Mike Gallagher, CMF Editorial Correspondent
Posted June 20, 2012
Many Arab Americans in Michigan share a deep passion and commitment to engaging in - and inspiring -strategic philanthropy as a way to build strong, vibrant communities, promote education and making a better, more compassionate and understanding world for the next generation.
That message echoed throughout a recent event entitled: “Arab American Giving: Diverse Voices Informing Philanthropy” jointly sponsored by the Council of Michigan Foundations (CMF) and The Center for Arab American Philanthropy (CAAP).
The occasion marked the inaugural launch of CMF’s “Listening Tour” events that are designed to engage -and forge alliances with - important ethnic- and identity-based community leaders committed to improving society through philanthropy. This initial tour – and future events now being planned - are part of CMF’s ongoing “Transforming Michigan Philanthropy Initiative” which has as a vision to be a catalyst for positive social change to transform communities throughout the state with a goal of increasing the effectiveness of organized philanthropy in Michigan.
More than two dozen Arab American leaders joined with CMF President/CEO Rob Collier and his staff for an evening of shared thoughts, aspirations and perspectives at the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS) in Dearborn.
Calling the gathering “a wonderful opportunity to let our voices and dreams be heard and learn more about how we can better partner with CMF so we may truly make a difference,” Maha Freij, deputy director /CFO of ACCESS, embraced the evening that included a strolling dinner of delectable Arab cuisine and stimulating conversations.
Freij explained that CAAP – launched in 2006 – promotes, facilitates and celebrates Arab American giving through education, training and donor outreach and services.
“We are the only philanthropic service provider in the country, founded and operated by Arab American professionals, that provides services that are customized to meet the needs of our donor community,” Freij noted. “We are proud that CAAP is the only program harnessing the collective power of Arab American giving and knowledge to strengthen the voice of our community in American civil society.”
Collier said CAAP is an important member and voice within the CMF family as it is building on the legacy of giving within the Arab American community.
“That voice is shaping the future of our society through the collective power of its philanthropy while empowering the community to be change makers for the betterment of all society,” he noted.
Freij returned the compliment, saying, “We are so thankful and honored to partner with CMF so that we may bring our voices to the table as Arab Americans, especially at this important time in our nation’s history. We all prefer to be totally engaged and CMF allows us to do that.”
Event attendees joined in one of two focus group sessions to share their individual thoughts with a dual goal of helping CMF understand the unique perspective of Arab American philanthropists while also learning how CMF could help enhance their philanthropic work both in Michigan and nationally.
Facilitators Sulaima Karaman-Rosen and Nadia Tonova, ACCESS’ national outreach director, led the respective sessions. “The purpose of these private sessions was to learn and share several things,” said Tonova, including:
The concerns, ideas and desired outcomes expressed during the Listening Tour by several Arab American philanthropy leaders were as varied as they were poignant.
ACCESS Board President Wadad Abed, who also serves as a CAAP Advisory Board member, an Ann Arbor-based independent strategic marketing consultant and an internationally renowned Palestinian peace activist, said, “We have to find ways to promote social justice and equality within our community. We must bridge our differences…and find solutions to our common problems. Philanthropy can help in this regard.”
Mona Sahouri, executive director of the Arab American Heritage Council, pointed out that raising the role and respect of women within the Arab American community, along with youth education, are most important to her.
“Education of our young is the key to a better tomorrow for all children,” said Sahouri. “I believe we as philanthropists have a duty to promote educational reforms…to make our schools better and ensure access to colleges and universities for all Arab Americans.”
Dr. Ghaleb Daouk, a CAAP Advisory Board member, and clinical director of extramural programs for Massachusetts General Hospital/Children’s Hospital of Boston, Pediatric Nephrology Division, said his focus for philanthropic commitment aligns with children’s health issues.
“Providing children access to activities…promoting exercise, healthy food consumption, etc., is key to promoting healthy lifestyles now and in the future,” he said. “That is where I would like to see more philanthropic efforts placed.”
The importance of philanthropy – and what a change agent it can be – was ingrained in Jeanette Mansour during her 33 years working for the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation before her retirement, she said.
“I could see how important it was in developing a civil society, not only in this country but elsewhere as well. The Arab American community can be a tremendous philanthropic catalyst for change… and CMF can help us focus our efforts in this regard.”
Vicki Rosenberg, principal of the Saugatuck-based Vicki Rosenberg & Associates who helped design and plan the event, said, “CMF was very excited to partner with the Center for Arab American Philanthropy on this pilot Listening Tour event.
“The focus group discussions provided CMF with important insight into the priorities, perspectives and interests of Arab-American givers and a chance to test this approach to engaging ethnic and identity-based givers in Michigan,” she added.
CMF’s Collier called the gathering “a critical and important step in CMF’s ongoing efforts to engage and partner with the dedicated and passionate Arab American philanthropic community.
“By listening to one another, and sharing our individual expertise, we can increase and leverage the assets of both organizations to address important issues facing philanthropy today,” he said.
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