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University of Balamand > News > Archive > UOB Hosts IV Takaful Conference

Balamand Hosts IV Takaful Conference

The University of Balamand hosted the “Fourth Annual Conference on Arab Philantrophy and Civic Engagement” on June 6, on the third day of the program. 

Organized by the University of Balamand ,the American University of Cairo and  the American University of Beirut, the conference included the participation of scholars and activists who presented their work and views on civic engagement and civil society in public policy, and the relationship of academic institutions to the community.

Kick starting the morning session on the final day of the program, Dr. Mounir Mabsout, professor and director of the Center for Civic Engagement and Community Service at AUB, addressed civic engagement in an educational setting with a case study based on an AUB experience. He showcased a background for civic engagement at AUB and how his center became institutionalized within the university, and how it responded to issues that are critical to the community. 

Dr. Mabsout said that the key to community service is to “throw initiatives that we are able to achieve,” saying that “sustainability is key.”  

Raya Thallaj , an educational project manager at Atheeb Group in Saudi Arabia, focused on the community service projects launched by her firm  that include programs such as scholarships and sponsorships for youth empowerment. 

Ms. Thallaj showcased her project “Dine in the Dark” that was aimed at developing the skills of the blind sector in Saudi Arabia, by creating job opportunities for the blind.

Dr. Sami Ofeish, chairperson of the department of political science and international affairs at UOB,  presented an overview of the growth of civic engagement at the University of Balamand that started with the SEED program in 1997.

Dr. Ofeish said that Balamand students and faculty members have become increasingly more involved, and in larger numbers, in various community service activities including “participating in development projects and in helping municipalities, monitoring the electoral process, addressing human rights issues of Iraqi and Syrian refugees, migrant workers, and women in prison, and in looking after their needs.”

The obstacles to community service and civic engagement, said Dr. Ofeish, are sectarianism and the escalating violence and instability in the north of the country.

Joining the panel, Dr. Aboulloz Abdelhakim , a researcher of sociology of religion in Morocco, addressed the relationship between Islamic movements and civil work stressing that the Islamic movements were established as communal and
faith-based organizations that provided services to the community.

Completing the first panel, Dr. Omar Bortolazzi, an associate researcher at the University of Bologna, addressed the role of Amal’s philantrophic organization that started the distribution of resources and services to the Shiite community.

Dr. Sarah Sabry, a visiting lecturer at the University of Zurich, addressed the role of faith-based organizations in Cairo, including religious organizations and religious NGOS, adding that increasing poverty has led to a growing role for civil society due to the lack of state provision. 

This, added Dr. Sabry, means that the increasing role of faith-based organizations in the life of the poor will have disastrous consequences because they send divisive messages that contradict the law that stipulates that community-based activities should not discriminate between people.

The third panel addressed research methodologies, tools and approaches to better understand civic engagement. Dr. Farida Hammad explored  the role  that arts and culture can play in civic engagement shedding light on the economic value for art and culture programs.  Art and culture, said Dr. Hammad, can lead to the development of the mind and to the maximization of social and economic welfare.  “Art and culture have the ability to raise awareness on social issues and thus boost productivity,” she concluded.

In turn, Dr. Sami Hourani, director of Leaders of Tomorrow, showcased the “Fadfed initiative” , a street initiative that started in Amman that motivated grassroots to express themselves by writing on white papers in public spaces.

The last panel of the conference welcomed Mr. Abdelghany Barakat who examined the role of civil society in advocating change in society, in the Egyptian healthcare system. Also in that panel, Dr. Mabrouk Sahli evaluated the role of civil society organizations in Algeria.

The last speaker, Dr. Rania Masri, an assistant professor at the department of Environmental Sciences at UOB, focused on the right to water and civil society in Lebanon.

Dr. Masri said that access to clean water should be recognized as a human right, indispensable for leading a life in human dignity. Unfortunately, added Masri, the legal right to water in Lebanon, remains legally unforceable.

Dr. Masri added that very few national NGOS  have dealt with water as a human right issue stressing that  some  
non-governmental organizations  call themselves influence groups, while in fact, they are working for profit.  Dr. Masri concluded by asking: “ Should NGOs lobby for the empowerment of the state responsibilities or for privatization and the dismantling of the state?”

In concluding remarks, Vice President Georges Nahas said universities and academic institutions offer an example for Takaful against  dependency and fragmentation adding that education should adopt a new vision as a platform to build
“a social Takaful” and to prepare the youth on the idea of civic engagement and social solidarity. 

Dr. Nahas added that there is a pressing need to educate youth on critical thinking, and to prepare our society on the need for dialogue and accepting others in order to ensure “social solidarity” between the different groups of society that should complement each others.

Dr. Hiba Abou Shneif, a researcher advisor at the American University of Cairo,  praised the researchers who made  this conference successful and thanked the researchers and attendees who were then invited to visit the Balamand monastery and Anfeh archeological site. 
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