Endowments in Saudi Arabia: Ahmed Alfaddagi Gives an Overview of the General Authority for Awqaf

Ahmed AlFadaggi discusses endowments in Saudi Arabia in light of Vision 2030 and gives an overview of the General Authority for Awqaf. GAA aims to regulate, maintain, and develop endowments, in order to realize the Donor Conditions, and to enhance its role in economic and social development and social solidarity, in accordance with the objectives of Islamic law and regulations.

Interview with Ahmed Alfaddagi, CEO of WPC in GAA (General Authority for Awqaf)

Ahmed Alfaddagi, CEO of GAA (General Authority for Awqaf)

What is your assessment of the endowments sector and what does GAA do within the sector?

This sector was not important before Vision 2030. However, with this Vision, it has really tried to complete the triangle that comes from the private sector, the governmental, and our sector. This sector became something important and vital to contribute to the national and economic development that we have here in Saudi Arabia. All of that has been incorporated in the Vision 2030 as part of the goals and programs. We started the organization called the General Authority for Awqaf to do three main roles. The first role was to regulate the sector, to be the strategic policymaker of this sector, and make sure that all activities are within the requirements needed to make the endowment, the Awqaf, and all subsets including real estate, funds, or any type of endowments are regulated and contributing to the overall picture of economic and social development. The other role of this organization is to build and develop the sector. We try to steer everyone in this ecosystem towards the right objectives and building together in a very cumulative way. This is what we have managed to bring in the last two years – helping, building, and making this sector alive and really part of the whole economy development. The third part of GAA is to take care of endowments. There are a number of endowments and many different types of endowments classes. We are the one who makes sure that the full value chain within these endowments is toward the right conditions as stipulated by the WAQFY, those who endow the properties or assets towards helping the community, helping the individuals, or purposes behind this kind of work for endowments. These three roles have so many activities beneath them and we try to make that happen quickly and cooperatively with the Vision 2030.

Can you explain more about what the goal of Vision 2030 is and what GAA’s role is within? What are you hoping to accomplish within the Vision 2030?

Vision 2030 is the new platform that brings everyone towards a bright future in Saudi Arabia. It has taken into consideration so many aspects to make sure that the citizens are fully aware of what they should have for the future and also strives to make Saudi Arabia among the top countries in so many fields using the special and unique positioning that we have and the competitive advantages that we have as a country. It is pushing our partners and ourselves to work towards common targets and a common vision. This is using tools and governance to make sure that everything is under control, performance measures, and to give us a chance to reach our goals in a very steady and continuous way.

What are the advantages to doing business in Saudi Arabia and to investing in Saudi Arabia? What makes Saudi Arabia this unique business opportunity?

GAA aims to regulate, maintain, and develop endowments, in order to realize the Donor Conditions, and to enhance its role in economic and social development and social solidarity, in accordance with the objectives of Islamic law and regulations.

There are many different points that bring that unique positioning. The geographical position itself brings a lot of value among the different continents. The second part is a religious positioning among the Muslim world that also brings another value to those Muslims. The third part is that there are a lot of minerals and natural resources that also puts us in the top for so many businesses and investors. That gives us a chance to be very competitive in these kinds of businesses. With the new Vision, we really try to merge all of that and we utilize all of that to bring in other revenue streams, not only utilizing the natural assets that we have but also building the Saudi citizens, the internal capabilities, and making them the real asset of the next movement and being one of the top countries in the world.

Are these endowments and these funds coming more from foreign sources coming into Saudi Arabia or is it Saudis investing in Saudis?

The endowment is one of the financial levers that is towards developing the society and making an impact. Saudi Arabia, through this Vision, is really investing to make the right balance by giving a chance to the people and to this kind of contribution, the community engagement, and other ways of bringing value from those kinds of resources and not only heavily relying on government and the private sector. We see a lot of progress in this direction through collective efforts. If you really want to bring a greater value out of these endowments Awqaf, you need to have a collaboration with some partners and also to make sure that whatever contribution came from abroad through these endowments is reaching the right disbursements and the right utilization of it. This has all become a priority for GAA and this is why we have a lot of regulations and enablement that brings all that value in a collective and integrative way.

What is one of the success stories that you feel very proud of as the General Authority for Awqaf?

The journey that we have had at GAA has brought a lot of establishments to a lot of things that enable us in the upcoming period to be more impactful. There are projects related to making the right database and platforms to interact with our customers or clients. In the last period, we initiated what we call Sustainability and Empowerment Program. This is one of the really big programs that tries to make sure that the interactions between us, our partner, and also the beneficiaries happen in a more seamless way and brings value in a very cooperative and impactful way. Another big program that we have also launched in the last period is a digital platform called WAQFY. It brings the crowdfunding concept to every individual in Saudi Arabia in a way that brings a lot of interactions from the individual level through sharing economy principles. The crowdfunding concept was very far from reaching individuals and making this kind of contribution in the endowment or Awqaf sector. This kind of platform has become very popular in Saudi and we have a lot of governance and infrastructures behind it that are appreciated by the public now. We try also to make that more unique in the experience that you will have with them in the near future. On a personal level, I was with GAA in the strategy department and it was a very successful journey to establishing these plans related to the sector within the enterprise level. There was also the launching of the National Awqaf Strategy that is bringing value to make everyone in the ecosystem interactive and engaged in a very connected way. Recently, I have started handling a new center which is a think tank for GAA. We also call this a Center of Enablement. We established this center internally within GAA in the last year and a half and I was in charge of that. We reached some very good milestones in this establishment and we are very proud in GAA that this center will be the way to have good decisions, the way to engage the community as a community engagement channel, and also to make our decisions based on data and studies in so many aspects that we needed to make more impact in this sector for every year, at all levels, including the Vision 2030.

Who are you working with in the think tank? Are you working more with small and medium enterprises, startups, enabling the youth? Who exactly are you trying to reach through the services you are doing through the think tank?

There was a strategic challenge in GAA to interact and make the strategic objectives more reachable and impactful. The challenge was using the data, using the knowledge, using the collective work with many stakeholders. All of these aspects we molded and we put into one center to cover three areas. At the think tank, we would like to make sure that we are moving in the right directions and bringing the value of knowledge, data, and research in understanding where we are and where we are heading in the near and long term future. The other area is the Center of Enablement. There are a lot of stakeholders. Some of them are small in terms of endowments and Awqaf and some of them are big, but we need to extract their success stories and make good lessons for others to make that kind of impact in economic and social levels. The third part is to have community engagement. We think deeply in GAA and in this center that there are a lot of potential ideas, innovations, good efforts by the public, by those who really have good intentions toward work and toward so many contributions. We try to put the right channels, the right platforms for them to contribute. These are the main elements that bring importance to the center, contribute first to the GAA achievement of its strategic objectives, and in a more macro level, in the sector of Awqaf or the endowment sector.

Where do you see GAA in the future, three to five years’ time? What projects do you have coming down the pipeline? What do you hope to have achieved?

In terms of regulating the sector, we want to make sure that we cover all regulations, policies, balancing the attractiveness of this sector and bring more of those who want to endow. We want to make sure that the governance part of this sector is also intact and that we bring the transparency and follow the right principles, needs, and best practices. This is challenging, especially since we just recently launched the GAA. We want to make the sector more effective, more contributive to the Vision 2030 and also to the development of economic and social development. In developing these sectors, we would like to bring a lot of models of endowments, not only real estate, which is the traditional way of endowments, but bring a lot of financial tools, a lot of new interactive models, that lets everyone interact with this way of giving the endowments. We would like to achieve a high rate of participation. Every house in Saudi and hopefully in the regions will have its own account that is attached somehow to the endowment. That is not difficult, but it needs a lot of effort. Lastly, we want to make sure that this center, in particular, is a well-known reference and can be imitated or used as a good example when it is related to how this study is being referenced, how the data is utilized in a very professional way, and bring a lot of good ideas to the sector. We want to bring not only ideas, but implementable ideas.

What is what is your inspiration? What drives you to do what you do?

If you manage to align your personal values with other values and the work that you did every day, you will have a lot of impact in a personal and a professional way. The giving value is something that drives me in my personal and professional life. This sector has lacked for some time the practices that you normally see in the private sector and even nowadays in the government sectors. It is very easy to see professional practices in these sectors, but not in the nonprofit sector. Bringing all of these practices that I gained in my previous private sector engagement to this sector also really drives me. I try to practice this in everything in my professional work. I work on finding the gap today in this sector that I can fill through these transitions and it brings a lot of enjoyment for me every day. This sector impacts so many individuals through this endowment because it is trying to help people and give them a different level of benefits and happiness. This is what really drives me in this work.

For more information, please visit: www.awqaf.gov.sa.


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