Q&A: Our conversation with Rasha Demashkieh of the Center for Arab American Philanthropy

Earlier this year, Rasha Demashkieh was introduced as the new advisory board chair for the Center for Arab American Philanthropy (CAAP). Based in Dearborn, CAAP acts much like a typical community foundation, except rather than focus on one city or one county, CAAP focuses on the entire Arab American community in the United States. The organization is a philanthropy-forward institution of Dearborn’s ACCESS, which is the largest nonprofit serving Arab Americans in the country.

Born in Damascus, Syria, Demashkieh came to the United States at a young age and moved to Port Huron, where she raised her family and still resides, working as a pharmacist. She’s served on several boards and committees, from the PTA to ACCESS and now CAAP.

The coming month of August is a busy one for CAAP. A fundraiser for the Arab American National Museum is scheduled for Sunday, Aug. 8, at the Forest Lake Country Club in Bloomfield Hills. And on Saturday, Aug. 28, CAAP hosts the 100 Arab American Women Who Care event, of which Demashkieh speaks at length about in our interview that follows.

It’s a conversation about connecting people and finding strength in community.

“It’s amazing what a group of people, if they come together because they have a common goal, can do,” Rasha Demashkieh says. “Our purpose, our job, is to connect those donors.”Metromode: Tell us about your new role. What are some of your goals and objectives?

Rasha Demashkieh: We’re a relatively new foundation. In our first 10 years, it was more like educating our community about: What is the foundation? What's the role of the foundation? How can you learn to be strategic in your donation? All of those educational components of what a foundation can do. We are getting to a point now where we are working to attract donors from more states. I mean, we have donors all over the country, but we would like to increase the number of donors in the United States. And to explore the issues that they find important, to be able to address more of their needs.

Metromode: And even though CAAP is based in Dearborn, its reach is much bigger than that?

Demashkieh: It's a national organization. Our board members come from, I want to say, seven different states. So we are a national organization, and we meet twice a year, once in Dearborn and then once in a different state. We have board members in New Jersey and Florida and California. We have a board member in Texas, one in New York. So we will be traveling and giving people an opportunity to learn more about what we do and seeing what we can do to help them.

Metromode: What are some of your goals nationwide?

Demashkieh: Dearborn, Michigan, has the largest concentration of Arab Americans in the nation. California, I believe, comes second. The Arab American community sort of congregated in one geographic area, in Michigan, between Dearborn and Detroit. That's why ACCESS grew in Michigan, because it has the support of a large community. But we found that there’s a need in many of the states that have an Arab American community — even if it’s not a large community, they need the support, too. ACCESS and CAAP can help those communities because we have the infrastructure to be able to reach out to them, help them, and create a network for our community across the country. Even though it started in Michigan, we are creating hubs in every state — hopefully in every state, we're not quite there yet. But in the future — and this is one of my goals — we hope to reach out to Arab Americans in every state, to be able to get them to understand what opportunities there are through philanthropy.

Our goal as an organization is to elevate the voice of Arab Americans and to showcase the contributions of Arab Americans in larger society through philanthropy. Arab Americans are historically very generous, but they have not been strategic. Through CAAP, we're hoping to educate our community to be strategic, to elevate their voice and fulfill their needs. 

Metromode: And why is philanthropy such an important part of that?

Demashkieh: Philanthropy plays a critical role in society. So many projects are spearheaded by smart people that want to help society, help the community around them. Arab Americans are no exception. You don't need to be Bill Gates or Rockefeller to be able to be a philanthropist. Even small donors — and particularly small donors — can make a huge impact by leveraging their donating power with other people. And that's how you make an impact. Lots of people shy away from it: "Well, I don't have $10,000 or $100,000 to give." That’s where the education comes in. You don't need to be a large donor. You can make an impact just by working with other people.

It’s amazing what a group of people, if they come together because they have a common goal, can do. Our purpose, our job, is to connect those donors. Say you're interested in education, or you're interested in the arts. You come to the Center for Arab American Philanthropy and you say, "I like education but I don't know how to contribute." So we connect you with other people that have the same goal in mind. As a group, you can make a difference. You can make an impact. And as a community, that impact will reflect on your community. That's the goal; it’s to be able to help people but at the same time, elevate the voice of the community.

Metromode: Tell us about the upcoming 100 Arab American Women Who Care event. What is it?

Demashkieh: When I was at the Community Foundation of St. Clair County, there was the 100 Women Who Care event. You get 100 women — they end up having way more than 100 — and they each donate $100. They sign up and submit the name of a not-for-profit organization. And then during the event, three organizations that were chosen are nominated and they make a speech about why we should support that organization. At the end, everybody votes and it’s democratically chosen. The winner ends up getting a large sum of money, typically around $10,000.

So I took that idea and introduced it to CAAP. This is our 7th annual Arab American Women Who Care event. We’ve given $10,000 to the Belinda Sue Fund at Henry Ford Hospital to fight cancer. We’ve given $10,000 to a women’s homeless shelter in Detroit. These ladies, they put $100 in but when they go home, it’s like they’ve given $10,000. How awesome is it that your $100 became $10,000? It’s a social gathering that makes a huge difference in the life of an organization.

Learn more about the 100 Arab American Women Who Care event online.

Read more articles by MJ Galbraith.

MJ Galbraith is a writer and musician living in Detroit. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.