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Bill Gates hails UAE president’s action on Covid and polio

Bill Gates speaks to Rima al Mokarrab at the Catalytic Philanthropy Forum Ideas Abu Dhabi
Bill Gates speaks to Rima al Mokarrab at the Catalytic Philanthropy Forum
  • The Microsoft co-founder spoke at an Ideas Abu Dhabi forum
  • Other speakers included Saudi Arabia’s Prince Khaled
  • Sheikh Mohamed has pledged more than $376m to fight polio

Bill Gates has praised his foundation’s partnership with Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the UAE’s president, for its progress in tackling Covid-19 and polio. 

The philanthropist and Microsoft co-founder told an event in Abu Dhabi on Sunday: “We’ve worked with the [UAE] president on a number of things – he has been very generous to Gavi, the vaccine organisation, which has had phenomenal impact. And then everything – education, food and stability – becomes better as we invest in health. 

“Another big joint effort has been polio eradication. That’s the single biggest programme at the Gates Foundation.”

The 67-year-old, whose net worth is $106.5 billion according to the Forbes Real-Time Billionaires List, said the war in Yemen, as well as instability and social resistance in Afghanistan and Pakistan, had hit polio vaccination campaigns but Abu Dhabi was helping the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to work towards its goal of eradicating the disease. 

“More kids were paralysed in Yemen than anywhere in the world last year because of polio. The second biggest setback was in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the two countries where we could never eradicate the disease completely, but we’re very hopeful.

“Abu Dhabi has important relationships that are helping us to achieve that, as well as the resources that go into that eradication campaign. In total, about 1 billion a year is raised for that.” 

Since 2011, Abu Dhabi ruler Sheikh Mohamed has committed more than $376 million to support polio eradication efforts, as part of his commitment to end preventable diseases that particularly affect the world’s poorest communities. In October, the Gates Foundation pledged $1.2 billion towards the eradication of polio. 

However, at the Catalytic Philanthropy Forum, part of Ideas Abu Dhabi, Gates underlined that successful philanthropy was about more than simply donating large sums. 

“For me, what made sense was not just to write cheques but rather build an organisation that had an incredible mix of talent hopefully as strong as we could get in the world to actually take on things like malaria, TB and HIV.”

He added: “Collaboration and partnership are at the core of the work we do at the Gates Foundation. We are always eager to learn more about the many philanthropic initiatives happening in the UAE and around the region, which are key to make progress on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. 

“We look forward to supporting efforts such as the Strategic Philanthropy Initiative at the New York University Abu Dhabi to strengthen the giving sector in the Middle East.” 

People, Person, Man
Saudi Arabia’s Prince Khaled Bin Alwaleed also spoke of his family’s philanthropy

Philanthropic giving in the GCC currently stands at approximately $210 billion, according to a report published in October by the Centre for Strategic Philanthropy, part of the University of Cambridge Judge Business School. The centre predicts that this number will rise, owing to the maturation of capital markets and the growing ambitions of family offices. 

“With the deep-seated Arab traditions of giving and generosity and the growing prosperity and ambitions of GCC philanthropists, all signs point to a promising future for philanthropy in the region,” the report said.

Some of the biggest names in regional philanthropy spoke at the Abu Dhabi event alongside Gates, including Homaid Al Shimmari, Mubadala’s deputy CEO and chief corporate and human capital officer, Salama Al Ameemi, director-general of Ma’an, as well as Saudi Arabia’s Prince Khaled Bin Alwaleed.

The prince highlighted the successful partnerships that his family’s philanthropic foundation had undertaken with organisations outside the Middle East. 

“Alwaleed Philanthropies has partnered with some of the world’s most effective and pervasive foundations and programmes to impact widespread positive change,” he said. 

“Alwaleed Philanthropies partnered with Jimmy Carter’s foundation to address [bacterial infection] trachoma since 2021. The programme has impacted 203 million to date and is running until 2024.

“My father’s macro approach to giving has become more sophisticated over the years since the founding of Alwaleed Philanthropies in 1980. He also has venture philanthropy with Alwaleed Philanthropies investment in Mr. Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures fund that backs companies leading the world to net zero.”

Beyond corporate social responsibility

A panel discussion called “Beyond CSR: The New Role for Corporate Philanthropy” focused on how corporations in the region are responding to pressure from stakeholders to increase their engagement on social issues. 

This mirrored one of the key findings of the Centre for Strategic Philanthropy report.

“Philanthropy in the GCC region is also becoming more strategic. While giving has traditionally been rooted in less formal charitable giving, the new generation of philanthropists is increasingly seeking to contribute with a more long-term, sustainable impact through more strategic means,” it said. 

Funding for education and health dominates in the GCC, according to the Cambridge research, although it did not provide figures. 

Educational initiatives include providing scholarships for higher education, supporting skills development programmes on literacy, language or vocational training, and even funding research in healthcare, development and other areas. 

Common mechanisms for supporting access to healthcare include building and supporting hospitals, care homes or specialist centres, as well as providing support for treatment for those in need. 

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