Fascinating insights into three world-changing projects at The Capital Club’s discussion ‘Women In Philanthropy’

March 31, 2014 10:28 am

The Capital Club, Dubai’s premier private business club and a member of the ENSHAA group of companies, last Tuesday (18th March) held a discussion over afternoon tea entitled Women In Philanthropy. This informal talk – warmly received by all present – is part of the Club’s ongoing commitment to social responsibility and to the development of its Members’ business and social skills.

Speaking were Ms Shabana Basij-Rasikh, co-founder & president of the non-profit School Of Leadership, Afghanistan (SOLA); Dr Nada Hamade, head of Gulf partnerships at Oxfam; and the fashion entrepreneur Nadine Arton, whose Amal Project helps refugees from the Syrian conflict. These three philanthropists were introduced by the moderator Hany Mwafy, Chief Operating Officer of the Momentum Lifestyle Group.

Mr Mwafy – a business leader, marketer and strategist – is a sought-after speaker in his own right and has twice given TEDx talks. He preceded the discussion by reminding the audience that the philanthropy they were about to hear about has direct benefits in what they do as business Men and Women: it can increase competitiveness and drive creativity and development.

Shabana Basij-Rasikh

Ms Basij-Rasikh was raised under the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, where it was illegal for girls to receive education or to work outside the home. It was often called the worst place in the world to be a woman. Her parents risked their lives to send her to a secret school. After the Taliban were deposed, she went to a school in the US and found the difference overwhelming: teenagers in the US took education for granted and even complained about it.

She went on to win a bachelors degree from a liberal arts college – a type of education that only 2 percent of Americans achieve. In Afghanistan, she realised, it was closer to 0.0001 percent. The majority of rural women are illiterate. Why was I so lucky, she thought – and what can I do with this luck? She considered becoming a doctor or a human rights lawyer. But, considering the needs of Afghanistan, she realised that to achieve the most, she should become an educator: to give the girls back home access to the education she enjoyed.

She started SOLA – the School of Leadership, Afghanistan – and opened a SOLA girl’s boarding school near Kabul. She was frustrated that this had never been done before, despite the millions of dollars invested in the country. SOLA’s mission is to equip students with the critical tools to be future leaders, so that they can use their education to help others. She started with 4 students in 2008 and now has 35 students, from 14 provinces of Afghanistan. SOLA has a zero-tolerance policy on ethnic and tribal discrimination and teaches only in English, so that no one Afghan language is privileged. Students from her school have now earned scholarships amounting to $6.3 million in five different countries.

Ms Basij-Rasikh finished by playing a tape of her young pupil from Kandahar, the first girl in her family ever to go to school. Speaking perfect English after just a year and full of hope for the future, the girl expressed her dream to be a university professor.

Dr Nada Hamade

Dr Hamade introduced Oxfam, one of the biggest NGOs in the world working in over 90 countries and 25 emergencies worldwide including Syria. Oxfam works on health, education, water and sanitation, women’s rights, climate change and economic empowerment . Oxfam also works with the people and governments to improve policies that help alleviate poverty. Oxfam invests in enterprise development around the world and, more importantly, measures the impact of those investments on the lives of women.

Dr Hamade gave some examples of how Oxfam is helping women in rural communities to start their own businesses and helping them get their produce to market – even to foreign markets. . In Cambodia, women have been encouraged to form co-operatives so that they can learn from each other and have greater negotiating power in the market. Pink cellphones are distributed to give them information on commodity prices, when to plant different crops and so on. They are pink because men do not want to carry pink cellphones. (And so are not tempted to take them away.)

In another example of small details having big effects, Dr Hamade said that in Northern Sri Lanka, women proposed a school bus service, which would save 2.5 hours a day they spend accompanying children to and from school. Women in Azerbaijan reported that a community kindergarten would free their time by 25-30%, and a new water pump would reduce work by 80%.

Dr. Hamade also spoke about Oxfam’s strategic partnerships with a number of multinational corporates. One such example is with Unilever whereby Oxfam works with Unilever to incorporate thousands of smallholder farmers into their global supply chain. She also spoke about Oxfam’s partnership with the Volvo group to improve access to clean water and sanitation for communities in Haiti, Indonesia and Ethiopia who are impacted by natural disasters. Volvo group are also engaging their own employees to improve Oxfam equipment that is sent to the field in humanitarian emergencies

Nadine Arton

What do you remember of your childhood, asked Ms Arton – parents? Friends? Food? Play? The memories of the youngest survivors of the civil war in Syria are very different. They have lost family and homes and have been forced to face the harsh realities of life at an early age. They have left everything behind, just to find shelter. Charities have responded to their call for help, but so much more needs to be done.

The goal of the Amal project – ‘Amal’ being Arabic for hope, Ms Arton said – is to give at least a few of the children in the Zaatari refugee camp a place to forget all this, just for a few hours. A place where they can be children. For every Amal doll sold, one will be gifted to the kids at the camp. All profits from the sales of the t.shirts is donated to create gaily painted ‘Caravans of Joy’ filled with toys and books, providing kids a place to play, dream and escape so that one day they will have happy memories of childhood.


There followed 45 minutes of friendly discussion in which the three speakers went into greater detail about how they set up their non-profit organisations and how they are run. They spoke about how it feels to be a woman working in these sometimes dangerous fields and gave moving accounts of the differences they have made to the lives of the women and children they help.

Mr Mwafy concluded by thanking the three speakers. He remarked on the insights that small ideas can have a huge impact (like the pink phones) and that philanthropy can drive creativity and competition within businesses.

‘Some people do live to change the world,’ he said. ‘It would be wonderful to harness their energy and optimism in our own lives.’


Farah Al obaidi
Senior Media Relations Manager
SAHARA Communications
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