National pride: an opportunity

Fostering a culture of giving in the UAE, a country defined by its generous welfare state, is a challenge. The answer lies in tapping Emirati national pride

At its core, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – my home – has always prided itself on a ‘people come first’ attitude.

Very little, if anything, happens in the UAE without the welfare of its citizens being taken into consideration first. No expense is spared. Emiratis benefit from social services such as housing, education, healthcare and the like. They also have access to opportunities for growth and employment through higher education and industry training programmes.

But how do you build a culture of giving in a country where the citizenry has become so accustomed to receiving? Given the UAE has been identified by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) as the world’s largest donor of development aid, relative to its national income, you may also wonder why this culture of philanthropy has not already trickled down to the people.

"How do you build a culture of giving in a country where the citizenry has become so accustomed to receiving?"A survey conducted by Abu Dhabi’s Al Bayt Mitwahid Association among Emiratis aged between 16-24 may hold part of the answer. It showed that only 25 per cent of these young Emiratis rated ‘civic or social responsibility’ as one of their top three values.

These results are not ideal if we are really trying to develop a sense of social responsibility among citizens, especially our youth.

What these results tell me is that there might be an inherent belief in our community that, no matter how big or small a problem is, there must be some entity, foundation, or charity set up by the government to take care of it. The challenge we have is to change this belief and engage people in their civic duty.

There have been several philanthropic initiatives across the UAE that have done phenomenal work in engaging youth. A few that stand out to me are the Emirates Foundation’s Takatof Volunteering Programme, Dubai Cares and Noor Dubai. However, even these entities have relied heavily on government support to get things started and citizens still play a reactive role.

That said, pockets of youth are starting to take social responsibility into their own hands, playing a proactive role in supporting our government and its projects on the ground. One such example is team1971, a nonprofit organisation set up by a group of Emirati youth, headed by the young entrepreneur and philanthropist Khalifa Bin Hendi.

Team1971, with support from local initiatives like Social Bandage, has been responsible for several philanthropic projects across the UAE, including Ramadan food drives, bike giveaways to labourers, campaigns to bring neighbours and communities closer together, and humanitarian walks to raise awareness.

What is refreshing about team1971 is that it is something built from the ground up by a group of young, passionate Emiratis who wanted to play a greater role in bringing positive change and development to their country. Their work could be a catalyst in driving a larger number of Emirati citizens to place a higher value on civic responsibility.

"If we can redefine what it means to be successful in our society, we will shift mindsets"The government can also play a greater role in spreading the culture of social responsibility among its people by placing groups such as team1971 on a pedestal, supporting their movements, and making champions of them. This will show citizens and residents alike that the people who give back to their community are our true leaders. It could redefine what it means to be a leader in our country today.

Definitions of leadership in the Arab world traditionally come with big budgets and fancy titles, leading many to prioritise individual wealth, business and seniority in their place of work before giving back. Even when MasterCard undertook a survey of how affluent people in Asia, the Middle East and Africa defined success, the people of the UAE saw it as ‘a way to fuel a lifestyle of luxury and enjoyment’. For philanthropy to become a priority, this view has to change.

When it comes to what makes Emiratis happiest it is a sense of national pride. Indeed, national pride was the number one ranked value among Emirati youth. We are proud of our country and will do anything to support its wider strategy and its leadership. We want our leadership to know we love our country, just as much as they love us.

Therefore, if someone were to ask me how we can develop a more engaged, hard working and socially responsible youth in the UAE, my only suggestion would be to have the leadership and government communicate very clearly that civic responsibility is the ultimate showcase of our national pride. If we can redefine what it means to be successful in our society, we will shift mindsets. And we can build a social environment that wants to give back, before it receives.

About the writer

Khalid Al Ameri is a social columnist for UAE newspapers The Gulf Today and The National, as well as a motivational speaker and youth coach.