While the government plays a key role in supporting residents in need, several charitable organisations are also part of the landscape of the emirate and the larger UAE. Some of these groups are explicitly focused on domestic issues, while others look further afield and financially support development projects abroad.
DONATIONS UP: According to the World Giving Index 2011, a report compiled by Charities Aid Foundation (CAF), the UAE was the 47th-most-charitable country in the world that year, and second behind only Qatar in the GCC region. The CAF relied on information collected by polling company Gallup, taking into consideration the answers to three questions: within the last month, did you donate money to a charity, volunteer time at an organisation or help a stranger? The poll results showed that 45%, 12% and 54% of respondents in the UAE answered yes to these questions, respectively, yielding an aggregate score of 37%. This was an improvement of one percentage point over the prior year, and overall, the UAE moved up four spots in the ranking from 50 to 47 between 2010 and 2011.
The financial downturn of 2008-09 seemingly put a damper on donations on a global level, with the CAF report showing that fewer individuals in 2011 were able to afford monetary donations than in the prior year. However, this was not true in the UAE, where the percentage of people giving money rose from 40% in 2010 to 45% in 2011. This statistic is consistent with the observations of Hamdan Al Mazrouei, the chairman of the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments (GAIAE), who told OBG, “We have not noticed a decrease in donations to the foundation, despite the economic crisis. Abu Dhabi was quite resilient during this time, so donations continue to grow year on year.”
RELIGIOUS ENDOWMENTS: The GAIAE was established in 2006, following a decree by Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the president of the UAE and ruler of Abu Dhabi. A leading institution in promoting social and religious awareness, the GAIAE has several areas of responsibility, including building and maintaining mosques and Quran memorisation centres, organising hajj and umrah affairs, and investing awqaf (religious endowments) for the good of society.
Awqaf are gifts of money, real estate or other nonperishable property that can be used for specified charitable purposes. Once a waqf (the singular of awqaf) is created, it can never be donated as a gift, inherited or sold, and disbursement of its returns must be made according to the wishes of the donor. The role of the GAIAE is to manage the affairs of awqaf, register their assets and develop their investments. The organisation has also developed public awareness campaigns to promote the practice of waqf. The GAIAE holds a large number of waqf properties in Abu Dhabi and across the larger UAE. Proceeds from these investments are used to finance religious, health and education projects, as well as support the poor and provide community services. Since 2009, revenues from GAIAE’s waqf projects have more than doubled, according to the public statements by officials from the organisation.
ONGOING DEVELOPMENTS: The GAIAE currently has nine major waqf projects being carried out throughout the UAE, with a total combined value of over $128m. The largest of these is the Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Waqf Building located in Abu Dhabi’s Al Khalidiya area. The foundation funds humanitarian activities both domestically and abroad, with permanent programmes providing financial support to students, those in need of medical help, Muslims who would like to perform the hajj as well as a large number of social initiatives. With the waqf’s main building currently under construction, the cost of the development stands at Dh324m ($88m). “There is still healthy demand rental residential and commercial real estate,” according to Al Mazrouei. “Even as new developments and buildings come on-line, we see steady demand for existing properties. Some clients may request a reduction in price, but generally speaking demand is strong.” Other projects range from shopping malls in Al Ain to commercial buildings in Fujairah.