A Culture Of Living, Then Giving
On December 1st, Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan welcomed a daughter, their first child, Max. At the heel of this announcement, the Zuckerbergs promised to donate 99 per cent of their Facebook shares – about USD45 bn – to the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, an LLC (a private limited company characterised by certain tax benefits and personal liability protection) they founded in 2009. The LLC will finance philanthropic organisations and initiatives that the couple feels will help create a greener, safer, healthier and more educated world. More specifically, their charitable endeavours are a way of advancing “human potential” and promoting “equality” for children.
Chan, whose parents immigrated to the United States from China in refugee boats, has had a deep influence on the nature of Zuckerberg’s philanthropy. It’s no wonder that her name sits before Zuckerberg’s in their charity programme. Over the years, they have donate more than USD 300 million in health and education.
For nearly a decade now, every Zuckerbergian move has been welcomed with criticism of dupery. It’s almost habit to assume malice sugar-coated in the rhetoric of creating a utopic and “connected” world every time Zuckerberg makes his viral Facebook statements. The corporation is a politically influential profit-maximising corporate behemoth that sells information, after all. Yet, there’s no denying many of these philanthropic donations come from a culture of giving long fashionable in the West. It’s now an ethical norm for rich white people to turn into philanthropists once they hit their 40s. Its new breed of young millionaires is increasingly devoted to impacting areas of development that not only resonate with them, but alleviates under-privileged communities to become self-sufficient and highly productive members of society. We’re not simply talking about plunging food in a beggar’s bowl, but turning poor farmers into entrepreneurs, poor children into prodigies. A century of blindly throwing money at Africans hasn’t helped. We’re now realising that building the foundations (education, healthcare, civic freedoms, law and order, infrastructure) of poor nations or nations with tragic wealth inequalities is far more important, and such a gargantuan task can only be undertaken by the economic middle-upper class of those nations. So what are rich South Asians doing? Not enough, apparently.
A Continent Of Sceptics & Cynics
It’s not news that Asians, as a whole, are generally not charitable societies. This isn’t to say they are egocentric and inconsiderate. Their response to natural disasters is proof enough that they’re compassionate to the point of welcoming poor families into their homes. The lack of involvement in socio-economic alleviation is the result of a distrust of non-profit, private and public institutions deeply ingrained in society over half a century of intense corruption. In 2011, a report revealed that nearly £135,000 in aid was embezzled from Oxfam by a charity working to provide relief in 2010 when the Indus river burst through across the length of Pakistan. This year, the Indian government began a [misguided] witch hunt against foreign-funded NGOs, but a thorough audit of every NGO is long overdue.
Lack of transparency, lack of accountability and disorganised philanthropy means those billions of dollars raised every year by charities seldom create the impact you’d expect them to. In Pakistan, things are more difficult: it’s hard to say how many NGOs exactly exist, how much they raise and how much their work impacts society in a meaningful way. Some estimates reveal nearly 70 bn rupees are raised every year, excluding foreign philanthropy, foreign government aid and public aid. Corruption, fraud, lack of transparency, poor governance, incompetent public institutions and the tendency of many NGOs to use large amounts of money on overhead and administrative costs leave a sour taste in peoples’ mouths. Many Pakistani NGOs simply aren’t equipped to handle large donations either.
So what happens when literally billions of people don’t trust NGOs, which are supposed to be an important backbone of society, especially in growing nations? Ideally, those with access to better resources, better capital, better influence and better experts step in: the government and the privileged.
How many millionaires is Pakistan home to? It’s a difficult question. Corruption in the private and public sector means there are likely thousands of millionaires who’ve amassed their wealth through questionable means. Every year, the number of millionaires keeps rising, as wealth becomes concentrated within Pakistan’s upper-class society. In many countries, the richest citizens pour money into hospitals, schools, universities, environmental programmes and scientific research, yet such institutions are starved for capital in Pakistan.
The billionaires, on other hand, are another matter altogether. Wealth is a new phenomenon in Pakistan. It hasn’t had time to create its own Rockefeller, Carnegie and Ford traditions, but personal philanthropy doesn’t need a historical tradition to exist. So, it’s hard to understand why only one Dubai-based Pakistani tycoon, Arif Naqvi, founder and CEO of private equity firm The Abraaj Group, has signed the Giving Pledge, a promise, in good faith, to give away all wealth for causes that improve the conditions of humanity. In neighbouring India, it is Azim Premji who is visibly committed to social work. With more than a dozen billionaires and more than 200,000 millionaires, very few Indians inject money into non-religious institution.
Knowing the backwardness of your country, can lack of philanthropy be forgiven with the “new wealth” and “lack of confidence” excuse? Consider this: 52 million Pakistanis are between the ages of 5 and 16, yet, according to the best statistics available, nearly 25 million of those don’t attend school. That’s 25 million nurses, doctors, engineers, scientists, lawyers, teachers, professors, linguists, artists, singers, coders, hackers, entrepreneurs, technicians, inventors, novelists and police officers who might never exist. Over the last five decades, where successive governments have failed, Pakistan’s upper-most class has been largely uninvolved in rejuvenating its fundamental institutions. There’s a lesson to learn here for, both, politicians and the rich, who seem to work to each other’s benefits at the cost of a nation. It is depressing that in a country where university rankings continue to drop, children aren’t in schools and healthcare is miserable, ultra-rich politicians choose luxurious European real-estate over fostering an environment conducive to learning and living well.
It pains to wonder what would it be like if Asif Ali Zardari pledged his USD1.8 million in net worth to uplift Pakistan’s 58 million poor. And it’s a thought that will run in people’s minds every time another entrepreneur from the Occident donates his wealth in service of humanity.