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Zakat Foundation Of America Redefines Humanity One Sponsor At A Time

By Rod Berger

Young children receive much-needed aid from the Zakat Foundation of America. ZAKAT FOUNDATION OF AMERICA
Young children receive much-needed aid from the Zakat Foundation of America. ZAKAT FOUNDATION OF AMERICA

Passion projects and the people that fuel them continue to evolve into professions serving diverse populations in need across the globe. The Zakat Foundation of America recently celebrated 20 years of service, bringing relief to thousands. The 9-Pillar Program steeped in the basics of human necessity continues to evolve to meet an expanded menu of needs for global citizens of all ages in increasingly dire straits.

The Orphan Sponsorship Program illustrates both the challenge and the opportunity to radically alter historical approaches to match child, need, and sponsor together in a more balanced effort to realize sustainable results across gender and age of orphan.

On the heels of this reporter’s trip to the Sub-Saharan nation of Senegal, a deeper dive seemed appropriate to understand the business of education and offerings within the world of foundational support.

Purpose Driven Profession

Amna Mirza, the Chief Marketing Officer of the Zakat Foundation of America, spent time with this reporter representing a shift in generational and professional pursuits in the name of legacy building.

Like many in her generation, Mirza, an accomplished marketer in the private sector, found lackluster results in the professional ranks filling her ‘proverbial’ cup of meaning. The Zakat Foundation of America met her cultural and personal needs to utilize her professional muscle for good.

The humanitarian aid organization focuses on food insecurity, clean water, pumps, educational efforts, and orphan care. Operating in over 50 countries, the Muslim-run organization comprises a small team that maximizes efforts. Zakat infuses highly effective lean programs that utilize 94 cents for every dollar secured. In addition, emergency relief programs are provided with 100% of the funds allocated to programs. This remarkably giving ratio also applies to Zakat’s Orphan Sponsorship Program.

Zakat operates like the startup world, maintaining flexibility within the moment to meet on-demand and global needs. The orphan program embodies this approach as the definition and understanding of what an orphan is and the fluidity of its evolving meaning.

Mirza notes that with increasing global conflicts, many children may still physically have their parent(s), yet their parents are ill-equipped and in crisis. As a result, many offspring are hopelessly alone and inadequately prepared for independence of necessity. Zakat considers these youth as orphans clearing the way for an often marginalized group of children to experience the love and support of donors from across the planet.

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Mirza adds, “The estimates of orphans around the world are incredibly conservative (153 million) and more likely north of 200 million. The focus needs to adapt to include children who, resulting from war and other conflicts, find themselves with little to no rearing or support to avoid the dangers of food or water insecurities.”

The Zakat Foundation of America considers orphans up to 18 years of age to account for the delicate and day-to-day nature of young people unfortunately left to their own devices with often little to no resources to access. “We are seeing children become orphans because of conflict and natural disasters. Unrelenting war puts a toll on the necessities of life and creates conditions where caregivers run the risk of becoming physically or mentally disabled. It renders their respective parenting efforts ineffective or nonexistent. The need is real and ever-evolving.”

In a collective attempt to better serve young people, the Foundation takes a concerted look at how orphan sponsorship programs present candidates to the masses, making a sound and calculated risk.

Legacy Building

The Zakat Foundation of America recently celebrated 20 years of service and continues to work diligently to ensure that most donations go directly to the cause. They have approximately three thousand orphans that have been sponsored with a goal of 10 thousand by 2023.

To achieve its goal, the Zakat Foundation of America continues to explore methods to better approximate the number of children in need. Historically, humanitarian programs that support orphans or refugee children focus on the power of personal photos to drive sponsorship. Often, a majority of those selected for sponsorship are the youngest children with fair skin who are most likely female.

The Zakat Foundation of America altered the traditional algorithm and removed photos to level the proverbial playing field. Following the strategic shift, the first young person sponsored was a 17-year-old boy. Mirza and the team knew they had stumbled upon a tectonic shift in sponsorship programs and continue to see a broader and more diverse representation of sponsored young people because of the effort.

“There is no room for bias—conscious or unconscious—when offering help,” Mirza said. “In a humanitarian organization, there is even less room for conditional support. We have seen that younger girls with fairer skin and lighter eyes were sponsored more often than older boys with darker skin. It had to end.”

The organization understands that what might work in concept could experience challenges at each cultural ‘checkpoint’ before new rules of engagement take hold.

“It’s a risky move to remove orphan photos, as many of our donors enjoy the experience of seeing an orphan’s picture before they sponsor the child,” said Khalil Demir, the organization’s executive director. “But I know that goodness and human kindness will prevail, and our donors and people just like them will choose to love and support an orphan unconditionally.”

Mirza finds solace in a career that provides opportunities beyond slick advertising campaigns and first-world problems. “I have worked in the for-profit and not-for-profit marketing worlds. I have worked with large budgets, and I found it tiresome to continually try to spin creative stories about benign products and services. I am getting the opportunity to impact storytelling in a very human-centered way.”

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That story includes the comprehensive approach and benefits of securing stability for sponsored orphans through monthly donations of $50. Food, shelter, education, and healthcare support the orphan’s ability to attend school, receive well-checks from local doctors and maintain consistent food and shelter.

The Zakat Foundation, powered by Mirza’s efforts, has been recognized for passionate storytelling by the Hermes Creative Marketing Awards, awarding the nonprofit with its highest honor, the Platinum Award.

“We [Zakat Foundation] have smaller budgets, but brilliant people who really want to use their power for good,” states Mirza.

For-profit employers used to be at a hiring advantage over nonprofits. Incoming generations of workers are looking beyond the traditional benefits of main street.

Today, employees' general understanding of benefit packages goes far deeper than health insurance, gym memberships, and extended vacation opportunities. The latest generation to enter the workplace seeks meaning above financial status and connection over job title.

Amna Mirza appears to have the freedom to exercise her vast set of talents against a canvas of human connection and the overarching opportunity to permanently impact the lives of the most fragile.