Philanthropy and Development Conference presents new research, calls for waqf revival

Deena Douara
7 Min Read

CAIRO: The first conference tackling Philanthropy and Development in Egypt brought together nearly 400 individuals from the public, private, educational, and civil society sectors Wednesday to address how NGOs can be more successful, why waqf should be reinstated, and how partnerships can aid philanthropy and sustainable development, rather than simple charity.

The first study of its kind, Marwa El-Daly, Manager of the Philanthropy for Development project (under the Near East Foundation) found that Egyptians give approximately LE 5.7 billion annually by the most modest estimates (not counting personal donations).

El-Daly says a major problem is where people place their money, favoring person-to-person charitable donations, with just 0.6 percent given to sustainable development projects. She differentiates between charity, which focuses on meeting the immediate needs of individuals, and development, which focuses on how to change people’s life patterns.

Bishop Yo’annas emphasized the importance of intention and love behind giving, which need not be material, and added that “what you give is from the blessings given to you from God. What you own is not yours.

Though sadaqa, non-obligatory alms in Islam, can clearly be put into development, El-Daly and others pointed out that one reason for the preference for charity is discrepancy over whether such projects can be considered zakat, obligatory charity in Islam. For this reason, a fatwa was called for which encouraged giving for development purposes and declaring it a form of zakat.

Panelists also pointed to lack of trust and transparency as another reason people hesitated before giving to development organizations.

Such development projects could also take the form of waqfs, a long-practiced traditional means of sustainable giving in Islam which was abolished in Egypt by President Gamal Abdel-Nasser.

El-Daly told The Daily Star Egypt that she was surprised at the number of people surveyed who did not correctly understand waqf or had forgotten the essence of the concept, mistaking it for government property. “Waqf was once the backbone of Arab societies, she says.

What differentiates waqf from other charities is that a certain project, such as a school, medical facility, or drinking well, is endowed, ensuring that it is maintained and used for a prescribed purpose.

Every sector was addressed, each with its own role to play in the development of Egypt.

Though notable businessmen in the community have often given sums to various charities and projects, more private companies were addressed to implement Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs.

The Sawiris Foundation for Development, Talaat Mostafa Foundation, and the Mohamed Farid Khamis Foundation for Development, as well as sponsors Vodafone and Alkan Group, were on hand to discuss their own roles promoting Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives.

El-Daly’s study found that more people were expecting the private sector rather than the public one to be the instigators of development. She says she hopes more aid will come from Egyptian organizations rather than international organizations so as to maintain sustainability.

Hossam El-Kabany, Chairman of the Dar Al-Orman NGO does not even accept foreign contributions for their projects in Upper Egypt. He says that in addition to sustainability, people question the motives behind foreign aid.

Muhammad El-Kholy from the Participatory Development Program told The Daily Star Egypt that he is conducting research on the topic and was “very surprised at the amount of even small Egyptian companies that do give to NGOs but that nobody knows about.

“They don’t even know what Corporate Social Responsibility is but they do it.

El-Daly and others also emphasized education’s key role in that it must “encourage giving for development through good role models and activities.

Eventually, panelists hoped the legal framework will be available to “institutionalize philanthropy. “The legal environment doesn’t encourage philanthropy, El-Daly told The Daily Star Egypt. For example, rules on tax exemptions for donations are unclear and changing.

Dr Alaa Saber, Country Director for the Near East Foundation, also asserted that government subsidies do not reach those most in need in Egypt. “Thirty percent of the very poor have no subsidies . those who benefit are traders and shops.

While El-Kabany of Dar Al-Orman does not feel the government is capable of providing all of Upper Egypt with the necessary resources and services, he does feel the government can provide the statistics, information, and legal assistance to allow NGOs to operate successfully.

Lawyer Mona Zulfikar discussed how she helped change a law in favor of waqfs, ensuring that companies and individuals can establish charitable institutions which can be inherited through wills. She emphasized the need for an “appropriate legal environment that encourages providing centers, improving transparency, and exempting charitable or development projects from taxes.

If development is promoted properly, Dr Neamat Mashhour from Al-Azhar University points out, it will have a positive political and economic impact, reducing tensions between classes and improving security. She adds that donations need not be monetary but may be in-kind or production tools so as to increase job opportunities and productivity.

Egyptian actor and UN Goodwill Ambassador Hussein Fahmy, who was invited as a panelist to comment on the important role of media in promoting development, told The Daily Star Egypt that he believed actors and those in the limelight “have an obligation to speak out on development issues.

He does think, though, that Egyptian celebrities have already been very active in acting as spokespersons. He gave the example of a photograph he took with a child who needed a mobile respiratory system. Because of the picture, the hospital received twice the required amount in donations and was able to purchase a second one.

The Philanthropy and Development project has since it began in March 2003 published a book titled “Philanthropy in Egypt, built a website and set up a philanthropy library.

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