• 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • After You Die ... Donate Your Eye...
  • Vision gives you the impulse.. to make the picture your own..
  • Nature and Books belong to the eyes that see them
  • Sight is the basic human right..

Philanthropy Digital Library

Launch of the Muslim Philanthropy Digital Library at the Gerhart Centre for Philanthropy, Cairo: Chairman Lakha's keynote address.

Bismillah ir Raheman ir Rahim

Dr. Barbara Ibrahim, Director of the Gerhart Centre, members of the faculty members of the Centre and the American University in Cairo, pioneers of the Digital Library initiative, Excellencies, distinguished ladies and gentlemen – Assalam alaikum.

It is a matter of both pride and privilege for me to be here today before this distinguished gathering in this august house. Dr.Ibrahim, I am humbled by the honour you have conferred upon me by inviting me to deliver the keynote address on this auspicious occasion of the launch of the Muslim Philanthropy Digital Library at the your Center. As you rightly recalled, it was in the year 2000, at the International Conference on Indigenous Philanthropy which led to the creation of the Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy (PCP) in Islamabad, that Dr Gerhart himself delivered his powerful keynote address. He was at that time the President of the American University in Cairo. The PCP who's Board I have the honor to chair and the Gerhart Centre thus have a strong and historical relationship. Dr. Gerhart's stirring address inspired all of us at that time and his thoughts continue to motivate us today as we participate in the inauguration of the Muslim Philanthropy Digital Library (MPDL). For me the very thought of being here tonight at AUC's campus in Tahrir Square itself is unbelievable. I feel a strong sense of history and destiny pervading this event in this auditorium on Tahrir Square; this famous location, which has found a renewed place in history by recent inspiring events in magnificent Egypt.

Let me also take this opportunity to complement the AUC and the founders of the Gerhart Centre for the foresight of establishing the only philanthropy centre within a university in the entire Muslim and developing world. With the launch of this Digital Library, the Gerhart Centre has achieved yet another milestone in ensuring philanthropy in the Muslim world goes beyond theory and to emerge as a facilitating repository of knowledge for societal needs. This library on Muslim philanthropy will undoubtedly fill a long standing gap in the study of Islamic societies generally.

Philanthropy or if you like charity, despite being an integral part of the Muslim faith has to my knowledge not been studied adequately in terms of its social and historical contexts. Hourani noted in 1991 that "... social history is at least partly about the relationships between power and wealth, then it is curious that charity, a key expression of this relationship, has until recently, been largely omitted from the study of Islamic societies." In her recent work, Amy Singer also notes that western scholars of Islam and the history of Islamic societies long ago took note of the discussions of zakat and sadaqa in theological literature. They studied them as religious practices and legal categories, or noted the individual actions of wealthy benefactors, but did not consider charity as a framework for historical analysis. Yet, charitable giving has been and continues to be the universal, life long obligation for Muslims, one that permeates Islamic societies both as a religious ideal and as a social practice. Since the beginnings of Islam in the early seventh century and over the ensuing fourteen centuries, across the Muslim world, the command to beneficence has been translated into concrete practices that have taken countless forms, deriving from and acquiring a distinct significance in its particular context .

It is in this context that I have chosen to speak today on Muslim Philanthropy in Changing Times, for gratefully; we are living through an exhilarating period of Muslim political and social history. I chose this topic because I am hugely inspired by the multiple awakenings unleashed by the Arab Spring, as it is popularly called; awakenings that resonate among the Arabs but also their Muslim brothers and sisters elsewhere.

My remarks today will elaborate on that amazing spirit of self help that triggered the Arab Spring; and let loose with it multiple expectations for a better tomorrow. Expectations, in terms not just of political but also of socio-economic development; especially among women in Muslim countries whose progress has been overlooked for too long. I will go on to conclude that just as the Arab Spring found its strength in local initiative, so too can these new and multiple aspirations be met through self help. I will submit that this can be achieved faster and more effectively through the work of civil society, supported by indigenous philanthropy of which there is an unfathomed quantum in all Muslim societies. The fact that the Gerhart Center's name and its objectives refer both to civil society and philanthropy makes it a perfect place to advance this thought.

Although the study of the phenomenon of giving in its various forms is now a subject of interest and study all across the world, there is unfortunately no single reference point of collection where researchers, scholars and practitioners can seek information on this subject about Muslim societies. Individual countries, societies and institutions have their own storage points and many of them are not accessible. We therefore have a remarkable opportunity in the shape of the MPDL to put all our efforts into one easily accessible and recognizable repository for the use by all concerned.

Over the past few decades, Muslim societies and the world at large have come to recognize the immense inherent potential of Muslim philanthropy. This has evoked a keen interest in learning more about it and in enlarging the potential for increased benefit. We have seen the interest of financial institutions advocating venture philanthropy; of sociologists trying to gauge the genesis and the trajectory of Muslim philanthropy; of historians attempting to predict the future of Muslim philanthropy and; of development specialists endeavoring to estimate the potential to fill the development gap that affects the lives of millions of poor across the Muslim world. I see the MPDL leading the way for the future with all the information it will, Inshallah, be able to collect and disseminate. The MPDL has adopted a very useful approach of inviting organizations to link their websites with that of its own. I am very happy to recall that the Pakistan Centre of Philanthropy has already done that, besides providing its resources directly to the library. Let me take this opportunity to appeal to all countries of the world and scholars in this field to share their resources with the MPDL and make it even a more reliable and vibrant source of information.

Let me now turn to the principal theme of my address, 'Muslim Giving for Changing Times.'

"There are decades when nothing happens and there are weeks when decades happen." Lenin said this with reference to the rather sudden change of events in Russian history which altered the destiny of a large population of the world.

Today I am excited to be in the Maghreb, where society has played a huge part in the recent Arab and Muslim awakening. Remarkably, while it took just weeks of heroic demonstrations to manifest itself, the impact of this change will Inshallah, be felt for decades. We have recently witnessed in many parts of the Muslim world an awakening of the people of about their political rights. These were triggered by the lawyers' movement in Pakistan and by that brave Tunisian, Mohammad Bouazizi and by the countless courageous here in Tahrir Square and else where in Egypt. As I mentioned earlier, this awakening is not just in Arab countries but across many parts of the Ummah. I pay special tribute to the people of Egypt and to the stalwarts of Tahrir Square who stood up to be recognized for their rights. It was not only an Egyptian platform from where they voiced their aspirations but it was from a platform of humanity and dignity, and rights and responsibilities irrespective of race, religion or creed. While these values are intrinsic to Islamic thought they are also part of the mainstream world.

We know that the Arab Spring was not the result of an overnight impulse to gain control of peoples' rights and their destiny. Important among its causative factors are inequitable distribution of resources including the social, political and economic rights of populations. When it became evident that these inequities were destroying the citizenry, the entire edifice came crashing down. As these popular movements rise and resurge, they necessarily look beyond freedom and individual rights. They look with hope for those rights to translate into concrete benefit in terms of higher quality of life. Sadly, in most Muslim countries the overwhelming majority has little access to minimum social needs including reasonable quality of education, health and social mobility.

Therefore, it seems to me that the message of the Arab Spring and that of Tahrir Square is not just for a call to political awakening. It is a call for multiple awakenings. It is a call to attention for social development across the Arab and beyond. It is a call to attention to battle between moderation and extremism, to the equitable distribution of wealth and the recognition of the dignity of humanity, especially that of women. I say 'awakening' and not 'tahrir or freedom' because that is yet to be gained. That freedom goes beyond a regime change, beyond a new political order. As we have seen so often, political freedom without opportunity for social progress remains ineffectual for people who have huge expectations as they have from this fresh breeze of the Arab Spring.

But what are these expectations?

Just a quick look at some human development indicators of Muslim countries, readily shows the root cause of the problem—it is education. As is well known, education is the single most important vector that changes the destiny of nations. Sadly, the Muslim world falters badly on this. When one looks deeper, it becomes readily apparent that among various causes, the gender gap in the Muslim societies is probably the most significant factor affecting the status of education not only of women but of the entire population. Let me illustrate:

Based on the Global Gender Gap report of the World Economic Forum, 2010, which deals specifically with Muslim countries, 17 of the 20 countries at the bottom of the gender gap are Muslim, and they include Egypt and my own country Pakistan. In terms of gender gap in school enrollment, 7 of the 10 countries at the bottom of the scale too are Muslim and; the story is similar in terms of literacy as well as employment.

This has lead to high infant and maternal mortality, high unemployment and poverty, violation of rights and lack of respect. This reminds me of what late Sir Sultan Mohammad Shah Aga Khan whose mausoleum is in Aswan said to his followers at the beginning of the last century. He advised that "If a family can only afford to educate either the son or the daughter, it should first educate the daughter; for as a mother she will educate her whole family and thereby the next generation".

Despite this debilitating gender gap, just look at the remarkable and important role women have played in the recent awakenings across the Muslim world. How proud we were to see in Tunisia, Bahrain, Yemen and Pakistan and in Tahrir Square, mothers, daughters and sisters from different segments of society, demonstrate shoulder to shoulder with their husbands, sons and brothers. They held their ground with valor in the face of extreme intimidation.

But should we simply record with satisfaction and pride their courage and boldness in demanding their rights and let things go on as usual? I am afraid unless governments and civil society together take major initiatives for development of women and for creating greater economic progress and social mobility for those who live below the poverty line, the awakenings of the Arab Spring will just be short lived until we slide into slumber again.

I am often asked how Muslim countries with large populations will attain social and economic progress when there is such a dearth of material resources.

Sadly, governments of most of these states quickly resort to lamenting their lack of financial resources for socio-economic development of their people. But the fact is that their priorities often lie else where while socio-economic needs of citizens take a back seat. Too readily, these states turn to overseas assistance for social sector development. While such support does make a difference; it frequently comes with strings attached.

It was just during such a situation in Pakistan in 1998, when foreign trade sanctions resulted in stoppage of aid that His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan asked, "How long will Pakistan continue to depend on external benevolence instead of relying more on its growing indigenous resources?" He went to enquire if there was reliable data on philanthropic giving by Pakistanis. There was of course a sense that religious beliefs and cultural values made for a generous society but no one knew the answer. That question triggered the undertaking of a pioneering study by the Aga Khan Development Network of individual giving by Pakistanis, published in 2000 with astounding results. Fortunately, this study lead to the founding of the Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy (PCP). Let me quote some key conclusions of this study:

• "In 1998 alone, individuals gave an estimated Rs. 41 billion ($ 820m) in cash and goods." Astonishingly, 28% of this amount came from those earning less than $2 a day. In other words, the impulse to give was strong throughout society, regardless of personal circumstances.

• Even more surprising was the finding that in terms of per capita giving in proportion to their incomes, Pakistanis were at least as generous as US citizens.

• The volunteering component too is substantial, with a 58% per cent participation rate, more than twice the global average. In fact, it exceeds the famously high rate of volunteering in the United States.

• The aggregate individual giving in cash, kind and volunteer time in 1998 totaled Rs. 70.5 billion or nearly US$ 2 billion.

• This philanthropic giving of $2 billion is even more impressive when compared to $2.2 billion (Rs. 84 billion) spent by government on health and education together in 1996 – 97.

• As in the United States, and as expected a large portion of all giving in Pakistan is to faith based causes.

Extrapolating in the absence of valid statistics but based on a recent PCP study in the province of Punjab which hosts 60% of Pakistan's population, it can safely be assumed that levels of giving would have more than doubled in the last decade, to about US$ 4 billion in 2010. This figure is even larger when we add the cash donations of more than $100 million that the Pakistani Diaspora in the US alone remits to Pakistan each year.

So what is the conclusion? Even more than ten years ago, the level of philanthropy in Pakistan far exceeded the much touted Kerry Lugar Berman package of aid at US$ 1.5 billion per annum approved for Pakistan by Congress in 2010. This aid package is promised by the US for a period of five years and for which the conditionalities are phenomenal. Incidentally, hardly a third of this promised aid actually came to Pakistan in the last twelve months.

In Egypt also we note that philanthropy far exceeds what the country receives in direct overseas assistance. I am informed that in 2005, Egyptians gave an estimated $1 billion which far exceeds all direct foreign development assistance for that year. No doubt some of this aid must have come with strings.

Unfortunately, we don't have reliable figures for philanthropic giving in most Muslim countries receiving overseas aid, but we should not be surprised if the situation is similar to that in Pakistan and Egypt. It is even more unfortunate that most countries are inadequately aware of their own potential to undertake social development through deployment of indigenous philanthropy. Consequently, they have not been able to harness philanthropy for social welfare in the manner it should be.

It is well known that the bulk of charity by Muslims goes towards short term relief often by way of feeding and clothing the needy. This is of course necessary but should we not also encourage philanthropists to make a longer term difference? Sadly, even when they are aware of the value of investing their philanthropy in social assets for long term benefits, people don't know whom to entrust with their donations. Results of such investment in a school or a health clinic are not immediately visible; neither is that personal gratification as palpable as when one supports relief effort. But we need to change this attitude.

In recent times, philanthropy has come to be associated more with the broader and longer-term connotation of "social investment". The shift towards social investment signifies that philanthropy should move beyond charity towards building human and social capital that would bring about sustainable development. In other words, it should be invested in education, in enhancing social and economic opportunities for those who are less privileged, and in building strong organizations to address social ills over a longer period. To put it another way, the term "philanthropy" as used here is about "teaching people how to fish", as opposed to "giving them fish". Philanthropy for social investment entails a longer gestation period and is a more demanding enterprise than relief related charity.

While Muslim countries recognize the value of these observations, there is great need to galvanize efforts to move in the right direction. Research available in Muslim countries is scant and scattered and in most cases outdated. In Pakistan, where I have first hand knowledge of the sector, the last and only research study on Individual Philanthropy was done in 1998-2000 (AKDN, 2000) from which I quoted earlier. PCP is in the process of undertaking a follow up study in Pakistan. Meanwhile, as I prepared for my address this evening, it was impossible to locate reliable figures for philanthropic giving for almost all Muslim countries. Imagine the huge resource and how little is known about it. In contrast, we can be sure governments know all about what foreign aid was received and where it was deployed over the past decade or more.

Time has come for governments to realize that it would be infinitely better for them to encourage their own people to give more and facilitate this by creating an enabling administrative and policy environment for giving. It means first assessing what resources are and what can be generated indigenously before reaching out for external assistance, often compromising national dignity in the process. This attitude has to change and will change once the people start holding their rulers accountable. We are witnessing the process of that change in our midst today.

So I have thus far explained the immense potential for philanthropy in Muslim societies whose multiple expectations can be met more readily by this indigenous resource. I noted that for a variety of reasons, a very large part of this philanthropy is directed towards relief rather than creation of social assets for longer term good. Also, the immense potential of philanthropy is neither well understood by governments nor harnessed adequately for national development. Consequently, governments readily seek overseas assistance with all that it entails. I shall now go on to explain that even when the availability of resources is not the issue it is the judicious management of these resources and the fostering of greater trust which can help maximize their potential.

Let me give two examples from Pakistan to illustrate this point. Based on PCP's annual surveys of corporate giving by publicly listed companies in Pakistan, there has been a huge increase in such philanthropy. To create greater public awareness and to encourage corporations to give more and give more effectively, PCP also gives away Corporate Philanthropy Awards annually. We encourage corporations and others to give more and give more effectively by suggesting where need is greater such as in improvement of government schools and by providing advice and good role models. It is gratifying that since the survey began in 2003, corporate giving has increased three fold in six years; from 0.29% of profit before tax in 2003 to 0.9% in 2009. For 2010, we expect this figure to easily cross the 1% mark. This is way ahead of the industrialized world, which advocates the 1% figure for corporate philanthropy, but has yet to achieve half of it.

My second example relates to the potential of better harnessing philanthropy that takes place on the occasion of Eid ul Azha. In Punjab, the recent PCP study showed a staggering amount of money that goes into the sacrifice on just that one day. Based on the extrapolation of that study, at a national level we estimate it could be well over US$ 4 billion. Just try multiplying this amount all across the Muslim world and then look at all the people who go hungry even on that day. It is indeed an irony of fate, if nothing else.

While we have enough on our hands trying to make judicious use of the money available, we also have to look at the reasons that hamper the flow of money, philanthropy and charity, to institutions. It is the institutionalization of this philanthropy that will generate social capital. The single most important element in this phenomenon is the deficit of trust. Trust between the donors and the recipients. Institutional credibility, ethics, transparency and good governance are some attributes linked to creating an environment of trust. They inspire confidence in large and small donors to channel their giving through organizations. While there are many civil society organizations that have been able to establish their credibility and thus attract donor money, the number remains on the lower end of the scale compared to funds disbursed to individuals for their welfare and relief. Individual giving wins out because person to person knowledge is more intimate, and outcome more visible. In comparison, information and knowledge about most organizations seeking such donations is not readily available.

That grand sage of philanthropy, Andrew Carnegie once said, "Any fool can make money, but it takes a wise man to give it away." It takes wisdom to ensure that your hard earned money is invested in a trustworthy cause.

As a catalyst, PCP's objective is to make clearer and more transparent choices available to donors, there by fostering trust and enabling them to invest wisely. To this end, PCP runs an elaborate program of certification of civil society organizations (CSOs). It evaluates their performance on a set of criteria covering programs, financial probity, governance and perceptions of beneficiaries. Once a CSO is certified by PCP, the government automatically grants them fiscal benefits and exemptions from taxes and import levies. This program has made noteworthy contribution in encouraging donors and foreign aid agencies to support a large number of certified CSOs whose credibility they can trust. It is also heartening to see certified CSOs displaying PCP's logo on their letter heads to communicate their credibility through this seal of Good Housekeeping. We have happily shared this know how and experience with Afghanistan and Tajikistan who now run similar programs of their own.

Finally, let me note that the path to strategic philanthropy which promises to be a potent factor in the development of Muslim societies has been marked. The contributing factors appear mainly in the form of trust and information, both of which are interlinked. Information can fill the trust deficit and information will in turn have to be supported by solid research efforts. A tripartite bond then needs to be persevered by initiatives like the MPDL. It is unfortunate that we have not been able to adequately preserve the records of the immense contributions that Muslims have made to world civilization and progress. The absence of considered effort to highlight our heritage, our philosophy, our rational faith and our simple solutions to many a complex issue has left us weaker today. Let us start by informing the world how Muslim civilizations have nurtured the spirit of giving and caring over the centuries and that the present day flowering of generosity is but an integral part of our historical existence.

As very aptly put in one of this Centre's publications,, "the MPDL initiative aligns with the Gerhart Center's mission to extend resources beyond the university's boundaries to meet the community's needs, .......it also helps to build bridges of understanding between the Islamic world and the West by creating new channels for dialogue." It is pertinent therefore, for me to urge members of this community, involved with the noble cause of philanthropy to support this remarkable endeavor by contributing not just information and publications to this unique repository of knowledge but also to contribute financial and other support for its growth to enable the Centre to achieve larger goals. In particular I urge that priority be given to research relating the quantum and nature of philanthropy in Egypt but also other Muslim countries and their Diaspora. Such knowledge, as we have seen in the case of Pakistan can provide a reliable basis for investing philanthropy in social assets. Also, in the case of my country, it facilitates government and others to take this huge untapped resource into account while formulating development policies.

Let me conclude by noting that the Arab Spring has released multiple awakenings across Muslim societies. This was a consequence of self realization and self help. No one from outside came to start this movement. It recalls for us the promise of the Holy Quran in Surat Ar-Ra'ad that, "Verily Allah does not change a people's condition unless they change their inner selves."

But to fulfill the promise of these awakenings we will need to strive beyond political gains, to economic and social development, including gender balance and education. As with the Arab Spring so also such socio-economic development can come through self help by wise deployment of indigenous philanthropy, with which Muslim societies are so well endowed. Too long has the Muslim world, including Arab countries, relied on external benevolence.

Tahrir's message is a message of multiple awakenings from many types of complacencies. Just as the birds in Athar's Conference of the Birds realized, the Arab Spring has reminded us that the solutions to our problems lie within us. In these changing times, can civil society meet the challenge of driving the engine of development though self help and fueled by philanthropy?