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July 30 2011

How to give it: Shafik Gabr

Financial Times Interview by: Angus Watson

The chairman of Artoc Group on how he ensures that his donations are used effectively
Shafik Gabr, 58, is chairman of Artoc Group and a philanthropist. The Shafik Gabr Social Development Foundation was set up by his grandfather. It funds health, education and sport in Egypt. (

Which cause do you feel most passionately about?
Education and health. Education because it is necessary to create a proper livelihood. We’ve seen how countries with high illiteracy rates are unable to manage in today’s world, so education makes a huge difference and I divert over 50 per cent of my resources into it. Health, because much public health in Egypt is low quality. The fund has provided several health initiatives and we are building our first medical and social development centre in Cairo. It will provide diagnostic and health services.

Do you ensure that your donations are used effectively?
I’m very hands-on with my business and my foundation. I have systems of internal control, I visit the sites, I’m meticulous to a degree that frustrates people. I’m hoping soon to devote more time to the foundation and less to business. I’m looking forward to that as it gives me a huge amount of satisfaction. For example we’ve become involved with about a dozen state-owned schools. They were dilapidated, educators and children were disenchanted, but now they have buildings and facilities better than some private schools. When you talk to the children it’s a whole different world.

Why do you give to charity?
As a child, I spent a lot of time with my grandfather. He believed we all had a responsibility to give time and money back. So that’s always been my mission in my own country – to give, and to build bridges to other countries in the region and the western world. It’s sad when people live in their own cocoon without utilising their assets to contribute to society.

Why fund sport?
Having a passion for sports prevents you wasting your time and doing things that can disrupt your life, like smoking or taking drugs. Egyptians have loved sports since the days of the pharaohs. I find sporting events just as satisfying as cultural ones, and think it’s equally important to support young sportspeople in competing at local and international level.

Have you ever regretted supporting a charity?
Once, when I was totally uninvolved with its running. It was done as a favour to somebody, and I learnt a lesson.

Is aid always helpful to poorer African countries?
As long it is a tool for development and not money for spending: a fishing rod rather than a fish.