Volunteerism and philanthropy, if looked at in combination, would signify the purest form of human desire to help another human being. This desire arises from our shared bond of humanity and is not limited by our sectarian or nationalist differences. Distress and human suffering strikes a chord in all of us and the response may take the form of volunteerism or philanthropy. If, however, we go from word to word defining the specific meaning, an operative definition of volunteerism would be taking time out of our daily lives and sparing physical energy for helping those in need whether we are related to them or not. Volunteerism can include giving money to charity but generally speaking, that falls under the umbrella of philanthropy as donating money to help a cause does not require a physical presence of the giver themselves. Volunteerism has also been defined by the United Nations Volunteers as “an expression of the individual’s involvement in their community. Participation, trust, solidarity and reciprocity, grounded in shared understanding and a sense of common obligations1”. Again, it is evident that the aspect of physical presence is accounted for. Philanthropy, on the other hand, is a more known form of charitable activity especially in the developing states of the world. Philanthropy can be defined as the act of giving to those in need, whether in cash or in kind, out of the goodness of your heart. If looked at from another perspective, philanthropy is also our moral obligation as part of the human race and as part of this world as a whole. This perspective is almost always ignored, devoid as we are of seeing it because of our unfortunate belief in material differences and worldly approach. Philanthropy when simply translated means “love of humanity”. Seeing as the ambit of philanthropy is broader than that of volunteerism, all aspects of which are already covered under philanthropy, and for the fact that most estimations and surveys regarding philanthropy around the world, take into account the amount of time spent in helping other people, the operative definition of philanthropy includes volunteerism.
Internationally, philanthropy has been quite the debate over the last few years and it takes many forms. The Charities and Aid Foundation has been publishing the World Giving Index every year in which a country wise analysis regarding the quantum of philanthropy is debriefed. The report measures three charitable behaviors and the latest report, published in November 2014, showed that the United States of America came in the top ten slot for all three of them. A detailed review of the report indicates that high scores for the United States are primarily due to the fact that an applaud-able chunk of their time is devoted to volunteer activities and the same is found to be true for most of the developed states. As for
the developing nations of the world, the score emanates mostly from the donation of money to charities for example Myanmar which scored the highest percentage (91%) when it came to the proportion of people who donated money to charity. This brings to light a very important aspect of philanthropy which shows that volunteer activities are more pronounced in the developed world as compared to the developing world. Volunteerism in the developing states is, more often than not, a focused activity only in times of a natural disaster or an event of great human suffering and mostly, monetary forms of philanthropy prevail.
Volunteering time is just one facet of philanthropy. Philanthropy in the international world is not limited to the monetary donations for helping the poor and economically underprivileged. It encompasses donations made to museums, art galleries and fund raisers. It includes monetary funding by venture capitalists to promote breakthrough ideas in medicine, in science and in technology. Philanthropy in the developed world has reached a point where some are calling it Philanthrocapitalism: where 0.1% of the
1% can be behind major policy changes. The international arena has gone so far as to say that philanthropy might actually put an end to inequality, lacking empirical evidence as it may be. And how can we forget the booming corporate philanthropy! Never the less, it can be said that philanthropy, internationally, knows no bounds.
Pakistan has always done a commendable job when it comes to philanthropy. In the World Giving Index for 2014, Pakistan has secured the 6th position in the list of countries by the percentage of people that donated money for charitable and humanitarian causes whereas the overall position is 612.
Consider the following: it was the month of June and a woman was coming out of the gym. The unbearable heat caused her to run straight to the grocery store for a bottle of cold mineral water before returning to her car. As she starts to back out of her parking spot she notices another woman, a beggar, knocking at her window and signaling for a sip of water from the bottle. The woman, without a moments’ reluctance, takes the bottle, gives it to the lady and drives off all the while thinking about the kind of thirst that must have driven the woman to come begging at her window. Consider another situation where while driving home from a dinner party in the dead of winters, a man notices another human being laying a warm blanket on a person sleeping on the side of the road and then walking off. Or maybe a situation where a family is rushing to an iftaar3 diner invitation before the fast breaks, fuming at every signal they have to stop at. They soon see a group of people, old and young, calmly standing by the road side with packets of food intended for people whose fasts might break midway. How about hoards of trucks loaded with goods for the people of the affected areas by the people who have the will and the heart. These stories are not mere stories, they are originate from personal experiences. Simply stated, there is good in the people, but unless it is focused and mapped accordingly, it will not make that much of a difference. So what can be expected of philanthropy in Pakistan? The answer to this question does not lie in the concept of philanthrocapitalism or mega-philanthropy; philanthropy cannot and should not be expected to reduce or for the sake of an argument, counter inequality. The way forward is through “philanthroconomy”.
The Islamic Republic of Pakistan is home to a diverse population of more than 191.71 million4; men and women from various cultures and ethnicity, from various religious backgrounds reside here making it the sixth most populous country in the world. At the heart of every soul is this attachment to other souls and the uncanny ability to feel for their misery, suffering and pain. It is this feeling that enables so many people from Pakistan, hailing from a variety of backgrounds, to pour out their heart and soul when it comes to philanthropy. If we go back to the year 1998, a study was conducted by the Agha Khan Development Network5 which reported that an estimated total of US $ 1.5 billion was donated by individuals in Pakistan. This total included three forms of giving/philanthropy namely the amounts given in cash, amounts given in kind and also the amount of time volunteered to help others. This is no small feat. We then have the World Giving Index6 report for the year 2014 published by the Charities and Aids foundation. This report also measures three kinds of charitable behaviors namely, the amount of monetary donation, the amount of time volunteered and the number of times a complete stranger was helped. The report involved 135 countries and is based on a series of Gallup7 interviews conducted throughout the world. It was heartwarming to see that Pakistan stood at the 61st position in the overall ranking when it came to all three charitable behaviors. The slightly disappointing fact was that Pakistan lost 32 points and the overall giving decreased by at least 3 percentage points8 however, this cannot mar the fact that people in Pakistan do feel the need to give and give a lot. Another fact that was worth noticing in the World Giving Index was that Pakistan did not do so well on the volunteering time frontier.
Volunteering time Pakistan is generally observed as a charitably activity in times of a natural disaster. In times of calamities causing widespread human suffering, our most basic human values, values that are a foundation for our drive to help others in need, resurface in their clearest most expressive form. Disasters like the earthquake of 2005, the floods of 2010 and more recently, the heat wave in Karachi during June, 2015 that killed approximately 20009 people saw a hike in volunteerism. Truck loads of aid went to the people in need and several people went out to the affected areas themselves to lend assistance. However, when it comes to philanthropy in terms of donating money, Pakistan scored the
6th position on the World Giving Index 201410. Since philanthropy has not been a widely documented aspect of Pakistan social life, an estimate claims that giving in Pakistan has been around 1%11 to 5%12 of the GDP.
Currently, there are around 19 charities and 26 non-governmental organization operating in Pakistan including The Edhi Foundation and The Citizens Foundation. It is evident that these organizations are not just catering for the provision of monetary help to those in need for example The Edhi Foundation operates a non-profit ambulance service, The Citizens Foundation runs around 700 schools and facilitates in educating around 100,000 poor students, The Akhuwat Foundation which has around 1 billion rupees in circulation in the form of micro loans to small business owners and the Human Development Foundation which builds and operates schools and clinics for the poor, to mention a few. All this and more considering that half of the giving in the country is not even documented because there are so many individuals, high net worth and others, that find it more appealing to give directly to beneficiaries, to madrasas13 and other educational institutions. There are so many people who give back to the society in the form of blood donations and by sponsoring medical treatments for those who cannot afford them. It is our bad luck that a critical assessment of the socio economic facets of this volume of philanthropy has never been on the agenda of policy makers in Pakistan and thus, no efforts have been made to streamline and cultivate the benefits so how can a difference be expected. The question should not be why philanthropy does not lift the masses; the question is: should philanthropy lift the masses and the answer is no.
“Righteousness is not that ye turn your faces towards the east or the west, but righteousness is, one who believes in God, and the last day, and the angels, and the Book, and the Prophets, and who gives wealth for His love to kindred, and orphans, and the poor and the son of the road, beggars, and those in captivity; and who is steadfast in prayers, and gives alms.”14 This verse from the wholly Quran is one of the many ways through which giving to the needy has been declared a good deed in the Islamic religion. So when it comes to the question of why the people of Pakistan are steadfast in terms of philanthropy, the main answer would always be a religious responsibility as well as inclination to please the Almighty. The same was proven to be true in the aforementioned study conducted by the AKDN where 85.72%15 of the people surveyed confirmed that their main motivation was religious responsibility. Some other reasons driving the philanthropic motives are wealth, passion, concern, legacy, connections, recognition and moral obligations. These exact motives can be attributed to the three main sources of philanthropy i.e., common individuals, high net-worth individuals and corporations. Where common individuals largely give because of their religious obligations, high net-worth individuals give because of they feel it to be their responsibility to give back to the society in one way or the other. Similarly, corporations generally give to build goodwill in the market and sometimes, the intent may purely be personal gain through tax exemption on donations16.
Donations and charitable activities, no matter how significant the quantum, should not be expected to uplift the masses simply because it is the job of the state. Should we start hoping for philanthropy to do the work of the government bodies for them in terms of provision of health facilities, educational facilities etc., we would completely neutralize the bonus effect that these charitable activities can have. But that does not mean that such a quantum of philanthropy should go to waste. It is true to expect that so much money being spent in bringing some good to the country should leave some signs but sadly it doesn’t. The reasons again are more than can be counted but primarily, it is the way all this charity is
dispersed into the society. As discussed earlier, the biggest motivation to spend for the sake of humanity arises from religious obligations. The over sight here is that generally people prefer giving their charitable donations, in cash or in kind, to the beneficiaries themselves as it is perceived to be a bigger virtue. This causes no harm but overall, but offers no benefits either. Take for example the month of Ramadan. So many people give monetary donations to mosques for recitation of the Holy Quran, for provision of Iftaar for all those offering Taraweeh, all those in Aiteqaaf or those praying at the mosque at any given day and more often than not, unfortunately for us, the money is not spent as desired as corruption knows no bounds. Same was the case when it came to NGOs (non-governmental organizations) but lately, thankfully, publicized cases of organizational inefficiency and corruption have broadened the trust gap between the people and the NGOs thereby limiting the charities going to them. Our religious fervor is satiated by donations to religious causes so whenever someone asks to contribute in the fund for building a mosque, we are ever ready without even research as to whether the locality already has a mosque or whether another one is needed. Again, no harm but while progressing down this path it should come as no surprise that philanthropy is making no difference.
The religious zeal fueling philanthropy in Pakistan can be our savior too! It is part of our faith that we have been given life for a purpose and being kind to humanity should be our top priority. Some of us, while looking for this fulfilling purpose, find it in giving back to the society and once we do, all material aspects of the world lose meaning. A classic example would be that of Mr. Edhi, a person who has devoted his life to the cause of humanity. He is one of those lucky few who have understood that worldly belongings and opulence is no match for the satisfaction arising from helping others out of pure goodness of heart. Philanthrocapitalism- a concept emerging in the western world, meaning that philanthropy will be a savior of the capitalist world, where tremendous amounts of private money will fund efforts into new technologies and new ideas17. Yes a philanthropic revolution is underway but while some see it as promising, most of the western world is worried of whether this would means placing reigns of democracy in the hands of the very rich, the 0.1% of the 1%. In Pakistan, philanthropy can never translate into philanthrocapitalism as our foundations differ from that of the western world. Our purpose in life, guided by our faith will never let this happen. In his book, Why Philanthropy Matters, Zoltan J. Acs sets this premise that philanthropy will reduce inequality in the United States but offers no empirical evidence, ignoring all the while, the social context in which inequality is created to begin with. That being said, in the bigger more developed economies of the world, positive effect of philanthropy on economic inequality might become a reality, but in Pakistan, philanthropy cannot and more precisely, should not be seen as a means to reduce inequality. We arrive yet again at a question mark: what can philanthropy do for Pakistan and how?
The natural way forward for Pakistan is a parallel economy, a philanthroconomy! The market rules of supply and demand will apply but the only difference is that philanthroconomy would be free giving and receiving: volunteer time, donations in cash and charity in kind will be supplied by those who have been abundantly blessed where as the demand will be created by the economically underprivileged. It will serve to complement the measures taken by the government in uplifting the economy and will accordingly be documented so that the monetary contributions (revenues) from philanthroconomy can be efficiently used to counter human need. Philanthroconomy will only make a difference if supplemented by unthwarted and honest support from the government and our media. The electronic, print and social media of the country is strong enough to support such a cause. Imagine the possibilities if today’s media puts an all out effort at highlighting all the philanthropic activities around the country, one beautiful gesture after another, there would be no time for the pointless banter that our media channels are filled with these days. The government can play a pivotal role at monitoring organizations created for the sole purpose of non-profit activities so that people with honest intents to help humanity are provided with the right platform. Only a collaborative effort between the people and the government can help put the good in people out there for the good of people. Targeted initiatives can help lift the educational status of the country, reduce hunger, take beggars off the streets, provide homes for those left on the sides of the roads and make microloans a beautiful countrywide reality thus becoming the new face of social service in Pakistan.
“There is no sight in Pakistan more moving than to visit some dusty, impoverished small town in arid wasteland, apparently abandoned by God and all sensible men and certainly abandoned by the Pakistani state and its own elected representatives- to see the flag of Edhi Foundation flying over a concrete shack with a telephone, and the only ambulance in town standing in front. Here, if anywhere in Pakistan, lies the truth of human religion and human mortality,” said Anatol Lieven in his book: Paksitan- A Hard Country. We ask ourselves, how Philanthropy can make a difference? Philanthropy cannot eliminate inequality, it will not emerge as philanthrocapitalism and it will not become our economic savior anytime soon but what it can do for Pakistan is shake us out of our sectarian shackles and look at other humans as just that, humans. What philanthropy can do for Pakistan is bring us, the people of this country at the same page with the rest of the world when it comes to humanity; what is can do for Pakistan is rid it of its image as a terrorist state, an extremist state; what it can do for Pakistan is revive the image of our religion to its original glory, something people of the world can relate too. Lastly, philanthropy and volunteerism will open our eyes wide enough to realize that what we are staring down into isn’t the barrel of a gun or the cloak of a masked suicide bomber. We are staring down into the eyes of other human beings, living breathing souls just like us, that may need a hand every once in a while.
Leave a Comment