Posted by Joan Hanna on October 16, 2014 in Blog

Providing educational opportunities to those of Arab nationality or of Arab descent that are underprivileged or underrepresented is not a duty but a passion for Ayman Asfari and Shafik Gabr. As the son of a Syrian diplomat, Ayman spent his childhood in Turkey and the Czech Republic before earning a BS and MS in civil engineering from Villanova University and the University of Pennsylvania respectively. In the early 1990s, he became a naturalized British citizen as well as becoming CEO of Petrofac Limited, a prestigious international service provider to the oil and gas industry.

In 2002, Asfari served as the Group Chief Executive of Petrofac Limited and four years later, he launched the Asfari Foundation. The Foundation offers scholarships and grants to educate and employ young Arab and Arab-British students through the Youth Empowerment Programme. Closely linked with the YEP, the Foundation also engages young people through their Civil Society Programme. The programme provides grants in the form of fellowships focusing on projects, research and initiatives that encourage youth engagement throughout society.

Through the Individual Grants, young Arab writers are selected for fellowships at places such as Chatham House and the University of Oxford’s Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. In addition to those grants, the Organisational Grants are provided to organizations that aim to strengthen civil society like the Asfari Institute for Civil Society and Citizenship at the American University in Beirut and the Centre for Syrian Studies at St Andrews University in Scotland.

The Asfari Foundation also has a Humanitarian Relief Programme primarily focusing its efforts on the current humanitarian situation in Syria. The Foundation sets out to support Syrian refugees through improving their education, sustaining a developing civil society by providing education and medical support to displaced children, and by supporting ordinary Syrians through the Syria Campaign in order to address the lack of aid and to improve diplomatic efforts through the peace process during the crisis.

In the same vein, Gabr’s philanthropic initiatives are also far reaching. Shafik Gabr’s father Adel created a consulting company following a successful diplomatic career. Under Shafik’s leadership, the company evolved into a conglomerate with an international vision in 1991: Artoc Group for Investment and Development. As Chairman and Managing Director of Artoc, a multidiscipline investment holding company that focuses on infrastructure, steel fabrication, publishing, real estate development, utility and engineered equipment, consumer products, among other areas, Gabr has paved the way for projects involving education, health, young adults, sports training and culture through the Mohamed Shafik Gabr Foundation for Social Development.

Gabr began his career by graduating from the American University in Cairo in 1973 with a BA in Economics and Management and two years later receiving a master’s degree in Economics from the University of London. While serving as the Chairman of Artoc, Gabr has been involved with many other opportunities including being the Chairman of the Arab Business Council, a member of the World Bank’s Council of Advisors for the MENA Region, founding the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt in 1982 and serving as its President 13 years later, to name only a few examples.

In addition to his entrepreneurial and charitable efforts, Gabr created East-West: The Art of Dialogue, a fellowship that brings together 20 young emerging leaders from Egypt and America in fields ranging from the arts, science, sports, media and social and business entrepreneurship in order to create an exchange of cultures, ideas, projects and friendships. Before the East-West project was underway, Gabr was interviewed by the New York Times and reflected on the initiative, “‘I have a very strong feeling about the importance of bridge building - I’ve had a huge concern as I’ve witnessed the world spiraling into more conflict, that there would be more misperception, more conflict and clashes between East and West…[the project] is taking a chunk of my time and effort and resources, but it’s exciting, and if my whole initiative over time is able to help build common interest and understanding, it will be worthwhile.’” The program is launching its third class of Fellows next year.

It is no surprise then that both will be accepting awards this year for their philanthropic contributions. Asfari and Gabr will be honored at the Middle East Institute’s 68th Annual Awards Banquet. Asfari will receive the Issam M. Fares Award for Excellence, which recognizes exceptional contributions of Arab men and women in the fields of politics, culture, business and philanthropy. Gabr will be accepting MEI’s Visionary Award, which recognizes an Arab individual or institution for their exceptional work in the region.


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