GCC donors need more innovative ways to give

Gates Foundation’s Rob Rosen says nonprofits must create more funding channels for philanthropists

Donors in the GCC need a wider range of vehicles through which to engage with causes and disburse funds in a strategic, impactful manner, according to a leading figure at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s largest private philanthropic organisation.

Robert Rosen, director of Philanthropic Partnerships at the Gates Foundation, highlighted the Lives and Livelihoods Fund (LLF), a partnership between the foundation and the Jeddah-based Islamic Development Bank, as an innovative “step-change” towards a more mature marketplace. However, he warned, giving can still be a “lonely space” for philanthropists who can’t find effective channels for their donations.

“We need new models that really allow donors to engage in a highly leveraged and highly strategic way,” he said. “The LLF is an example of this, but still one of the major challenges facing philanthropists today is that this marketplace is different from the investment marketplace. You don’t get the same market signals and feedback as to how you can deploy your resources to get the impact that you need.

“If I had a large pot of money and I wanted to invest it for a return, there’s a massive industry that offers products and services that will help me do that with confidence,” he continued. “If I had an equivalent pot of money that I wanted to ensure was given with great impact, ordinarily I would have to navigate that myself.”

The LLF is a $2.5bn joint project to reduce poverty and disease in 30 Muslim states. It uses a blend of loans and grant funding to unlock cheap finance in developing nations, and over the next five years will lend up to $2bn for projects in health, agriculture and infrastructure. Geneva-based Gavi, the world’s biggest funder of vaccines for developing nations, has said it is in early talks with the IDB to use the same blueprint to boost its activities in lower-income Muslim countries.

Rosen said he expected the Gulf region to offer new alternatives to conventional donation models – and provide leadership in the giving space in the future.

“There’s a space and a need for innovations from this region,” he said. “This is a sector that is ripe for rapid innovation and given the richness of the traditions of generosity, impact and compassion that we see in this region, there’s no question there’ll be a number of important contributions.

“The potential is also high for the next gamechanger to emerge from the Gulf region,” he added. “We are having fantastic conversations with members of families that are on that precipice of being extraordinary givers. The intellectual and emotional commitment is there.”