Millions of visitors foot in the U.A.E. every year, arrive to find a peaceful haven of coexistence between the that set many nationalities that have made the country their home. So much so that the U.A.E. made this its motto for 2019, when it named it “The Year of Tolerance.” The initiative reflects the human values of love and acceptance that are evident in all of the state facilities, which aim to make tolerance a core value so that visitors and residents can lead a harmonious life, while enjoying the spirit of giving back.
It’s a road that has been trodden by many Emirati leaders and businessmen, including Sheikh Dr. Mohammed Bin Musallem Salem Bin Ham, who has spent his life drawing from the legacy of his family and following in the footsteps of his ancestors in their noble pursuit of helping all members of society. “Philanthropy in the U.A.E. is the culture of the people,” says Bin Ham. “It’s a human value based on giving back, and generosity in all its forms.” These are the values that distinguished his father, Musallem Bin Ham. “He was the one to instill within us the good morals and qualities such as loving our nation, defending it when necessary and providing help to those seeking wisdom and council," adds Bin Ham.
As a keen philanthropist and business leader, Bin Ham’s personal commitment to giving back can be seen in a number of important roles that the Emirati has recently taken on. These include launching the Volunteer Team (Awnak Ya Watan). Made up of hundreds of volunteers in various fields, the team have in the last 18 months undertaken several humanitarian initiatives to help those less fortunate. Since it was established, the team has led various volunteering projects, especially in 2019, The Year of Tolerance. It’s most recent initiative “Eidkm Eidna”, held in August, celebrated Eid al-Adha, by distributing Eid supplies to various groups of workers and laborers. “The U.A.E. has given us so much and now is the time to give back even a little bit through adopting initiatives that motivate us to continue giving back,” says Bin Ham.
The U.A.E. has a rich history of philanthropy and humanitarian works. In December 2016, the President of the U.A.E., His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, declared 2017 as The Year of Giving. As a result, the federal government entities, along with private and public sector establishments, launched 1,400 humanitarian initiatives across the U.A.E. and abroad, including the “Reaching Out Initiative”, which provided food and medical aid to those in need in Yemen, and other initiatives adopted by the Emirates Red Crescent in providing aid to poorer countries. That’s in addition to donations given by various individuals for humanitarian causes.
“He taught us that giving has no limits” says Bin Ham, emphasizing that the Emirates' approach to philanthropy and giving is not new but a legacy established by the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, founder of the nation.
As well as continuously travelling across the Emirates to oversee the interests of his family business, Bin Ham continues to follow his own passions today. The construction and development of humanity is his key focus. “Humans are humans because humanity is the basis of development and civilization. There’s no development or civilization without humanity,” he says.
This long journey to gather knowledge as well as use it for good began for Bin Ham in childhood. As his father and grandfather worked to build the family business, Bin Ham would join them in meetings as a boy and quietly listen as the conversations and negotiations unfolded. He learnt early on about the principles of advice and counsel. To this day, he credits his father as his first mentor. “I learned from his wisdom, good knowledge of people and sound counsel. In economy, I benefited from his knowledge of the basic principles of trade, economy and management. And when it came to our upbringing, our father raised us to love our country and dedicate our lives to its prosperity,” Bin Ham remembers fondly.
It’s a legacy of which Bin Ham, Deputy Chairman of the diversified Bin Ham Group, is clearly extremely proud of. Since those days, the family business, established by his father Sheikh Mussallem Bin Ham more than 45 years ago, has expanded across the region with investments in various economic sectors, the most important being petroleum operations, water well drilling, agriculture, general contracting, electromechanical works, engineering consultancy, real estate investment, education, financial services, general trade, printing, publishing and media, and travel and tourism. These include City Season hotels in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and Oman. Bin Ham confides that the group is now looking to open a new hotel in Morocco next year.
As the business took hold, Bin Ham, who officially joined the Group in 2005, went on to study abroad. First, he travelled to the U.S. to study his Master’s degree in business at the Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona. Then, in 2008, he pursued his PhD in social studies from the University of Kent in the U.K. That same year, he was awarded his first Mohammad Bin Rashid Medal for Scientific Outstanding to acknowledge his academic achievements—he was awarded it a second time in 2011.
Despite his busy schedule, Bin Ham has also found the time to create cultural works by publishing three books: United Arab Emirates—Wise Governance in 2012, The Shura in the U.A.E. in 2015, and The U.A.E. (The Road To Excellence) in 2019. He has also been awarded for his contributions as an Arab cultural figure for 2019.
In his works, Bin Ham remembers the stories and legacy that began with his grandfather, Sheikh Salem Bin Ham, who was a close friend and advisor to Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the father of the nation. Hailing from Al Ain, where Sheikh Zayed lived for 20 years before becoming the ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Salem can be seen sharing conversation and laughter with the founder of the U.A.E. in a number of historic black-and-white images dotted around the welcoming majlis-style area in Bin Ham’s Al Ain-based office.
The newly-released book written by His Excellency Zaki Anwar Nusseibeh, titled Sheikh Zayed and Salam Bin Ham Refqa laha Tarikh, explores the history of companionship between Sheikh Zayed and Sheikh Salem Bin Ham. In the introduction, His excellency Sheikh Saif Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the U.A.E.’s Minister of Interior, explains the close relationship between the two men. “Sheikh Salem bin Ham Al Ameri was a friend and counselor of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan, based on their love of the nation and its people,” he says. “Bin Ham accompanied the ‘founding father’ throughout his youth and witnessed and experienced with him developments and events in the region during the major transformations that preceded the establishment of the United Arab Emirates.”
Since the establishment of the Emirates in 1971 to this day, the country still follows the footsteps of Sheikh Zayed in encouraging joint action among its people and strengthening the bond and unity between them. In 2012, the organization “All of us U.A.E.” was established to achieve these national and communitybased goals. Bin Ham was chosen to be one of its founding members. “Contribution in its establishment is a source of pride for each citizen,” says Bin Ham.
Alongside philanthropy, Bin Ham also continued his efforts in creating and managing economic ventures, strategies and philanthropic projects, developing applied regulations within the Bin Ham Group and representing the company abroad. However, once his PhD was complete, he soon turned his attention to politics.
Bin Ham decided to find new ways to serve his community, by running to become a member of the Federal National Council in 2011—the federal authority and parliamentary body of the U.A.E., which represents the Emirati community in government. The Council has 40 members, of which Abu Dhabi puts forward eight.
During his running campaign, he set out to meet and connect with different segments of society, to listen to their thoughts, concerns and hopes. “Any legislative and electoral work requires a lot of effort and action to succeed,” Bin Ham confides. “It’s a big responsibility, a great trust, a heavy burden and a national duty.” Taking on board the feedback he received from conferences and symposia, he based his agenda on increasing knowledge, well-being, patriotism and human capital development through an economic vision. Bin Ham won one of those eight coveted seats in the council.
During his four-year tenure, Bin Ham followed through on his campaign promises by working on enforcing laws and regulations to protect and enhance living conditions for Emirati families, who he describes as “the cornerstone of the social construct.” Some of the main priorities he focused on included assessing the school trimester system and implementing the WADEEMA Children Law, which lays out and protects legal rights for minors. He also worked on the National Service Draft and Ministry of Health policies, as well as representing the U.A.E. at international parliaments.
Once his political tenure came to an end, the leader returned full-time to his family business, but retained his commitment to the greater good.
Earlier this year, the generous philanthropist joined some of the world’s most famous and successful business people when he put his name to The Giving Pledge. “The generosity of this group is a reflection of the inspiration we take from the many millions of people who work quietly and effectively to create a better world for others, often at great personal sacrifice,” said Warren Buffet at the time, cofounder of the initiative alongside Bill and Melinda Gates.
Bin Ham is now looking for his next project. What he’s not looking for is credit. “Performing a job properly and thoroughly is more important than getting recognition for it,” he says humbly.
“Sheikh Zayed instilled in us a sense of goodness and generosity. He taught us that helping people is a duty. Today we follow in his footsteps.”