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Philanthropy in business benefits health and education

Article - September 27, 2011
Wafic Rida Said has used entrepreneurial success to fund a raft of humanitarian projects that include collaborations with the University of Oxford and the Texas Heart Institute
THE SAID BUSINESS SCHOOL IS FULLY INTEGRATED INTO THE UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD AND IS CONSIDERED ONE OF THE WORLD'S LEADING SCHOOLS
Integrity, rigor and imagination are joined by commitment, the pursuit of excellence and discretion to form the bedrock of Said Holdings Limited (SHL). Incorporated in Bermuda, SHL’s investment portfolio includes equities, fixed income assets, hedge funds, private equity and real estate, with operations spanning Europe, North America and the Far East.

The company was established in 1987 by its chairman, Wafic Rida Said, one of the most prominent Syrian expatriates living in Europe. Well connected in commercial spheres, particularly in Europe and Saudi Arabia, Mr. Said is also highly respected for his philanthropic activities, having ensured entrepreneurial success has benefited a host of humanitarian projects. 

In 1982 he founded the Karim Rida Said Foundation, now the Said Foundation, which works for a better future in the Middle East by opening up education opportunities that would be otherwise unavailable for disadvantaged children and young people in Syria, Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon. Through the Child Development Program and in particular the Syria Disability Program, the foundation has helped many disabled children and their parents.  Since 1993, it has funded or directly implemented over 280 projects across the region. Each year more than 10,000 children directly benefit from its support.

“I have never lost my roots,” says Mr. Said. “I love my country and I have always been committed to its well-being.”

The foundation also strives to promote better knowledge and understanding of Arab culture among young people through its Arab Culture Program.
‘AMERICA CAN PROFIT A LOT FROM SYRIA BECAUSE SYRIA IS HIGHLY INFLUENTIAL IN THE REGION. NO PROBLEM CAN BE RESOLVED IN THIS PART OF THE WORLD WITHOUT SYRIA’

‘THE ENVIRONMENT HERE IS VERY ATTRACTIVE AND APPEALING. WE HAVE POLITICAL STABILITY, SECURITY, TAX INCENTIVES FOR FOREIGN INVESTORS AND ON TOP OF THAT THERE IS A WELL-TRAINED, EDUCATED, SKILLED AND CHEAP WORKFORCE’

‘FOR THE FIRST TIME, THERE IS A PRIVATE EQUITY FUND OF $250 MILLION TO INVEST IN INDUSTRIAL AND TOURISM PROJECTS IN SYRIA’

Furthermore, in the U.K. thousands of people have been exposed to different aspects of Arab culture and language through the foundation’s partnerships there, which include ventures with the British Museum, among other organizations.

The Said Foundation aims to continue expanding its activities in Syria over the coming years. Plans include a state-of-the-art hospital in Yafour that will hopefully be linked to a major Western medical center like the John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, which for 20 years in a row has come first in U.S. News & World Report’s annual rankings of more than 4,800 American hospitals.

Another hospital that has appeared in the top 10 every year over the past two decades in the same rankings is the Texas Heart Institute at St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital in Houston. Following a major heart operation at the institute 20 years ago, Mr. Said was so impressed by the professionalism of the staff and the treatment he received that he wanted to contribute to their facilities. So, he provided substantial funding to set up a molecular cardiology and gene therapy research laboratory, which has numerous ongoing projects investigating new treatments and procedures.
   
Mr. Said is a firm advocate of stronger links between the U.S. and Syria and is optimistic about the future interactions between the two nations, as well as greater understanding of both cultures. “I am delighted that President Obama has appointed Robert Ford as the U.S. Ambassador to Syria. The idea that we are against American culture is complete rubbish. We admire America and its culture,” he says. “America can profit from having good relations with Syria because Syria is highly influential in the region. No problem can be resolved in this part of the world without Syria, be it Iraq, Palestine or Lebanon.”

Strengthening bonds between Syria and the U.K., as well as enhancing knowledge transfer between the two countries, Mr. Said is also the benefactor and founding trustee of the Said Business School Foundation, formed to create the University of Oxford’s business school and support its development.

Established in 1994, the Said Business School is fully integrated into one of the world’s greatest universities. The school has built up a reputation of innovative business education, combining the highest levels of academic standards with providing practical understanding of business and wealth creation.

The school is now among the leading international business schools listed by the U.K. Treasury, based on the employment record and salaries commanded by graduates. It is also ranked first for undergraduate business studies by The Times and The Guardian newspapers.


“Syrian business people are natural entrepreneurs and this is why all the Syrian expatriates living in the U.S., Brazil and Europe have succeeded. Providing you give them the environment, they will flourish,” says Mr. Said. “We are now being given the right environment in Syria. I am optimistic because we have the right people who are really focused and they are making the right decisions. For example, we are going to build our infrastructure through public-private partnerships, which is very important.”

Mr. Said believes the time is right for foreign investors to get involved. “The environment here is very attractive and appealing,” he says. “We have political stability, security, tax incentives for foreign investors and on top of that there is a well-trained, educated, skilled and cheap workforce. Syria’s skilled labor is being used in the Gulf, because there are more opportunities there.  
 
“For the first time, there is a private equity fund of $250 million to invest in industrial and tourism projects in Syria. That shows how attractive Syria is becoming for foreign investors.” 

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