Freedom May Come Incrementally: How UAE Helped Pioneer Philanthropy and CSR by Innovator Sheikh Zayed

Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan was a prominent ruler, philanthropist and promulgator of Corporate Social Responsibility, providing a great model for the Middle East.  First, he was a strategic political leader, by helping to create the United Arab Emirates, assuming its presidency, and being reelected 6 times. So he first had leadership under his belt, which then helped impact his philanthropy and Corporate Social Responsibility.

UAE became very prominent in philanthropy due to Sheikh Zayed’s connection between oil and philanthropic projects, which is a model for many countries all over the world.  While many countries divert oil revenues to corrupt means, Sheikh Zayed devoted much of it to strengthening the community.   He utilized oil revenues to help adopt hundreds of orphans throughout the country.  He mobilized a foundation to construct hospitals, schools and universities. These opportunities were available to all UAE citizens, and also free.  What a powerful gift to his community, constituency and country.

Beyond politics and philanthropy, he also made a solid contribution towards religion, in an age of divisiveness.   He believed his country was wedded to religion, and that the gifts provided from God should be shared, yet without fanfare to a specific individual.  So his type of giving was humble and understated.  In an age when so many seek their name on a building, Sheikh Zayed was a “quiet giver.”

This example is backed by a fundamental belief in Islamic society: Giving to the poor is requisite. Yet it also provides individual redemption: It keeps citizens pure in motive, and staves off any inclination of greed.  And the type of giving is not only a handout, but to help people live lives based on long-term sustainability, with consistent incomes.

Religion, then, plays a strong role in the motivation behind his philanthropy.  For some, this will seem an imperfect model combining religion with good works; for others it can be seen as a positive step forward in a confusing “range of Arab Springs.”

Each country is finding its own way.  It’s manifest in their voice, religion, social change, philanthropy and CSR.  Sheikh Zayed provides one example towards forward thinking, new freedoms, and advancement for society.

We should also note that Sheikh Zayed promulgated the acceptance and tolerance of other religions.  It’s a model that’s one positive step forward.   It’s something we must come to terms with many “struggling Arab Springs”: Freedom may come incrementally.  Each country is finding their own way, in their voice, religion, social change, philanthropy and CSR.  Here’s one example towards forward thinking, new freedoms, and advancement for society.

Sheikh Zayed furthered his contribution across the capital realm: He continued to innovate on the corporate front of philanthropy.  He encouraged Corporate Social Responsibility so that  it was a part of the corporate culture very early on.

Let’s see Sheik Zayed’s model as one positive example of how the Middle East’s philanthropy, values and stability can help further this new age of citizens.  Citizens such as you and me, striving to have a voice, enhanced life, and stable, kind society for all.

Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan (1918 – 2004) was an important leader in the Middle East.  A member of the traditional ruling family of Abu Dhabi, he held various government positions until 1966.  At this time the previous ruler was deposed in a bloodless coup, and Sheikh Zayed assumed rulership of Abu Dhabi, with a goal to develop the country.  He was instrumental in the founding of the United Arab Emirates, and was chosen as their first president.  He was re-elected at five-year intervals for the next 30 years.  Sheikh Zayed is recognized for his comparatively liberal policies and for his charitable work, including establishing the Abu Dhabi Fund for Arab Economic Development, channeling money to forty Arab nations in need in Asia and Africa.

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