MOHAMED AL ANSARI
Mr. Mohamed Al Ansari is the Chairman and Managing Director of Al Ansari Exchange, the UAE-based foreign exchange and worldwide money transfer company. As part of its Golden Jubilee celebrations in 2016, Al Ansari Exchange pledged to donate AED 50 million in support of various charities. The pledge is part of the company’s Corporate Social Responsibility through which it actively contributes towards local and international communities to achieve social and economic development.
Can you tell us how the Al Ansari Exchange began to think about philanthropy?
Al Ansari Exchange has a well-developed CSR strategy through which we try to give away a part of our profit towards philanthropy with the aim of providing meaningful opportunities to less fortunate members of the community. Started nearly 15 years ago to comply with the requirements of the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) as well as qualify for an excellence award, it is now an integral part of our company’s development plans.
What created a timeless impression on my mind and led to the beginning of a proactive CSR policy at Al Ansari Exchange was an awkward question asked by an award jury about the benefit our business extends to society. From that moment, I genuinely felt the need to contribute towards issues we strongly believe in and not just to impress award juries; and from there started our CSR programme. It was not easy for me in the beginning to convince the Board to set up a fund for charitable activities but I took it as a challenge and surprisingly, received remarkable support. We started with a small amount of maybe USD 50,000 through which we focused on health- and education-related programmes.
How did things develop from there?
Although it started as a challenge, with the proper direction, we were able to divert funds towards social needs which made the whole experience highly gratifying and justified our need to continue with our CSR activities. Moreover, we believe that success should not be limited but enable you to work for the betterment of the society. We owe our success to the community we live in as they support us by trusting us and accepting our products and therefore we should focus our efforts on helping them.
In the last 15 years, we have achieved tremendous success in our charitable endeavours. We have streamlined our efforts in directing our funds for CSR initiatives and the way they are spent as we know quite a few reputed philanthropic organisations that are doing excellent work in reaching out and helping deprived members of the community.
We started with a small fund and had difficulty in deciding how to donate it. Over the years, with experience and the help of some partners who dedicatedly work for philanthropy, we have become highly involved in social service. As for diverting funds, my experience says that is easier to decide where to donate the money when the amount is considerable.
Do you think that your philanthropy is driven by your corporate culture now? Are there other drivers?
In Middle Eastern culture, it is not a common practice to declare your donations to the public. I, however, like to differ from this opinion as I believe that by announcing our charitable acts, we are motivating many others to follow our path of philanthropy. We were also driven towards this noble act by the donations of the UAE’s leadership and by declaring our CSR activities we are inspiring organisations that are still not sure or reluctant to make the right move.
Are you aware of the impact and outcomes of your donations? How do you decide where to put your money?
We are definitely aware of the impacts of our CSR initiatives on society as the results of years of work are evident now. The decision to donate has never been an issue as there is general agreement over the idea and its implementation across the board.
The world is currently marred by several challenging issues, including natural disasters, crisis due to political instability, and epidemics for which we send aids. However, the key areas of our focus are health and education as we feel that they are basic rights of all people and an educated and disease-free population can be a highly valuable asset. Nevertheless, we continue to support the various government programmes such as Ramadan Charity Drive and Donations for Syria and Yemen.
How has this benefitted the Al Ansari Exchange?
Let me make it clear that we pursue our CSR activities not to seek any benefits or rewards but rather as a duty towards the society we live in. It has been thoroughly gratifying for Al Ansari Exchange to know that we have made a difference in somebody’s life. In return, it has positively impacted our reputation.
As for making announcement about our efforts, I reiterate that it is our way of influencing and inspiring others to do good work.
We are so much involved in our CSR initiatives that we do not want to stop here. The company is conducting a feasibility study about creating a philanthropy club for businesses in the UAE. If we fix the annual membership fee at say, USD 1m, which is a staggering amount yet affordable for many, and bring on board just 10 members in the beginning, we can easily accumulate USD 10m a year, a huge amount to bring about significant positive changes in the lives of the needy.
Let me emphasize that there is tremendous potential in such philanthropic activities, especially in this part of the world, and I am hopeful that if we manage to get 100 members or more, we will be able to support different causes and the Club can be an option for funding multiple charities. The central idea is to nurture and promote the culture of giving back to society.
What does philanthropy mean to you and your family?
As I said earlier, philanthropy gives me far more satisfaction than running a successful business. Selflessly helping and supporting the deprived and underprivileged in a way that changes their lives is a very gratifying experience. I have discussed this topic in-depth with my family and have made the decision to donate a part of my personal wealth to serve the community, an idea which has been welcomed by my family. While my children actively participate in charitable activities, I continue to motivate them to get more involved in philanthropy.
What advice would you give to Emirati start-up companies?
I would encourage enterprising, innovative and industrious Emiratis to venture into their own start-up companies as this will not only help them be their own masters but also offer employment to several others, contributing to a more productive local economy. Even if they have small funds, they should study the market and start a small set up which, if managed properly with diligence and sincerity, can gradually grow to be a big conglomerate and a success story. I personally believe that starting a business is more than just an investment; it is all about the idea, market demands, and a determined attitude. We need to invest more in enhancing the entrepreneurial skills of our youth in strategic planning, and financial management.
Are there certain areas where you believe people should be investing in?
I do not believe that a certain cause is bigger than the other as all are equally important, maybe at different points in time. The basic idea is to serve a good cause that can really bring noticeable change. However, I strongly urge donors to look at the needs of society before donating their funds and believe in their cause as it can create measurable social impact.
I plan to get involved more deeply in two causes that are close to my heart - health and education - after my retirement. By then I will have the freedom to visit the places and people who have been impacted by our donation which will be a potentially more hands-on experience. Lastly, I would ensure that my children follow my path and display the same level of commitment to philanthropy.