Farahnaz Karim connects philanthropists with those in need of aid.
Farahnaz Karim is CEO and Founder of Insaan Group, a five-year-old Dubai-based non-profit organization focusing on education and social enterprises in East Africa, Southeast Asia and the Middle East. “There’s a great opportunity to involve professionals, business owners, successful people in Dubai to be more strategic and effective with their philanthropic efforts.” Part of Karim’s effort involves connecting philanthropists with ventures they would otherwise not know about, like-per-use solar paneling in East Africa, or low-cost Indian education programs and handicraft collectives empowering the artisan communities in India.
Karim built Insaan upon principles gleaned from years of experience, addressing what she assessed to be the problems of traditional charity: short-term thinking, supply driven design, and a bias on the provision of “stuff versus actual impact.”
“Don’t tell me that you’re building a school. Tell me that the quality of education you’re providing is of a certain level because you’re monitoring it and following these students through,” she explains.
Karim considers philanthropy a private matter and until now has never given an interview. “There’s nothing to brag about,” she explains, pointing out the misfortune of those who need philanthropic aid. “It’s about what we can do collectively, in this lifetime.”
On a family visit to Calcutta, India in the 1980s, 11-year-old Karim discovered children her own age suffering deep levels of poverty. “It never really leaves you,” she remembers.
Karim was focused on building a humanitarian career, studying political science and modern languages at McGill University then a Masters from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, positioning herself for a role at the United Nations Geneva headquarters. There, she focused on refugee and migration issues, but felt removed from those who benefitted from the aid. Deciding in her mid-twenties that Geneva was, “not very close to the poor,” she explored field opportunities. Ultimately obtaining a position in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan following the withdrawal of Soviet forces.
Overwhelmed by the generous hospitality of an impoverished Afghan family in the remote province of Farah, the idea for Insaan, which means “humanity” in Arabic, was born. “The consciousness of humanity and becoming the best human being possible in this lifetime is what drives me,” she explains.
Insaan receives funding from Muslim families in the UAE observing their Zakat obligation, as well as US investors and hedge fund managers.
The organization values the privacy of its donors, a humility inherent in Insaan’s culture and Karim’s psyche. “They don’t have their names on a building. That’s not why they do it.”