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A Roadmap for Muslim Philanthropy

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I recently had the privilege to attend the Fourth World Congress of Muslim Philanthropists in Dubai (March 23-24). The Congress -- founded by Tariq Cheema, a Pakistani physician based in Chicago -- brings together leading figures in the field of government, diplomacy, academia, finance, and NGOs to discuss pressing concerns related to roles and responsibilities of business and civil society and to build upon its previous meetings held in Istanbul, Abu Dhabi, and Doha. One of the conference's key priorities is innovation in the fight against global hunger.

The theme of the 2011 Conference was "defining the roadmap for Muslim giving into the next decade." Philanthropy is integral in the Muslim faith, which stipulates alms giving (zakat) of 2.5 percent of income or possessions to the poor and underprivileged.

Today there are an estimated 1.57 billion Muslims constituting 23 percent of the world's population and contributing substantially in the social sector -- developing nonprofits that address human services and social needs and creating charitable foundations that are distributing financial resources at an unprecedented level.

I had the opportunity to present some of Concern Worldwide's key approaches to tackling hunger, including Community-based Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM), which involves training community health volunteers to identify severe acute malnutrition in villages before the onset of complications, and then treating children at home with ready-to-use therapeutic food, and weekly consultations with nutritionists and health staff, rather than with inpatient care in far-away health facilities.

I also presented Concern's focus on the crucial first 1,000 days of a child's life, from conception to two-years-old, when proper health care and nutrition can prevent stunting and its life-long consequences; and I shared information on Concern's 2010 early emergency intervention in Tahoua, Niger, when we helped minimize the impact of a food crisis by way of an integrated response incorporating nutrition programming with emergency cash transfers using mobile phone technology and distribution of seeds and fertilizer.

More research is needed to analyze the potential of cash transfers in food emergencies, but preliminary findings indicate that cash gives recipients the choice of what kind of food or other products to buy, based on their most urgent needs. Perhaps most importantly, cash transfers preserve a sense of dignity that simply isn't possible when people have to stand in a food distribution line. Early findings also show that cash transfers also stimulate local markets. We are working hard to persuade governments in the poorest nations to adopt policy changes that will embrace such innovations.

The congress also discussed the crucial role women do -- and can -- play in the development and the betterment of their societies, if given the chance. Dr. Anjum Riyazul Haque, the Executive Director of the Pakistan Center for Philanthropy, argued forcefully that societies and governments in the poorest countries must grant women greater rights and improved status.

Research and development -- as well as partnerships among private sector and civil society/public sector -- are also vital ingredients in humanitarian work and in general economic development. Ellis Rubinstein, president and CEO of the New York Academy Sciences, a global forum for some 5,000 scientists and researcher in 140 countries, made a presentation on the Academy's work with scientists in Muslim countries. The Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO, counterpart to UNESCO), is the perfect conduit, as its membership comprises 57 Muslim countries in Africa.

H.E. Dr Abdulaziz Altwaijri, Director General of ISESCO, spoke at the Conference and reiterated that economic recession and turmoil across North Africa and the Middle East calls for "economic transformation through raising growth rates and educational levels, poverty reduction through a range of empowering strategies, addressing needs of women, minorities and vulnerable segments of society."

Sheikha Aisha Bint Faleh Al-Thani, Chair of WCMP, shared her hope that the forum will "formulate a comprehensive strategy for philanthropy that will foster social and economic development and strengthen philanthropic institutions for more peaceful societies."

Concern Worldwide was honored to participate in this forum and share insight from our work in such countries as Niger, Chad, Pakistan, Sudan, and Somalia. The commitment and resolve expressed by the leaders at this year's WCMP indicated promising momentum in alleviating extreme poverty and the conditions that drive it.