EDUCATION CAN’T WAIT
OVER THE LAST DECADE, DUBAI CARES CEO, TARIQ AL GURG HAS TRANSFORMED THE ORGANISATION FROM ONE THAT SIMPLY SIGNED CHEQUES INTO A MAJOR GLOBAL NGO THAT HELPS COUNTRIES MAKE SURE THEIR CHILDREN AREN’T LEFT BEHIND
WHEN TARIQ AL GURG JOINED DUBAI CARES IN 2009, THE ORGANISATION only had three departments. “His department didn’t exist,” he says, pointing to a corporate communications manager sitting across from us. “All we had were programmes, campaigns, and back-office support. But this organisation needed to work like a business, with a marketing and communications department, a fundraising function... it needed to be sustainable, and people needed to know why it existed.”
Tied since its inception in 2007 to the Millennium Development Goals agreed upon by the world in 2000 – to help alleviate a global education imbalance, promote gender equality in education, and get governments, donors agencies, UN agencies, and third party providers working closer together – Dubai Cares is bridging an essential gap, especially for a country in the Arab world.
“Often we’re the only foundation from the Middle East at an event where the world’s largest donor agencies are pitching their services to us. And it’s all because we have demonstrable results that prove we are able to make a difference.”
However, the path to becoming an organisation of its kind, a foundation that works across all areas of global educational development, is one that required a concentrated focus, as he explains.
How did the Dubai Cares story begin?
It was sometime near the end of 2006 that Sheikh Mohammed [Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai] began an eight-week fundraising drive, calling on the UAE community to contribute to a cause close to his heart. At the time he hadn’t mentioned what that was but high net worth individuals, along with public and private sector entities, contributed $480m to the drive. Then, at an unveiling event, Sheikh Mohammed spoke about the global need to make an impact, and announced that the money raised would go to an organisation called Dubai Cares. This new body would work to break the cycle of poverty by imparting quality education to children in the developing world. And in what was a complete surprise he doubled the $480m raised with the same amount of his own. So Dubai Cares began with a remarkable startup capital of $960m.
And you joined two years later in 2009?
Yes. Dubai Cares officially took root in September 2007. The first six months involved simply setting up the organisation with another six months spent studying how the organisation could go about its mission and seeing which countries needed the most help. The next year it bought into programmatic interventions in various countries. I joined in 2009 to help the organisation’s work in those countries earmarked for aid, but, more importantly, to make Dubai Cares a sustainable organisation that could continue to deliver impact.
How did you go about doing that?
When I joined Dubai Cares it had made a good start but it wasn’t working behind the scenes. There hadn’t been any announcements about the activities it was undertaking, even though it was active in 14 countries. Also, at the rate that the organisation was disbursing funds in three- to five-year programmes, it would have depleted its startup capital rapidly and left it with no plan for the future. So an integrated approach and a new model to operate sustainably was needed, to transform from a donor agency that just signed cheques. It needed to spread awareness about the organisation and raise additional funds, but, crucially, to understand how the disbursements were being utilised, and if there was progress in the initiatives. So we embarked on a journey to understand the fundamentals of the challenges impacting global education, how UN agencies and other stakeholders worked, and simultaneously built our own capabilities as an organisation internally and in terms of outreach.
As a former banker, how does measuring impact at Dubai Cares compare from your days in finance?
Return on investment (RoI) is something both companies and charity foundations have in common-year career at National Bank of Dubai (now Emirates NBD), I looked at it as a business. The difference at a company, however, is that RoI is measured in terms of money. As a ‘reformed banker’ at a foundation, I now measure it in terms of people. At Dubai Cares the RoI is the number of children educated. In 2017, and that number will grow a lot bigger, it was 18 million children in 53 countries.
Would you ever go back to banking or does your heart now lie with this job?
I love numbers. Math was the only subject I ever got an ‘A’ in as a student. And I’ve always been someone that walks into and office happy about getting something done. However, charity has been an important part of our family. And here I walk into the office with a buzz in my mind about how I should help. And I love doing it.