The British Museum in London formed an inspiring venue for the eighth convening of the Global Donors Forum, from September 10 to 12, 2018. Having been present at the founding conference ten years ago, I was heartened to see how far this gathering of Muslim philanthropists with experts and partners has developed. Much of the credit goes to Dr. Tariq Cheema, whose unswerving vision for advancing Muslim giving led to the 2008 founding of the World Congress of Muslim Philanthropists (WCMP). While that first conference was mainly an opportunity to discover the diversity and richness of Muslim giving around the world, by 2018 the Global Donors Forum has ‘come of age’. Its guiding philosophy is to promote giving that advances social justice for all, irrespective of ethnicity, gender or religious belief. Each session in London addressed that vision with an important theme and thoughtfully chosen speakers.
There was no lack of honesty in pointing to problem areas in the institutions or practices that drive giving within Muslim communities. Individuals still tend to believe, as one interpretation of their faith that their responsibility ends with giving a donation. Several speakers underscored the shift toward following up on impact, which will greatly augment the power and effectiveness of individual giving among the world’s estimated 1.6 billion Muslims. Transparency also has a special set of issues, because Muslims are often taught that giving anonymously is better for the recipient. This emphasis on preserving the dignity of beneficiaries does not have to be sacrificed; there was a lively discussion of ways to preserve that while being more open about finances and operational practices in Muslim philanthropies.
Sessions of the conference also focused on place-specific communities and their giving. The setting in London enabled the participation of a wide array of Muslim philanthropy leaders from across the UK. They addressed the challenges of disaffected youth, intergenerational tensions among Muslim migrants, and the European-wide retreat from open borders and multicultural values. This sparked a vibrant discussion on how Muslim organizations can build partnerships with like-minded groups in other faith communities and with secular rights-based foundations.
Highlights of the conference for many were the sessions on how technology is transforming giving in Muslim communities. In the Arab region, digital programs are opening job opportunities for isolated youth in Gaza, as well as enabling crowd-funding platforms to bring more children into formal education. The promise of blockchain technologies to make grants more transparent created enthusiasm, along with some caveats about assuring inclusion, such as the question “who designs the algorithms?”.
I was pleased to represent WINGS with a plenary talk about the challenges currently facing cross-border giving. More than 97 countries have passed recent legislation creating barriers to the flow of philanthropic capital either within or between countries. The session discussed a number of practical ways that philanthropy support organizations like WCMPcan augment the voice of the philanthropy sector in easing some of these restrictions.
Participants left the Global Donors Forum invigorated by the ideas and advances that are emerging from Japan to South Africa to Saudi Arabia. I was particularly impressed by a younger generation of committed Muslims working in both non-profit and social entrepreneurial spaces. GDF provides a unique venue for this bright panoply of actors to come together, exchange experience, and help raise the bar for Muslim philanthropy.
Barbara Ibrahim is the founding director of the John D. Gerhart Center for Philanthropy and Civic Engagement at
The American University in Cairo