Rethinking Philanthropy: Sometimes you don’t wait to measure the depth of the water. You just take the dive

Al Ain’s Burjeel Royal Hospital nurse Thomas Joseph and Medeor 24×7 International Hospital Nurse Sajeer Poonthala conduct a first aid workshop for the All Hands and Hearts team.

The test of a civilization is in the way that it cares for its helpless members.
— American writer Pearl S. Buck

It began with a chance meeting at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Los Angeles.

We had no plans to launch any project when flying from Abu Dhabi to California to participate in a panel called “Breakthroughs in Philanthropy: Game-Changers in Social Impact.”

Then we met fellow panelist Petra Nemcova, a model, TV personality and philanthropist who co-founded the relief organization, All Hands and Hearts.

Since joining the Giving Pledge this year, we have tried to bring our philosophy to philanthropy with a clear message: think, then act. We took this simple notion to heart when talking to Petra after the panel about how we could collaborate with her group’s work in Nepal. Since a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck the Himalayan nation in 2015, All Hands and Hearts has been rebuilding schools, homes and other structures. While the television cameras and relief workers have moved on to countless other catastrophes in the ensuing years, Petra’s group has remained in a mountainous country where 9,000 people died from the temblor centered near Nepal’s capital of Kathmandu.

It was important for us to not simply tell an audience at a conference about what we can do. Our partnership with All Hands and Hearts highlights how our experiences allow us to quickly marshal forces in a relief effort even in distant locales.

All Hands and Hearts staff members and volunteers often find themselves in remote regions.

The group knows that it needed help to keep staff and volunteers healthy while performing occasionally grueling work.

We’ve agreed to collaborate by offering what we do best — healthcare. While the group has created an effective volunteer-based network to support communities hit by natural disasters, it now has access to the VPS Foundation’s health system support to keep the operation running smoothly.

Beginning in November, we have two medical advisors from VPS Healthcare’s Burjeel Royal Hospital and Medeor 24x7 International Hospital in Al Ain to help oversee the health and well-being of the team in Nepal. We hope that this will result in fewer volunteer sick days and therefore more disaster-affected communities can be assisted. This pilot program can establish a template for prevention and management plans that can be used throughout their relief efforts.

The AHAH camp, where the volunteers and Burjeel Royal Hospital nurse Thomas Joseph and Medeor 24×7 International Hospital Nurse Sajeer Poonthala, are staying.

Relief organizations with the expertise, labor power and flexibility to respond effectively to disasters are often hamstrung by the traditional retroactive planning and execution models.

Remember, it doesn’t take much time to think and then act.

This has been the bedrock philosophy in how we have grown VPS Healthcare from a single hospital in 2007 into a network with facilities in Europe, India and the Middle East.

Now we are inculcating our philanthropic work with a similar entrepreneurial ethos to address global conditions in healthcare and education.

We’ve always been spontaneous givers, so it took but a few moments to see the possibilities of collaborating with All Hands and Hearts to provide medical assistance.

We want to help change the mindset so philanthropy can become more effective. We don’t want people to show compassion only when there is a disaster or when they see calamity in real time. Philanthropy should be part of everyone’s character. Children should see it as a way of life while growing up — the kind of example my parents established when giving to others.

It’s important to stress that the gratitude should be felt by the giver and not the taker. As the writer Maya Angelou once stated, “giving liberates the soul of the giver.”

When my wife Shabeena and I decided to join the Giving Pledge, people asked us why we did it so spontaneously. It’s simple, really. If you lose that immediacy, it might take a long time to reach the same conclusion again.

The Shree Ma Vi School site, one of the three schools AHAH is supporting in Nepal.

Sometimes it is the momentum that lets you dive in. Sometimes you don’t measure the depth of the water. You just take the dive.

We have leaped into the waters with All Hands and Hearts. We wanted to show the world how we can build on each other’s strengths to respond to often-ignored communities suffering from natural disasters.

The global philanthropic community remains fragmented while growing rapidly to support much-needed changes for the complex landscape of the 21st century. According to a report from the Hauser Institute for Civil Society at Harvard University, more collaboration is needed among foundations — and there are many. More than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations are registered just in the U.S.

We have tried to be collaborative from the start and offer only what we know best. We tend to match the need on the ground with the capabilities we have. It’s how we started. We have worked with the Emirates Red Crescent Authority to treat patients in conflict zones such as Yemen. We’ve supported the humanitarian aid efforts and treated in VPS Healthcare facilities before they were relocated to refugee camps.

Our first hospital had a cardiac surgery unit. Our team asked how we could best expand this service and we started by helping those who can’t afford it. Our hospitals eventually performed hundreds of free heart surgeries for underprivileged patients.

We’ve discovered through our experiences that philanthropy need not be arduous or complex. Let’s not make it too divine. Let’s not spend our time listening to too many presentations.

Let’s just take the plunge and have fun doing it.