Tarek Al Gurg

TARIQ AL GURG, DUBAI CARES

Tariq Al Gurg was appointed as Chief Executive Officer of Dubai Cares in 2009 and has since been responsible for strategically defining and leading an organization that is dedicated towards providing children in developing countries with access to quality primary education. 

Where did the idea for Dubai Cares come from, and what are the key elements behind the portfolio you’ve grown since?

The conception of Dubai Cares stemmed from the notion that education is the most effective tool to break the cycle of poverty, a belief held by our founder His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. It was from this belief and the desire to give children - regardless of their nationality, creed, race or religion - the opportunity to become positive contributors to society, that His Highness established Dubai Cares in September 2007.

Moreover, the second of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), commissioned in 2000 by the United Nations and the global community, was to achieve universal primary education. In the years that followed, the international community realised that there was a significant lack of funding in this particular area, and it was His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who in 2007 decided to address this need through the launch of Dubai Cares.

Our key to success is represented by our efforts to increase children’s access to quality education through integrated programmes that eliminate the underlying obstacles that prevent children from going to school and learning. We also focus on gender equality, aiming to secure equal access for boys and girls to safe learning environments with adequate facilities, materials and academic support from qualified teachers and engaged communities. 

What geographies do you work in?

Dubai Cares implements comprehensive education programmes in countries with the highest gap in primary education. To date, Dubai Cares has supported education programmes in 41 developing countries in Africa, East Asia, South Asia, Middle East, Eastern Europe and the Caribbean which include: Afghanistan, Angola, Bangladesh, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Cambodia, Chad, Comoros Islands, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Ghana, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Ivory Coast, Jordan, Kenya, Laos, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Namibia, Nepal, Niger, Pakistan, Palestine, Philippines, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Vietnam, Yemen and Zambia.

Tell me more about what falls within the key interventions of Dubai Cares?

Our interventions mainly address two areas; access to education and quality of learning.

In order to ensure children’s access to education, we build and renovate schools and classrooms; improve water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in schools as well as provide school feeding and deworming activities. All this is aimed at securing a safe, enabling learning environment for children in developing countries as well as helping governments increase their school enrollment and attendance rates.

Our second parameter focuses on quality of learning, whereby we conduct teacher training and curriculum development, as well as literacy and numeracy interventions for children and parents. We also focus on Early Childhood Education (ECE) as we believe early learning is critical for long-term academic progression. This is to ensure that children not only attend school, but also learn. 

 

 

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Education is the most effective tool to break the cycle of poverty.

How do you choose your beneficiary countries and local partners? 

Dubai Cares focuses its aid on the world's least developed countries based on United Nation statistics, focusing on both basic and education indicators including, but not limited to: Human Development Index (HDI) by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Education for All Global Monitoring Report by UNESCO, incidence of extreme poverty, improved sanitation facilities, prevalence of malnutrition, net primary school enrolment rate, primary school attendance ratio, Parity Index Girls/Boys in primary school, and literacy rate. Countries with poor indicators that are not on track to achieving their development goals are strong candidates for receiving support from Dubai Cares. We also take into consideration whether a proper integrated government system exists that has an established strategy for education.

Dubai Cares also leverages its strong network of partners, comprising of UN aid agencies, internationally recognised and reputed aid and development organisations and local NGOs that have a presence on the ground in several developing countries. The reality on the ground can be quite different, especially in certain developing countries that are socially or politically unstable. Therefore, we closely review every country report that we receive from our partners and use these as references when launching new programmes or up-scaling existing ones. We also have a specialised team at Dubai Cares that carries out assessments to extract relevant information on the beneficiary country.

Moreover, in order to design and implement its programmes, Dubai Cares works through an implementing partnership model with UN aid agencies and multi-lateral international and national non-governmental organisations that have a proven track record of success in addressing the education needs of children in developing countries. All of the programmes we design are in line with the education strategy set by the Ministry of Education of the beneficiary country. Dubai Cares also seeks and maintains strategic relationships with like-minded organisations to co-fund programmes that advance their distinct but related missions. Partners include The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Care International, GAIN, Global Network, Oxfam GB, Plan International, Save the Children, The Partnership for Child Development, The END Fund, UNICEF, United Nationals Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and the World Food Programme (WFP).

How do you track your impact? Can you give an example of something that has worked particularly well?

Dubai Cares employs a robust monitoring, evaluation and learning system that helps us not only track our impact, but also continuously improve future programmes. This process enables the organisation to gather evidence through conducting regular field visits and reviewing reports by implementing partners. We also invest in rigorous research conducted by academic institutions we appoint to evaluate our programmes. Dubai Cares uses this knowledge to design and fund innovative and stimulating programmes that test alternative models and hypotheses to increase the impact of its interventions. This in turn leads to increased enrollment of children in schools, reduce dropout rates, improved quality of education and contribution to the global body of evidence-based best practices.

For instance, Dubai Cares supported a 5-year large-scale Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) in Schools programme based on an innovative multi-partner approach in Mali, designed to leverage and ensure a sustainable and impactful intervention benefiting 225,000 children in 726 schools. While the implementation of the program, which included the provision of basic low-cost water and sanitation infrastructure as well as hygiene promotion, was managed directly by individual partnership members, the partnership ensured efficient and effective inter-agency learning and knowledge-sharing as well as evidence-based monitoring of strategic impact of WASH-in-Schools. The programme, which cost USD 16 million, was run cost-efficiently, resulting in the number of ultimate beneficiaries increasing to 320,000 in 905 schools.

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Dubai Cares focuses its aid on the world's least developed countries. 

Can you give me an example of a challenging area where your programme wasn’t as effective as hoped, and what you learned from that experience?

In the early days when Dubai Cares started, we did not have the level of expertise in programme design and implementation that we have today. The first programme that Dubai Cares launched was an appeal for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. As a young organisation, we depended on the industry’s key players for expertise and guidance. Our understanding of measurable impact and positive change was not as advanced as it is today.

We have improved much since then. We learned that our partners, like ourselves, don’t always have the full understanding of the problem. We also learned that change takes time, especially in the realm of education. We have since increased the length of our programmes and ensured sound monitoring practices to measure not only progress of implementation, but also the whether the desired and anticipated changes and impact have materialised. We learned that our role should be all-encompassing - from design to monitoring and evaluation. Finally, we learned that although the questions of where should we support and with whom should we partner remain critical, in the end, the only question that matters is “what has changed?” and “did we contribute to that change”?

What does all this mean to you and what keeps you so passionate?

The drive to do good and be involved in philanthropy stems from my childhood. When I was a young boy, I had two passions: Helping people and travelling. Those two things were of paramount importance to me in childhood. When I used to go out with my mother as a child, I’d take change from the house and drop it in the donation boxes for the UAE Red Crescent. Even if it was just a few coins, it was the ability to so easily help the needy.

As I grew, I worked in a bank, and it is generally difficult to travel when you’re an employee at a large company. So I didn’t get to fuel that passion much.

Afterwards, I thought to myself; I wish I could have a job where I can be involved in philanthropy and also travel. In 2009, I got the call from Dubai Cares and I did not hesitate. It was my dream job. And I’m happy here – travelling, extending a helping hand, learning about new cultures and their education issues and needs, understanding what’s going on in different part of the world, etc. It’s a true passion that runs deep in me.

What do you see happening in the philanthropic sector in the GCC region?     

The philanthropic sector in the GCC region is changing, and it is a positive change. We worked really hard in restructuring the sector and embedding international best practice.

Whether you’re a local or international NGO, you still want to rely on international best practice. You want to help your country operate at its highest standard, and have the best solutions possible from around the world.

Perhaps we’ve been lucky to be born at a time of such change. But we shouldn’t forget we were established on a certain structure, and we’ve evolved from that structure. The vision of His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founding father of the UAE, was underpinned by deep humanity and generosity of spirit. He built a progressive nation that is known around the globe as a nation rooted in its local traditions whilst building its future with a global outlook.

Dubai Cares has a strong theme - all of our programmes focus entirely upon improving education with the overall goal of eliminating poverty globally. We are aligned with the United Nations in terms of direction and strategy, and we work closely with those dedicated to achieving our common goal. We have been given the opportunity to speak out loud, and we are making sure our opinion is heard.