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We Are Philanthropy: Zaher Sahloul

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“We Are Philanthropy,” a collection of short films that feature inspiring and diverse donors, will appear on the D5 blog over the next few months. Produced by D5 and Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, the films highlight how diverse philanthropists bring their life experiences to their philanthropy as they strive to achieve community impact.

This film in the series features Dr. Zaher Sahloul, a practicing Critical Care specialist at Christ Advocate Medical Center in Chicago. Zaher also serves as the president of the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), a leading international NGO in medical relief for Syria. He is a prominent interfaith leader and the previous chair of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago (CIOGC). We spoke with Zaher about what influences his philanthropy and how he works to create impact.

D5:        How are you currently focusing your philanthropy? What challenges in society are you working, as a philanthropist, to address?

Zaher:    I am involved in multiple fundraising programs to provide humanitarian and medical relief to the civilians in Syria and Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. My organization, the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) has started the Save Syrian Lives campaign to provide medical relief to my homeland Syria during the current conflict that is considered the worst humanitarian crisis in our lifetime according to the UN. We oversaw a very aggressive philanthropic campaign and were able to raise tens of millions of dollars. We used a diversified fundraising plan that included social media, website, traditional mailers and direct events. As a member and president of the Syrian American Medical Society, I have been called often over the past three years to raise awareness and mobilize the public, especially the Syrian American diaspora and Muslim Americans, in order to have sustainable funds to support the ever-expanding needs.

Our main focus is to support the Syrian doctors and nurses by providing training, building hospitals, clinics and mobile clinics, sending medical missions and providing financial support to healthcare workers inside conflict areas in Syria in addition to providing medical and surgical care and psychosocial support to refugees.

The challenges are numerous. Increasing competition with other relief organizations, donor fatigue after three years of the crisis and inadequate infrastructure are some of the challenges that we face.

D5:         How do your cultural traditions and experiences shape your philanthropy?

Zaher:    As a Muslim, my faith emphasizes the concept of Giving. Giving is one of the core principles in Islam. The best Giving is what is donated to save the lives of those who are in need, especially the sick, the refugees, the orphans, the needy, women and children.

Sustainable Giving is the best type of giving in Islam.

As an immigrant and a member of the Syrian American Diaspora community, I have responsibility towards my adopted land but also towards my homeland. The Syrian Diaspora, like other diasporas, has played a crucial role in the crisis engulfing their homeland.

The main purpose of Islam is to save lives and Save Syrian Lives Campaign is the best demonstration of my faith and my profession as a medical doctor.

D5:         Why is it important for foundations and other philanthropic institutions to embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion in their policies and practices?

Zaher:   Diversity enriches our institutions, expands our circles, and broadens our appeal. Foundations should reflect our society. Our society is quite diverse. Embracing diversity and recognizing equity in our policies and procedures are powerful tools to strengthen our infrastructure. They are also the moral thing to do.

D5:        What do you want to tell Foundation CEOs about why they should embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion in their organizations?

Zaher:    Organizations that embrace diversity, equity and inclusions are on the cutting edge of social entrepreneurship and success. Diversity brings talent and new ideas and equity elevates morale in organizations.

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