“It may be a small country in size but she has a big and broad and compassionate heart.” This description of Kuwait in a speech by former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks to the emirate’s long-established reputation for charitable giving around the world through its decades-old nongovernmental organizations and state agencies. It is a key part of Kuwait’s soft power and has been at the forefront of its diplomacy. But how can young Kuwaitis remain engaged in this venerable Kuwaiti tradition?
Mohammad Al-Hussainan, a 32 year old known as Q8ping, has led a team working to bring a new generation to Kuwait’s long-standing humanitarian legacy, using social media, personal connections, and a compelling narrative. Mohammad noted the skyrocketing use of social media in Kuwait and decided to dedicate his social media presence to crafting a nontraditional appeal for Kuwaiti support for those in desperate need in different parts of Africa and, at times, Yemen and Kuwait.
While Mohammad has used his personal blog for informal fundraising since 2011, in 2016 the team launched its first official campaign aiming to raise 125,000 Kuwaiti dinars (around $411,520) to build an orphanage in Kenya, with a three-day deadline. With a compelling media campaign, the team raised 600,000 Kuwaiti dinars (around $1,975,294), more than quadrupling its goal.
AGSIW spoke with Mohammad about how he has been able to utilize social media to raise millions of dollars to improve people’s lives.
AGSIW: How did you become interested in charitable work in Africa? What motivated you to launch your campaigns?
Mohammad: It was a coincidence. I have been an internet and technology enthusiast for a long time and used to run a blog that was widely read among Kuwaiti youth. Basically, it was a personal blog I used to upload some photos, videos, and interesting facts about the places I had traveled to along with general issues Kuwait is facing. My charitable journey started after I watched breaking news from Al-Arabiya on the severe drought in East Africa, and I was curious to know more about what was happening there. I found out that Direct Aid Society, a Kuwait-based charity, had called on people to donate for famine relief in Somalia and I felt I had to do something. I decided to encourage people to donate online. I uploaded the Direct Aid Society’s link on my blog for donations, in addition to raising awareness about the humanitarian situation in Somalia. After two days I received a phone call from Majed Sultan, the manager of the Direct Aid Society, telling me, “We appreciate what you have done, and we noticed that donations skyrocketed after your post.” I realized then that we could make a difference through the employment of our personal obsessions like technology and social media.
I began my first [official] campaign for the Direct Aid Society in 2012. My followers and I decided to build a water well that cost 1,100 Kuwaiti dinars [around $3,620]. Thank God, 110 people donated in a very short amount of time and covered the full amount. Due to the great response, I continued launching projects, including opening medical camps for eye treatment, building orphanages, and establishing schools.
AGSIW: Kuwait has a long history of philanthropic foundations and charitable giving. What have you contributed that is different from these more “traditional” organizations?
Mohammad: Our growing popularity is because of the principle of transparency that we adopted in the beginning. We provide people not only with official reports, but also full audio and video coverage from local villages to update them on ongoing projects and how their money is making a difference. Second, we never roll out an initiative without the completion of our previous projects to prove the fulfillment of our pledges. Third, we do not go beyond our capacity, which is why we usually end donations as soon as we get the needed amount, even though we could raise more. For instance, in our #Thousand_Wells project, our target was to raise 5 million Kuwaiti dinars (around $16,460,780) for 1,500 wells, but we drilled 72 extra wells with the given amount, after informing our donors. Therefore, people trusted us due to our transparency in informing them of the remaining amount and, later, showing them what we did with it.
AGSIW: Why did you choose to work through an organization? Were you hired by the Direct Aid Society or is your work just project based?
Mohammad: I chose for my projects to be under the Direct Aid Society specifically due to its advanced online options that appealed more to my followers on social media. Also, the Direct Aid Society has a respected reputation among Kuwaitis due to its 37 years working in Africa, institutional work, high transparency, and ability to accommodate megaprojects. However, we have worked with other associations, like Al-Najat Charity and Safa Charity. In fact, our second largest campaign was in coordination with Al-Najat Charity – we raised 4 million Kuwaiti dinars (around $13,168,624) in 12 hours for local families and students.
AGSIW: How did you end up having a team of social media influencers?
Mohammad: We are just young people who were brought together by circumstances. Abdulrahman Albedah is a field photographer, Abdullah Alshaiji is a marketing expert and campaign strategist, Majed Sultan is a computer engineer, and Abdullah AlSumait is the general manager of the Direct Aid Society and has all the resources. Our main goal was to create a team that works in full transparency, to invest in our hobbies, and take advantage of the influence we have on social media to make a difference.
AGSIW: For your first campaign, you raised 125,000 Kuwaiti dinars (about $411,520). Two years later you raised 5 million Kuwaiti dinars (about $16,460,780). What accounts for the growing popularity of your campaigns?
Mohammad: First, we started gradually and didn’t ask for millions in the beginning. Second, we invited people to watch the work we were doing and provided them with live coverage of the villages we were working in through social media. Finally, due to our up-to-date coverage of how children were suffering in Africa, our followers felt more committed and evolved from being “donors only” to volunteers, advocates, and charitable enthusiasts with us.
AGSIW: Have you experienced any bureaucratic challenges?
Mohammad: We have gotten full support from government agencies and they have been highly cooperative. On a bureaucratic level, the Ministry of Social Affairs has facilitated the process smoothly to make sure our campaigns abide by the law. On a personal level, they not only encouraged us, but responded to smear campaigns by joining our fundraising events and endorsing them publicly.
AGSIW: Do you have a specific beneficiary profile?
Mohammad: We do not distinguish any human being in need at all! Our projects are meant to benefit Muslims and non-Muslims in need. For example, with #Thousand_Wells, we dug water wells in 500 different villages for different tribes and people of different religions in 24 countries.
AGSIW: You have been criticized for not doing enough for local Kuwaitis, especially the bidun (stateless) community.
Mohammad: We will continue to focus on Africa due to our commitment to work with the Direct Aid Society. Nonetheless, we launched a campaign during Ramadan in 2017 called “abshero bel khair” [The Good is Coming] to aid local families by paying their rents and covering their school tuitions. We raised more than 4 million Kuwaiti dinars (around $13,168,624) for our local communities. In addition, we raised 250,000 Kuwaiti dinars (around $823,040) in 2018 to give full seven-year scholarships to five bidun students to study medicine. We are planning more projects for local communities in need, including bidun, but our main focus will remain Africa.
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