Victor Dahdaleh: Why charities should partner with private foundations

16 Aug 2017 Voices

Private foundations and charities can be a perfect match and the key to long term impact, says Victor Dahdaleh, founder of the Victor Dahdaleh Foundation

Much is written about traditional fundraising and the persistent challenges faced by charities in the current climate. Against this backdrop, however, the role of private foundations is steadily growing. In the UK, charitable giving by private foundations has finally returned to pre-2008 levels and looks set to expand further in response to growing needs.

This is good news, but how can we sustain that progress at a time of continued uncertainty? What sort of partnerships should a foundation be forging to grow its impact?

Earlier this year I visited the House of Lords for a signing ceremony to mark the start of a programme of new research into mesothelioma, a form of cancer that affects the lungs, heart or abdomen and which is commonly caused by asbestos. The programme is the result of a collaboration between our charitable organisation, the Victor Dahdaleh Foundation, and the British Lung Foundation (BLF). Our donation to the BLF matched government funding announced last year by the UK Department of Health.

These are hugely exciting developments for a cause close to my heart. While rare – with around 2,500 cases in the UK each year – mesothelioma is often fatal. Our donation is now being put to work in the hunt for new treatments by a joint research team from the University of Leicester and Papworth Hospital in Cambridge.

At Papworth, a vital bank of tissue samples is being built up to enable researchers all over the country to carry out experiments rapidly, accelerating the overall process of developing new treatments.

At Leicester, a new trial will test a range of genetically targeted therapies in 140 mesothelioma sufferers who have not responded to standard chemotherapy. This trial in the use of personalised treatments according to genetics is a world first for mesothelioma.

Tying all this together, the BLF is developing and managing a Mesothelioma Research Network, which will coordinate researchers across the UK to encourage continued collaboration and reduce research duplication.

What this particular programme demonstrates is the way in which foundations like ours can act as catalysts for more ambitious projects involving many stakeholders, including government. In partnership with organisations like the BLF, which have the expertise to develop major programmes, large private foundations can provide the impetus to mobilise sustained support from other sources.

'Untapped potential'

Alongside our support for healthcare, we are passionate about helping young people excel in education. Today’s youth are our future – there is huge untapped potential in every country around the world and I believe realising more of that talent is one of the most important tasks we face today.

In 2015, the Victor Dahdaleh Foundation funded a new research institute at York University in Canada. The Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research will carry out wide-ranging research into areas such as the social determinants of health, eHealth innovation and migration. As well as developing York’s already world-class expertise in this area, the new facility will provide opportunities for young people to follow their ambitions while contributing to our understanding of some of the most important health issues of modern times.

Elsewhere in Canada, the foundation last year established a new chair in neuroscience at McGill University in Montreal. The new department will enable McGill’s renowned research to move towards a unified approach to the study of chronic brain disease combining psychiatry, neurology and rehabilitation science. In response to that donation, a major grant from the Canadian government’s Canada First Excellence Research Fund (CFREF) was awarded to support brain research at McGill’s Faculty of Medicine, greatly accelerating the progress of this vital work.

Also at McGill, the Victor Dahdaleh Foundation funds a scholarship programme in the form of an endowment for 32 annual awards in perpetuity. These awards are aimed at outstanding candidates from low-income countries who would not otherwise have the chance to go to university.

Crucially, all these initiatives have been matched – and in some cases exceeded – by government funding, significantly amplifying our initial contribution. These are encouraging signs and we are working hard to identify further opportunities.

Long term goals

The research goals we are pursuing are long term; none of them can be achieved overnight. That’s why as someone committed to these causes I’m also determined to find funding models that are self-sustaining. The challenge for the modern philanthropist is how best to work with diverse partners to attract greater financial and human capital than they have on their own.

While the toughest economic challenges of recent times may be behind us, the overall environment remains complex. The post-crisis years brought with them not only an inevitable slowdown in public donations but also a reining in of government, leaving gaps for private donors to fill.

Those donors are indeed stepping in, but to have a genuine long term impact we need to keep growing in sophistication when it comes to harnessing resources. That means bringing together a wide range of public and third sector stakeholders from the outset, and developing programmes that acquire their own momentum.

The Victor Dahdaleh Foundation is a charitable organisation supporting education, healthcare and social and economic development around the world. For more information visit

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