Emirates Foundation and the role of Philanthropy for supporting youth across the UAE

Interview to Mrs. Clare Woodcraft, CEO of the Emirates Foundation

Emirates Foundation and the role of Philanthropy for supporting youth across the UAE

Emirates Foundation is an independent philanthropic organisation set up by the Government of Abu Dhabi to facilitate public-private funded initiatives to improve the welfare of youth across the UAE.


Emirates Foundation is the vision of H.H. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of UAE Armed Forces and is a tribute to the philanthropic legacy of H.H. the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan. At the Study Centre on Strategic Philanthropy we are always very interested in discovering the peculiarities of the foundation landscape in every country. Which are the characteristics of the philanthropic sector in the UAE?

As CEO of the Emirates Foundation and also in my capacity as Chair of the Board of the Arab Foundations Forum, a regional network of foundations, I am fortunate enough to engage both here in the UAE but also in the region. In both we see a growing maturation of the philanthropic sector: on one hand there is still growth in the number of traditional grant making foundations. These might be family office foundations or semi-government entities or corporate foundations and may deploy more traditional models of short term multi-sector grant making.

However, we are also seeing very interesting growth in the philosophy, ideas and model of venture philanthropy – the idea of combining business models and commercial acumen with the quest for social impact. Equally, the region’s youth are showing strong appetite for the model of social enterprise and the idea that young people can create business based solutions to entrenched social issues. This is particularly powerful when you consider that the youth population is growing fast and statistics show that more than half of the Arab world is under the age of 25. They are entering the market with an entrepreneurial approach and spirit and see the construct of a social enterprise as the best way to deliver on their aspirations. The sector is perhaps not yet as mature as the USA or the UK in terms of the enterprise ecosystem but we are seeing rapid growth in this area.

A big challenge in the region is getting good data on the sector and getting a better understanding of the total amount of philanthropic capital. Unfortunately it’s very difficult at the moment to get any significant number or data about the value of the philanthropic sector, but we know that philanthropy is a growing capital market and more and more family offices are looking to channel philanthropic capital into endowments in order to deliver a socio-economic as well as a commercial legacy.


The Foundation was remodelled to address Youth Development in the UAE in 2011, which you consider one of the most pressing development challenges of the time. Which was the strategic process that drove you to choose Youth Development as main topic of intervention?

Until six years ago we covered multiple sectors at the Foundation, ranging from arts and culture to science and technology, education more broadly, social inclusion and various others. But following a strategic review of our work we realized that we could generate more impact and more added value across by focusing on one area and one area only. We underwent a fairly radical transition, concentrating our forces on youth development. We identified this as a critical area in terms of socio-economic development, not just in the UAE but beyond. With the advent of the digital age and traditional labor market structures in freefall, never before have youth needed support and guidance on how to thrive both personally and professionally. We know that the region more broadly suffers from one of the highest rates of youth unemployment globally and given the size of the youth population, clearly being able to provide this segment strategic guidance on how to make the right decisions for their future, is very important.

Like any other country, the challenge for the UAE is to develop both the traditional education sector while also ensuring that youth have the opportunity to constantly upgrade their professional skills and experience in line with market needs. At Emirates Foundation, in order to support youth in this area, we have identified specific areas where we feel more needs to be done. This has resulted in the creation of six tailor-made programmes for the youth that we are now scaling up. These comprise:

  1. Takatof: Takatof offers the nation’s youth meaningful opportunities to volunteer for important social causes. It connects them with relevant volunteer opportunities and encourages public service. Takatof youth are ambassadors of our nation representing a culture of support and the strength of our society’s core values.
  2. Sanid: Sanid is a robust volunteer emergency response programme; uniting volunteers motivated by a sense of civic responsibility & training them to cope with crises. Sanid reinforces the national emergency response through emergencies; and equips youth with the skills to safeguard their fellow citizens.
  3. Kafa’at: Kafa’at delivers career development projects to inspire and empower young nationals. It creates programs to develop in-roads to employment in the private sector. Kafa’at helps Emirati youth to pursue career opportunities through cooperation with multiple stakeholders in corporate and academic institutions.
  4. Think Science: Think Science empowers Emirati Youth to innovate in science. It is a platform for youth and industries to connect & develop local talent. Young ambassadors for science and industry are encouraged to solve global issues. Think Science nurtures youth interested in innovating in all fields of science.
  5. Esref Sah: The Esref Sah programme educates our youth on ways to manage their current and future financial and asset base. It encourages better management of debt and provides learning opportunities on how to create a positive relationship with their finances. The programme will grow to become a nation-wide financial curriculum.
  6. Kayani: It aims to train young Emiratis who haven’t completed their higher studies and are consequently unemployed, and empower them to work as teacher assistants in public schools.


As part of the European Venture Philanthropy Association we are very glad to see that you are using this approach to philanthropy. Can you explain us in which way are you addressing the social sector with a venture philanthropy approach?

Venture Philanthropy is the way in which we work, delivering social impact in a way that is entrepreneurial and market based. Like Venture Capitalists, we can take risks and deploy philanthropic capital to create scalable and sustainable solutions to challenges facing youth. Each of our programs is run essentially as a social enterprise, with a long-term business plan, revenue targets and a clear value proposition for its target beneficiaries. We aim to be develop financially viable programs that can cover their costs and generate revenues so that over time, they become financially viable and create economies of scale. This new model has made it easier for us to measure our output, to be held accountable for delivery and also to assess our cost effectiveness – essentially to deploy the same principles of performance that a commercial organization would. In turn we believe this allows us to be able to create social-economic value at scale, much more effectively than with our earlier traditional multi-sector grant making model.


Ensuring long-term sustainable developmental outcomes that are tangible and measurable it’s one of your goals. How do you measure the social impact of your projects/actions?

Since 2011 we have taken multiple steps to better define the output of the organization as a whole. While our historical model make it difficult to track or measure our aggregate output – because we were working in so many different areas and on a short-term basis – with our new found focus we are able to measure comprehensively the value that we are delivering and assess our cost effectiveness. We do this by looking at the output of each program and the feedback from the beneficiaries – do they see value in our products and services. Since we are focused on youth, we can compare programs and really get a better understanding of the system needs of our sector – youth. In this way we can measure not just the single individual output of the program but also the aggregate outcomes of our work at an organizational level. This is hugely important in terms of being able to articulate our value proposition to our board, our funding partners and our broader stakeholder base.

Specifically, we have defined a core set of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), trying to keep this focused on easy to understand and track. We now have around 40 core KPIs but would like to reduce this number further and ensure that we simplify our measurement process. This in turn, is important in terms of developing and re-developing our programs. By looking at the outcomes of our programs we can assess where they can be improved and where their impact can be enhanced. This process is a constant one that essentially equates to institutional learning. When coupled with market data (such as the Youth Index that we are running this year), it becomes a key tool for maximizing impact and performance.

Our benchmark in this respect will always be the private sector or at least entrepreneurial organizations. We want to be able to deploy commercial acumen and mindsets to create additional value. It’s always difficult to track social impact and notably long term systemic output because you need high quality data and long-term thinking to assess real impact. It’s a learning curve but what’s important for us now is that we are able to have these conversations, our data is getting better and better year on year and our ability to use it as a way of continually improving our programs is becoming more and more entrenched in our mindset and culture. And this is what we believe will allow us, over time, to deliver real systemic change for youth.


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