United Arab Emirates: The Year Of Giving And New Legal Framework For NGOs In Dubai

The UAE has declared 2017 as the ''Year of Giving'', aiming to accomplish charity, social and humanitarian initiatives and to promote a culture of giving, loyalty and volunteering. The Year of Giving is supported by a number of strategic initiatives, one of which is to develop a legislative framework for the operation of charities, humanitarian and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs). A key development is the recent publication of Dubai Law No.12 of 2017 (the Dubai Civil Organisation Law), a new law regulating NGOs in Dubai.

The "Year of Giving" Framework

The aims of the Year of Giving are referred to as the 'three pillars of giving', which are to promote:

  • Corporate Social Responsibility in the private sector to develop a sense of community and social responsibility within the community;
  • The value of serving the nation by emphasising the importance and value of loyalty and commitment to future generations; and
  • A culture of volunteering and creating specialised volunteer programs to encourage social development and the development of community services.

The Dubai Civil Organisations Law

Implementation and applicability

The Dubai Community Development Authority (CDA) is responsible for the implementation and management of the Dubai Civil Organisations Law, which aims to regulate NGOs in the UAE.  The CDA will authorise NGOs to practice non-profit activities in Dubai in social, health, educational, cultural, scientific, creative, professional and humanitarian fields, or those fields determined by the director-general of the CDA.

Exempted from the provisions of the new Dubai Civil Organisations Law are the following:

  • associations and institutions which fall under Federal Law No 2 of 2008, known as Public Welfare Associations;
  • bodies working in the field of youth and sport care under Federal Law No 7 of 2008;
  • private associations and institutions established by legislation issued by the Ruler;
  • charitable associations, Quran memorisation centres and Islamic institutions licensed pursuant to Executive Council Resolutions No. 26 of 2013; and
  • business councils licensed by Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry in accordance with Law No. 8 of 1997.

Defining an NGO

The Dubai Civil Organisations Law splits NGOs into two categories, which are:

  • Non-governmental Associations: organisations which can be made up of both legal entities and individuals practicing any of the non-profit activities specified by the Dubai Civil Organisations Law (e.g. social, health, education); and
  • Non-governmental Institutions: founded by an individual or group of individuals based on the allocation of a sum of money to carry out any of the fields specified by the Dubai Civil Organisations Law. 

Generally, the provisions of the Dubai Civil Organisations Law apply to both Associations and Institutions (in this article together referred to collectively as NGOs).  

In relation to the requirement for founding members, an Association must have at least ten founding members, with two of those founders being UAE Nationals.  There is a provision that allows for Associations to be registered without the required number of founders, but only with consent of the Director General of the CDA.  For Institutions, the law does not specify that the founder(s) must be Emirati, but the Board of Trustees must consist of at least five persons, including one Emirati national. 

Obtaining a licence and legal personality

Applications for establishing an NGO are submitted to the CDA, along with supporting documents, using a prescribed form.  If approved, the NGO will acquire a legal personality upon the license being issued and published in the Official Gazette.  The license will be valid for a period of one year and can be renewed for further periods of between one and three years with the approval of both the CDA and any other concerned authority.

Other requirements include the submission of annual plans and programmes of work, marketing material and minutes of meetings.  In addition, audited accounts must be submitted yearly and the CDA needs to approve the NGOs' participation in conferences, meetings or lectures insider or outside of Dubai.  It is yet to be tested as to how easily these processes can be navigated.

Supervision and violations

The CDA will be the regulatory body for NGOs under the new law and will have the power to control and inspect various aspects of a NGO's operation in order to ascertain sources of income and review expenditure amongst other facets.

In response to an NGO and/or its members contravening the Dubai Civil Organisations Law, the CDA has the power to impose penalties which can include: (i) warnings, (ii) fines between AED 500 to 200,000, (iii) suspension of NGO licence, (iv) dissolution of the board, and/or (v) closure of the NGO.

Fundraising and the use of funds

The Dubai Civil Organisations Law permits an NGO to collect donations, to fundraise and advertise fundraising subject to obtaining the approval of both the CDA and any other concerned authority, which in Dubai would be the Dubai Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department. 

NGOs are able to generated funds through membership subscriptions and activities. Funds must be deposited in the NGO's account (which must be held with licensed national bank) and the CDA should be informed within 10 days of funds being deposited.

An NGO is only permitted to spend funds for the purposes for which it is established and it is prohibited from distributing funds or returns to its members.  An NGO must refrain from trading and participating in financial speculation, however, it can invest beyond its needs for return to help achieve its goals and engage in limited commercial activities.  CDA approval, and that of any other regulating governing entity, must first be obtained.


The UAE's Year of Giving has been a welcomed programme of initiatives to foster a culture of giving, volunteering and humanitarianism.  A number of questions still exist in relation to the operation of the new Dubai Civil Organisations Law and how this will benefit the management and operation of NGOs in Dubai.  Notwithstanding these practical points, the new law looks to give some much needed framework governing the activities of NGOs in Dubai and it is hoped that registration with, and supervision by, the CDA will help further the contributions of the non-profit sector in Dubai.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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Sara Khoja
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