Monday, 18 June 2012

Connecting diasporas for giving

By Noshua Watson

I clocked this blog post on The Guardian (UK) about the potential for indigenous philanthropy* and development in Sri Lanka, by our Sussex anthropology colleague, Tom Widger. Tom is working on a study on the impact of charity, philanthropy and inclusive business on poverty reduction and wellbeing in Sri Lanka.

In his blog, Tom notes that Sri Lankans are some of the most generous givers in the world (8th according to the World Giving Index and the highest ranking developing country) but their giving does not line up with the issues that larger, international donors support and goes toward more humanitarian relief than longer-term issues.

Tom mentions that his study will look at the Sri Lankan diaspora as well as local giving in Colombo.  Given the role of remittances in Sri Lanka’s economy (about 10% of GDP), diaspora giving could be even greater than philanthropy from organisations on the island itself. Widger mentions that there is a disconnect between Sri Lankans’ generous indigenous giving and institutionalised philanthropic organisations.  Organising diaspora giving could be a way to institutionalise giving but make sure that it still corresponds with Sri Lankans’ own priorities.  However, building diaspora giving networks has its own challenges.

In his study of Bangladeshi diaspora giving, Safi Rahman Khan points out migrants need help with forming diaspora organisation and fundraising.  They also need help from home country governments in guaranteeing safe money transfers, legislating philanthropy-friendly tax law and vetting home country charities. Widger also mentions that Sri Lankan charities have difficulty raising funds because it is associated with giving to radical groups.  IDS Research Fellow Mariz Tadros writes that Islamic philanthropies face similar challenges.  She believes giving must be led by legitimate local actors.

We’ve begun to consider diasporas as communities that need to be included in development cooperation.  Examining diaspora philanthropy makes a run-around the debate over whether remittances count as development and goes to the heart of the matter: How do people support their own communities’ well-being?  I hope that the evidence from this study will influence future development cooperation frameworks.

* I would really like to emphasise that for philanthropy research in general, the definition of “indigenous” needs to include indigenous philanthropy from the diaspora.