Middle East’s richest philanthropists driven by faith: report

Some 63 per cent of the region’s high-net-worth individuals cite religion as the most important influence on their giving

Faith is the biggest driver of philanthropy among the Middle East’s wealthiest individuals, according to new research from Paris-based bank BNP Paribas.

Some 63 per cent of the region’s high-net-worth individuals (HNWI) – people with at least $5m in assets – cited religion as the most important influence on their giving, the firm said in a report.

Among Asia’s super-rich, the top motivation for philanthropy is the desire to give back to society. European respondents named family legacy, altruistic desire and a sense of duty as their primary motivations.

“As a person of the Muslim faith, I tend to adhere to principles of zakat,” Saudi Arabia’s Sheikh Mohammed Al Moudi told the report.

The Individual Philanthropy Index polled 300 HNWIs in Europe, Asia and the Middle East to measure and compare the commitment of philanthropists in the three regions. The survey, carried out between January and March 2013, ranked philanthropists on their giving, their promotion of charitable causes, and the impact of their spending.

Europe led the field, with a score of 51.2 out of 100, followed by Asia and the Middle East, with scores of 50.3 and 33.2 respectively.

“While the lower score in the Middle East presents an apparent paradox in light of the Islamic imperative towards charitable giving, this might be partly explained by the religious injunction to be discreet about one’s giving,” the report noted.

This trend is less obvious among the region’s wealthiest individuals. Some 43 per cent of the Middle East’s richest billionaires oversee their own charitable foundations and are active in publicising their charitable giving. Mohammed Al Rajhi of Saudi Arabia, for example, has announced he plans to donate most of his $7.7bn fortune to charity. Emirati billionaire Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair has spoken of encouraging widespread philanthropic activity in the UAE.

“This discrepancy… shows that openness about charitable giving may increase in tandem with the size of a fortune,” the report said.

Regional differences can also be seen in the choice of causes. The majority of respondents from the Middle East said their main focus was social change, supported by investments in areas such as education and gender equality. Wealthy individuals in Europe and Asia both favoured charitable investments in health and the environment, followed by heritage and social change.