebanon’s anti-torture framework on paper, torture remains prevalent, and accountability for torture and ill-treatment is elusive.

“Lebanon needs to show that it is serious about combating torture, and it should start by moving forward the many torture complaints that have been languishing before the judiciary without effective investigations.”

In 2019, 44-year-old Hassan Al-Dika died in custody reportedly as a result of torture. An HRW investigation found that judicial authorities failed to investigate Al-Dika’s allegations of torture before his death.

They had also tasked the same security agency that Al-Dika accused of torture with investigating his claims.

And in the case of actor Ziad Itani, who was accused and later exonerated of spying for Israel, Lebanese justice authorities have yet to take action regarding his claims of torture at the hands of State Security officials.

The Lebanese Parliament passed a law criminalizing torture in 2017. Two years later the government appointed five members to the National Preventative Mechanism against Torture.

But the unit has yet to be allocated a budget to allow the fulfillment of its mandate.

“The Lebanese authorities should promptly and impartially investigate all complaints of torture, allocate a sufficient budget to allow the torture prevention unit to get to work, and bring the anti-torture law in line with international standards,” Majzoub said.

Torture remains prevalent in Lebanon, despite complaints regularly being filed under the 2017 law.

The HRW warned that the 2017 law fails to abide by Lebanon’s obligations under the UN Convention against Torture, because it fails to criminalize cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

Bahrain says Egyptian president to visit kingdom Tuesday

Bahrain says Egyptian president to visit kingdom Tuesday
Updated 27 June 2022

Bahrain says Egyptian president to visit kingdom Tuesday

Bahrain says Egyptian president to visit kingdom Tuesday

CAIRO: Bahraini Royal Court says Egyptian President to visit kingdom on Tuesday, will hold talks with King, the state-run news agency said.  

King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa will receive President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and his accompanying delegation upon his arrival in Bahrain tomorrow, Bahrain news agency said. 

During  the visit, the leaders will hold talks related to bilateral relations, in addition to the latest developments on the regional, Arab and international arenas.