The art of corporate giving during Ramadan

How regional corporations are using the month and the year to give back



With the Holy Month of Ramadan now a few days into its lunar cycle, many people’s thoughts have turned towards what more they can do by way of giving.

While fasting might be the most commonly known aspect of Ramadan, charity is also a key part of the month, with the practice of Zakat among the obligatory five pillars of the religion.

Zakat – the giving of alms to the poor and needy, the amount of which is calculated based on income and the value of one’s possessions – is just one element of charity within Islam.

Sadaqah – voluntary charity – takes many different forms, and also plays an enhanced role for Muslims around the world during Ramadan; not just for the good the charity does for the receiver, but for the spiritual benefit it provides the giver.

Across the Gulf region, Ramadan has long been associated with an increase in charity, as individuals, groups, organisations and businesses mark the Holy Month in different ways.

This increase in charity is perhaps magnified by the fact that giving is ingrained in the culture of the Arabian Gulf and the wider Middle East – a social quality that has been given special prominence in 2017 thanks to it being designated the Year of Giving by the UAE government.

After the announcement of the special designation, the Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, said: “Giving is a value we cherish and saw personified in the UAE’s Founding Father Sheikh Zayed.

“Through my humble experience, I believe giving is not limited to monetary donations. Rather, giving is defined by the differences we make: the differences in someone’s life, in a society, or in a nation. Sheikh Zayed’s legacy is not measured in the generous donations he made to the less fortunate only, but in the impact he has had on our lives and our country forever. This is our goal for the Year of Giving – to make a difference in the lives of those we care for, and in ourselves.”

His Highness highlighted a number of ways to give, including giving back to the environment, volunteering, contributing to charities and more.

But what does it mean for a business to ‘give’ – especially during Ramadan?

According to a study by the Ideation Centre – a think tank for management consultancy Strategy& in the Middle East – the GCC’s largest family businesses have an estimated charitable capital of about $7bn. Add this number to the numerous other businesses that have capacity to give, and it’s clear that there is a huge pool of money ready to be used as charitable donations.

What’s more, a 2016 survey by Xpress Money showed that 69 per cent of UAE expats spend more on charity during Ramadan, adding considerably to the giving climate at this time of year.

Businesses have several different options for giving. These include donations of cash or time, rendering of services, feeding people, or launching CSR campaigns.

Charities such as Emirates Red Crescent, Dubai Cares, Dar Al Ber, Al Basar International Foundation, Qatar Charity and many hundreds more across the GCC gratefully receive financial aid, as well as volunteer hours.

Some organisations prefer to use their professional services to make a difference, such as Aster DM Healthcare, which offers numerous health-related initiatives through its foundation; and Emirates NBD, which works to improve financial literacy in the communities it serves.

Similarly, hotel groups provide Iftar and Suhoor opportunities throughout the month, giving companies, families and acquaintances the opportunity to spend time together, be it in a professional or personal capacity. Some hotels and restaurants go one step further by donating excess food to charities and other organisations. For example, Jumeirah At Etihad Towers Abu Dhabi donates left over Iftar food to the Red Crescent, which is then taken to the Workers Village.

The focus on corporate social responsibility during Ramadan is mirrored by its overall rise as a practice. Not a new concept, and not without its critics – who sometimes accuse companies of using philanthropy for capital gain or as a marketing tool – CSR is increasing exponentially across the Gulf.

Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s CSR Label, which was launched in 2010, is just one example of the changing corporate culture. Between 2010 and the second half of 2016, some 280 of the emirate’s businesses had been bestowed the label in recognition of their CSR and sustainability efforts, which DCCI rates as ‘outstanding’.

Many companies launch CSR campaigns during or ahead of Ramadan, such as ENOC, which distributes care packages to motorists at traffic light junctions before sunset during the Holy Month as part of its Ramadan Aman initiative in association with Al Ihsan Charity Association.

In May, ride app Careem launched a campaign with the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, by which users can add Dhs3 to their total fare that will be donated to the agency.

Elsewhere, Qatar Airways works each year with local non-profit organisations to launch Iftar tents for labourers, host children’s activities, and more. These are just three examples that are multiplied by many other companies across the Gulf.

And while many firms maintain separate CSR functions within their organisations, others are blurring the lines by looking to establish themselves more fully on the act of giving. Social entrepreneurship has boomed across the world, including the GCC, where numerous start-ups have launched with ethically driven aims and goals.

Operating across numerous sectors and with various different approaches, these start-up and small businesses aim to do good while operating as profitable companies.

Among the many firms are Saudi organisation Glowork, which finds work for women in the kingdom; Bahraini strategy consultancy 3BL Associates, that aims to establish a more sustainable Middle East; Dubai-based doll-maker Dumyé, that gifts a doll to an orphaned or vulnerable child in need for every doll purchased; organic food company Slices, that provides healthy meals to schoolchildren each day; and Social Bandage, that raises health awareness through public campaigns and provides medical aid for people in need.

Supported by groups and organisations such as the Emirates Foundation, Qatar Foundation, Impact Hub, Dtec and others, there is no shortage of advice and assistance for these start-ups. And there is a growing movement of business owners looking to tackle social issues within the parameters of capitalism.

This is emphasised by the Hult Prize – one of the biggest advocates and supporters of social businesses and the entrepreneurs behind them, hosting an annual $1m competition that encourages entrepreneurs to find sustainable answers to some of the world’s most pressing social problems. Each year the prize nominates a topic for young business minds to work on.

This year it is ‘refugees – reawakening human potential’, while previous years have seen topics such as ‘crowded urban spaces’, ‘early childhood education in the urban slum and beyond’, ‘non-communicable disease in the urban slum’, and ‘the global food crisis’.

GCC competitors are consistently well represented, with Dubai hosting one of the five regional finals, featuring some 50 to 60 teams from colleges and universities across the Middle East and North Africa.

For this growing number of young business people, giving is becoming a core component of corporate life. Similarly, the rulers of the UAE will be hoping the legacy of the Year of Giving endures and becomes ingrained in the broader corporate culture, as well as throughout society en masse. This would truly be in keeping with the essence of Arabic culture and the spirit of Ramadan.