Despite holding rulers accountable for recurring crises and economic underperformance, Pakistanis maintain high expectations from the government. Nonetheless, they actively extend moral and material support to the needy, especially in the month of Ramazan, showcasing compassion strengthened by their faith.

While Pakistanis do support philanthropic causes, particularly in health and education, there is a discernible preference for directing funds towards consumptive options rather than transformative giving.

According to estimates shared by an executive of a major education network for the poor, the total annual charity in Pakistan is currently estimated to be Rs800 billion. Of this amount, 17 per cent is directed to providing ready food, and a similar percentage goes towards the health sector.

Maintenance and construction of mosques and providing dowries to poor girls account for 25pc of the total charity expenditure. At the same time, a mere 13pc is spent on schooling, with the remaining funds distributed for other purposes.

There is a discernible preference for directing funds towards consumptive options rather than transformative giving

“People tend to seek instant gratification, which consumptive heads guarantee. However, the results of supporting transformative causes are arguably more valuable, but they take years, sometimes decades, to materialise,” Isfandyar Inayat, General Manager of The Citizen Foundation, commented over the phone.

As collective societal efforts continue to expand, gaining deeper insights into the culture of giving may help enhance practices within the sector for more positive outcomes.

Without systematic and reliable data or credible research, dissecting the culture of philanthropy in Pakistan and identifying dominant drivers and features is hard. The analysis and comments cited here are based on experience and anecdotal evidence. The prevalence of cash transactions in this field, as in many others in Pakistan, poses challenges for planners and those interested in understanding this sector.

An intriguing paradox, often discussed privately, is the stronger trend of giving observed in Sindh. Despite lagging behind Punjab in many development indicators, the province outperforms in generosity, perhaps due to Karachi’s strength.

The prevailing perception is that Karachi leads in charitable endeavours by a clear margin. While anthropologists may provide deeper insights, some attribute this phenomenon to the city’s ‘muhajir’ character. The psyche of immigrants, marked by fear and religiosity, may potentially foster greater empathy and charitable giving.

Many prominent business executives entrenched in the country’s philanthropic realm attribute this trend to the unique characteristics of Karachi — a mega city inhabited by a highly diverse population.

Musadaq Zulqarnain, Chairman and CEO of Interloop Group of companies and a leading philanthropist, believes that the tradition of giving is deeply ingrained in certain segments of Karachi’s population, notably the Memon community. He notes that Karachi’s citizens prefer donating to established organisations with effective management rather than starting their own initiatives.

Mr Zulqarnain also expressed his admiration for the spirit of volunteerism, highlighting that it has contributed to the emergence of many reputable charitable organisations in Karachi.

Nasim Beg, a senior executive serving on the boards of directors of multiple companies, shared his life experiences from Punjab and Sindh. Growing up in Rawalpindi until the age of 18, he observed a lack of giving culture. However, upon moving to Karachi, Mr Beg noted a stark difference. The business community in Karachi is more religiously inclined, adhering strictly to the tenets of religious giving (Zakat).

Karim Adeni, managing partner of Ali Associates and founder of Amanatdar, a charity that provides a host of services but primarily focuses on feeding the hungry, also attributes Karachi’s philanthropic position to its diversity and equitable treatment of deserving recipients irrespective of their sect, gender or ethnicity.

Arif Habib, the Chairman of the Arif Habib Group and member of the Board of Directors at the Pakistan Center for Philanthropy, suggests that economic and social disparities, coupled with a relatively more aware population in the port city, create a fertile ground for charitable giving.

However, the Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy (PCP) and Mr Habib contested the notion of a lower propensity to give in Punjab, supporting their argument with data and their 2016 report. They assert that the wealthier and more populous province’s charitable contributions correspond to its edge over other provinces.

According to their findings, Punjab’s magnitude of giving amounts to approximately Rs112 billion out of the total Rs239bn given in Pakistan, translating to a 47pc share while all other provinces collectively collect 54pc.

In terms of Zakat (mandatory giving in Islam proportional to wealth amassed), Punjab leads in both rural (Rs6bn) and urban (Rs6.2bn) areas.

Additionally, the Pakistan Giving Index 2021 indicates that 84pc of people in Punjab reported donating for charitable purposes, with the impact of donations found to be greater than in other provinces.

Mr Zulqarnain challenges the perception of a wealthier elite class in Punjab. “I think the number of high-net-worth individuals in Punjab is much lower than commonly believed. Besides, the charitable giving in Punjab tends to be confined to faith-driven mandatory sharing of accumulated wealth (Zakat)”.

He believes that the trend of exhibitionism compels individuals to create their own platforms rather than supporting existing organisations, resulting in unprofessional management and sub-optimal outcomes.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, March 25th, 2024

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