Reviving Traditional Giving
The Maadi Community Foundation was establilshed in May 2007 by Marwa as-Daly to provide sustainable funding and development for the communities of the al-Maadi in Egypt and its adjacent suburbs. She believed they would best be served by helping to fund income-generating and self-sustaining projects rather than the piecemeal acts of charity that had characterized philanthropy up to that point. Central to this idea was reviving and modernizing the “waqf,” an Islamic model of endowment with precursors in pharaonic Egypt (when monks endowed land to fund their temples). The concept of the waqf has fallen into disuse, however, in part because control of all individual, historically autonomous waqfs has become the responsibility of the Egyptian government.
Why Reviving Traditional Giving Is Important
The waqf provides a good example of traditional philanthropy. It enables and encourages people to engage in development, rather than charity. It serves more than just individuals - the Foundation utilizes the waqf concept, which is already familiar to Egyptians, local community-focused, and embedded within the local culture. As such, it is a channel to mobilize direct domestic resources towards sustainable development. The Foundation plays a leading role among civil society organizations by adopting an endowment-based financial system and contribution paradigm. By adopting these methods, the Foundation is able to focus on individuals, the private sector, and other socially-conscious elements of society. Moreover, it pays great attention to providing sustainable financial support to a single geographical area.
The Foundation’s First Project: Ramadan Bags
Once established with an official presence, the Maadi Foundation began to tap into the local community’s resources, persuading local philanthropists to contribute donations to set up a programme for income generation in al-Maadi that would create small jobs for people while distributing their Ramadan bags. These bags are traditionally given to poor people during the month of Ramadan. Volunteers were recruited primarily to engage in the food distribution during Ramadan but, more importantly, to be trained at the Foundation in how to assess the needs of a community and engage with people to discover their potential. The volunteers and community members began to formulate plans for the community, identifying the opportunities created by local factories and industries (which would have surplus products that could be put to productive use by people in the neighbourhood), drawing up lists of people’s skills, and seeing where there were opportunities in the community for these skills to be put to productive use. Through this effort, the Foundation engaged small community-based organizations as potential grant receivers, in an attempt to shift their approach from charity to change-driven philanthropy.
A Little Bit of Help Can Go a Long Way
The Foundation quickly became the hub for civil society organizations and NGOs in the area. At first, the founder of Maadi, Marwa, wasn’t able to provide significant funding to beneficiaries. In order to achieve its objectives, the Foundation slowly built up its resources, gaining the cooperation and trust of other community groups and organizations. It helped to establish an arts centre, Khan el Fenoun, which teaches art to community members, thereby generating income for the Foundation. The profit from the art classes and events support other activities that provide the same learning opportunities to those who cannot afford to pay and who live in other marginalized areas. The centre and its art appreciation workshops bridge the social and economic gap, bringing together many segments of the community, and providing a physical venue, in particular, for children and young people. Workshops and seminars are strategically used to explain the concept of the foundation and of the waqf and to invite people to participate and donate.
Income-Generating Project and Reducing Dependency
Providing support to those in need can be challenging. The Foundation is running a project called the “Income-generating Project.” Instead of giving small, insignificant amounts of money as charity, the Foundation provides a significant loan for an income-generating project or to expand an existing project. It is considered a “rotating” loan, but with zero interest. This enables women interested in creating businesses to overcome an initial financial hurdle. And now, many of the young artists at Khan el Fenoun are main fundraisers for the income-generation projects. As such, the Foundation’s waqf approach can be characterized as a “philanthropic system" – it’s a system for sustainable giving, rather than a one-time deal.
What types of philanthropic traditions have existed in your culture and how can you use the traditional giving idea to develop your community?