Feature May-July 2006
AU Cairo home to new center on Middle East philanthropy
As the American University at Cairo (AUC -- www.aucegypt.edu) prepares to occupy a new 260-acre campus in a suburb outside of Cairo in 2007, it has launched the John D. Gerhart Center for Philanthropy and Civic Engagement to consolidate university activities aimed at engaged citizenship and service, and to promote philanthropy in the Arab region, particularly indigenous giving.
The new center is named for AUC's former president, the late John D. Gerhart. It was under Gerhart's tenure that AUC's programs were expanded for students to learn skills and concepts of civic engagement, and to participate in a wide range of community-based activities.
"We want to prepare our students and the entire AUC community to engage in public service, for the public good," Barbara Ibrahim, director of the Gerhart Center, said at the inaugural event in March. "We believe that by getting students outside the library and outside of classrooms to actually do some learning in the community, observing and interacting with the real world, they will graduate from AUC not only better prepared for livelihood and profession, but also ready to dedicate a lifelong commitment to improving society
At a pre-launch symposium in Cairo last fall, Ibrahim noted that "a trend toward renewed Arab philanthropy seems to be coming of age, ready to take a next step from scattered exemplary models to a vibrant movement." Ibrahim said that a small group of Arab educators and philanthropists had been discussing how best to support and energize this trend, and AUC offered to become one of the "nodes" for enhanced Arab philanthropy and civic engagement.
AUC and other universities in the Arab world are uniquely situated to marshal the forces needed to re-energize Arab philanthropy and community engagement, according to Ibrahim. To accomplish this aim, the Gerhart Center plans to work collaboratively to support existing local and regional institutions and encourage new initiatives. "The goal is to expand Arab philanthropy based on principles of development and social justice, as a means to invigorate civic engagement of NGOs, corporations and citizens of the region," she said.
The Center's start-up activities will focus on the promotion of regional philanthropy for social change, and enhanced teaching and research for civic engagement. Among the efforts planned are a visiting fellows program and short-term residencies for Egyptian civil society activities, as well as distinguished visiting scholars and practitioners from outside the region. Within the university community, eradication of illiteracy -- a critical barrier to civic participation -- is a top priority for the center.
"What we hope to see happen is that in partnerships in the communities where we work there will be joint definitions of problems, rather than AUC deciding here at this podium what we want to address." (The Daily Star-Egypt, March 13, 2006; International Service News, April 30, 2006)
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