Abdelouahab Saeed Soufane, the endowment department director at Dubai's Awqaf and Minor Affairs Foundation (Amaf), has crossed the first landmark for mission for endowments this Ramadan.
"During Ramadan people tend to give. We received good support from the public last Ramadan, but this year we will break records because of the Family Village for orphans, a waqf or endowment project initiated this Ramadan by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai."
GN Focus revealed in a Ramadan special report last month how Shaikh Mohammad invited proposals from the public on charity projects to be rolled out this Ramadan. The project for orphans was one of thousands of ideas sent in.
To add to the numbers, with the aid of an animated character called Chambeh (pictured below), Amaf uses television to educate UAE residents about Awqaf. "The campaign airs just after Iftar everyday when people relax and watch television," he says.
Put simply, Soufane says an endowment is about creating sustainable support for the community. "We are different from charitable organisations. If you give us a gift of money as an endowment we cannot just spend it, instead we have to create sustainable income for the purpose. The aim of an endowment is to invest the gift we receive and create an asset which holds for perpetuity," he says.
This year some Dh22 million has already been spent from last year's income, he says. "The balance to be spent before the end of this year is about Dh3 million," he adds.
Dubai's Amaf, which is three years old this October, is concerned with endowments and minor affairs and comprises five funds covering a society's needs. "The first is Islamic Affairs because we have a Muslim identity. The others are education, social affairs, health and benevolence," Soufane says.
Traditionally, endowment funds have invested in real estate. "For instance, this building is one of our assets," Soufane says, referring to the foundation's office in Dubai's Al Nahda area. "The special needs people had this nice piece of land but did not have funds to invest. We established a joint venture; the benefits and income from this goes to people with special needs in Dubai," he says, explaining that Amaf also pays rent for its offices there.
Endowments are usually invested in one or more asset classes, with the income divided 60:40. The larger share is disbursed according to the wishes of the endower; the rest to protect the investment for perpetuity.
While the scope of Amaf allows it to only invest in Dubai, as a foundation when it comes to endowments there can be no restrictions.
"An individual who comes to us with endowment can specify where he wants it used," he says, citing the example of a Shaikha who gave an endowment in Dubai for a mosque in Makkah.
Even though the foundation is supposed to be for Dubai, there are exceptions. "We spent half a million dirhams in Somalia last year. It is charity which we don't refuse because we can channel it," says Soufane. "Every citizen can contribute by putting anything in the donation box. The charity boxes that you see in malls are for general contributions for building Awqaf," he explains.
With changing times, Soufane says Awqaf is becoming more responsive to the real needs of the people. "For instance, we are using an idea from private business. We create a separate fund. Now, if any endowment needs an overhaul or needs to be rebuilt, this portfolio can come to the rescue. We compare it to a pension scheme for buildings and we already have more than Dh300 million in this Takaful fund, used mostly for mosque repairs when needed," says Soufane.
This year, Amaf has widened its scope to cover institutional endowments. "We approach companies and tell them that since they are giving to charity anyway, why not give to Awqaf. They will have sustainable income for their cause, rather than spending it at one time. For big companies we can even build an Awqaf and carry their name. This will go to the charity of their choice anywhere in the world," says Soufane.