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Dimensions of philanthropy in Pakistan

Updated June 19, 2017


While power yielders jostle to outplay each other, barons collude and compete, the broker’s game market hikes and lows to their advantage and bankers sit weighing the risks of lending; Pakistani families are busy fasting, shopping and donating in the month of Ramazan.

The dispersal to a growing number of charitable entities may moderate the flow of funds to some welfare institutions but the magnitude of giving in Ramazan is expected to hit a new peak of around Rs158 billion in 2017.

It would push up the total volume of the annual household giving in Pakistan to around Rs250bn. As many as over 95pc of middle income/rich Pakistani families, according to an informal Dawn survey, take part in some form of welfare activity.

The magnitude of giving in Ramazan is expected to hit a new peak in 2017 but the trend of supporting philanthropic institutions with Zakat is said to be weak as the majority prefers to personally reach out to those in need

A young researcher punctured the idea of projecting Pakistanis as more compassionate than the rest in the region.

“It would be wrong to cloak the ugliness of the exploitative, unfair and corrupt system based on the culture of patronage by a thin veil of philanthropy.

“In the growing income inequality in Pakistan, the self-entitled beneficiaries of the elitist order draw more spiritually from small acts of goodness than what target beneficiaries gain materially from what they give away.

“‘Giving’ massages their egos and makes them happy with themselves despite whatever they did to amass wealth, or did not do, towards a more egalitarian order”, he argued.

Dr Fazal Hussain, officiating as Vice Chancellor at Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE) in absence of Dr Asad Zaman, broadly agreed with the view. He said there is no ready formula available to improve the orientation of the state to serve people better.

“Whatever people are doing privately may be good but no one expects it to alter the economic system to make it fairer. Without government intervention this is not possible. Before jumping to the ‘how’ and ‘when’ one needs to understand: does the government actually desire promoting equity?” he articulated.

“I am not aware if the government discussed the issue of philanthropy in decision making forums or considered any intervention to improve the utilisation of resources volunteered”, he said.

He, however, agreed there is no harm in exploring and identifying different dimensions of an activity of petty financial transfers at a huge scale that involves a wide section of the population.

The monitoring of the trend over the past decade reveals that the annual increment in the volume of total donations is marginal as the key driver, Zakat (faith based donation), calculation is based on the wealth assessment of a household that does not necessarily multiply with an increase in family income.

People associated with the welfare sector believed that Zakat contributes over 60pc of the total giving in the country.

A study by the Pakistan Centre of Philanthropy (PCP), ‘The state of individual philanthropy in Pakistan, 2016’, based on a sample survey of 10,000 households, estimated the value of annual giving at Rs240bn in 2014 but sees zakat contributing barely 11pc.

Assessing motivation, the study identifies compassion and not faith to be the key driver of philanthropy in Pakistan. The total projection of giving, the study informs, reflects the monetised value of in-kind and time of volunteers added to monetary donations.

It is, therefore, not an accident that some of the biggest and most respected charitable organisations such as Edhi Foundation, Sindh Institute of Urology and transplantation (SIUT), Shaukat Khanum Cancer Hospital, The Citizen Foundation, Aman Foundation and many others are active here. They provide valuable services.

The trend of supporting philanthropic institutions with Zakat is said to be weak in the country as the majority prefers to reach out to those in need personally. Experts, however, blame the credibility gap for the choice.

“The centralised nature of most welfare organisations with limited transparency undermines their public image”, an analyst said.

“You need to assume the scale of Edhi to earn the blind confidence of the people”, remarked a doctor struggling to raise funds for a patient welfare society.

Welfare practitioners confirmed to Dawn that the 2015 ban on fund collection by religious and political groups and the close monitoring of fund raising campaigns did benefit charity institutions.

They said the trend of giving is strongest in Sindh, followed by Punjab, KP and Balochistan. The view was contested by the findings of the study mentioned above. The PCP report found Punjab to be the most generous province contributing as much as 47pc of the total donation collection, followed by Sindh 32pc, KP 16pc and Balochistan 4pc.

Shakeel Dehalvi, Secretary Alamgir Welfare Trust, was not convinced. “It is hard for me to be convinced in the absence of data, but in my experience response to calls for donations is strongest in Karachi every single time”, he argued.

People associated with charitable organisations believed that as much as 60pc of the total volume of giving in the country takes place in Ramazan. Muslims are obligated to donate 2.5pc of the total value of their wealth to help the needy.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, June 19th, 2017