Covid outbreak sways charity trends

Published April 26, 2021
More generous giving is expected this Ramazan to provide relief.
More generous giving is expected this Ramazan to provide relief.

Farida, 50, a housemaid, insists on taking a 15-day break in Ramazan even if it means sacrificing half of her monthly salary. Ignoring pandemic warnings, she is all set to scout across the city to capitalise on the generosity of her past employers and check distribution points of charities.

“It takes stamina to run around and patience to wait in long queues. For the persistent ones, the end justifies the trouble. I collect edibles, clothes and cash collectively worth more than my two-month salary — enough to afford some festivity at Eid,” she told Dawn.

Farida, a widow is a mother of seven and grandmother of 12. Her husband, a construction worker, fell from a multi-storey and died a long time back. Only one of her three sons works as a kabari (trash dealer). One son died in a road accident and the eldest is mentally unstable. Three of her daughters are married. She supports the widow and two kids of her son, her firstborn and an unmarried daughter.

More generous giving is expected this Ramazan to provide relief, even if temporary, to the growing poor class and mobilise extra resources to fund charitable organisations and causes. The pie of total donations is projected to expand by about 10 per cent to Rs165 billion this year from Rs150bn last Ramazan.

The pie of total donations is projected to expand by about 10 per cent to Rs165 billion this year from Rs150bn last Ramazan

“The fear of death haunts and the experience of loss in close quarters evokes empathy. The pandemic has touched everyone,” reasoned Ahsan Saleem, Chairman of The Citizen Foundation (TCF), discussing the spike in donations.

Bashir Ali Muhammad, a leading businessman felt “the current situation demands compassion”. He was referring to the Covid 19 fallout. “There is a definite increase in donations. The cumulative collection this year may turn out to be higher than ever before. Inflation and poverty have hit the common man hard. It’s our responsibility to support them as much as we can”.

Historically, charity peaks in Ramazan in Pakistan. Philanthropists say that about half of the annual giving in the country is concentrated in this one month. It explains the aggressive advertising campaigns by competing causes in a bid to reach out to potential donors — people looking for options to disburse Zakat. It is compulsory faith-based giving that Muslims are obligated to comply with. Those who can afford are ordained to share 2.5 per cent of their accumulated wealth with the less fortunate.

Understandably, in the midst of the pandemic, a big chunk of donations is expected to flow towards the health sector. “Many tycoons and firms are supporting vaccination programmes for their employees. Indus Hospital has started a campaign to visit factories and inoculate workers with the single-dose Cansino vaccine at Rs2,500 per person. Interloop of Faisalabad was the first to inoculate workers. Naveena Group and EBM names also pop up among several others,” said Majyd Aziz, a prominent business leader. He did not rule out the possibility of the share of giving to individuals increasing at the cost of institutions as people may now be more inclined to directly help the growing number of needy that surround them.

Ahsan Saleem of TCF did not contest the logic but felt that the support base of credible institutions pursuing causes other than health has not shrunk. “We are lucky that our supporters believe in education and continue to back us. The Covid-19 fallout on poor families has exposed girl students to higher drop-out risk. They are the first ones to be withdrawn when stress mounts on poor families. We are engaging with communities to check it. Besides, our students’ and teachers’ teams help charities in the distribution of essentials in their communities”, he added.

Haroon Qasim, a businessman active on the charity circuit in Karachi, had a different take. “This year it’s quieter. People are not asking for Zakat as aggressively as they used to. The tightening of Federal Board of Revenue regulations on donations must also have suppressed the demand. I find Zakat collection drives somewhat mellow this year around.

“Good corporate results lifted spirits of the business community. I think the asking will intensify in the next few days and expectations are for higher payouts.”

Dr Abdul Bari Khan, CEO, The Indus Hospital told Dawn, “Being at the forefront of Covid-19 containment measures we didn’t experience a dip in donations last year. Yes, the thrust of charity was directed towards the health sector and charities providing instant relief such as food, soaps, sanitizers, face masks were supported more liberally. Some educational or vocational training projects might have mobilised less than their targets. Besides people last year opted for personal charity to support people they know.

“This year, however, there is a dip in the collection. It can be attributed to the economic impact of Covid-19 — scores of people lost jobs, many businesses suffered and uncertainty during the third wave has made people hold on to their liquidity. The problem is compounded by the growing needs of the institutions potentially causing donor fatigue”.

Zubair Tufail, former president Federation of Pakistan Chamber of Commerce and Industry concurs with the dominating narrative. “Zakat donations this year will be higher. Some business people from Punjab announced big donations like Gohar Ejaz (of Lake City repute) and Din Group — one billion rupees each for Indus Hospital. US Apparel pledged to give 20pc of their annual profit, running in billion, for charitable causes. No wonder Indus Hospital has announced to build a new facility in Lahore.

“In Karachi, medium establishments, particularly drug makers are donating generously but big boys of cement, steel and textiles have yet to come forward in a big way”. He said that Saylani Trust is collecting about Rs40 million daily in Karachi, touted to be the donation capital of Pakistan.

Anjum Nisar said a little more may trickle in donations but he did not see a major spike in quantum of giving this year. Many other charitable organisations thought it’s still too early to judge the scale of donations this Ramazan.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, April 26th, 2021

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