The Emirates Foundation for Youth Development: A Local Model for Supporting Young Entrepreneurs

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A major factor in the success of any country is investing in youth to ensure their economic, technological, scientific and social development. In the United Arab Emirates, the Emirates Foundation has lead the nation in doing exactly that.

Founded in 2005 by the government of Abu Dhabi, Emirates Foundation (EF) launched with the basic goal of creating a channel for the private sector to give back to the Emirati community. Serving as a model of public-private sector partnership in the UAE, EF worked both to give grants to civil society organizations and individuals, and to incubate the initiatives of young Emiratis, in a wide range of sectors.

Two years ago, however, the foundation redefined its scope to focus more directly on youth. "We've done a lot of work with youth, so it was very obvious to us [during the restructuring] that they should be our new focus," says Khuloud Al Nuwais, Chief Sustainability Officer at EF, who is herself a prominent example of a young Emirati entrepreneur.

A more focused identity

After exploring the models of similar initiatives, like the Shell Foundation and Rockefeller Foundation, the EF team decided to build a model in line with local needs. It rebranded to become the Emirates Foundation for Youth Development, an organization that now follows a venture philanthropy model and makes social investments in youth, through six key programs:

  1. Takatof, a social program designed to create a culture of volunteering throughout UAE.
  2. Kafa'at, a youth empowerment program that trains in leadership and soft skills; granting young people access to the private sector while raising awareness about its opportunities.
  3. Think Science, a competition that prepares young people for a career in science, especially in sectors like oil and gas, aerospace and new semi-conductors, which require Emirati human capital.
  4. Sanid, an organization that provides well-trained emergency response volunteers to assist local and national authorities in the event of a crisis.
  5. The Financial Literacy program, a national program that helps youth learn how to manage their personal finances, especially their debt.
  6. Kayani, a program that develops sustainable social enterprises that provide employment for youth with disabilities. 

Engaging the younger generation and the private sector

Thus far, the new initiatives have met with very positive reactions from youth; Emirates Foundation is now comprised of 80% youth and has a database of over 28,000 volunteers. Yet the foundation is continuing to build capacity and improve so that it can become “the voice” of the young, says Al Nuwais.

EF depends on contributions from and partnerships with the private sector, but also receives government support to cover its administrative costs. "A couple of years ago, fundraising was difficult, because people did not understand the concepts of sustainability and CSR,” Al Nuwais explains. “Now, it's changing."

The Foundation engages with its partners through a series of "Business Breakfast Social Investment" forums, which gather private sector, government and academic leaders to discuss youth-related social issues and opportunities for public-private collaborations.

It also helps youth become more aware of new opportunities, including the possibility of creating a small business or applying to a support organization like Khalifa Fund.

The fact that the government sees the development of Emirati human capital as a major priority helps the foundation’s cause, says Al Nuwais. "The UAE has been achieving many successes across the board, and now our sector is growing quickly," she asserts.

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