As we reach the midpoint of the UAE’s Year of Giving, now is an ideal time to sharpen our focus on what we hope to achieve by the end of 2017. With less than six months to go, we have a limited window to leverage the national spotlight that has been placed on this socially, culturally and financially important topic, and work towards the lasting legacy that it deserves.
To me, as a business-person and as a citizen, I see the Year of Giving as not simply about encouraging people and organisations to give more, but also enabling us to give better, by finding ways to amplify the impact of giving. Across the government’s priority areas — corporate social responsibility, volunteering and serving the nation — the Year of Giving is expected to generate hundreds of humanitarian initiatives, millions of volunteer hours, while boosting private sector contributions.
However, the Year of Giving is also an unprecedented opportunity for public, private and non-profit sectors to collaborate on a national scale to develop a more transparent, robust and impactful system for the regulation of giving in the UAE. After all, one of the objectives of the Year of Giving is “the development of a legislative system around giving.”
If we get this right we will not be the only ones to benefit. An upgraded regulatory framework that builds on our social and cultural traditions could also become a model for the region. As one of the most generous countries on earth, there is no reason why the UAE should not already be an international pioneer in the field.
For that to happen though, every sector of the economy, and section of our society, has a role to play in this process:
Government: Only government can credibly spearhead the development of a new legislative framework for giving in the UAE that could become a model for the region. Ideally, the goal should be the creation of more efficient and effective regulatory system that delivers greater transparency and accountability, introduces more consistent mechanisms for the measurement and reporting of charities’ activities, and maximises the impact of donations and volunteering. Effective regulation utilises both carrots and sticks, and our government has many tools at its disposal to incentivise good charitable practices and stamp out potentially harmful activities at the same time.
Private Sector: With corporate social responsibility identified as one of the key pillars of the Year of Giving, we in the business community have a duty as well as an opportunity to step up. First, we should continue to give to important causes. Second, we should ensure that the introduction of consistent tools for the measurement and reporting of our CSR initiatives and philanthropic contributions is an important part of any new system for giving in the UAE. Third, it remains my view that the most important thing that the private sector can do is to more actively seek to integrate the needs of society into our business models. That is the key to enhancing private sector social impact and ensuring it extends beyond donations.
Non-Profit Sector: More non-profits in the UAE need to start viewing transparency, accountability and open reporting as potential sources of competitive advantage rather than hoops to jump through. These measures are essential for winning and maintaining the trust of donors and other stakeholders. Countless models exist for measuring non-profit impact, tracking the allocation of donations, and presenting that information in digestible ways, and the local adoption of more of these techniques would be a welcome development. Among other things, exploring how to facilitate that will likely be one aspect of the Pearl Initiative’s new collaboration with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation aimed at enhancing the effectiveness of the Gulf region’s philanthropic sector.
Public Donors: Members of the public need to take greater responsibility for their charitable donations. This is particularly true in light of current events, where it is imperative for donors to know exactly where their funds are going and how they are being used. Culturally, we like to give unconditionally, but that doesn’t have to mean donating to charitable causes without any consideration for how these funds are being spent. When in doubt, it can sometimes be better not to give than to do so blindly considering the risks. Our new system for giving should seek to create a more engaged donor community that takes a greater interest in where their charitable dollars are going, how they are being used, and what impact they are generating.
Designing and implementing a new system for giving is no minor task. However, if not now, in the national Year of Giving, then when? That’s why I’m hoping that December 31, 2017 is a historic milestone in our nation’s longer journey of creating a new paradigm for more strategic and impactful giving, rather than the finish line. Ideally, over the next six months we can identify the principles of that new paradigm and start drawing up a framework that will enable more individuals and organisations to truly understand and be responsible for the impact — and not just the intention — of their charitable contributions. That’s the kind of legacy that will keep on giving well into the future.
Badr Jafar is the CEO of Crescent Enterprises and Founder of the Pearl Initiative.