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National Fund to support Emiratis raises hundreds of millions of dirhams

ABU DHABI // A private philanthropic fund set up to support Emiratis in education, their careers, and encourage entrepreneurship has raised hundreds of millions of dirhams in its first year.

Initiated in April by a group of Emirati businessmen, Sandooq Al Watan, or National Fund, aims to develop the economy by supporting social entrepreneurship, providing Emiratis with career guidance, identifying and developing talent and funding research and development.

“This idea, which came from the private sector and is led and being implemented by it, was realised because a group of businessmen wanted to give back to the country,” said Mohamed Al Qadhi, the fund’s general manager.

One of its goals is to provide about 10,000 young Emiratis with career guidance from middle school to employment by means of training programmes, internships and help with university applications.

“If you look at current efforts there isn’t one that covers students throughout. We will integrate all these separate parts together ” he said.

The government’s Emiratisation goals need students to be guided towards the private sector, something the fund could easily facilitate.

“What we bring to the table is access to the private sector and its experiences, which are very different for the government sector,” Mr Al Qadhi said.

Raising awareness among Emiratis about the work environment and the potential for learning in private companies is key.

“I went to the private sector when I first graduated and took a salary that was a fourth of what was offered from the government and it was the best decision I ever made.

“If I had not done that I wouldn’t be standing here as chief executive of a company.”

Exposing companies to the pool of young, talented and driven Emiratis is necessary to disprove some misconceptions employers may have.

The fund aims to identify 4,000 to 7,000 gifted Emiratis and provide 500 to 1,000 of them with advanced programmes – such as work experience with companies and summer and winter courses – to hone their talents.

Another gap the fund intends to fill is paying for research and development, for which Dh10 million to Dh25 million has been earmarked over the next three years.

“With less than 1 per cent of our GDP being spent on applied R&D, more is needed and it is the private sector’s responsibility to contribute in this department,” Mr Al Qadhi said.

The fund would achieve this by helping universities and innovators create new products, services and intellectual property while seeing the projects through the development and launch stages.

Another goal is to support 10 to 30 social enterprises with an ambitious goal of making half of those sustainable within three years.

“This is a big ask for social enterprises but we will support them from the get-go of coming up with the idea and locating investors, all the way to launching and finding customers.”

Mr Al Qadhi said Sandooq Al Watan’s small team of five, soon to be six with the inclusion of his assistant, could solely focus on implementing the initiative’s programme without having to worry about fundraising because of the influential figures who make up the board (see box).

“I feel lucky to be working with a board with such prominent members, which attracts funders without us needing to focus on it,” he said.

The fund’s biggest contributor to date is Emaar Properties, which has committed 2 per cent of its annual profit, which Mr Al Qadhi said was in the range of Dh85 million to Dh90 million per year over the next three years.

Other major contributors include Aldar Properties – to the tune of Dh48 million – Al Waha Capital and Sultanco.

“When we speak with companies they are all willing to contribute in some way,” he said.

This includes PR, legal, and strategy companies providing their services free.

Mr Al Qadhi said despite a concerted effort by the Government to develop Emirati human capital, the inclusion of the private sector was essential.

“With the Government’s high aspirations for the economy there has to be a collaborative effort between government, NGOs and the private sector,” he said.

With the announcement that next year will be the Year of Giving, Mr Al Qadhi said the environment was ripe for Sandooq Al Watan.

Mohamed Al Abbar, chairman, Emaar Properties, said the private sector always played a crucial role in the development and prosperity of the UAE.

“We at Emaar believe in the importance of giving back to this great nation and we are confident that Sandooq Al Watan will play a key role in achieving national aspirations”.

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The National