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Saturday, April 20, 2024

Giving Back

by Joanna Andrews

© Shutterstock
© Shutterstock
© Shutterstock
© Shutterstock

The Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor Foundation (KAHF) celebrates its first anniversary in January 2014. Twelve months on, Joanna Andrews, looks at just some of the differences the Foundation has made.

Philanthropy has become a core value of many corporations around the world. And none more so than the Al Habtoor Group. The Chairman, Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor, has allocated 20 per cent of the Group he founded more than 40 years ago for humanitarian assistance. He says, “I launched my Foundation to put all the charities that I contribute to under one roof in a very coordinated manner. I have created something that is sustainable, that is making a difference today and tomorrow.”

Al Habtoor has always been a giving man, yet a humble one. After all, he came into the world with very little and knows what it is like to be ‘without’. In his best-selling autobiography, which hit the shelves in 2013, he said, “We had none of the modern conveniences that people take for granted today Our toilet was a hole in the ground some way away from the barasti [his palm frond hut]. Our drinking water was drawn from two meter deep wells that we dug ourselves.”

Al Habtoor has never forgotten his roots. Perhaps that is why he is the man he is today. He launched a Foundation in his name in January 2013. His philanthropic endeavours are carried out through the Al Farooq Omar Bin Al Khattab Mosque and Centre – an amazing structure based on the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, and a gift from the Al Habtoor Group Chairman to the United Arab Emirates in 2011.

Over the past twelve months the Foundation has given funds to many causes, including the Khalaf Al Habtoor Assistive Technology Resource Center at Zayed University for children with special needs; the Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor Simulation Centre, which consists of two high-fidelity operating rooms, featuring fully functioning adult and paediatric intensive care units and operating rooms. The Foundation has also built an awqaf building in Dubai, and is currently building 20 houses for Emirati families. But its reach goes much further than the UAE.

It has donated vast amounts of much-needed aid to Syria and Palestine and built the Hrat Hospital in North Lebanon. The list is not exhaustive. Most recently the Foundation extended its hand to Philippine nationals in the UAE who have been badly affected by the recent devastating typhoon in the Philippines. And, there are many more examples of projects coming through its doors.

Al Habtoor says, “The Foundation in my name is my way of giving something back to society. I have chosen the causes that are important to me. But I will extend my arm anywhere to make the world a better place.”

He adds that there is so much need in the world and he wants his Foundation to be a catalyst for change. “The Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor Foundation is not just about donating money, it is about getting involved and getting the general community involved. You can’t put a monetary value on that.”

Al Habtoor is a well known figure in Illinois, USA where he has earned himself a celebrity status after making a contribution towards the restoration of Illinois College’s Whipple Hall, which was constructed in 1882. With his backing, the Hall has been transformed into a 21st century leadership centre now known as the Khalaf Al Habtoor Leadership Centre. It has great historic importance and is a venue for lectures as well as home to a library containing Abraham Lincoln papers and memorabilia.

Al Habtoor often says, “In spite of my positive hatred of formal education when I was a boy, I have come to realise its importance. For decades I have looked upon education as the number one priority for the future of our planet, which is why I am open to helping educational institutes improve their facilities."

And he has put his money where his mouth is multiple times. In 2010 he inaugurated the American University of Cairo’s Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor Football and Track Stadium, which is today a world class Olympic standard facility. He was one of the co-founders of Al Ittihad School in Dubai. These are just two examples of his educational endeavours.

In its annual philanthropy list Forbes magazine recently ranked America’s top givers. Bill and Miranda Gates topped the list, after giving away nearly $2 billion in 2012. They were closely followed by the ‘Oracle of Omaha’ Berkshire Hathway’s Founder Warren Buffett, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who ranked fourth.

Al Habtoor says, “I urge everyone to do what they can within their means to give to charity. If each of us play our part, the world will be a better place for our children and grandchildren. I launched the Foundation to create something sustainable. It is all very well setting up charities, but it is a balancing act to ensure sustainability – whether it is social, environmental or economic."

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