ABDULAZIZ AL GHURAIR, THE ABDULLA AL GHURAIR FOUNDATION FOR EDUCATION
Abdulaziz Al Ghurair is Chairman of the Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education, which seeks to provide high-achieving, underserved Emirati and Arab students with the opportunity to study at a top university, and pursue a future in a STEM-related field (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).
How did your philanthropy begin?
Our family has long been involved in philanthropy. While we only established the Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education last year, my father and grandfather have always supported education and humanitarian causes. My father built one of the first schools in the Northern Emirates, prior to the formation of the union of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the early 1970s.
While giving has always been a part of our DNA as Emiratis and Muslims, my father recognised that the times have changed, the challenges have become more complex, and with it, so must our approach to philanthropy. He donated a third of his personal wealth to establish the Foundation, which has brought the initiatives under one institution, and ensures that our efforts are strategic, scalable and sustainable.
What were your main motivations for becoming a philanthropist?
Our family built its business success in the UAE. Our commitment to institutionalise our philanthropy is our attempt at giving back to our country and the region that has given us so much in the best possible way. We are driven by results and believe that we can deploy our business skills and networks to help develop the next generation of innovators, entrepreneurs and leaders. Ultimately, we hope most of the young people we support become philanthropists themselves, and contribute to the growth and prosperity of the region and the world at large.
What is the focus of your philanthropy and how did you go about identifying it?
The Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education is exclusively focused on education in the UAE and the Arab region. We believe that education has been central to the success of the UAE; it has helped our young nation develop into a global economy and the land of opportunity for people from around the world.
Yet, for millions of Arab youth, education remains out of reach, especially for those affected tragically by conflict and poverty. And for millions more, they cannot access the quality of education they need to fulfil their potential. For these reasons, we have created a number of different programs at the Foundation that create opportunities for youth facing a wide variety of barriers to education.
What does being involved in philanthropy mean to your family? What do you enjoy most about philanthropy?
My father’s act of dedicating a third of his wealth to the Foundation ensures that philanthropy is as much part of our family legacy as is our business. Our family has taken a keen interest in the work of the Foundation and we are proud of its early impact. For me personally, I have found the greatest pleasure in watching our high-achieving young Arabs from across the region begin their journeys as scholars. I see each of them as future leaders, collaborators and change makers and cannot wait for them to be part of a network of thousands of scholars writing a new Arab story.
Can you tell us about your experiences and expectations of working with the organisations you support?
I believe it is very important for philanthropists to be involved in the work that they are supporting. Providing funding is essential but it is not enough. Philanthropists have much to offer from their business experience and also have a great opportunity to learn about the challenges they are trying to address from their potential beneficiaries, partners and other philanthropists. I take time to visit everyone from students and parents to university presidents to Ministers of Education. Seeing the impact the Foundation has had on our scholars already is inspiring and a great motivator to continuously increase our efforts.
Additionally, meeting with our partners helps inform and shape our strategic direction, and makes our expectations clear. We only work with partners who share our vision, are innovative and are equally committed to our goal of providing high achieving, underserved Arab youth with the best education opportunities. The relationships are therefore enriching and mutually beneficial, enabling both the Foundation and our partners to further our goals.
What information do you expect to receive about the progress of the work?
We are deeply engaged with our partners, and have built-in mechanisms (staff and IT systems) for ongoing communication and reporting on progress and obstacles from our partners and beneficiaries. We have also ensured that we have a strong focus on monitoring and evaluation from the outset of the establishment of the Foundation, with in-house expertise. We are developing a culture of continuous improvement and innovation rather than revisions and re-engineering.
What are your plans for developing your philanthropy in the future?
Our Foundation is still very young and our plans are evolving rapidly. We are not only looking for ways to scale-up our programs to benefit the maximum number of youth, but we are also investing in innovative approaches.
I believe that as philanthropists we have the prerogative to think outside the box, test new ideas, work with a wide range of partners and that’s exactly what we’ll be doing in the space of education. This is why we have begun investing in online learning. We’re collaborating with MIT and other top universities to bring the best education in the world for Arab youth to access wherever they may be and regardless of their circumstances. We have received very positive support for this direction from individuals and our partners, and expect to grow it quickly. Our hope is that the Arab world does not miss out on the advances made in education technology to improve access and quality, but rather becomes a driver of it.
What advice would you give to other people who are at the beginning of their 'philanthropy journey'?
My advice to anyone who is fortunate enough to give at any level is "don't wait". Begin your philanthropic journey as soon as you can. Learn everything you can - from other philanthropists, from the people affected, from research. It is an extremely enriching environment where you gain much more than what you give.
What do you think are some of the key challenges and opportunities for philanthropy in your region?
I believe philanthropy in our region is at a crossroads. On the one hand, Arab philanthropists are among the world’s most generous, but they are eager to do much more. They see the challenges the region is facing and they know philanthropy can play an important role in addressing everything from youth unemployment to poverty to climate change. On the other hand, for far too long our giving has been individual, fragmented and motivated by being charitable rather than results-driven. Going forward, I see a majority of philanthropists being more focused, asking tougher questions from their partners and demanding more impactful and long-term results.
What do you think is needed to help grow and strengthen philanthropy in the region?
The answers to more effective philanthropy in our region lie in us working more closely together as philanthropists and with our partners – government, business and civil society. Some of the most innovative ideas in business or any other sector have been born by win-win collaborations. This is why I have announced my intention to establish a peer network of Arab philanthropists who are committed to sharing, learning and working together. As a network, we will not only be able to scale up our efforts more quickly but we will also share the risks and rewards, and have a much better chance at developing effective home-grown solutions to our regional problems.