Thursday January 27, 2022

Futile philanthropy

November 30, 2021

LAHORE: Charity donations in Pakistan are mostly wasted as the donors mostly distribute it to individuals instead of establishing institutes that could train the poor in need-based skills.

Both the government and affluent private sector class spend billions of rupees to mitigate the immediate needs of the poor. The flow of charity donations is very high and the procedure for distribution is the same as providing two meals a day to the poor families. These families become parasites on society as the main purpose of work or employment is to earn subsistence for the family. When they are assured daily meals, they lose the urge to work. Research by creditable institutions reveals charity donations in Pakistan are among the largest in the world yet we see poverty all over because the charity is not funnelled in sustainable projects but is provided as dole-outs to needy individuals.

Charity money from individuals in Pakistan many times the amount government of Pakistan has allocated for the Ehsaas Programme; but its impact on poverty is negligible because both the individual philanthropists and the government of Pakistan distribute the money in small amounts that may fulfill the partial needs of a poor recipient but does not ensure a stable job or business.

The concept of free meals started about a decade back when some well-to-do families started distributing free meals at the large government hospitals for the attendants of the patients. These attendants usually come from far away areas to look after their ailing patients. The concept to this extent was good but soon meal distribution points were established on a large-scale by the wealthy and they called them Dastarkhawan (table cloth).

The poor are registered at each distribution outlet and each registered person is entitled to two meals after showing the registration card, which is stamped on a daily basis to avoid duplication of charity to the same individual. People flock to these designated spots hours before the time of distribution. At some places they even slow down the traffic. The recipients mostly don’t work as the get what they need. As if this was not enough the present regime came up with its own programme of establishing meal distribution centers across the country.

The charity donations could have been streamlined into establishing skill training centers, where the poor youth could be trained in modern skills (the state-run skill center mostly impart training on low and sometimes obsolete skills). The students could also be provided a stipend based on their attendance. Most of the poor lack skills that industries in Pakistan need and the businessmen that individually donate millions must think of setting up skill training institutes.

In fact, few large donors should pool their resources together to establish state of art skill training centers to enable the poor to start his/her career at a salary that is double the minimum wage. The entrepreneurs would have no problem giving high salaries to the better skilled persons. We lack collective efforts needed to address the problem of poverty.

Many entrepreneurs desire the charity they dole out should be recognised by the society. They distribute alms in a way everyone notices. We see at many places truckloads of monthly or weekly ration standing in a huge residence. Poor are asked to come in a queue to get the ration from donors, who oversee the process. Such donors do not do their homework in this regard. They distribute the alms to anyone that comes through this queue. A family having six members might get six rations and families that feel shy to expose their poverty openly may not get anything. This is not charity but showoff. The philanthropist must distribute charity to the needy and not to the one that comes to his door.

We have lost the spirit our elders exhibited at the time of independence when a small industrial and service sector helped the state in running its day-to-day affairs and the affluent class rehabilitated the largest ever immigrant influx in world history.

Though charity contributions have gradually increased in the country, the impact on poverty and welfare of the people is minimal compared with the excellent results the philanthropist achieved at the time of independence.

The influx of refugees from India at the time of partition in 1947 was one of the largest in history. All the refugees in 1947 were adequately looked after by the affluent families in each part of Pakistan.

They were provided temporary shelter, food, and basic amenities in the refugee camps until their final rehabilitation. The state at that time lacked resources and the industry was almost non-existent and the wealth of the affluent families at that time was nominal compared with the wealth accumulated by individuals and families in the present day Pakistan. The true philanthropic spirit exhibited in 1947 is needed more now.