Abraaj sponsors next generation of artist entrepreneurs


Arif Naqvi, the founder and chief executive of the private equity firm the Abraaj Group, is probably best known for establishing the Abraaj Group Art Prize. He is less well known for establishing postgraduate scholarships for young artists from abroad at London’s Royal College of Arts (RCA).

Five started their studies in London in September, while the first cohort of “cultural entrepreneurs”, as Abraaj likes to call artists, is due to graduate in spring 2016. Covering tuition and living expenses for a full-time, two-year master of arts programme in design and the arts, the RCA Innovation Scholarship has a singular caveat: the five yearly awardees must return to their home countries and apply their newfound skills to help their local communities, most notably through job creation.

In the 29 emerging markets in which the Abraaj Group operates, from the Middle East and North Africa to Latin America and Southeast Asia, a staggering proportion of the population is under the age of 20. The Abraaj Group has mirrored its widening business presence with investments in youth-centric initiatives designed to sustainably bolster these growth markets.

While the Abraaj prize resembles patronage—a $100,000 sum goes to a single artist to create a new, Abraaj-owned work—the RCA Innovation Scholarship is more entwined with entrepreneurship. “Sixty-seven percent of RCA graduates go on to start their own businesses in the field of art and design,” says Naqvi in a statement, highlighting the presence of entrepreneurs such as James Dyson on the RCA’s board.

As young people’s disillusionment with their governments’ failure to provide jobs deepens throughout the Middle East and beyond, the scholarship aims to harness culture to change societies from within—one student at a time.