A 2011 conference on Arab philanthropy gave then-Ph.D. student Catherine Herrold the perfect opportunity to learn more about local foundations.
Takaful, which was hosted this year by the John D. Gerhart Center for Philanthropy and Civic Engagement at the American University in Cairo, Egypt,* provides an opportunity for local and international researchers and practitioners of philanthropy the opportunity to share, confer, and debate about philanthropy in the Middle East.
Dr. Herrold specializes in this area, and the conference allows her to learn from, and engage with both scholars and practitioners.
“I’ve attended four of the six conferences so far. The topic of Arab philanthropy sounds very niche, but there’s an incredibly strong history of charitable giving and philanthropic acts throughout the Middle East,” she says. “Over the past decade, we’ve seen the emergence of grant making foundations there that resemble the big Western foundations that we’re familiar with.
“Charitable giving has always been strong in the area, but there’s been a resurgence of institutionalized philanthropy through philanthropic foundations. This conference is one way of bringing together both scholars and practitioners to explore transformations in Arab philanthropy.”
The most recent Takaful conference, held in Cairo in October, focused on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Dr. Herrold moderated a practitioner panel while also presenting her own research.
“I moderated a panel about the role of philanthropy in advancing the SDGs,” she said. “All of the local practitioners agreed that it was fairly easy for them to identify the ways in which their work was advancing the SDGs.
“Then, they proceeded to question the role of indicators. There are 17 SDGs, and then hundreds of indicators to mark progress made towards the SDGs. The question became, ‘we know we’re targeting the goals, but what about the indicators? Are these indicators relevant for us, or are there indicators that don’t already exist and if so, what might those be?’ It was fascinating to hear about the analytical approach the local practitioners are taking, and how they continue to ask themselves the difficult questions of how to measure progress towards those goals.”
Dr. Herrold also spoke on her research.
“I presented a paper on the potential for Arab private and community foundations to ensure that local citizen voices are heard in making progress towards the SDGs,” she said. “The SDGs were designed by top-level experts at the United Nations, but one of the SDGs’ key goals is to make sure that all stakeholders’ voices are heard. As a result, what role can foundations, which sit somewhere in the middle, play? How can they help to provide a platform and help to articulate local citizens’ voices in the SDG process?
“I also teased out potential differences between community and private foundations based on my research in Egypt and Palestine.”
These panels offered opportunities for cross-cultural learning and engagement.
“I’m always struck by the extent to which foundation and non-governmental organization (NGO) leaders are grappling with questions and concepts that have emerged from Western or international institutions and how those concepts can be applied to and adapted to fit the local context,” Dr. Herrold said. “Arab philanthropic leaders question and want to ensure that these SDGs are relevant for their own people and their own unique political, economic, and cultural contexts.”
Takaful also provided Dr. Herrold with important information and resources to use in her research and classes.
“My research focusses on the roles of local NGOs and foundations in social change. Takaful gave me an up-to-the minute view on current issues that NGO and foundation leaders are facing in both Egypt and throughout the region,” she said. “That, as well as knowledge gleaned from site visits to local NGOs and foundations before and after the conference, will provide critical data for the final chapter of a manuscript I’m writing.”
Integrating this information into her classes is also important to Dr. Herrold.
“I try to bring current, relevant information into all of my classes. It’s interesting for the students in my course on grant making and foundations to hear about foundations in different settings and contexts,” she said. “Students in my course on comparative civil society recently gave a presentation on Egyptian civil society, so I brought in what I learned from the conference.
“I feel very fortunate that IUPUI and the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy support and encourage international engagement, and look forward to attending more Takaful conferences in the future.”
Abby Rolland is the blog content coordinator for the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.