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Meet Masood Razaq a Pioneer in Digital Philanthropy

July 7, 2011 12:50 am

 

Masood Razaq, founder and executive director of Goodgate.org, is spearheading an initiative to provide a global platform for Muslim charities.  This unique resource presents various credible charities by country, themes or tags allowing the visitor to choose what initiative they’d like to invest in.  With a global upbringing and a corporate background, Razaq’s creative solution to transform the concept of charity to strategic philanthropy within the Muslim community is a noble endeavor.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background professionally as well as your education?

I am a product of a global upbringing, with a German mother and Pakistani father.  I currently live in Dubai, and the United Arab Emirates is the tenth country I have lived in during an odyssey which has taken me all over Europe, the Middle East, and the Americas. As a family, we are scattered across London, Casablanca, Cairo, Dubai and Lahore, and a sense of global awareness has shaped my worldview.

Professionally, I started my career as a management consultant at A.T. Kearney and McKinsey & Company in London, after graduating from Harvard College.  Thereafter completing a post-graduate degree in development at Cambridge University and returning to Harvard for an MBA, I worked in the Chairman’s Office at Microsoft, where I helped define the course of the company into new markets and product areas.  That experience really cemented my passion for technology, especially as a force for progress and the greater good. More recently, I helped to set up and manage a $200 million shariah-compliant private equity fund in Dubai, before branching out on my own to focus on my philanthropic interests. In addition to my work at Goodgate, I am also a Visiting Fellow at the Dubai School of Government, a leading think tank in the Middle East.

How did you get into philanthropy?  What was it about the field that motivated you to join?

I feel fortunate to have experienced the whole range of the human condition, from simple rural village life in Pakistan to the luxury-oriented lifestyle of London and Dubai. These experiences have imbued me with a certain social awareness and sense of perspective.  This awareness for those less fortunate was accentuated by the fact that I spent a good deal of my childhood in developing countries, where poverty is pervasive. As a Muslim, I am also mindful that philanthropy is something that is deeply ingrained in our religion. Zakat, for example, is the third pillar of Islam. It is front and center in the religion, rather than a footnote.

I have always tried to do whatever I could to help the less fortunate, but I wouldn’t consider myself an exceptional individual philanthropist. I have a very few focus areas in my giving, such as education in Pakistan and serving people in my immediate vicinity. However, I cannot help thinking that the way Muslims engage in philanthropy needs to be re-imagined. If we are to address big development challenges and fulfill our religious duties well, we need to think about how to modernize our philanthropy systemically. This is especially important in a world where every third Muslim is poor or illiterate, the average income of Muslims is 60% lower than the world average, and the lifespan of Muslims is a full four years shorter than the world average.

What I am hoping to do at Goodgate is really to re-invent Muslim philanthropy by thinking about it as a large, global marketplace that needs to be modernized and brought into the 21st century.  I like tackling complicated problems, and this is a huge, complex challenge that I am very excited to be working on. I see a massive opportunity to serve Muslim communities, and humanity in general, through our work at Goodgate.

Where did you get the idea for Goodgate?  What was lacking in the Muslim charity circuit?

When I lived in London in the late 1990s, I used to attend Friday prayers where I would often would see donation boxes simply marked “Palestine,” “Chechnya” and “Kashmir,” for example. I started to wonder where these donations would end up, who would manage them, and how donors might ensure that their generosity would be directed properly.  Moreover, how would a donor ensure that his or her giving would achieve the intended social impact?

Goodgate estimates that private giving among Muslims today exceeds $100 billion annually. This amount will grow as a new generation of Muslim youth enters the workforce (60% of the world’s Muslims are under 30), Muslim populations grow, and emerging economies from Morocco to Indonesia become more affluent.  Meanwhile, we also have many young people that are more observant than their parents in their religious practice, as evidenced by the growth of industries like halal food and Islamic financial services, for example. Combine that with the modern technological tools that are now available, and the revolution we have seen in organized philanthropy in the Western world (especially the U.S.), and you have a powerful set of forces that shape the context of what we are doing at Goodgate.  All these forces have created an opportunity to re-think and re-invent how we are managing and allocating our giving.

If you look at advanced philanthropy markets like the United States ($300 billion in private giving per year, of which 75% is by individuals), we see that philanthropy is becoming much more organized, strategic, and professionally managed.  There are, for example, over 400 players in the United States that provide charity information and nonprofit evaluation/ratings, online giving services, professional advice, and even philanthropic fund management. This ecosystem simply doesn’t exist in the Muslim world. Our belief that if we want to make our philanthropy effective – which is a responsibility we all bear towards the poor – Muslims also need to build a modern, performance-oriented system of philanthropy that is adapted to our specific needs and requirements.  In this system, we see ourselves as a provider of useful, high quality philanthropy infrastructure which connects millions of donorsand thousands of nonprofits and social enterprises.  This is a big missing piece of the puzzle today.

What has been the response so far toward Goodgate?  Both from the organizations as well as the visitors?

The response so far has been very encouraging. We quietly launched the Goodgate.org beta site last Ramadan, featuring over 1,400 charities from over 50 countries.  Our charity profiles include information about the charities, their management, their financials and auditing, and even videos and photos. It’s a great way to discover and engage with charities all over the Muslim world, many of whom are otherwise hard to find. Before I started Goodgate, I knew of maybe 10 charities in Pakistan; today Goodgate profiles about 250 in that country alone. You can also share charities with your friends on Facebook and Twitter, to help them gain awareness and supporters. For the first time, a Muslim donor can find relevant charities and develop an informed interest in helping others, whether it’s midwives in Indonesia, school kids in Afghanistan, refugees in Palestine, or U.S.-based nonprofits who work in Muslim communities. So for donors, it’s super convenient and fun to engage with good causes, whether it’s just learning about them, volunteering, or eventually giving to them directly.  A lot of people tell us that figuring out their zakat obligation and where to give is a major pain point today. We want to make that problem history.

Charitable organizations are also interested in working with us and many have asked us how they can get added to Goodgate.org. Many charities are hard to find online, have very basic websites, and spend a lot of effort and money trying to gain supporters. We want to be a central place where donors and charities can connect and find each other efficiently.

Although we have done no marketing and almost no PR, we have had visitors from over 80 countries and gained over 9,000 fans on Facebook. Surprisingly, the United States has been the leading source of Goodgate visitors, and countries like Lebanon, Malaysia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are all in our Top 10. We haven’t done any marketing, PR, or even set foot in any of these countries to grow awareness of Goodgate, and that’s the beauty of building a global, online service that is available 24/7.  Anyone with an Internet connection can find us and benefit from our online service to inform their giving.

What is the overall goal of Goodgate?

Our mission is to promote and enable effective philanthropy across the Muslim world.  For donors, this means making it super easy and fun to fulfill religious obligations like zakat, and connect to, volunteer for, and support worthwhile, legitimate causes. This is way too hard today, and much more difficult than it needs to be. For nonprofits, we want to promote the best managed, best performing and most impactful organizations and help them attract more donor support.  We hope our platform can be a place where thousands of good causes can be discovered and can find new supporters and volunteers, all in one place. We also want to make philanthropy more social, by enabling people to share their favorite causes with friends and family, and rallying support for worthy causes. Our basic belief is if you make something easy, people will do more of it. Just think about, for example, how many photos you used to take with a film camera versus a digital camera.

What has been your biggest challenge and accomplishment?

Our biggest accomplishment so far has been launching our humble beta site, Goodgate.org. Although it’s a small beginning and represents maybe 5% of our ambition, we had to start somewhere.  It’s always fun and rewarding to create things that have never existed before, and we are especially proud of the innovations we have brought to philanthropy globally, such as being the first to embed videos in our charity profiles. We recently received some recognition of our efforts by winning a Synergos Arab World Social Innovator award, which was a big honor for us.

Our main challenge is to bring together all the right resources – especially funding and people – to make our vision a reality. We believe we can really modernize and transform the way Muslims do their philanthropy, and do a great deal of good for people in need. So far, this effort has been funded with my personal resources, and there is no revenue or income generated from our site. Now we want to open up Goodgate to attract fundraising support and hire more people to execute on our strategy.

Another challenge we face is a cultural one. Many Muslims think that giving is about the purity of intention, and that outcomes are less important. We want people to think more strategically about their giving, and take an interest in how their charitable giving is used what good it is doing.  This is not just an issue of donor comfort and accountability, but also a responsibility toward the people who ultimately benefit from our collective generosity.  From an Islamic perspective, Zakat monies are a legitimate claim of the poor on those who can afford to give. This money therefore belongs to the poor and should be managed properly on their behalf.

In what ways do you hope to expand Goodgate?

Our challenge now is scaling out our online and mobile platforms, and adding more causes, content, and information for donors. Ultimately we also want to have strong country-specific sites in local languages, e.g. Bahasa for Indonesia and Arabic for many Middle Eastern countries. In parallel, we are developing research, professional philanthropy services and advisory capabilities to serve institutional donors, corporations and family offices. Some of this work is ongoing in the Middle East and South Asia, and we hope to serve many more donors and organizations that have an interest in having a positive impact in the Muslim world.

In the future, we hope that when Muslims think about paying zakat or giving sadaqa, they will think of Goodgate.org as their starting point, just like we use Google to search, Amazon to find a book, or iTunes to browse digital content and apps. It will undoubtedly take many years to reach that level of ubiquity and usefulness, but we like to dream big!

How can people get involved with Goodgate?

The most helpful thing people can do right now is use Goodgate to inform their giving, and spread the word about Goodgate in their own communities.  We want to enable people to add more nonprofits to the site, so we can grow our coverage universe globally. We would love to have an army of volunteers working on growing our site coverage. Finally, this year we will also be looking to open up Goodgate to receive outside funding so we can grow and keep building useful tools, products and services that will modernize and transform Muslim giving. We are a public utility which aims to serve the common good, and we want to encourage people to contribute ideas, give us feedback, and help further the cause.

We look forward to seeing you all at Goodgate.org and on our Facebook page!

Visit:  www.goodgate.org

To follow on Facebook: www.facebook.com/goodgate

Photo Edited by: Ehsaan Mesghali, http://emdezign.com/

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1 Comment

  • M Tariq Durrani

    Excellent efforts! I know this brilliant mind can take this cause beyond our imaginations. God help him.

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