Grantmaking Practice / Human Rights Issue

Strategic Philanthropy in the Arab Region

Contributed by Emmanuel Otoo, Africa Program Officer at The Global Fund for Children –

It was a great experience to network with other participants at the 2012 Arab Foundations Forum (AFF) Annual Meeting in Cairo and to learn from them while I shared my personal and professional experiences. The conference’s areas of focus included an issue of particular interest to me: strategic philanthropy in the Arab region, targeted at grassroots-level investments. I was eager to learn more about the impacts of this approach on children and youth in the region, especially in Egypt, in the aftermath of the youth-led Arab Spring.

A significant percentage of youth between the ages of 15 and 25 actively participated in the Arab Spring revolutions, of bringing about change in response to their numerous unmet needs. Many participants at the AFF meeting confirmed that the protests had indeed shaken the established order and had highlighted the need for a sharp deviation from the status quo. That said, it is yet to be seen if these gains will translate into tangible, direct, positive impacts on the lives and livelihoods of the children and youth of Egypt and the rest of the region. With that in mind, participants at AFF identified the use of strategic, targeted, and participatory philanthropy as a means of achieving the outcomes for which these youth bravely fought.

The role of grantmakers in helping youth achieve these daunting yet transformative goals is to partner with youth-led and youth-focused grassroots organizations. To succeed, such partnerships must be consistent, constructive, and catalytic and should encourage diversity, unity, respect, and tolerance in service of the fulfillment of the shared aspirations that prompted the Arab Spring revolutions. It is important that while pursuing this goal, civil society organizations, especially those at the grassroots level, remain conscious of the potentially destructive social forces that could emerge (particularly in regard to religion and ethnicity) to derail the entire development process brought about by the Arab Spring.

It is also crucial for current grantmakers in the Arab region to operate above sectionalism and focus on participatory cross-sector collaborations, with a motive of mobilizing all key stakeholders to develop community-shared solutions. This approach will require unyielding effort to aggressively muster the support of all strategic allies toward the pursuit of this dream and toward translating the hopes of the Arab Spring into reality.

It would be a grave miscalculation for grantmakers in the Arab region to assume that it is still “business as usual.” This attitude is not likely to produce the desired results. Philanthropy in this region requires complete reengineering and a shift toward active grassroots-led and community-driven initiatives and toward investment that is focused on achieving timely and measurable impact. This approach requires local ownership of the initiatives’ development, process, and outcomes, as well as transparent multi-sectoral and multiyear support (both financial and non-financial) to achieve suitable and sustainable community-owned systemic change.

For GFC, the Arab Spring and recent events in the Middle East signal an opportunity to increase investment in emerging grassroots organizations in the region through a strategic infusion of capital and capacity-building support. Over the next three years, GFC will expand its model of grassroots philanthropy in the Middle East and North Africa. As a result, thousands of children will be given an opportunity to attend and stay in school, learn vital livelihood skills, and contribute meaningfully to the future development of their families, communities, and countries.

GFC’s partners in the region address these issues with marginalized children and youth living in slum areas and refugee camps. Our partners create supportive environments in which children can learn and thrive. They help children use the arts as a way to express themselves and develop leadership skills. They provide opportunities for children to obtain education and job skills. They expand children’s horizons through new experiences and new settings. Children and youth in the Arab region have taken a bold step to express their preparedness for change, and now they need constructive, transparent, and consistent support. We at GFC have decided to join hands with them to enable them to realize this dream—we are inviting you to do the same.

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