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#PositiveImpact: Emirates Foundation placing youth at the centre of growth

Our #PositiveImpact blog explores emerging themes in the design and delivery of Positive Impact. In the run up to the Positive Impact Summit in March, we’ve invited speakers and friends to share reflections on the intentional creation of enduring social and economic value. This month Clare Woodcraft, CEO of the Emirates Foundation, explores how her team has been delivering market-based philanthropy and youth development in the UAE.

The Emirates Foundation takes a market-based approach to philanthropy and youth development. Credit: http://ow.ly/t5HS309skze.

The Emirates Foundation is an independent philanthropic organisation set up by the Government of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. Its role is to facilitate public-private funded initiatives that improve the welfare of youth across the UAE. Currently, we have a number of live programs that are working to empower youth and strengthen the development of this latent workforce.

At next month’s Palladium Positive Impact Summit, I’ll be speaking about why impactful philanthropy, particularly when it comes to youth empowerment and workforce development, needs to be ‘market-based’. At the Emirates Foundation, youth development is at the core of our mission. We believe there is a clear need to integrate youth voice into the country’s development. They are the change agents of tomorrow. To sustain youth development, multi-sector collaborations and partnerships with corporate partners is essential.

Market-based approach to philanthropy and youth development
The inclusion of youth in governance is a key driver of economic progress and sustainable development in any country. In the UAE and broader Arab World, youth forms a significant percentage of the overall population, making their voices even more critical to the development of policy.

His Highness Sheikh Mohamed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, recently called for “a young and flexible government that will fulfil our youth’s aspirations and achieve our people’s ambitions”.

Our approach to social and economic growth, is ‘market-based’. Rather than make assumptions about the needs of youth, we listen to them. We undertake market research and respond to the identified needs and challenges of youth between the ages of 15 and 35. Based on these findings, we then develop solutions to real problems. Each of our programs are an effort to guide, empower and inspire youth. Furthermore, each is run like a business with a core focus, measureable outcomes and a goal to become a financially viable social enterprise with scalable and sustainable impact.

In the past decade, I feel that the concept of a social enterprise has evolved from relatively obscure jargon limited to select social innovators, to one embraced by big business and the international development community alike. Whilst this convergence of business and social impact can be confusing in a region more accustomed to a clear distinction between civil society and the business world, it is responding to the appetite young Arabs have for socio-economic change and innovation.

What are we doing to build partnerships and empower youth?
Today, young people are entering a globalised labour market and need to have the capability to secure their place within it. We think it’s vital to bring together the private, public and civil society sectors to nurture and deploy the talent of our future leaders and guide them on the path to sustainable development.

All of the programs we implement at the Emirates Foundation are doing just that. In line with our market-based approach, each program responds to a gap in the market, or a particular need we see among young people.

Each develops a five year business plan with an underlying cost recovery and revenue generation model, and is focused on scale-up. Venture philanthropy has enabled us to transition develop a model that can measure specific social output (the volume and quality of services provided for youth and the impact on their lives) in addition to our financial viability (the unit cost per youth and our potential for creating economies of scale).

Some of these core programs include:

Esref Sah: a financial literacy program that helps youth navigate the complexities of the financial world; including educating them on how to save, manage their personal finance and avoid high levels of debt.

Think Science: a program that helps young people actively engage with the digital revolution by providing them with solid science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills, and encourages them to innovate and deploy technology that addresses some of today’s socio-economic challenges.

Kayani: a program that assesses how non-academic vocational skills can support those youth who may not be academically inclined, but who are keen to engage in the labour force. There is a specific focus on young women living in areas with restricted access to jobs and training.

Kafa’at: a program that focuses on teaching leadership skills to help youth navigate the complexities of the 21st century; including helping them to understand the opportunities of their immediate economy, engage with the enterprise sector and understand how to secure and create jobs. It also connects youth with the private sector, providing internship opportunities and mentors to help them build their career.

It takes effort and drive to secure tangible social impact and commercial viability in a high-risk environment. After ten years of operating, we are now working with over 60,000 young people in the UAE. This is to a great extent a result of our shift in business model. Adopting a business-based mind-set that is accountable, measureable, and scalable is increasingly recognised as critical to solving some of the world’s most pressing problems. The principles apply for social innovators.

For more on Palladium’s Positive Impact work follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and at #PositiveImpact. To register for the Positive Impact Summit and learn more about case studies like this one, visit the event page.


About the author

#PositiveImpact February contributor: Clare Woodcraft is CEO of the Emirates Foundation.

Clare Woodcraft is the Chief Executive Officer of Emirates Foundation, the national foundation of the UAE, and is responsible for driving its vision of supporting youth development in the country. She brings over 20 years of experience working in the field of sustainable socio-economic development in the Middle East and Africa as a development practitioner, a journalist and a corporate executive specialising in youth, sustainability and social investment. Prior to joining Emirates Foundation, Clare was Deputy Director of Shell Foundation, working on building social enterprises to help address global development challenges.