Why philanthropy doesn’t actually uplift masses in Pakistan

In 2013, private charity in Pakistan stood at whooping Rs. 200 billion; an amount larger than what the state was spending on social welfare, education and health, combined. In Pakistan, philanthropy as ratio of GDP is one of the highest in the world. Social scientists claim that despite the inefficient state service delivery and complete lack of empathy on behalf of state and the pathetic state of governance, this virtuous and generous endeavor of citizens is what ensures a façade of stability and keeps the chaos at bay. The reason why the downtrodden class is not indulging in vandalism at large scale is because the wide-spread private charity instills a sense of fair treatment. And thus the poor masses are not gullible to chaotic and anarchistic uprising.

The critical assessment of the scope of socio-political and economic aspects of private charity, often escapes serious consideration of any kind. To begin with, philanthropy is never a replacement for state service delivery; it should at best complement it. Politicians hiding behind the veil of Pakistan as a philanthropic society, which results in the claim that the people are taken care of, neutralizes the positive contribution of philanthropy.

The second important consideration is the sporadic and disorganized nature of charity giving. The desired effects of philanthropy can only be achieved if the process is streamlined and a concerted effort is made at targeting specific social evils or economic ills of the society. The tragedy, sadly in Pakistan is that most of the private charity ends up in minute distributions. And hence any large-scale social or economic effect withers away.

The important aspect of private charity in Pakistan is the way in which it is disposed of. Large section of charity-giving people will certainly take the money and disburse it in little chunks to the poor rather than donating it to an organized charity organization where the money can be spent on a focused objective.

One reason for this attitude is the wide-spread corruption or tales of organizational inefficiency. So the trust gap does not let a majority of people invest their money in proclaimed NGOs or other such funds. Attached to this popular perceived organizational inefficiency are the religion-inspired motives, where giving personally to the deserved ones is considered a bigger virtue.

The above reasons, the lack of efficiency of secular organizations, and the virtue of knowing the beneficiary, when combined with the greater aims, i.e. the reward in the hereafter, singles out the masjid-madrassa complex as the main beneficiary of private charity in Pakistan. This complex caters well to the religion-inspired social sensibilities of the people in Pakistan.

What can be better than money being spent on building and maintaining places of worship and running the madrassa where poor kids are fed and lodged along-with serving the religion by disseminating religious education?

Foreign funding of our madrassas produces huge outcry from some sections of the society but this individual and un-regulated contribution escapes critical scrutiny. The madrassas that are the culprits in radicalizing the youth and are the machinery churning out Islamist fanatics, are sustained by this unchecked source of income: the misled and misspent private charity.

In some localities, it is not uncommon to find multiple mosques with attached madrassas in a radius of ten minutes’ worth of walk. These mosques may belong to different sects, sub-sects, clans or they may be set-up just for convenience of the people, so they don’t have to walk a long distance to offer prayers.

More importantly the number of mosques is a good indicator of the religiosity of the area. All such mosques have splendid buildings with efficient committees that collect monthly compulsory donations. All facilities that can be thought of are available in the mosques while the localities around may present a sorrow picture of distraught. No one dares to ask the question that if a mosque is a place of worship, then what’s the need for a large number of mosques in one locality? If it is a place for piety, then why such opulence?

The major concern here is that ‘islands of opulence’ consume the most of the private charities that otherwise could have been spent on the surrounding ‘oceans of miseries’ – where the poor can’t afford to send their children to school and where health services are abysmal.

The arguments that these madrassas feed and take care of the children does not take into account that the money spent on the madrassa to provide free lodging and food to these children can be spent on these children in many other ways that will make them a healthy part of the society. The money spent on feeding hapless children in the madrassa further aggravates the socio-economic inequity and further fuels the snares of extremism.

Institutionalized and streamlined works of philanthropy, like that of Gates Foundation, is changing the world through its vaccination campaigns and by innovative social entrepreneurship programs. There is much that can be done in Pakistan by the private charity; from public toilets for females, to donating to healthcare and educational institutes; from strengthening institutes of micro-loans to funding institutes that focus on building a counter-narrative to the extremist one.

Given the amount of private charity, if it can be streamlined and its focus is shifted to socio-economic causes, it can certainly bring about a tangible change. The present form of philanthropy, where the concern is the immediate beneficiary, can be changed so it contributes to larger socio-economic causes. If not a revolution then surely a transformation of the socio-economy will be achieved. All it will cost is to spread awareness and consciousness about the right causes.

Hurmat Ali Shah is a freelance writer interested in intersection of culture, politics and society. He can be reached at hurmata.shah@gmail.com. Follow him on Facebook