Monday July 22, 2024

A guide to giving

By Mansoor Ahmad
March 23, 2021

LAHORE: A cursory look at the philanthropic activities of our corporate sector makes us proud of their contribution to the society. However we do not realise that corporates continue to accumulate wealth while recipients always need assistance.

There is a debate going on even in the developed world about ‘noble’ intentions of very large donors like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet that run formidable foundations.

The outcome of their efforts has rarely addressed the issues but their wealth has doubled since they established their charitable foundations.

In Pakistan every large corporate showcases it’s cooperate social responsibility programs but it has not dented the issues in the sense that the recipients, be it individuals, institutes or schools are dependent on the yearly funds that these companies release yearly.

There are rarely any examples where the recipients not only achieved financial independence but also came at par with the donor. A critic of modern philanthropy has said that every case of philanthropic impact, even impact we may celebrate or encourage, is also a case of concentrated wealth exerting its power.

The philanthropy many times looks a public relation exercise as the general behaviour of the corporate sector is against the spirit of fair giving. Take for example the huge fund that the State Bank of Pakistan set aside for businesses for subsidized loans to enable them to pay the salaries of their staff and avoid retrenchment. Most of the corporate sector and few well to do medium enterprises availed this facility. Most never intended to part with their human resource and would have paid the salaries without the soft loans.

A year later we saw the excellent financial results of most of the companies. We have not heard of a single enterprise that has paid back the soft loan from that profit. They are enjoying a loan at 5 percent. We have also not seen the corporates increasing the wages of their employees. The increments in most of the businesses are on hold after covid-19.

The minimum wages are the same as those in 2017-18 although the cost of living has multiplied in the last three years. They are pocketing the incomes while continuing with usual CSR activities. Philanthropy is the art of giving to improve the lives of those that lack resources. Philanthropists usually part with a nominal part of their resources. These resources look substantial to society but when distributed among thousands of recipients make a nominal impact on their lives. This is not good philanthropy, as this does not result in fair distribution of wealth. It rather continues to concentrate wealth in a few hands. Wealth increases their influence in the society and the corridors of power.

We gauge the success of philanthropists by some combination of generosity and impact. Philanthropic experts point out that in true philanthropy the funder succeeds in shifting power out of its own hands to the others (recipients of funds). This is not an easy job as the funder many end up funding program areas that challenge plutocracy. It may involve putting into place more diverse and participatory governing structures independent of the donor. Good philanthropy is when the donors provide grants for projects that yield power and control to recipients instead of funders.

We often hear corporate executives boasting that they are through CSR giving back to the society for improvements in their lives. They first pollute the environment through their manufacturing processes then plant a few hundred trees to reduce pollution (not eliminate it to the extent it caused it).

It is high time that the concept of CSR should change from giving back to the society to giving up to the society. This in no way means to undermine the efforts of generosity exhibited by the philanthropists in general. This discussion aims to make their generosity more meaningful. When someone parts with some of its resources for voluntary redistribution to the others it is generosity. But efforts should be made to ensure that the generosity results in breaking up large fortunes. Generosity that keeps the recipient dependent on the funder will never break the cycle of depravity from our society.

The philanthropy in which the recipients’ wellbeing is subject to periodic or regular flow of resources from the donor might result in large disappointments if for some reason the inflows stop. The best way is to use wealth for creation strong institutions that operate transparently and independently without interference from donors or charity foundations,