Global Philanthropy, Part 3: Emerging from the Ashes of Conflict
There is an old press adage that predicts “if it bleeds, it leads.” The media tends to focus on the dramatic, especially so when conflicts are long-standing. It should not be surprising, therefore, that popular media have nearly totally missed the emergence of philanthropic leadership in conflict-burdened nations. It is a bit more surprising that, except for a splashy press announcement or two, the philanthropic media have missed the trend. It is a trend, after all, that has not been particularly subtle.
Before proceeding with illustrations, however, let us be frank about perspective. It is important not to be naïve. Any geopolitical conflict has tangled roots, whose often ravenous appetite is fed by a rich if toxic broth of social, economic, historical, political and even psychological nutrients. Sturdily rooted conflicts that last years, decades, or generations, let alone centuries, cannot be wished away by good intentions, however bold and however well-funded. Nor does the mere presence of philanthropy remove the potential for its misdirection a charge that can periodically be laid with considerable force at the feet of philanthropy and the nonprofit sector anywhere.
Nevertheless, if the perspective is not one of immediate solution but one of long-term progress, then the emergence of philanthropy is indeed material. It is material not because of the money involved, but of the leadership involved. The emergence of robust philanthropic institutions reflects the commitment of private individuals to the good of their own societal commons, a belief that that leadership can, however slowly, strengthen and deepen civil society itself and, in so doing, starve conflict of its fuel. This is not naiveté. It is patient capital on the societal commons.
Where are we to find such capital amidst the blaring headlines? In short, everywhere.
In the Balkans in November of last year the first annual VIRTUS awards, organized by the Balkan Community Initiatives Fund, were made to a range of local companies for their commitment to the communities in which they operate. The awards, the first ever in Serbia, went to 6 companies for philanthropic commitment to ending domestic violence, increasing blood donations, health care, and elementary education. Among the funders of the awards were local foundations and businesses as well as multinational corporations.
In the Middle East, certainly the run-away favorite to win any award for “Banner Headlines Dedicated to Conflict,” the change is palpable. In Islam, philanthropy (“zakat”) is required as a matter of faith. Those traditions are now becoming institutionalized in civil society institutions, far beyond and deeper than the better known and ground-breaking $10 billion Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation to bolster education, entrepreneurship, and cultural understanding. The American University in Cairo’s three-year-old John D. Gerhart Center for Philanthropy and Civic Engagement is not only convening and publishing, but gathering hard data on the size and direction of philanthropy throughout the Middle East. In January 2008, the leaders of royal families in Dubai, Jordan and Saudi Arabia formed the Arab Philanthropy Establishment to encourage the harmonization of philanthropy laws across the region and to provide information on how to establish effective charitable programs. In March of 2008 (without banner headlines it might be added), 200 people gathered in Turkey for the first annual World Congress of Muslim Philanthropists. The topics on the agenda would have been at home at any conference in the U.S. accountability, waste, collaboration, the need for evaluation, capacity building in fundraising, and benchmarking. The Congress was exciting both in the fact of its convening, and perhaps even more so in the encouragingly boring if thorny nature of the topics. Welcome to the mainstream.
In both India and Pakistan, nations long at ethnic, religious, and national security policy loggerheads and whose troops even now face one another in Kashmir, philanthropy is becoming is not just a household tradition but a matter of societal leadership. In India, the philanthropic leadership of the Tata family dates to 1892, but now more than 75 million households give to charity, two thirds of them in rural areas. Nearly half of the giving is to formal nonprofit institutions. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has established the Public Health Foundation of India, in part with $20 million of capital from Indian philanthropists, as a public-private partnership to address public health education and research. In Pakistan, private philanthropy totals over a billion dollars, and a third is funneled through nonprofits in addition to the formal religious zakat giving. The Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy publishes all manner of research on giving and volunteering. Major philanthropists in Pakistan fund hospitals, educational institutions, and social services. Indian high technology companies in India and Bangalore are firmly embarked on social enterprise, especially in education and civic infrastructure.
In Africa’s centers of conflict, local philanthropic leadership is less visible, in part because wealth is more limited. But the examples are there. The Kenyan Community Development Fund, which funnels outside donations to local communities, is now beginning to cultivate indigenous philanthropy as a community foundation. 2007 saw three conferences on Kenyan philanthropy held in that country. Sudanese-born businessman Mohamed “Mo” Ibrahim’s philanthropic award for excellence in African democratic governance is designed to strengthen civil society with the impetus of private giving. The East African Association of Grantmakers, formed in 2003, gathers the 60 local foundations and trusts in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda in support of deepening civil society with local resources.
None of this, of course, stops bullets. There is no instant lead liner that philanthropy can place around or within a conflict-riven society. But the trend leaves much hope in its wake as it arcs upward. Local leaders from business, politics, and communities are re-investing their resources in their own well-being, addressing problems on their own societal commons, from health to education to cultural understanding, to peace and ethnicity. It is there that sustainable progress is to be found; not with the inflow of dollars from somewhere else, but with the hard work and abundant fruit of the commitment of leaders to community. And, it is also there that we will find the heroes of today’s conflict-burdened countries.
BL Ibrahim. Strengthening Philanthropy and Civil Engagement in the Arab World. Paper presented to Promoting Philanthropy and Civic Engagement in the Arab World, October-November 2005. American University in Cairo, Egypt.
I Wilhelm. Arab Leaders Start New Groups to Spur Philanthropy. The Chronicle of Philanthropy. January 21, 2008.
Muslim Philanthropists Call for Collaboration to Aid Global Common Good. Al Bawaba Middle East News Service. March 28, 2008.
The Joy of Giving. The Hindu. April 3, 2003.
M. Sidel. New Economic Philanthropy in the High Technology Communities of Bangalore and Hyderabad, India: Partnership with the State and Ambiguous Search for Social Innovation. 2001
LC Chen. Philanthropic Partnership for Public Health in India? The Lancet. June 3-9, 2006.
Philanthropy in Pakistan. A Report on the Initiative of Indigenous Philanthropy. Aga Khan Development Network, August 2000.
J Copeland-Carson. Kenyan Diaspora Philanthropy: Key Practices, Trends and Issues. The Global Equity Initiative of Harvard University, March 2007.