A Foundation Of, By, and For Arab Americans

Over the past half century, foundationsmost notably the Ford Foundationhave famously helped empower different ethnic groups in U.S. society: Latinos, African African Americans, Native Americans, and Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. 

More recently, philanthropy has focused attention and resources on Arab Americans, but these efforts are less well known. 

Radio host Diane Rehm, actress Alia Shawkat, Accenture founder George Shaheen—the list of Arab Americans who have risen to success and made great contributions to life in America is quite long. And yet hurtful stereotypes of Arab Americans and Islam still run strong in this country, especially since 9/11. Beyond this, the Arab American community confronts many of the same social and economic challenges as any other group.

Several nonprofits have historically worked on issues of concern to Arab Americans, like the Arab American Institute, which has received modest foundation support at times from such major funders as the Carnegie Corporation, the Open Society Foundations, and Ford, as well as some corporate support.

But the biggest foundation money in recent years has gone to the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services, or ACCESS, which has pulled in support from a who's who of major progressive foundationsFord, Kresge, Kellogg, Mott, and OSFand has also drawn funds from a number of top corporate funders, including JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, and AT&T. 

Not surprisingly, the Ford Foundation has been the top funder of ACCESS, cementing the foundation's unmatched record of helping different ethnic groups in the United States. Since 2006, Ford has given ACCESS around $6.7 million. This money has gone toward a variety of efforts, including civic engagement.

One particularly robust and intriguing piece of ACCESS's work that funders have helped scale up is the Center for Arab American Philanthropy (CAAP). While still housed at ACCESS, it's become it's own distinct organization.

CAAP commits grants to programs that equip Arab Americans with the tools not only to succeed at school and at life, but also to challenge and change anti-Arab prejudices. Such funding is related to, but distinct from, other philanthropic effort we've reported on lately to push back against anti-Muslim bias. 

Related - Philanthropy and the Fight Over Muslims in America

CAAP’s story begins in 2005, when ACCESS launched it as part of a larger effort to “strengthen philanthropy in the Arab American community.” Over the following three years, the new center found partner organizations across the United States and obtained infusions of startup capital from the Ford, W.K. Kellogg, and Rockefeller foundations. From 2009 onward, it’s been a grantmaker in its own right, issuing $53,000 or more in philanthropic awards every year.

CAAP will fund organizations in any city or state in the country, and its application process is open to all, e.g., no prior invitation to apply needed. But consistent with its mission, it requires its grantees either to be Arab American organizations, or at least to serve the Arab American community in a big way. CAAP also houses donor-advised funds and, in that way, is emerging as the de facto community foundation for Arab Americans. 

Here we should pause to note that while the community foundation model has mainly been applied to a specific geographic area (as the term implies), we're seeing more examples of foundations that host donor-advised funds around a given substantive concern. 

Among CAAP's priorities, children and youth are a sizable area of interest. For example, CAAP is a frequent contributor to the Arab American Heritage Council, which offers such services as tutoring bilingual Arab youth and hosting educational workshops. CAAP gave this group $5,000 in 2011 and $7,000 in 2012. CAAP has also issued:

  • a sum total of $13,500 in grants in 2011-2013 to the Arab American Association of New York for, among other things, “teen empowerment and engagement programs.”
  • a sum total of $7,000 in grants in 2013-2014 to the Arab American Family Support Center, a Brooklyn nonprofit that offers an array of support services to Arab American children and their families.
  • $5,000 in 2014 to the Chicago-based Arab American Action Network to support an anti-racial-profiling campaign led by the nonprofit’s youth-advocacy staff.

Note that a few of the grantees above are clearly community-centered organizations, while others are nationwide in scope. And CAAP funds all of them alike. So it doesn’t matter where in the country you work or how many clients you serve. If you’re making a positive difference for Americans who are of Arab descent, there may be opportunities for funding with CAAP.