The Growth of Institutional Philanthropy in the United Arab Emirates

Author: Paula D. Johnson (Harvard Kennedy School), Taufiq Rahim (Globesight) | 01 Apr 2018

This study was undertaken jointly by researchers at the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the Harvard Kennedy School and Globesight, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Key Insights

  • UAE is a pioneer in the Gulf region in building a modern philanthropic sector
  • Over the past 15 years, there has been a marked growth in institutional, organized philanthropy
  • Institutional philanthropy in the UAE is influenced by several key factors including:
    • long-standing religious beliefs and traditions
    • strong leadership from the ruling families acting in both private and public capacities to encourage private giving and establish the UAE as a global hub of humanitarian aid; and
    • the Emirates’ continued economic development and wealth creation
  • There are currently over 40 formal foundations in the UAE, with almost half of these institutions established since 2006
  • Some of the most salient trends include:
    • increased global collaboration and engagement;
    • a diversification of approaches to practicing philanthropy;
    • involvement of the next generation;
    • participation of family businesses in social investments;
    • and growing use of evaluation and assessment to shape programs
  • Overall, philanthropic leaders and experts have great expectations for the continued growth of a vibrant, engaged, and globally active philanthropic sector

Focus Areas

the principal priorities include education (14 foundations); health (12); art, culture, and historic preservation (10); religion (7); and charity to the poor (7).


The study team conducted over twenty-five interviews with founders and leaders of philanthropic foundations and sector experts to better understand the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) philanthropic ecosystem and individual organizations operating within it. We would like to thank and acknowledge these individuals, whose participation and insights made this study possible.

Additionally, we would like to extend our gratitude to the government officials and private sector experts who shared invaluable insights on the practice of philanthropy in the UAE.