Maroun Semaan’s record-breaking donation to the University of Beirut is meant to shape the next generation of leaders. The prominent businessman and educational philanthropist left as his legacy a better future for us all.
Inflation, salaries, property maintenance, upgrades, introducing new curricula, let’s be honest, running an institute of higher education is very expensive. You can turn to tuition fees and alumni associations, revenues from intellectual properties and, if you have a healthcare arm, hospitalizations. But tuition can only be raised so high before it becomes counterproductive, alumni associations aren’t major earners and even the most successful hospitals make less money than they did in the past. Elsewhere, the State plays a role, but in Lebanon, a country where education is big business and government aid is a chimera, what’s a university to do? The traditional answer, both in Lebanon and abroad, has been to appeal to benefactors, whether former alumni or socially minded philanthropists, who are prepared to fund the education of future generations. Still, donations, even large donations, only go so far. Explaining that one of the best business adages is that 'the best customer is a repeat customer', Dr. Fadlo Khuri, President of the American University of Beirut lays out his vision for turning one-off donors into investors whose aim extends beyond simply helping. “What drives good philanthropy is believing that you are making a difference by investing in something larger, to achieve something that you couldn’t do on your own,” he explains, as our conversation turns towards the late Maroun Semaan, who earlier this year, made the single largest donation that AUB has received in its entire 151-