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Despite low oil prices, Gates looks to Gulf in anti-poverty campaign

ABU DHABI (Reuters) – Low oil prices and tight budgets in the Gulf are making it harder to raise money for a fund tackling poverty in the Muslim world, but a growing culture of philanthropy may draw in wealthy regional donors, billionaire campaigner Bill Gates said.

The Microsoft co-founder is visiting the Gulf seeking donations towards his foundation’s planned $2.5 billion fund, which will work to reduce poverty and disease across 30 countries in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

The fund is a joint project with the Jeddah-based Islamic Development Bank, which has committed $2 billion in loans financing if the Gates Foundation raises $500 million in donations – mostly from the wealthy oil-producing Gulf states.

“Certainly the price of oil means that these countries are having to prioritize both domestic and internationally things they do,” Gates told Reuters on Sunday in the United Arab Emirates, ahead of his trip to Kuwait City.

“It would be easier if oil was $100 a barrel.”

Oil prices have fallen 60 percent since mid-2014, and the benchmark Brent crude was trading around $42.80 on Monday.

The Lives and Livelihoods fund will focus on reducing deaths of mothers and children through malaria and polio immunization, and strengthening primary healthcare. It will also develop power and water supplies and help small farms improve productivity.

The Gates Foundation has pledged US$100 million, and the Islamic Development Bank has put up another US$100 million, leaving a donor target of $300 million.

Gates said the foundation had several important partners in the region including Saudi prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who helped on projects including polio and agriculture development.

The prince said in July he would gradually give his entire $32 billion fortune to charities including those that promote health, disease eradication, disaster relief and women’s rights.

Days later, United Arab Emirates businessman Abdullah Ahmad al-Ghurair gave more than $1 billion – a third of his business empire – to a foundation supporting education in the Arab world.

The donations could mark a new trend among the region’s super-rich. Whilst charity is an important tenet of Islam, most of the Arab world’s wealthiest individuals have not established the kind of large-scale endowments seen in the West.

Alwaleed, whose charitable giving had previously amounted to around $100 million a year, said in July Gates’ foundation would be a model for how he would be going about setting up his own.

“Philanthropy is growing here and every time I come to the region I get a chance to sit and talk with people who are considering giving and I hear a lot of enthusiasm,” Gates said.

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