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DUBAI: The culture of charitable giving in Saudi Arabia has been held up as an outstanding example of “strategic philanthropy” by a new report from the Center for Strategic Philanthropy at the Judge Business School at the University of Cambridge in the UK.
The report, titled System Change in Philanthropy for Development: A Research Framework for Global Growth Markets, recommends that philanthropists pursue greater localization alongside the use of new financial instruments to optimize charitable giving.
The Kingdom is well known for its national philanthropic institutions such as the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSrelief), which provides international aid, the King Khalid Foundation, which works to improve social and economic development, and the Mawaddah Women’s Charity Association, which aims to ensure that women know their civil rights.
Today, as a nation that frequently combines state and philanthropic resources to achieve regional development goals, Saudi Arabia was identified by study author Shonali Banerjee as an effective practitioner of what called “strategic philanthropy”.
“Some of our research in Saudi Arabia has revealed some really interesting insights into philanthropic transitions happening in the Kingdom but also in the Gulf more broadly,” Banerjee told Arab News.
“One of the key insights for the region in particular is that we all know that philanthropy, giving and charity has been an important part of Gulf and Saudi society for a very long time, for many generations, but recently c It’s become quite a lot about the transition to what we at the center call strategic philanthropy.
In recent years, foundations, charities and non-profit organizations have multiplied, forming part of a so-called third sector which belongs neither to the public nor to the private sector, which are structurally involved in development issues aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
In the process, the function of these entities has become more strategic in nature, with philanthropists and nonprofits working hand-in-hand with the government sector to create long-term, sustainable change. According to Banerjee, this model of intersectoral cooperation breaks with the traditional division of the public, private and third sectors, to their mutual benefit.
“What was very clear in the report was the need to create local networks, local collaborations, local partnerships between different sectors that have always been siled in the region and in the country,” she said. declared.
Banerjee believes that, harnessed well, philanthropy can be a catalyst for bringing these sectors together to work towards common goals.
“In many cases what our research has shown is that if you have the private sector, you have corporate social responsibility,” she said.
“Oftentimes companies operate in their own silos and they don’t necessarily always seek to form a collaboration with local government. There is a huge opportunity here, as institutional philanthropy is gaining momentum. It is becoming more and more popular, especially for Saudi Arabia.
Indeed, the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 program for economic diversification and social reform has created an ideal environment for greater cross-sector collaboration.
“That’s where potentially successful philanthropists in the corporate sector can really bring nonprofits and government together and play a bridging role,” Banerjee said.
Arab philanthropies have a potentially crucial role to play in helping to fill gaps in service delivery in weak or failing states in the region. However, there is a risk that third sector entities take on too many state functions in situations where a cross-sectoral approach might be more appropriate.
The Cambodia of the 1990s is an example of a developing country in which the third sector played a prominent role in service delivery, functioning “almost too much” as a quasi-state.
“They don’t make major policy decisions, but they may be providing the majority of early childhood education, building lots of hospitals, trying to alleviate poverty, or providing a huge amount of solar power,” he said. said Banerjee.
“We noticed that, unfortunately, even though these things are very necessary, they are not sustainable models because you cannot build a model where you essentially have two parallel forms of government operating side by side.
Instead, Banerjee said, the goals and responsibilities of the two sectors must work in harmony because even the wealthiest philanthropists cannot solve systemic problems alone.
“From our perspective, the most strategic and sustainable way for any government to achieve some of its goals and make many of these systems work for it is to work with the philanthropic sector, but to don’t think of them as challengers or some kind of real tension there. ,” she says.
Ensuring a more strategic approach to philanthropy also means being smarter about how money is allocated and used and, for good measure, showing a commitment to evidence-based evaluations to ensure funding is targeted. effectively.
“That means supporting organizations like the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (also known as J-PAL), which conducts rigorous evaluations of poverty interventions and works with philanthropists and others to s ensure that the evidence generated by these assessments is translated into policy and decision-making,” Uzma Sulaiman, associate director of partnerships for Community Jameel, an international organization that uses a science-based approach, told Arab News. data and technology to tackle global issues and challenges.
“This is particularly relevant for philanthropists to understand where their funding will be most effective. In the Arab world, J-PAL works across the region through its Middle East and North Africa office, which Community Jameel helped launch in 2020 at the American University in Cairo.
Another notable philanthropic organization in Saudi Arabia is Alwaleed Philanthropies, which supports businesses and academic institutions working to empower women, reduce poverty, and improve public infrastructure and service delivery.
The growth of the philanthropic sector in the Kingdom has gone hand in hand with changes in the way people give. The country’s digital transformation has extended to the charitable sector through the creation of new regulated services, including Ehsan, Shefaa, KSrelief and the national donation platform developed and overseen by the Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority.
Ehsan, a platform launched in 2021, allows philanthropists and donors to choose from a selection of charitable causes close to their hearts, including social and economic issues, health, education and the environment.
By focusing on individual values and specific societal issues, Ehsan aims to encourage a greater sense of social responsibility among mainstream and private sector organizations, while promoting a culture of transparency related to charitable giving.
Last year, King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman made several donations through Ehsan, bringing the total amount raised through the platform since its launch to more than SR1.4 billion ($373 million). ). The money was distributed to more than 4.3 million beneficiaries.
Saudi Arabia is not the only Gulf Arab state to encourage such cross-industry collaborations. Last September, NYU Abu Dhabi launched the Strategic Philanthropy Initiative, the first such academic and community platform in the region. It was established through a multi-year framework agreement between NYUAD and Badr Jafar, an Emirati businessman and social entrepreneur.
Such initiatives reflect the growing role of philanthropy in the region’s development agenda, the adoption of new financial mechanisms, and perhaps even the decolonization of aid as local actors take over from foreign benefactors.
According to a 2021 global survey by Alliance, a UK-based publisher that analyzes trends in the charitable sector, 89% of respondents said they thought countries in Africa and Asia, including the Middle East, would experience the strongest growth in their philanthropy sectors over the next 25 years.
Against this backdrop, the evolution of philanthropy in Saudi Arabia and the wider Gulf region appears to reflect a generational shift that will become more apparent in the coming decades.
“There has been research on this type of next-generation and millennial philanthropy, but most of it has focused on the West,” Banerjee said.
“We are really interested, at the center, in these huge changes that are happening in the Middle East and in the Gulf.”