Philanthropy in Pakistan: Private energy for public good

Philanthropy is “private energy for public good” and it is particularly effective as a “fuel” for civil society which can drive socio-economic development. So said Dr. Shamsh Kassim-Lakha, Chairman of the Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy, speaking in Washington DC in April 2014 and sharing his thoughts with audiences at both the Global Donors’ Forum and at a discussion held at the Hudson Institute. He was joined at the latter by Dr. Carol Adelman, Director of the Center for Global Prosperity, Hudson Institue, and by Dr. Mirza Jahani, CEO of the Aga Khan Foundation, USA.

He also referred to the role of civil society and active citizenship in helping to think through the mantra of democracy and models of governance. However, in stepping up to these critical roles civil society needs to be supported – one area that requires further examination is the interface between civil society and the private sector, which Dr. Kassim-Lakha depicted as “a magic in that space that we haven’t quite captured.”

Commenting on the growth of philanthropy in Pakistan, the point was made that when a comparison is made between indigenous giving and foreign grants, Pakistanis give Rs 20 billion in money, which represents some five times the amount that Pakistan receives in outright grants by way of foreign aid.  Equally it was noted that 28% of all giving in Pakistan is made by people that are earning less than US$2 per day – a model of the generosity of the poor. This ethos of giving was traced to a long established ethos of giving in Muslim countries, although the challenge remains as to how to turn this impulse of generosity into more strategic philanthropy. An important contextual framing for this challenge is the development of an enabling legal and fiscal environment for philanthropy which the Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy is currently working on.

In a country where two-thirds of the population are below the age of 20 years, the potential linkages between philanthropy, civil society and active citizenship are clearly critical, with the need to harness the impulse of generosity and translate it into the development of sustainable social assets.  Dr. Jahani emphasized the importance of indigenous philanthropic organisations and developments in this context, making reference to the fact that the recent Spring Meeting of the World Bank linked strategic development to citizen engagement. Mechanisms to facilitate communities to bond together around locally identified needs were recognised as central building blocks in any future partnerships between strategic philanthropic investment and grounded civil society initiatives.

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