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Extending philanthropy

Published Aug 18, 2012 12:15am

AS Ramazan draws to a close we have seen again a splendid facet of the Pakistani people: their spontaneous willingness to give generously to those who suffer or those in need. A wide range is covered: destitute, sick, physically disadvantaged, victims of disasters, terrorism, orphans, education and emergency care.

A credible survey conducted by the Aga Khan Foundation several years ago showed that Pakistanis are amongst the most caring and compassionate nations on earth. Though the rich obviously give more, the poor give more frequently than the rich. Pakistanis can also be justifiably proud of creating and operating some of the world’s most efficient welfare organisations. This valuable philanthropy should now be extended and enhanced to other, new spheres.

There are at least 10 such spheres of critical importance. They presently either do not receive any local funds whatsoever or only negligible sums. Overseas aid sustains some of them. This is welcome and should continue. But Pakistanis are obliged to take primary responsibility.

The 10 subjects that require interest by Pakistani philanthropy begin with capacity-building of individuals and organisations, training of groups for both good citizenship and effective leadership. Only then can we catalyse social transformation and improved management of community-based institutions, including conflict-resolution abilities. In a society of which many parts are still mired in primitive practices, especially anti-women actions, in which violence is rife, this subject requires urgent attention.

The second priority is to build advocacy skills to enable the public to be mobilised on a timely basis about regressive policies and measures. With such work would also come increased ability to monitor the functioning of institutions such as police stations, hospitals, educational facilities.

Children’s rights, including the right to be enrolled and to complete school education, and to be protected from abuse both within households and in workplaces deserves high ranking as the third subject.

While curative healthcare receives large amounts, preventive healthcare receives little or no funding from private sources. Health education campaigns are conducted periodically by government departments. But some essential aspects deserve special attention. For example, female and maternal health. With a shamefully high maternal mortality rate (276 per 100,000 births compared to 39 per 100,000 births for Sri Lanka), Pakistan needs to educate men and families in particular about the merits of birth spacing, nutritional requirements of expectant mothers, ensuring trained assistance at delivery times, etc.

A fifth subject is specialised literacy. The evolution of new phenomena, products and policies in the legal, technical, financial, information and media fields is swift and complex. People at large, already disadvantaged by lack of education, are further removed from knowledge about new rights, responsibilities and opportunities. A sixth area is mental healthcare, including psychological, non-drug-based counselling. Therapy processes can wean addicts away from substance abuse, from alcohol or heroin. Social stigmas and ignorance about mental health and internal stress condemn thousands to extreme distress.

The seventh would be preservation of our spectacular human-made heritage of architecture and landmarks. These monuments embody thousands of years of priceless history. In villages and in cities, they are crumbling through neglect and insensitivity.

An eighth priority is to promote a new paradigm by which the health of the environment is recognised as the framework within which all development should be constructed, rather than the pursuit of a destructive Dubai model, irrespective of ecological cost.

The ninth area which deserves funding is promoting respect for all religions and belief systems to facilitate interfaith dialogue, reduce prejudice against non-Muslim creeds and offer alternative texts and approaches to existing textbooks and mindsets that project only the majority community’s ethos.

The 10th sector would be support for research centres, particularly in the social sciences and for independent think tanks, able to resist overt or covert agendas of overseas donors or of our own governments. Certain universities, public and private, do afford some such space. But contrived religiosity, official pressures and private distortions prevent full-blooded, robust debate. Pakistani society is going through tumultuous change.

Opinion polls reveal only the rim of this cauldron of ferment. Comprehensive inquiry and candid analysis can facilitate timely, effective responses. Empowered by secure endowment funds, able to analyse trends in foreign affairs, defence and armaments, public policy, internal security and in political institutional development, the output of independent think tanks would energise discourse and support legislatures in the formulation of improved policies.

Affluent Pakistani citizens, residing in their own country or as overseas residents — a fairly large number with large hearts for conventional charities — may recognise the validity of the so-far-neglected sectors listed here. If they begin to donate small or substantial sums to these new sectors as well, they will find two factors ready to supplement and strengthen their contributions.

One is the existence of dozens of NGOs and public-interest forums across the country with a proven track record in some of the above fields. These forums will be able to promptly undertake innovative programmes. The other factor is the enormous amount of time, skills and other resources given on a voluntary basis by hundreds of persons who lead and guide such forums, in rural and in urban areas, a treasure of expertise available for free.

Philanthropy in Pakistan faces a major challenge: to sustain its excellent traditions and to extend its reach in the 21st century to new vistas of change and critical needs of the people.

On a voluntary basis, the writer is a founder/co-founder of several public interest organisations covering development, research, welfare, media and the environment.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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Comments (9) Closed

Agha Ata
Aug 18, 2012 12:42pm
Philanthropists, please keep one thing in mind. PROSPERITY is better than charity. Make something; build something instead of handing over currency notes to the poor.
Aug 18, 2012 10:20am
Good one JJ. Its good to hear something positive for a change.
Aug 18, 2012 05:35am
I think 60% goes to TTP and the rest to LET.
Aug 18, 2012 05:42am
Of course Javed Jabbar is an experienced person with lots of exposure and I am nobody in comparison to him to challenge his thoughts. But his column forces me to voice my own thoughts. He has correctly pointed 10 out areas that need improvement. There are many others too. But Pakistani trait of being generous in giving charity should not be mixed and confused with collective social issues. There is a tax system and there is state to perform its duties. Please keep the two separate (charity and state's duties). Charity is more of a personal deed arising from Islamic principles. Taking care of collective society needs and providing funding for them is state's responsibility. These things cannot be funded from 'Zakat' or 'Sadqa' money. I beg to totally differ with the columnist. However, as an aware society we must build enough pressure on our elected lot to deliver in the spheres of governance and taking care of people. On the same note, some day when Pakistan becomes a better welfare state, un-organized giving of charity should be banned and only organized, audited charity organizations should be allowed to function. Beggar culture needs to go eventually.
Aug 18, 2012 06:36am
A welfare state without seriously radical politics is impossible. Tinkering is what us in NGOs have embraced.
Aug 18, 2012 07:30am
JJ is heading an NGO by the name' Baanhnbeli' for Thar development and recieves funds from some European countries including large sums from Netherlands and some funding from Australia also. What has changed for good in Thar in these many years. He is talking of Think Tanks and contributions from overseas citizens, so that he can have more yatras to Brazil to enjoy street carnivals. Come on man, who you are trying to fool.
Aug 18, 2012 08:27am
Maybe there can be one act of Philanthropy at least for EID.That is people put aside their guns and murderous intent and embrace each other irrespective of religious sub sects on this auspicious day. Let the day of EID be free of trouble.For once let averyone have a nice day. EID mubarak to all of Dawn's staff.
Haji Ashfaq
Aug 18, 2012 08:27am
No justification in Mr Noorani's criticism. At least some one is thinking and doing positive. But the irony of this land is that there are hardly left a few who think or have time to think like him. He has suggested 10 good points (Not 10%). Lekin bhai jis hammam me sab nange hon - us Naqqar Khane me tuti ki aawaz kaun sunega ?
Cyrus Howell
Aug 18, 2012 07:34pm
The conservative politicians want to have others pay the bills for social welfare. Especially the religious entities. Taxes are for the conservatives social welfare.

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