‘A brand working with a professional charity can become the champion of a specific cause’
We spoke to Owais Khan, Deputy CEO of Human Appeal, about Human Appeal, how faith-based charities impact the narrative of the organisation, what makes a good business leader, and much more.
Can you tell us a bit about Human Appeal and what your role in the organisation is?
Human Appeal is a 31-year-old non-profit organisation working across the globe to strengthen humanity’s fight against poverty, social injustice and natural disasters. Through the provision of immediate relief and the establishment of self-sustaining development programmes, we aim to invest in real, effective solutions. We are working in 26 countries around the World. Last year alone we touched the lives of 3.8 Million beneficiaries.
I have spent the last 17 years working within the development sector, dedicated to working and inspiring others to connect Human Appeal resources, donors, and partners with those facing urgent and ongoing humanitarian crises all over the globe.
Since joining the Human Appeal family in 2014, I have focused on ensuring seamless communication of Human Appeal’s core mission, as well as celebrating the organisation’s 25th anniversary. As Deputy CEO, I report directly to the CEO and Chair of the Board of Trustees and oversee the organisation’s daily operations. I am also responsible for leading the charity’s development, growth, and ongoing digital transformation to ensure that Human Appeal connects to both donors and people in need internationally, to deliver the organisation’s motto and goal of being Here for Every Human. Another key area I am involved in is our new global governance being developed in conjunction with our CEO and Trustees.
What drew you to the charity?
I have always had a keen interest in humanitarian topics and issues. Humanitarians are a special breed. They have to be impartial, independent, calm-headed, exceptionally competent and focused only on achieving results when it comes to helping to prevent and alleviate human suffering. This kind of professional criteria with its neutral dedicated focus on results always fascinated me. It is also a difficult path to walk – in such an emotive area, it is often necessary to try to detach from emotional action so you can make the most balanced decisions.
Human Appeal attracted me with its genuine focus on seeking longer-term solutions to humanitarian aid. It went beyond emergency aid with a view to be Here for Every Human.
You flew out to the Syria/Turkey earthquake zone following the disaster earlier this year. Can you tell us a bit about your experience there?
While the team had been on the ground from almost the second the earthquake hit, I arrived five days after the initial impact. I have never encountered such a scene of total and utter devastation before. The accessible areas for international travel were far from the impact zone, so the further we travelled into the country away from the airport, the greater the levels of destruction grew and the most pressing humanitarian needs increased.
As an organisation, we were also not untouched by the disaster – one of our staff members had tragically died when the earthquake hit, while others were waiting in agony, awaiting their family members to be removed from the rubble. Even in this most difficult of times, the team worked tirelessly to make sure that people had access to hot food and water, shelter, and medical supplies.
Those individual, personal stories will stay with me forever. But what also did not come over clearly enough on the news coverage from the area was just how much the country’s infrastructure and cultural heritage were devastated. Areas of both outstanding historical significance and recent development and investment were impacted and destroyed side by side. The world may have moved on from this story to more pressing matters, but the effects of the earthquake, and the precious remembrance of the people we lost, will linger on for decades.
Human Appeal is a faith-based organisation inspired by Islamic values. How do you think this impacts the narrative of the charity in what they do?
We are faith-based, but not faith-specific – and that is an important point to clarify. All too often faith-based organisations are seen to only support their chosen religious communities, and this is not the case in reality. When you are faced with genuine, acute and abject human suffering, no one within this organisation or any other faith-based charity I know would think to first ask which religion that individual belongs to.
Human Appeal has no political agenda and does not discriminate based on race, language, nationality, ethnicity or religion when it comes to humanitarian aid. The first thought instead is only of – how can I most effectively help. Our humanitarian interventions have included the Ukraine crisis and during the recent Hawaii wildfires, our team was the first international Muslim charity on the ground offering help.
However, as an organisation, we also operate more in line with the Islamic calendar than Christian or secular ones due to our donor base. The month of Ramadan, for example, is exceptionally busy and a key time in the year for charitable giving. We have also chosen to be flexible in allowing our multi-faith workforce to choose whether they would like to observe Muslim religious holidays or the secular UK bank holiday structure when it overlaps with peak work seasons like Ramadan. 30% of our UK staff are non-Muslim. It just means as an organisation, we can be very adaptable to different needs.
Can you explain a bit about the Zakat calculator on the Human Appeal website? More specifically, how beneficial is such a policy to donate a certain proportion of wealth is for humanity?
Zakat is the payment of alms according to Islamic teachings. It is paid yearly based on a calculation of wealth held for at least a year and it is a means for society to ensure that those who have more share with those who have less.
Our Zakat programmes are helping to transform vulnerable families with just 2.5% of a donor’s wealth. Human Appeal’s handy Zakat calculator on its website will help you to work out the exact amount of Zakat is due to be paid to those in need. Paying your Zakat through Human Appeal in Ramadan allows you to fulfil this sacred obligation of purifying your wealth while reaping the multiplied blessings of the month of mercy.
Zakat serves as a reminder that our wealth is bestowed upon us, and by donating to those in need we fulfil our responsibilities as privileged individuals. Zakat ensures that a portion of our surplus wealth is shared with those who are struggling to survive. It is a beautiful pillar of our faith, spreading mercy not only to those who receive but also to those who give.
As we embark on our 32nd year, we are dedicated to implementing long-lasting, impactful projects that leverage Zakat to provide communities with access to clean water, job opportunities, healthcare, and education for years to come.
What advice do you have for entrepreneurs looking to find a charitable cause to support?
For anyone looking to support a cause, the variety can be overwhelming and not a little daunting, Every charity has a worthy cause. I encourage potential corporate supporters to look at their business, their own staff, and look within themselves to think about how they want their donation to make the greatest difference. Significant business-charity partnerships should also be a two-way street.
Take, for instance, our long-running UK winter Wrap Up initiative which can only run with significant input from our corporate supporters, Safestore and Enterprise. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to collect coats for the homeless and vulnerable – but they go well above providing transport, storage and collection venues. Their staff also donate their time to making sure that the annual collection runs smoothly.
For those businesses that might be interested in supporting humanitarian aid issues – naturally, I would welcome it! There is sadly always more to be done, another flood decimating homes and land, or another famine bringing communities to the brink.
Personally, I find humanitarian aid to be one of the most flexible causes to support, as your commitment can make a difference in times of the most immediate urgent need, or be put to good, long-term use through education or projects which give communities both sustainable income sources and dignity. It is about transforming and saving lives, something any reputable brand should be proud to be associated with. A brand working with a professional charity can become the champion of a specific cause in the eyes of its stakeholders, increasing engagement.
What, to you, makes a good business leader?
Firstly, leaders are not born, they are made. A leader needs to develop qualities such as grit, resolve, resilience, and compassion. Humanitarian sector leaders are those who can focus their energy and passion into raising funds and making a difference while developing skills related to communication, fundraising and humanitarian field knowledge.
In my eyes, a true leader is someone who can encourage others to share their vision of a better world, and inspire people to take actions to bring that vision into reality.