THE INTERNATIONAL DAY OF CHARITY, Celebrating the spirit of giving back to society

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“Indeed, the men who practice charity and the women who practice charity and [they who] have loaned Allah a goodly loan — it will be multiplied for them, and they will have a noble reward.”
(Al-Hadeed; Verse 18)

Altruist, donor, generous, benevolent, messiah, philanthropist, humanitarian; all these titles become the recognition of an individual who devotes his self as well as his wealth to the service of humanity. From ancient times until the recent past, and in the contemporary world too, there are many distinguished individuals whom Allah had chosen to serve His supreme creation i.e. human beings. Allah Almighty has showered His special blessings on the land of the Indian Subcontinent in that it has numerous such great people whose names shine like stars on the skies of beneficence. The names of Mother Teresa and Abdul Sattar Edhi are of special import in this regard as they are the true philanthropists, and the world also recognizes their invaluable services. In recognition of the Mother Teresa’s philanthropy, the ‎United Nations has designated the day of her death ‎anniversary as the International Day of Charity, which is celebrated across the globe every year on the 5th of September. It is earnestly hoped that the UN will soon also recognize the services rendered by the great Abdul Sattar Edhi.

Helping others without any bias or prejudice has been a characteristic of all human societies. Every religion professes to its followers that they should help and serve others, and it won’t be an exaggeration to say that the real force behind such acts of altruism is often the religion itself. This is a unique distinction of Islam that its teachings provide detailed guidance on human rights, social responsibilities and human welfare. Sadaqa, alms, zakat, fitrana and waqf (trust); all these are the ways to provide the wealth as well as the resources to the deprived segments of society. Furthermore, in Eid-ul-Azha, there is a great opportunity for the rich to share the sacrificial meat not only with their relatives and neighbours but also with the poor and the destitute so that these segments too may enjoy the bounties of Allah Almighty and their deprivations may be alleviated. Does any other religion pay such particular attention on human psychology to such an extent that it devoted a complete festival to elaborate on the psychological aspects of humanitarianism? Even in secular societies, philanthropy is among the most superlative and cherished human values.  

Generally, there are two terms used to describe the activities of public welfare: charity and philanthropy. While two terms overlap in meaning and use, they are much different from each other in terms of objectives and the scope. Charity is aimed at providing immediate relief to some lack or need. This commonly occurs in the shape of welfare disbursements, where people in need are typically provided with food, shelter or money. Philanthropy has the broader and longer-term connotation of social investing. The shift toward social investing signifies that philanthropy should move beyond charity toward building human and social capital: it should invest in education, in enhancing social and economic opportunities for those who are less privileged, and in building strong organisations to address social ills. In other words, the philanthropy as used here is about teaching people how to fish, as opposed to giving people fish to eat. Philanthropy for social investment has a longer gestation period, and is a more difficult enterprise to undertake than charity.

the-international-day-of-charity-2So, this spirit is evident in the fact that in today’s modern world, charity has become an organized institution and especially in developing countries the amounts, trends and heads of spending charity are researched on. Moreover, a consolidated record of the charitable organization is maintained. Take the example of the Great Britain, for instance, where there are 162,427 registered charities and their annual collection of donations is approximately 53.4 billion pounds. Nearly 48% of the British charities work in a single domain. The biggest chunk of the collected donations is spent on education and training which is nearly 63% of the total collection. So, nearly 98% households in the United Kingdom use a charity at some point in life. And, nearly 92% Britons believe that charities play a very important role in society in general.

These facts mentioned in a report entitled “Charity Street II: The value of charity to British households” by UK’s Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) elaborate on the organization of this field in UK.

Another suitable example in this regard is that of the United States. According to a report entitled “Giving USA 2016,” donations from American individuals, estates, foundations and corporations reached an estimated $373.25 billion in 2015 and 71% of this amount i.e. $264.58 billion was donated by individuals. Religious organizations received the dominant part of this amount which amounts to $119.3 billion, followed by educational organiza-tions that received 15% ($57.48 billion). ‘Human services’ was at the third place with $45.21 billion.

The first, and till today last, consolidated effort to analyse the trends in philanthropy in Pakistan was made by Agha Khan Foundation in 1998 the details of which were presented in a report “Philanthropy in Pakistan” in 2000. The report suggests that Pakistanis had donated Rs. 70.538 billion for philanthropic purposes out of which Rs. 38.1641 were donated by individuals and Rs. 32.377 billion by corporations. An amount of Rs. 29.797 billion consisted of monetary givings while Rs. 11.319 billion in form of gifts-in-kind. Moreover, 1.569 billion hours of the volunteered time are valued at Rs. 29.422 billion. Of the total share going to organisations, 94% went to religious institutions and causes while a substantial 65% of all monetary giving went directly to individuals.

These are the first, and till date last figures of individual charities whereas those for amounts given by corporations are collected by Pakistan Centre For Philanthropy (PCP). According to PCP’s report “Corporate Philanthropy in Pakistan,” in FY2013, Public Listed Companies (PLCs) contributed a remarkable amount of Rs. 4.8 billion, 39% of which was donated by companies in oil and gas sector. In addition, a governmental system of collection of zakat is also in place in Pakistan under which, as per the State Bank of Pakistan’s annual report, Rs. 5749 million were collected in FY2015.

 The research in charity is not limited to this only but it goes beyond that and highlights the factors which spur people to do charitable acts. Following five basic reasons have been pointed out in this regard:

  1. For fulfilling someone’s basic needs
  2. For betterment of the society and making it a better livable place
  3. Under this belief that those who are more privileged should help the less privileged
  4. For pursuing specific effect or achieving a particular result
  5. Fulfilling a request for money

These reasons behind helping others highlight both pros and cons of the distribution of charity and its use thereupon. Although one gives charity with good intentions, yet its use can sometimes create some negative effects also. In Pakistan, for example, a public awareness campaign named “Haq Haqdar Tak” through electronic and print media is achieving good results with regard to making people aware on how their slackness while giving charities can bring hazardous results.

If charity is made at individual level and in corporations as well, then there is an inter-governmental charity which is termed as assistance, aid or grant in aid and it has some specific objectives. Similarly, governments use charity and social welfare programmes as a tool to increase their influence. Moreover, a worrisome aspect that has, unfortunately, crept into charity and efforts aimed at social welfare is the covert use of such organizations and institutions which remain involved in pursuing their own vested interests in the guise of carrying out charitable activities. A manifestation of it can be found in Government of Pakistan’s warning to various NGOs that their activities are not in accordance with their respective charters and that they must get an NOC to carry on their activities in the country. Besides, the Shakil Afridi episode is yet another example of using philanthropic activities for some ‘other’ purposes. Such incidents earn bad name for those organizations and institutions too who are genuinely involved in philanthropic activities proving the proverb “One bad fish can spoil the whole pond” true.

Generally, charity and other philanthropic activities are carried out through non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The term NGOs has been devised under Article 71 of the United Nations Charter and it is any such organization that is not-for-profit and is free of any sort of governmental influence. According to “The Global Journal,” there are nearly 10 million NGOs working across the globe. Charities Aid Foundation reports that during 2014, nearly 1.4 billion people worldwide gave donations to NGOs – the number was 1.2 billion in 2011 and it was predicted that by 2030 this number will reach 2.5 billion. The growing influence of the NGOs can be assessed from a research carried out by Walden University which says that almost 80% people agree that NGOs assist people in being a part of the social change. In addition to this, a research by John Hopkins University reveals that if NGOs were a country, it would have been world’s fifth largest economy.

The overwhelming presence of NGOs in developed as well as developing countries becomes vividly clear from the fact that 1 out of every 10 Americans works in an NGOs sector, which is the third largest industrial sector in terms of human capital. In the context of developing countries, the outreach of NGOs can be gauged from the fact that in India, there is 1 NGO for every 400 people.

the-international-day-of-charity-1In the Indian Subcontinent, NGOs started popping up when private individuals were encouraged by the colonial government to start social institutions, with the Societies Registration Act of 1860 providing the legal basis to do so. This encouragement prompted diverse individuals and communities of the region to establish a myriad of social institutions to address welfare, health, education, shelter and cultural concerns. Many such institutions are still operative in Pakistan among them Anjuman-e-Himayat-e-Islam (1886) and Dyal Singh Majithia Trust (1895) are of special significance. The preeminent indigenous philanthropist of the colonial era in Pakistan was Sir Ganga Ram whose meritorious services to humanity were recognised by the British with a knighthood.

As regards the number of NGOs working in Pakistan, there is no authentic data available at present that may help in finding out their actual number. It is because they are, currently, registered in the country under five different laws. As per the findings of research thesis titled “Dimensions of the Non-Profit Sector in Pakistan,” up to June 2000, there were 56,219 NGOs registered in the country under three laws i.e. Voluntary Social Welfare Agencies Ordinance, 1961; Societies Registration Act, 1860; and Companies Ordinance, 1984.

Although Pakistanis religiously take part in acts of charity, yet we still lag far behind the world in this field. This fact is corroborated by the World Giving Index, a publication of UK’s Charities Aid Foundation. The CAF provides a simple but universally understood picture of global generosity by measuring three kinds of generosity – giving money, giving time and helping a stranger. As per 2015 rankings, Pakistan is placed at 94th position among 145 countries while among 7 South Asian countries, the country for that purpose was at 5th place. If we take a look at the ranking for all three measures, we find that on the measure “Helping a stranger,” Pakistan was at 121st place, on “Donating money” at 49th while on “Volunteering time,” it grabbed 107th position. In terms of volunteering time, Myanmar is at the top while the United States and New Zealand are at second and third place, respectively. Among 10 most generous countries in the world, only one Muslim country — Malaysia — is included which occupies 10th place on the index while a South Asian country — Sri Lanka — is at 8th place.

However, what is heartening in this regard is the fact that generosity is not limited only to the West; because the presence of countries like Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Malaysia among the top nations is sufficient to prove the notion that “Prosperity starts in one’s heart, not pocket.”

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