Saudi Arabia remains one of the world's most prolific global donors of development assistance, outspending numerous OECD countries and consistently providing aid to the world's most needy.

Saudi Arabia has been a major donor of Overseas Development Aid (ODA) since the mid-1970s, both in terms of the total amount of aid given and in terms of relative amounts of aid compared to GDP. In 2013, Saudi Arabia distributed $5.6 billion in development assistance to other nations. Much of this aid went to lower-income countries in the Islamic world, although the Kingdom also generously donates to non-Muslim countries as well.

According to the World Bank, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the UAE have been among the most charitable in the world in providing development assistance to low-income countries, averaging 1.5% of their gross national income (GNI) during the period from 1973 to 2008. This rate is about twice as much as the 0.7% target set by the UN and about five times the average assistance provided by OECD member states. In fact, Saudi Arabia is the largest single donor in the Arab world.

Saudi Arabia also works multi-laterally in partnership with international organizations. It has recently collaborated with the World Bank to help implement an energy initiative for impoverished countries as well as with the World Food Program (WFP) in order to provide relief to offset rising food prices in needy countries. The World Bank has commended Saudi Arabia for contributing more than $2 billion to the International Development Association (IDA), a key humanitarian organization run by the World Bank.


Saudi Arabia distributes development aid through the Saudi Fund for Development (SFD), which currently contributes to the financing of 3,750 projects in over 70 countries, with projects running in over 40 African countries and 25 Asian countries. By its own account, the SFD reports that it had provided a total of $8.23 billion to 75 countries between 1975 and 2009. The SFD is the main national aid agency and focuses mainly on longer-term development activities, as opposed to humanitarian assistance, which is mostly given through the Saudi Red Crescent society or by private philanthropists. These private donors are often members of the royal family; some, such as HRH Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, are world-renowned for their charitable giving. The SFD's main objectives are to finance projects in developing countries through loans and to promote national non-oil exports by providing commercial support. It deals directly with the governments of developing countries, giving specific priority to those countries that are most in need. In 2011, the SFD financed 22 development projects in 19 countries, including 11 African countries and seven Asian countries.


In 2011, Saudi Arabia gave a total of $86 million in humanitarian assistance, which is mostly used to offset short-term crises or disaster situations throughout the world. The Saudi Red Crescent is the key delivery mechanism for humanitarian assistance. It has close links to the Saudi government, is headed by HRH Prince Faisal bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, and is informally considered a quasi-governmental agency—unlike its counterparts in the West such as the Red Cross Societies.

Although religious principles hold that charitable giving should be based on solidarity with the disadvantaged in Muslim countries, the Saudi government states that the provision of aid is a moral obligation based primarily on humanitarian principles, regardless of who the recipients are. While it is true that most Saudi development aid provided by the SFD goes to low-income countries in the Islamic world (or Muslim minority communities), many other countries including Cameroon, Malawi, Nepal, Jamaica, Sri Lanka, and Kenya are recipients. Although the religious imperative in Saudi Arabia is an important motive for development assistance, Saudi generosity also helps to maintain the Kingdom as the pre-eminent voice of influence in the Arab world, as well as cementing important economic and diplomatic ties with both Islamic nations and the wider world. Indeed, despite the numerous strategic and political motives that influence all donor states, it is important to acknowledge the genuine humanitarian concern that frames Saudi assistance programs.