The Awqaf and Minors Affairs Foundation leads the way in sustainability, innovation and business acumen. Business Islamica interviews its? Secretary General, His Excellency Tayeb Al Rais to learn more about the organization he calls ëthe foundation of the Islamic economy
What does your role as Secretary General of AMAF entail?
First of all, we are a unique organization- we are the only organization that I know of that has two core businesses that are different, but complementary. We were established in 2004, with assets around Dhs 200 million, and today we oversee Dhs 2.5 billion worth of assets for Awqaf.
Our core purpose is to ensure that Awqaf thrives to support the community
– that is our primary purpose. As you can see from our name, we look after minor’s affairs as well as Awqaf, and for anyone in this position, the first priority is to ensure the funds of the minors are
invested properly with returns that benefit them, and the same applies to Awqaf. I opened our discussion by saying we are unique as we are the only organization that I know of that combines both Waqf and minors affairs. This happened in 2004 at the direction of HH Sheikh Mohamed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum who separated Awqaf from Islamic affairs for the sole reason that their functions are completely different.
Islamic affairs are more focused on spiritual issues and guidance whereas our role is more that of providing humanitarian and social support.
Before we were established, the files of minors were kept at the courts like everywhere else in the world; nothing was being done with them, and H.H wanted to ensure that the files were
active and that the children who had lost either or both parents were being catered to and afforded the same opportunities as others in society. So, we became a foundation that is, in essence, an asset management organization. We are the only government organization where
our returns stay within the organization. The purpose of Waqf - as we see it - is to enrich and empower the community, and we work with our donors proactively and transparently. We provide different accounts such as Social, Educational, Health, Islamic affairs and Mosques, as well as Piety and Righteousness which gives us the opportunity on behalf of
the donor to use the money where it’s needed the most.
So if we’re experiencing a shortage in any of the other accounts, we can
supplement it with funds from the Piety and Righteousness account. We’ve created these different accounts to
put the donors at ease and help them understand what causes their money would be supporting. Within the
Education category, for example, we have 56 different accounts. But in a bid to make it less confusing, and thereby more appealing to donors, we’ve put them all under one heading, and we distribute the funds as we see fit.
HOW DOES AMAF OPERATE DIFFERENTLY TO ITS PEERS IN THE REGION?
Without taking away anyone else’s accomplishments-we are on a path of innovation, and sustainable creation. Of the mosques being built today, we have built the first one that is environmentally friendly. Instead of the usual orphanage funding, through waqf we have built a sustainable one. The SALMA project
is the only global Waqf that supports populations suffering through natural or manmade disasters by providing nutritious, satisfying Halal food. We didn’t create this product with any race or religion in mind, but rather as a solution that could benefit every human being in an unfortunate situation. Waqf is asset management, having sustainable returns you can spend in accordance to the donor’s wishes- we operate, think and present ourselves as a business organization- we want to do business with people and that is how we all carry ourselves. We create projects or initiatives, we sell and make returns, we manage a Trust – and you cannot have
a sustainable trust with no returns.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHANGES YOU HOPE TO DRIVE USING AMAF AS A PLATFORM?
We’ve been approached by multiple multinational and global organizations to understand how our model can work for them as an endowment program. We’ve been asked to present, meet and explain our organization and that tells us all that we’re heading in the right direction, with the right attitude and spirit. We’ve set
up the organization in a way that can be replicated by anyone – that is the beauty of a Waqf. We’re not a complicated business transaction; it’s all very straight forward and transparent.
YOU’RE ONE OF THE FEW GOVERNMENT ENTITIES THAT CHAMPIONS ENVIRONMENTAL POLICIES – WHAT ARE THE OTHER APPLICATIONS THAT YOU SEE IN THE NEXT 5-10 YEARS?
Anything can be green – with the Green mosque, it was about more than recycling a little water and a few solar panels, we thought of sustainability from the inside out – everything from the paint to the lighting was put into consideration.
The Family Village as given the same thought process – we looked at re- utilizing the electricity to conserving water and beyond, without the finished product looking shabby or otherwise. Of course the Family Village was built using funds raised from society and so we have to be careful about spending and at the same time having the finished product something that both the tenants and the donors were pleased with.
What are some of the other innovative projects AMAF is spearheading?
We have a large number of exciting projects in the pipeline that we are very eager to announce when all is finalized, that is the Dubai way of doing things!
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE INITIATIVES BEING TAKEN TO SUPPORT DUBAI’S VISION OF BEING THE GLOBAL CAPITAL OF THE ISLAMIC ECONOMY?
Some economies are based on Waqf, not the other way around- I really believe it to be the foundation of the Islamic economy.The SALMA project being the first global Waqf is a matter of immense pride for both AMAF and the city of Dubai, because it is a passion brought to life with funds from all over the world, as a product meant to service people all over the world. The idea for the Family Village was sent to H.H Sheikh Mohammed on his twitter account, when he asked the public for ideas. Ours was one of 3000 sent and it won! It’s called the Family Village first and foremost as orphaned children are the responsibility of each one of us, we are by extension their family, and secondly, H.H believed the term ‘orphanage’ carried such a negative
connotation.We’ve won awards for innovation, marketing and being a global brand- we’ve won these awards because our initiatives are deserving – not anything else.
WHAT DO YOU SEE AS YOUR PERSONAL ROLE WITHIN DUBAI’S AMBITION?
To encourage people to support what has been lost over centuries of neglect and a passive attitude. Awqaf can help to build and support communities, and our role is a strategic one due to us being
a vital part of the Islamic economy. We hope to bring back the importance and sheer contribution Waqf had to Islamic economies 1400 years ago. Waqf is an instrument to finance social initiatives, nourish the community as well as contribute to the global economy in a way that benefits us all
What is your personal vision for Dubai 2020?
We are one of the organizations that implement H.H vision for Dubai. He is the visionary; we are the implementers, alongside countless men and women who make Dubai the reality that it is today. We take our role very seriously and with great pride, and make the best of every project we are given. Whether it’s building Eco friendly mosques and sending humanitarian disaster relief meals to those who need it or creating safe, family oriented housing for disenfranchised children that gives them a sense of pride and belonging, just like everybody else in this society.
Tayeb Abdulrahman Al Rais has been serving as the Secretary General to the Awqaf and Minors Affairs Foundation (AMAF) since 2009. AMAF is the Dubai government department responsible for the legal supervision over the Awqaf, its care and investment and the well-being of minors. Following an illustrious career spanning 24 years in the private sector, he welcomed the hugely gratifying opportunity to help people through the management of Awqaf funds and dealing with empowerment of minors.