DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The ruler of Dubai launched a new foundation Sunday to consolidate a range of existing charitable and human development initiatives that aims to support more than $270 million in projects annually.
The foundation is designed to act as an umbrella group for some 28 aid organizations and other initiatives that the hereditary ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, has inaugurated over the years as Dubai blossomed into a cosmopolitan trade, tourism and logistics hub.
The project hopes to reach more than 130 million people in at least 116 countries, though much of its work over the next decade will target an Arab world roiled by conflict and crumbling institutions.
"What we will focus on in the near future is the region because this region is going through trouble and a crisis," Mohammed al-Gergawi, the United Arab Emirates' minister for Cabinet affairs, told The Associated Press. "Our primary goal is human development."
In addition to his role as Dubai's ruler, Sheikh Mohammed is prime minister and vice president of the seven-state Emirates federation. Sunday's launch in Dubai's iconic Emirates Towers was one of his first major public appearances since one of his sons died from a heart attack just over two weeks ago at age 33.
The foundation, known as the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives, will focus on fighting poverty, spreading knowledge, community building, entrepreneurship and innovation, officials say.
It has an annual operating budget of more than 1 billion dirhams ($272 million). It is unclear how much of that budget represents new funding, since the overall figure includes funding for constituent organizations that are already operational.
Among the projects being brought into the fold are blindness-prevention charity Noor Dubai and a campaign launched last year called UAE Water Aid that aims to improve access to clean water in poor communities.
New initiatives over the next decade include plans to promote literacy and tolerance by distributing some 10 million books and translating 25,000 foreign-language titles into Arabic. Al-Gergawi said the aim was to open minds in the region.
"If you teach people how to read, they'll understand others much better," he told the AP. "We are actually, in the business of creating tolerance. It's not easy in the Middle East, but that's our task."
The foundation also aims to spend over half a billion dollars on hospitals and research centers, and foster innovation by supporting thousands of researchers and 50,000 young entrepreneurs.
Earlier this year, Emirati businessman Abdullah al-Ghurair promised to donate a third of his wealth, or more than a billion dollars, to educate underprivileged Arab youth. That followed a pledge by Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal to eventually donate all of his wealth, or $32 billion, to charity.
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