Charity for change

Published April 10, 2024

PAKISTANIS are large-hearted people who empty their pockets at the slightest hint of another’s need.

The Stanford Social Innovative Review reported a few years ago that the country contributed over 1pc of its GDP towards philanthropy. A study by the Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy said that approximately $2bn is donated by Pakistanis per year.

Today, as Pakistanis celebrate Eid, it is apt to recall that the collective culture of compassion is rooted in the tradition of ‘giving’ in the Muslim faith, and it takes on various forms: zakat — a mandatory duty on a Muslim’s assets for other needy Muslims — fitra, qarz-i-hasana, sadqa, infaaq, khairaat, etc.

Moreover, religious tradition also mandates discretion in charity with the intention of protecting the identity and dignity of every beneficiary. While most Muslims are particularly generous during the holy month of Ramazan, the irony of crippling price hikes in the same period — a problem the country has to contend with every year — is not lost on anyone.

The patterns of giving, however, have altered over the years: people now prefer to help individuals, trusted religious charities, medical institutes and schools instead of state-sponsored donation drives due to the absence of government accountability and a resounding trust deficit. When the state is involved, the donors question where the funds are going.

The fusillade of appeals for funds and advertisements fill our screens and newspapers while the cityscape reflects destitution — women, children and the elderly, crowding streets, soup kitchens and shrines. There is then a need to reimagine altruism for sustained social change and justice, particularly in the midst of extreme economic misery. For this, the philanthropic sector ought to find channels to redistribute wealth and provide a strong overarching structure for charity to reach causes such as gender justice, climate refugees, healthcare, education, amenities and housing with the aim of amplified, long-term impact.

In the absence of a trusted state mechanism, charities can collaborate and identify the areas of greatest need. Concrete steps can include the expansion and transparency of income support schemes, job opportunities and financial cover for households and the homeless who are either living a hand-to-mouth existence or have nothing. It is time to donate with justice. The state, meanwhile, can play a role to ensure donations are not ending up in the pockets of extremists.

Published in Dawn, April 10th, 2024

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