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UAE Youth | Gender gap | Philanthropy | Al Qasimi Foundation | Natasha Ridge

More Help Needed for UAE Youth and the Elderly

Roberta Pennington, The National
July 16, 2016

State-funded foundations offer opportunities to promising Emirati youth but lack services to meet the growing needs of at-risk youths, the elderly, and the environment, a study has found.

“Everyone is going after the same group of gifted Emiratis but very few organisations are going after the other end of the spectrum, which is those Emiratis who are not doing well in school, who are struggling to get good grades and then not really going on to higher education," said Dr. Natasha Ridge, Executive Director of the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research.

Dr. Ridge and researcher Susan Kippels examined philanthropic organizations to provide a unique overview of state-funded foundations.

The study identified 43 formal donor entities, but the researchers focused on the 11 foundations that were founded or co-founded by the government or a member of the ruling family; received most of their funding from the state; distributed grants, donations, in-kind gifts, scholarships or the equivalent; and were actively operational. 

Six of those foundations had programs for education and youths, five for health, four for arts and culture, three for infrastructure, two for environment, and one for family and well-being. This distribution revealed some gaps, the study noted.

“We’re very concerned with that," Dr. Ridge said. “We now have a minister of youth, which is wonderful, but we don’t have anybody representing the aged.

“I think the question is–what things are being put into place today to cater for the elderly tomorrow, given that more people are living longer?"

These funding and services gaps are not endemic to the UAE, said Naila Farouky, chief executive and executive director of the Arab Foundations Forum, a non-profit association of philanthropic groups in the region.

“There are big trends–there is education, there’s health, there’s economic development–and I think that part of the reason why those tend to be the areas that are being more fully funded is because they tend to be safer," Ms. Farouky said.

Many foundations avoid funding programs to help at-risk young men, for example, because it is controversial in the region. Amid worries about radicalization, there is “a lot of concern about where donors are putting money," she said.

It is difficult to raise and approve funds for programs targeting young, male Arab populations, Ms. Farouky said.

When a foundation is closely tied to government or is mostly state-funded, it is less likely to get involved in providing services for controversial issues.

“Part of what we face in this region with regard to our donor agencies is that a lot of them tend to be very closely related to government. You then tend to follow an agenda that is safe because it has to toe a party line. 

“If you’re being funded mostly by a government entity, obviously you’re not going to be highlighting all of the gaps that the government isn’t filling," said Ms. Farouky.

Maysa Jalbout, chief executive for the Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education, said such studies were important for the sector to develop in the UAE.

“For new foundations such as Al Ghurair Foundation for Education, they can be helpful to understand how to build on the strengths of the philanthropic sector and complement existing efforts," said Ms. Jalbout. 

“Such reports confirm that there is much to learn from state-funded foundations and room for foundations to share information and, where possible, collaborate in order for the sector to deliver more impact."

Joanne Bladd, managing editor of Philanthropy Age, a magazine based in Abu Dhabi, said improving transparency and collaboration between foundations “would go a long way towards resolving the oversupply of programs in certain sectors, and the shortfall of programs in others." 

“Transparency encourages industry-wide planning–without that, non-profit agencies are effectively operating in a vacuum," Ms. Bladd said.

To learn more about research on foundations in the UAE, click here.