Family businesses in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are the region’s largest contributors to social and charitable causes, but they have yet to unlock the full potential of their philanthropic activity. Many of them embrace philanthropy in addition to their religious obligations of zakat (charitable giving). The annual philanthropic capital of only 100 of the largest GCC family businesses is estimated at a minimum of US$7 billion. However, most of these businesses rely primarily on ad hoc donations and grant-making. Globally, leading family businesses are behind some of the largest philanthropic institutions, conducting major social and health initiatives. Like these giants, GCC family businesses could have a significant impact on their community, business, and family by transforming the way they practice philanthropy.
For family businesses to make the transition to “impact philanthropy,” they would need to acquire advanced capabilities that allow them to continue “doing good” while also “doing well.” First, they need to institutionalize their philanthropic activity to improve strategic decision-making and better define the scope of work. The benefits of this would include reinforced family cohesion and enhanced core organizational capabilities in philanthropic focus areas. Second, they should take a proactive approach to philanthropy by using innovative financing tools as well as non-financial products and services. This would improve efficiency, maximizing the value of each dollar spent and possibly generating financial returns to sustain their philanthropic activity. Third, they should implement clear assessment frameworks to measure the outcomes of their projects.
This transformation would deliver the necessary capabilities to improve the performance and sustainability of future initiatives while building a lasting legacy around family names. GCC governments have a role to play in enabling this transformation, mainly by improving the regulation and governance of the third sector. In turn, this would increase the sector’s contribution to GDP through job creation and community development.