ECW Interviews Dubai Cares Ceo H.E. Dr. Tariq Al Gurg

Sep 30, 2021 9:00 PM ET

Building momentum to the RewirEd Summit, leading education advocate explores new ways to bridge the digital divide and respond to COVID-19.


Sep 10 2021 – H.E. Dr. Tariq Al Gurg was appointed as Chief Executive Officer of Dubai Cares in 2009 and as Vice-Chairman in July 2021.

Al Gurg has been a primary driver behind the organization’s success. He has enabled Dubai Cares to contribute to the evidence-base in education, leverage funding and invest in strategic relationships and programs that support the global education agenda. His focus has been to develop Dubai Cares as a recognized best-case practitioner and a global leader in education program design and innovation that is grounded in a philosophy of continuous monitoring and evaluation and rigorous research.

Globally, Al Gurg has been a key champion of Education in Emergencies, as well as a vocal advocate for an increased focus on youth empowerment. He is a founding member of the High-Level Steering Group of ‘Education Cannot Wait’ – the United Nations global fund for education in emergencies, as well as Generation Unlimited, UNICEF’s flagship youth initiative, where he also sits on its Board of Trustees and Global Leadership Council. Al Gurg is also a high-level Champion of the World Economic Forum’s Reskilling Revolution, a member of the advisory board of UNESCO’s Futures of Education Commission, as well as the Regional Champion of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) in the Middle East. Locally, Al Gurg is a Co-chair of the Global Council on SDG 4, a board member at the Digital School initiative, the Commissioner General of the Dubai Cares pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai and a member of the UAE Committee for the Coordination of Humanitarian Aid headed by the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MoFAIC).

Since 2009, Al Gurg has been instrumental in a number of key task forces and leadership circles in the global education sector with his contributions having a far-reaching impact. His efforts have been commended by a number of key entities during this period. He was recognized in 2019 as a “Change-maker” by Save the Children during the celebration of their centennial anniversary. In the same year, Al Gurg was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Letters (D.Litt.) Degree from Mangalayatan University in Aligarh, India. Al Gurg was also recognized by UNESCO in 2017 and by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean (PAM) in 2016.

Al Gurg’s past experience includes 12 years at various senior management positions within the consumer and corporate banking at National Bank of Dubai (Currently known as Emirates NBD). He is a Founding Board Member and Deputy Chairman of the UAE Genetic Diseases Association (UAE GDA). He was also a member of the UAE’s National Anti-Money Laundering Committee, chaired by the Governor of the UAE Central Bank.


ECW: At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, close to 90% of all learners around the world were affected by school closures, causing unprecedented loss in terms of learning outcomes. Yet, crisis can be an opportunity for change, and for some, COVID-19 was the occasion to roll out online digital learning solutions at record speed. What lessons do you draw from this unique, global experience?

Dr. Tariq Al Gurg: The COVID-19 pandemic forced 1.6 billion children out of school and put 24 million children at risk of never receiving an education. In light of this, countries around the world scrambled to adopt new technologies for remote learning, with some quickly getting online education up and running while others suffered due to lack of access to meaningful connectivity and limited remote teaching and learning resources, which prevented children in these countries from making a successful transition to remote learning.

In my opinion, one of the biggest lessons to have emerged from the pandemic is that digital connectivity cannot be a privilege that is reserved for only certain segments of the society in certain parts of the world. Just like access to quality education, digital connectivity needs to be a universal right that – together with quality relevant content and access to devices – enables every child on this planet to learn, grow and build a better future for themselves, wherever they are. Without connectivity, exclusion becomes a big concern, resulting in access to fewer learning resources and limited opportunities for the most vulnerable children and youth to fulfill their potential.

ECW: What do you see as the lasting impacts of COVID-19 on education for children and youth caught in emergencies and protracted crises? As a co-founder of Education Cannot Wait and a solid and unwavering supporter of ECW throughout, how is Dubai Cares working with ECW and other strategic partners to address them?

Dr. Tariq Al Gurg: Children and youth living in crisis settings already face a host of complex challenges that prevent them from living a life of dignity and equal opportunity. When a pandemic like COVID-19 is added to the equation, the negative outcomes are amplified even more, particularly for girls.

Dubai Cares has always believed that education in emergencies and protracted crisis settings is one of the most effective ways to provide stability, security and hope to children in these circumstances where nothing else appears to be in their control. Access to education can bring them a sense of normality as they turn to their classrooms, classmates and teachers to learn essential life skills in peaceful settings in an otherwise unsettling environment. Teachers and trainers are also able to offer these children and youth psychosocial support, which becomes crucial for their recovery from the trauma they face.

Our work with Education Cannot Wait and other strategic partners allows us to maximize the impact of our education in emergencies funding as we know that we are contributing to a coherent, coordinated and prioritized approach targeting those most vulnerable and left furthest behind.

Working in partnership with Education Cannot Wait during the COVID-19 pandemic has allowed Dubai Cares to gain in-depth insights into the different educational interventions that will best address their challenges. Equipped with this knowledge, we are then able to tap into our network to deploy the most effective solutions across our portfolio of grants.

ECW: Dubai Cares has been a sector-leading foundation for global education, showing strong support to ECW amongst other partners. ECW is about to embark on its next round of funding requests, urgently seeking millions in new resources to ensure children in the world’s most complex crises can access quality education. What is your message to public and private sector donors, including those who are not yet part of the ECW movement and who may be considering a contribution at the RewirEd 2021 Summit?

Dr. Tariq Al Gurg: COVID-19 has reemphasized the role of education financing in safeguarding the future of our communities. Without sustained and significant investments in education today, an entire generation of children will grow up uneducated and fail to play their role as contributors of economic growth and development. Nowhere is this more true than in countries affected by crisis and conflict.

Dubai Cares’ message to the global education community is clear: Join us at the RewirEd Summit taking place from 12-14 December during Expo 2020 Dubai to raise the alarm on the education financing crisis facing us today, but also to explore ways to collaborate more effectively across actors and sectors in order to drive better and more sustainable impact for the education of children and youth everywhere. This cannot be achieved without focusing on those most marginalized and the most unstable settings, and these children – girls, refugees, IDPs, children with disabilities in places like Afghanistan, Bangladesh, CAR and South Sudan – these are the children and youth that Education Cannot Wait serves. The RewirEd Summit will feature close to 20 separate sessions focusing on education in emergencies across the three days, including an opportunity to make early commitments to the new Case for Investment that Education Cannot Wait will launch. It is an excellent opportunity for new donors to join and make their commitments heard!


ECW: How can we, as a sector, crowd in more resources to support the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 4 on equitable, inclusive, quality education for every child? In particular, what role can the private sector, high-net worth individuals and foundations play in our efforts to get all children in school and learning?

Dr. Tariq Al Gurg: It is now clear that COVID-19 has further amplified the learning crisis that existed before the pandemic. It has put to risk years of progress that we had painstakingly achieved in the education sector. That said, it has also shined a light on the opportunity for the global education community to join forces under one shared mission to address the challenges through a collective commitment.

Alongside prioritizing funding from national governments and the international community, more can and should be done to engage with new private sector actors through global advocacy, to earmark and mobilize additional funding for education. Dubai Cares is working together with the Global Business Coalition for Education on a strategic engagement framework for global business taking action for education at the RewirEd Summit. Whilst financing is imperative, it is not the only way for businesses to contribute.

Beyond financing, private sector are the largest employers globally and as such should engage with the education sector at large and contribute to informing the design of education systems that will help meet the ever-changing job market needs. Another example is the opportunity that telecoms, big tech and ed-tech companies have to support the connectivity crisis through innovation and new business models.

These are, in fact, some of the key themes and topics that will take center stage at the RewirEd Summit later this year and we are delighted that alongside Education Cannot Wait, we are also working with the World Economic Forum, UNICEF, UNESCO, Global Partnership for Education, the World Bank, World Food Programme, UNHCR, the office of the UN Special Envoy on Education and the OECD as our strategic partners for the Summit. The participation and engagement of all these organizations and many more from across sector and actors will enable us to catalyze meaningful action for the future of education and SDG4.


ECW: Taking place on 12-14 December, the RewirEd 2021 Summit comes as the global community is laying the ground of a post-COVID world. How can the RewirEd Summit help shift the global narrative on education from the impossible to the possible? Can you give us a sneak peek into any of the exciting initiatives you have planned or are working on?

Dr. Tariq Al Gurg: The need of the hour is for all players – from governments to the private sector – to think long and hard about the lessons from the pandemic and leverage them to build the path ahead. Together, we need to place education financing at the top of global agendas through an integrated approach. We must also mobilize additional resources and leverage them in ways that will help us garner more support for education financing. Innovation also plays an integral part, not only when it comes to making an impact in education, but also when it comes to how we develop education models as an interconnected system, delivering pioneering funding models, and innovative partnerships locally, regionally and globally.

Through the RewirEd Summit, we look forward to unlocking new solutions and innovation for the future of education by fostering collaboration between new and unlikely allies, whilst bringing together existing platforms and partnerships to amplify their impact.

Discussions at the Summit will span three key themes namely: Youth, Skills and the Future of Work, Innovation in Education and Education Training. For the first time at a global educational conference, climate change and sustainability will take center stage with a high-level panel dedicated only to this topic, and a number of side events looking at education through this lens. Amongst other things, we will explore new ways of working in the areas of future skills, alternative pathways to secondary and tertiary education, and the opportunities that more holistic locally rooted learning ecosystems can bring. Through a series of high-level plenaries, TED-style talks, workshops, masterclasses and panels, we look forward to encouraging disruptive dialogue that will help us reclaim the foundational role of education in building a sustainable, equitable and prosperous future for all.


ECW: If you had one message for gathering leaders at the RewirEd Summit and Expo 2020 Dubai on the importance of connectivity in education for children caught in emergencies and protracted crises, what would it be?

Dr. Tariq Al Gurg: Meaningful connectivity for learning represents one of the most robust and effective ways to bring access to quality education to children affected by emergencies. As a platform committed to rethinking and rewiring the future of education, RewirEd will put the spotlight on the need for increased investments in connectivity through its second theme: Education Financing.

Dubai Cares had long identified connectivity as a critical enabling factor to ensure learning can continue – even in times of crisis and school closures. To achieve this, Dubai Cares has been working closely with UNESCO and UNICEF since the beginning of the global lockdown in March 2020, to launch a Global Declaration on Connectivity during the RewirEd Summit. The aim of the RewirEd Declaration is to build consensus and commitments through collective collaboration between key stakeholders, address key barriers to connectivity and highlight the need for an ecosystem for meaningful connectivity. By bringing together new and unlikely allies, the Summit seeks to mobilize support from public and private sectors for this Global Declaration that will be a historic step in our efforts to close the digital divide, with an emphasis on those most marginalized.

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