If you’ve been paying attention to the news over the past couple years, chances are you’ve noticed that 2011/2012 have been momentous years for institution-building in the Middle East. But what role does philanthropy play amidst the tumult of the Arab Spring?

Both Alliance and Effect philanthropy magazines, among others, have recently attempted to answer this question. Beginning in the early 2000s, the Arab World began establishing foundations for the arts, human rights, youth, and development. These grew slowly,partially from a lack of involvement from Western philanthropic organizations.

Now, sparked by the refusal of youth to wait for social change and a huge push for self-determination, a philanthropic flame has been lit in the Middle East. Arab World philanthropy leaders such as Atallah Kuttab, are calling for more local ownership of development programs that are relevant to societal needs and that fit within the context of the local culture.

Just as we encourage diversity in the U.S., diversity should also be encouraged in the Arab World. Since the beginning of the Arab Spring, minorities, women and youth have had a greater voice in politics and decision-making – and it should be the same for development and philanthropy.

And even though the philanthropy world has shown an increased interest in measurement, transparency, and demonstrating impact, foundations also need to be adaptable and make tough choices that may include taking more risks than usual. Some advocates are pushing for U.S. foundations to take on a greater role in the Middle East, and to collaborate more with local experts and foundations.

As old regimes are overthrown in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Yemen, as the U.S. withdraws troops from Afghanistan and Iraq, and as new governments are established in South Sudan and across the region, the world looks forward to a more inclusive and democratic future for the Arab states and their neighbors.

Photo courtesy Express Monorail

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