Founded in March last year and based at the American University in Cairo (AUC), the John D Gerhart Center for Philanthropy and Civic Engagement has launched several initiatives to support a small but rapidly changing philanthropy scene in the Arab world.
The Center’s mission is to provide information and services that help move the field from its traditional base in charitable giving towards strategic investments in social change. As a first step, the Center is fielding a mapping study of philanthropy in Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt. It will include profiles of innovative organizations. The results will be made available late in 2007. A public lecture series was launched last autumn, covering topics ranging from corporate social responsibility to the nature of Islamic giving in Cairo. In addition, a quarterly newsletter, website and working paper series called Voices was launched in 2006 to stimulate discussion of important issues.
To meet the needs for training and consultation services, the Gerhart Center will partner with established programmes in Europe and Asia and build an in-house resource centre. It will also lend support to the new Arab Foundations Forum (see below), currently under formation. Other plans include a translation series, creating awards for outstanding achievements in philanthropy, and documenting best practice around the region.
On campus at the AUC, the Center is helping the faculty to expose more students to community-based learning and creating incentives for student-faculty research on civic engagement. These activities are designed to add momentum and to create the critical mass of skills that will be needed for Arab philanthropy to realize its potential in the years ahead.