Study shines new light on GCC philanthropy

New research shows that philanthropists, families, and individuals from the six countries of the GCC make annual donations estimated to be worth $210bn

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Philanthropists and foundations from the six countries that make up the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) spend an estimated $210bn annually supporting individuals and social initiatives, according to new a research report.

“Giving in the GCC” – a collaboration between the Centre for Strategic Philanthropy (CSP) at the University of Cambridge Judge Business School (CJBS), and LGT Private Bank – presents an overview of regional philanthropy based on selected stakeholder interviews and desk research.

The study outlines what motivates Gulf donors to gives, assesses giving trends in the region, and considers the cultural and regulatory barriers holding back the sector’s growth.

“A goal of this study was to deepen the knowledge about the motivations and practices as well as the trends of philanthropy and the wider sector,” explained Samsurin Welch, a research associate at CJBS, who co-authored the report. “Hopefully, this inspires future research, future discussions, and future debates because we believe this is a very exciting time for philanthropy in the gulf region,” he added.

"We believe this is a very exciting time for philanthropy in the gulf region."

Samsurin Welch, research associate, Cambridge Judge Business School

Making the case for regional donors to be more transparent about their giving and to share more data, to both sharpen impact and facilitate greater collaboration, “Giving in the GCC” notes a growing appetite for more disclosure and strategic engagement among the emerging generation of philanthropists and business leaders.

However, it also acknowledges the discrepancy between this desire for “greater visibility” and a longstanding “culture of discretion”— and it warns that the region’s philanthropists need to find ways to balance the desire for data-driven insights with the sector’s deep-rooted traditions of discretion and privacy.

Welcoming the moves towards more institutionalised giving, and the closer alignment between private donors and governments, report co-author Claire Woodcraft, former executive director of the CSP and now a fellow, called for better regulatory frameworks to support GCC philanthropists. 

“We still know that regulation in the region is not necessarily facilitating private capital as well as it could… that it's still very complicated to navigate that legislation,” she said. And she added that it was still “very difficult” to do cross-border giving, which she described as “a real missed opportunity”.

“Giving in the GCC” was formally launched in Dubai on October 11th with a panel event featuring the report authors speaking alongside Prince Max von und zu Liechtenstein, LGT Chairman and founder of LGT Venture Philanthropy; Kuwati philanthropist Sheikha Intisar AlSabah; and Nina Hoas, head of LGT Philanthropy Advisory.

The report was informed more than 32 interviews conducted with experts, donors, and practitioners based in the six countries of the GCC.

It arrived at its $210bn figure using a triangulated calculation based on regional household wealth, giving data from Saudi Arabia, the number of billionaires in the region, the value of obligatory Zakat calculations, and other expert estimates. For more about the methodology, you can download the full report here

A version of this article first appeared on Philanthropy Age.

Key findings:

  • Religious beliefs are tightly interwoven with family and societal values that shape giving.
  • GCC philanthropists tend to prioritise funding for education and health, but also support anti-poverty and international relief efforts.
  • Generational shifts are leading to growing aspirations to achieve more systemic, longer-term sustainable impact.
  • Regional philanthropies are increasingly looking to align with government priorities for national development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
  • Interest is growing in applying innovation and entrepreneurial principles in philanthropy, particularly among younger donors.
  • The Covid-19 pandemic has encouraged new reflection on the need for systemic change.
  • More donors are expressing an interest in collaborations and partnerships.
  • Concerns remain about the capabilities, efficiencies, and trustworthiness of the region’s nonprofit organisations.
  • Despite the growing desire for data and evidence-based impact assessment, actual data gathering (and dissemination) remains limited.
  • Digitalisation is creating additional fundraising, marketing, and outreach opportunities – as well as presenting new ways to deliver programming.
  • Regulatory frameworks need to cater for a shift towards more strategic approaches.