Life lessons: Omar Al-Qattan

Philanthropists and industry insiders share their advice on intelligent giving, and the experience they’ve gained along the way

Omar Al-Qattan is chairman of AM Qattan Foundation, a London-based family foundation set up in 1993. The organisation is dedicated to the educational and cultural development of children. Previously a filmmaker, he is also chair of the Shubbak Festival of Contemporary Arab Culture in London and chair of the Palestinian Museum. Here, he shares some advice on intelligent giving:

Know the human and financial limits of your capacity as a foundation. Set realistic goals about what you can do, and what resources you can muster, and then act.

"Identify experts to help you and have the humility to invest in their talents"Don’t reinvent the wheel, or blindly follow trends. Try and focus on a specific area that doesn’t duplicate or compete for resources with others. Most of all, the idea must be coherent, strong and relevant.

Identify experts to help you and have the humility to invest in their talents. Wealthy people tend to have big egos. Being successful or well educated doesn’t mean you’re best placed to lead every project.

Effective ideas can come from unexpected quarters. In 1998, I wanted to launch a cultural programme and my father was wise enough to let me try for a year. At that time, culture was seen as a luxury. But it was so successful in providing education in the widest sense that it became one of the foundation's main interventions.

Gauging success is complex. There are things you can measure – such as the number of children reached, or how money is spent – but long-term transformative change is subjective and takes time to materialise. Have the sophistication to acknowledge both elements in your work.

The moments when you see the fruit of your labours make you incredibly proud. I recently visited our children’s cultural centre in Gaza, where up to 1,000 children a day can access a library, theatre, IT lab, and an arts and crafts lab. It’s an oasis in a bleak place.