How to make a remarkable difference this year and beyond

As Ramadan approaches thoughts turn to giving back to others in our community and beyond. Here is how you can get involved


It doesn’t matter if you’re young or old, rich or poor, expat or local; whoever you are and wherever you’re from, we can all give back and play our part in the community.

And whether that manifests in the form of giving your time, money, skills or compassion, there are so many valuable and meaningful ways to make a difference.

365 days of giving

As 2016 became 2017, the goal of making a difference became a national one, and we came into the new year full of goodwill and generosity with the Year of Giving.

Ranked as one of the most charitable nations in the world with its humanitarian efforts, the UAE called on its citizens to spread this impulse to the very roots of its society.

Announced to promote a culture of philanthropy across the country, the Year of Giving marked the start of 365 days of social, community and humanitarian efforts across the country – and hopefully the beginnings of a culture that will continue beyond 2017.

Based on three main pillars – volunteering, serving the nation and corporate social responsibility – the Year of Giving seeks to engage the UAE’s society at all levels, establishing hundreds of humanitarian initiatives and clocking in millions of hours
of volunteering.

And it’s working: since January alone, countless initiatives have been launched that tackle issues near and far with no sign of it all losing steam.

From missions in Somalia with Zayed Giving Initiative’s Convoy of Giving and the national education drive #100daysofpositivity to building schools in Pakistan and doctors volunteering services in Zanzibar, businesses, charities and individuals have come together to give something back on a large scale.

Making a difference

As we move closer to Ramadan, the UAE’s mission for 2017 becomes all the more meaningful.

A time of reflection, spirituality and empathy for those less fortunate, the holy month shares many of the same pillars upon which the Year of Giving is based.

“Ramadan is about sharing and reflection, and it’s about finding your inner spiritual self,” says Suparna Mathur, co-founder of Abu Dhabi Cause Connect, a non-profit community group that dedicates itself to connecting organisations and groups to create social change.


“For some people, that comes in many forms but if we want to transfer those same values into giving then we really need to move away from counting the transaction or doing something just to check a box.”

For Suparna, personal motivation plays a fundamental role in how and why people give.

“We need to start reflecting on why we’re doing it, what we’re learning from these experiences,” she explains.

“If you don’t ask these questions, it becomes a transactional experience rather than a transformative one. We’re all lifelong learners, and giving, like any other action, is something that we learn from.”

“Motivation is so important,” she urges. “It’s not just about the Year of Giving, or Ramadan as a catalyst. It needs to continue beyond that.

“Coming up with your own personal giving plan is key,” Suparna adds. “Be intentional – don’t just stumble into it. What’s the one thing you feel drawn to? If we only think about the things in the world that need our support and attention, it can be overwhelming, and giving shouldn’t be overwhelming in a negative way.”

But however you decide to give, Suparna emphasises that there are so many ways to do so beyond donating a few dirhams.

“We need to take a moment to reframe giving,” she reflects. “We need to make sure it’s not just limited by charitable giving and the giving of funds, but also how we can give our time, our compassion.

“Really the question we should be asking is, ‘How can we create irreversible change?’”

This isn’t as impossible as might seem. Whether it’s about volunteering, creating awareness, or delivering care packages, the most important thing is to create ripples of change, however small.

“We are privileged here, and volunteering is a way to expand your comfort zone,” Suparna comments. “Getting engaged with the local community is the most powerful way to do that, because you can immediately see or feel something tangible.

“It’s a way to connect with the less visible parts of the city and country. Many of us are away from home or we travel – our world is more interconnected than it has ever been.

“Volunteering is something you can take with you wherever you go,” she adds thoughtfully. “It shouldn’t be something you only do in your home country, or only here, or only when you have time. Regardless of whether you’re here for one year or ten, it should be an intrinsic part of who we are.”

Find your cause

With so many charities and organisations doing amazing work across the capital, it’s impossible to mention them all. Here are just a few ways you can give something back…

VNM_2012_Ngan_ Poster Child 2003_2012. Home visit to patient Ngan, Female, 11 years old as at 2012. Pleiku, Gia Lia Province, Vietnam. (Operation Smile Photo - Peter Stuckings)

Photo courtesy of Operation Smile – Peter Stuckings


To help children born with cleft conditions get access to medical care, Operation Smile UAE runs regular events and a youth programme where you can volunteer. On 30th June, the charity will be holding its first Smile Olympics for teams to compete and raise funds for surgeries. Visit:

Wanna Read?, founded by Sheikha Shamma Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, works with children in hospitals, providing books, reading rooms and volunteer readers to bring a little light to unwell children while they rehabilitate. Visit:

Other hospital patients need care too – even if it just means a simple conversation, reading a magazine together or companionship. If you’d like to help out, SEHA facilities across the capital, including Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, are looking for volunteers to help in a range of areas from clerical work to non-medical support. Contact:,

To help better the lives of labourers, consider community groups such as Feel
Great Helping
and SharingCaringFridges, which provide food and care packages to those who have very little. Visit:,


Foster families, food and sterilisation for strays and dumped pets are a critical need, especially in the summer months. Try community groups like The Bin Kitty Collective, Feline Friends Abu Dhabi, Sandy Paws and Animal Action UAE – you can also donate towards veterinary bills or food and help trap and neuter strays. Animal Welfare Abu Dhabi also needs help operating 200 feeding stations across the capital. Search for these groups on Facebook.

With an aim to protect our planet on a global scale, Emirates Wildlife Society – World Wide Fund for Nature has a big job to do. The organisation offers opportunities to sponsor conservation and climate change projects, as well as a corporate programme. Visit:

Mt. Lebanon/Lebanon; Miram, 11, front right, now was eating breakfast in her home, in Syria, when a bomb fell on the kitchen and killed her mother. She was brought to her brother's family outside of Beirut, where she now lives with her cousins, brother and his wife. 17 June, 2013/UNHCR/E.Dorfman

Mt. Lebanon/Lebanon; Miram, 11, front right, now was eating breakfast in her home, in Syria, when a bomb fell on the kitchen and killed her mother. She was brought to her brother’s family outside of Beirut, where she now lives with her cousins, brother and his wife. 17 June, 2013/UNHCR/E.Dorfman


The refugee situation is a global crisis. With that in mind, the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR provides humanitarian aid and refugee advocacy in the worst-hit areas, including Yemen, Syria and Uganda. Get involved by donating directly to a cause on the site, or make a direct impact with volunteering. Visit:

Working with orphans, disaster relief and education on humanitarian issues, Emirates Red Crescent provides aid on a global scale. Donate to support orphans, students and whole families to make a tangible difference in the lives of others. There are also donation boxes around the city where you can drop off secondhand clothing, toys and blankets that are in good condition to be gratefully received by those who need them. Visit:

Human trafficking is still a huge threat globally. To help the victims of this distressing practice, Ewa’a provides shelters and rehabilitation – and if you want to help, you can donate, volunteer your skills or help raise awareness at annual events and exhibitions. Visit:

WORDS Camille Hogg
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