Venture Philanthropy Mobilizing Private Capital for Public Good

By Medilyn Manibo - Responsible Business – Dubai


From a grant-giving model to a social investment plan, Emirates Foundation is opening a new chapter in its book, and could be paving the way for a new model of philanthropy in the UAE and the Middle East. Already unique from its inception, the foundation was established in 2005 by the government as a platform for private enterprises to implement their initiatives for the local community.

Seven years on, the Foundation’s CEO, Clare Woodcraft shares with Responsible Business how venture philanthropy is taking the organization into a new and more focused direction – that is, of youth development. This article also reveals how the business concept of venture capitalism is being applied as a method to achieve a social outcome or public good, taking off from similar principles adopted by social entrepreneurship and impact investing.


In 2012, Emirates Foundation underwent a major transition - from a grant-making model to in-house social investment or venture philanthropy. At the same time, it also shifted from a multi-sector focus to a prime focus on youth development and was subsequently renamed the emirates for youth development. renamed as Emirates Youth Foundation (EYF).


Established through a Presidential decree, the Emirates Foundation is owned by the government of Abu Dhabi. However, it is considered as an independent corporate body authorized to receive donations from international and local organizations and individuals. Early in its formation, it already was looking at partnerships between public and private sectors to look into competencies in education, R&D, arts and culture, and social and environmental causes.


Responsible Business met with Clare Woodcraft, the Foundation’s CEO, and discussed this new model of philanthropy.


Where does EYF situate itself in the whole CSR spectrum?

 The way I see it, our value proposition is that, if you are a private sector company and you are operating in the UAE and you want to engage in the community, Emirates Foundation gives you the platform to do that. We’re kind of a one-stop shop if you like. In many cases, if companies don’t have their own well-established CSR program, or sometimes they have limited in-house team, what we do is provide a substitute for that essentially and become a partner of the business such that they invest in our programs rather than going for their own portfolio.

 The core program we have now in our portfolio is focused on youth development, and we’ve divided that into three areas; social inclusion, which involves challenges young people face, community involvement which basically means volunteering, and leadership and empowerment, basically looking at how young people can be connected with business, how they can find jobs in the private sector, how we can support them at career counseling, and how we can create a stronger link between local talent and business needs.


When was there a demand for the shift?

 The board took a decision in 2011 to review the work of the foundation and as part of that lengthy, quite comprehensive review, they concluded that they need to be more focused and have greater impact and that was essentially when the decision was taken.


Can you explain more about venture philanthropy?

 Venture philanthropy is something that emerged out of the United States, from venture capitalists who were interested in creating a social value, but wanted to do it in a way that is more efficient and impactful than traditional philanthropy. The concept has been around for sometime but it is not well known in the Middle East at all. Essentially what venture philanthropy says is like a venture capitalist, you need to find a solution - a product or a service to a social issue that is scalable and can generate a measureable outcome.

 But you do that by taking an idea, incubating it, piloting it, scaling it up and spinning it off. Just like a venture capitalist come in and invest in an early stage enterprise and then move to the evolution of the enterprise as and when it develops its products and services.  Venture philanthropy basically says the same thing. So what it means is that you cannot do short-term. I personally don’t believe social economic development can be done short-term. So with venture philanthropy, you have to take a long term horizon.

So we are saying, what is the fundamental solution that is going to resolve this social issue, really if it’s going to be youth development, it’s going to take five, ten, fifteen, twenty years. So it’s very different from a traditional grant-making model where you issue a financial disbursement for one or two years for an individual or an institution. It’s taking a long-term business-based perspective, with clear core targets, clear KPIs.

 It is very similar to social entrepreneurship in a way, taking the same principles, so it is saying let’s take business-based principles or enterprise-based principles to addressing social issues. I certainly feel that in a way, it is a response to the failure of traditional social investment, traditional philanthropy, traditional CSR, where you often have this ‘spray and pray’ methodology where large amounts of money are disbursed in various institutions or organizations, where there isn’t necessarily a lot of attention paid to absorption capacity or outcomes.

 It’s really changing the mindset of philanthropists in the same way that social enterprise does to say that traditional models of philanthropy were not good enough. They weren’t efficient enough. Too much money was often wasted. There wasn’t enough focus on monitoring and evaluation. Too much focus on how much went in and not on how much came out on the other side.

 When you are in a global environment where philanthropic capitalists are growing quite significantly, you really have to make sure that whatever you are spending generates a return, either socio economic tangible results or as you see in social impact investing, or even social enterprise, even a financial return.


For corporate partners, how do they view the changes?

 Most of our corporate partners by definition are businesses, so they very much appreciate the shift and us saying we’re going to be more accountable, we’re going to monitor our results more, dramatically we’re going to share our results systematically, we’re going to be very much focused on targeting our core KPIs, and delivering a measureable outcome. So most of this extremely resonates with them, likewise the focus – with youth development, we’re very much excited because we think it’s much clearer.


Do they have a say in terms of the directions of the programs?

 Yes, well we have a quarterly business breakfast platform where we invite the business sector to come and join us and we essentially present our pitch to them, are there issues? Are there issues that relate to youth development or to talent development that affects your company? Raise this to us and we can give you a platform to discuss them.

 But our program is fundamentally built on what we are seeing – the needs of this economy – and what we hear when we visit our corporate partners and they talk about the need for more talent, the need to hire more Emirati talent, sometimes the disconnect between the academic skills that are produced in the market, that this is actually what they need, the lack of technology skills. So we listen to our corporate partners very closely and build our programs on the basis of what we are hearing from them but also looking at the complementarities of the government’s developmental plans. Philanthropy cannot happen in a vacuum. It has to be a response, to fill the gap, between the government and private sector. It has to be built on a robust promise.

 We have six core programs and we invite private sector to engage in those programs. On the one hand, we invite them for funding, on the other hand, we invite them to provide inputs for programs, ideas, how we develop those programs to engage them and their employees. We are essentially building a pool of Emirati talents and give the private sector access to those talents, we might ask them to host young Emaratis to provide internship. It’s beyond the money, it’s really about engaging the private sector.


Why the youth?

 We believe that the engagement and guidance for young people in the UAE – that is critical for the nation. Young people need to be engaged. When they’re not engage, when they don’t have guidance, that’s when you end up with delinquency. We chose that because we support socio-economic development in the UAE. It also helps the private sector and helps business.


Is it exclusively for Emaratis?


No, the core of our programs needs to be inclusive. Being Emirates Foundation, we do tend to be focused on Emiratis, but anybody can join our program, as long as they’re within our newly defined age group between 15-35. As long as they’re within the age group, then they can sign up as volunteer.


What is the role of EYF in volunteerism? Are you the ones deploying them for particular programs?


Of our six programs, two are based on volunteerism. We have built these programs which we would like to see evolve into social enterprises. They are small enterprises that engage young people and they have databases of young people, and call centres. They track and communicate regularly and they’re growing the number of registered volunteers. So we go out and recruit volunteers, sign them up to our programs, regularly stay in touch with them, and measure their number of hours delivered.

 We find opportunities for them. We are now looking to scale up to the whole of UAE, not just only in Abu Dhabi. Some people and companies come to us and ask for volunteers. What we are looking at is how volunteering can help young people build a career, build their skills set, develop their confidence, and develop their leadership skills. It is very much focused on youth.


What is the foundation’s financial literacy program?


Financial literacy is one that we are incubating at the moment and looking to develop into a national financial literacy program. What we’ve done basically today is we’ve had two-three workshops with very different organizations interested in financial literacy in the UAE and now we’re now trying to ensure that we don’t duplicate or replicate what others are doing. We’re trying to now build a platform to bring them all together and use and share the content from each of those programs. The value of the Emirates Foundation is to have a national platform. We are still incubating the program, and it will be launched next year.


In the past, was there a monitoring of the initiatives?


It was at the program level, we didn’t have that organization-wide evaluation system. We do now, with dedicated members just focused on monitoring and evaluation of the six core programs. We are developing specific KPIs for each of the core programs and then aggregating them essentially into a corporate scorecard, so at the end of every year, we will have a one-page summary of whether we met our target or not.

 We are now finalizing KPIs for each of our programs and defining targets for 2013. This is the first year where we are defining our annual targets, so we will have limited results this year from the projects that we have started but our proper benchmarking year would come at the end of 2013.


What about sustainability? Everybody seems to be concerned about the environment. How does EYF see this?


To me sustainability is an evolution of CSR. I think as economies mature, as companies and institutions mature, they stop doing CSR, which to me often ends up as an adjunct to their operations, they develop and integrate a sustainability agenda. So they don’t just look at community programs driven by their communications department, they look at their supply chains, their marketing, their employees, they look at the company wholistically and ensure that they are reducing negative externalities, reducing risk, be it environmental, governance, rights-based approach. If you go to more mature markets already, they don’t talk about CSR anymore, they talk about responsible businesses and a corporate sustainability agenda.

Well I think, when you do philanthropy by definition, you are getting involved in sustainability, much more than in a commercial operation. Our very essence is about sustainability. Trying to make a social value by filling the gap that the private sector don’t meet.


Do foundations tend to have competition?

 The interesting thing about being in the philanthropic sector is you have a duty to collaborate. I say this a lot to the companies we work with. If you are creating a social value, you are creating what economists call “the public good”, and public good is never delivered through competition. A public good is like clean water or clean air. It is something that everybody benefits from, so win-win scenario if you like. So what we’re doing, if you are a philanthropic entity, if you are trying to create a public good, by definition you can’t compete, because if you are competing, you’ll be trying to undermine each other. The very essence of social value is that it should be at scale and sustainable. So really, it is something that organizations have to come together and work and we feel that in our partners.


Where do you see Emirates Foundation in five years?


Youth development would have to take decades to have something measurable and tangible value. By then, we will have annual KPIs which would then increase year-on-year. The number of young people we’ve impacted positively and permanently would increase. And we’re planning to really have impacted scale.