NYU Abu Dhabi Launches MENA’s Newest Initiative to Study and Promote High-Impact Philanthropy

  • The Strategic Philanthropy Initiative (SPI) in collaboration with Badr Jafar will champion the academic study and application of strategic philanthropy in the Gulf and wider MENA region.
  • The SPI will promote new models for high-impact philanthropic investments and collaborations among private, public, and non-governmental institutions across the region.
  • The Gulf’s largest family firms donate at least USD 7 billion every year, with 71 percent saying they would increase their donations with improved charity governance frameworks.

NYU Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) has announced the launch of the Strategic Philanthropy Initiative (SPI), the first academic and community-based platform that aims to shape a dynamic and strategic practice of philanthropy within the UAE as well as across the Gulf and wider Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. The SPI was established through a multi-year framework agreement between NYUAD and Emirati businessman and social entrepreneur Badr Jafar, who will support this initiative throughout its formative years.

The SPI, through three tracks of research, convening, and training, will look to advance localised strategic philanthropy within and from the MENA region, at a time when historic wealth creation and transfer is expected to lead to a significant increase in philanthropic activity both within and from the region. This is expected to coincide with an era of enhanced collaboration between public, private and social sector organisations in support of optimal social and environmental outcomes. Trends towards tech-enabled micro-philanthropy and online giving are also expected to accelerate transparent and impact-driven philanthropy practices.

Badr Jafar, SPI’s Patron, commented: “Over the next decade alone, USD 3.9 trillion is estimated to be transferred to the next generation. This, coupled with the rise of young change-makers embracing purpose as a core driver of value creation, has the potential to lead us into a golden age of philanthropy. This is particularly true in the MENA region where 60 percent of the population is under the age of 25. Equipping our youth with the tools, resources, and infrastructure needed to boost impact using their time, talent and treasure is a massive and timely opportunity, and this collaboration with NYUAD is well-positioned to champion this cause and make a real difference.”

While philanthropy is a long-standing practice in the Arab world, there are numerous factors that are said to be impeding advancement in the sector. According to the publication The State of Arab Philanthropy and the Case for Change, a deficit of data, transparency and accountability, and the lack of an enabling regulatory environment are all significant areas for improvement that will help enhance the growth and impact of the sector. The Arab Giving Survey reported that 76 percent of donors now require transparency on impact and evidence of how effective a charity is in achieving its goal. The survey also highlighted that 71 percent of respondents would increase their donations with clearer reporting by the charities on how and where funds are spent

“It’s exciting to see economists and political scientists, social thinkers and NextGen philanthropists, policy makers and NYUAD students join forces for the betterment of our communities through strategic philanthropy,” NYUAD Vice Chancellor Mariët Westermann said. “This partnership will advance the study, reach, and effectiveness of strategic philanthropy in the UAE, the wider region and the world, and drive collective action for change on the most pressing social and environmental issues.”

Leveraging NYU’s global network and establishing partnerships with existing centres for the study of philanthropy around the world, the SPI will conduct research and gather robust data, publish insight reports and peer-reviewed articles, educate students and train next-generation philanthropists, and convene events to promote collective action amongst social sector practitioners, the donor community, business leaders and policymakers. The SPI will also develop policy recommendations to magnify the impact of philanthropic capital within and from the region.

According to a recent global survey by Alliance, 89 percent of respondents believe that Africa and Asia, including the Middle East, will account for the most growth of its philanthropy sector over the next 25 years. The launch of the SPI also coincides with significant shifts taking place in the nature and practice of philanthropy, especially amongst next-generation donors who are fundamentally transforming giving, and redefining the role of philanthropy in society. As the book Generation Impact reports, young donors want to be more hands-on, and to embrace many of the fast-emerging innovations in how to deploy their wealth for maximum impact.

The SPI will also launch a student competition and a related prize in philanthropy to acknowledge and inspire innovative and impactful social sector ideas and concepts that are scalable in the MENA region and globally.

Badr Jafar added, “As the business community across the world, including the Gulf, seeks to fundamentally reassess its role as an agent for positive social and environmental impact, the potential for greater cross-sector learnings and collaboration between the business and the social sector is huge. I expect that the SPI will be able to play an important role in facilitating these conversations and spurring related partnerships.”

The launch of the SPI, which coincides with the 10 year anniversary of NYUAD, will be housed on campus and will collaborate with other organisations in the region and globally, as well as convene regular gatherings in cities across the Gulf.


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