Indigenous charity and philanthropy has the potential to transform development in Sri Lanka. A few years after the economy was raised to middle-income status by the IMF, there seems to be huge potential to encourage the growth of new development actors and opportunities. Yet there is also mounting uncertainty in the local development sector about which way things are going to go. Whether indigenous charity and philanthropy can be harnessed and leveraged for development, or whether what is meant by development will change to accommodate indigenous giving preferences – and what either of these mean for poverty alleviation – remains to be seen.
Indigenous forms of charity and philanthropy are increasingly recognised as playing central roles in social, economic, and health development. The School of Global Studies, University of Sussex, and the Centre for Poverty Analysis (CEPA), Colombo, are delighted to announce the launch of a joint project which will look at the impact of charity and philanthropy on economic, social and health development. The study is being conducted in Colombo and will investigate Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, Muslim and secular forms of giving – including CSR – in the form of cash, kind or time and assess their contribution towards achieving development goals.
The overall aims of the project will be to produce policy briefs and good practice guides to support development-orientated charity and philanthropy activities in Sri Lanka, as well as encourage further dialogue and exchange between stakeholder groups. As such, the project will be of interest to Sri Lankan charitable and philanthropic organisations, corporate sector CSR initiatives, religious leaders and groups, governmental and non-governmental development (local and international) organisations, donor agencies and academics with research interests in these fields.
The project will be officially launched on the 23rd of May from 5 to 7 pm at JAIC Hilton, 200, Union Place, Colombo 2. The launch will include an interactive discussion for key stakeholders, during which the aims and objectives of the project will be presented, followed by a key note address and finally a Q&A session to facilitate the sharing of ideas. The meeting will be followed by a reception allowing time for further discussion and networking.
During the meeting, key issues being addressed will include:
· As international donors scale back their development projects in Sri Lanka, can or should local and diaspora charities and philanthropic organisations take over?
· What opportunities and challenges face Sri Lankan charities and philanthropists, and what contributions towards development can or should they make?
· When seeking to plan and implement development projects, what kind of assistance (research, stakeholder networks, public-private-third sector partnerships…) do Sri Lankan charities and philanthropists want or need?
It is envisaged that the meeting will provide the research team with a deeper understanding of the issues and needs from a Sri Lankan perspective and also help develop project outputs which are relevant from a Sri Lankan and international user perspective.
So with the Sinhala and Tamil New Year in full swing, and the majority of the country on holiday and giving gifts, it seemed like an apt time to put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard?), and begin the project blog.
Let’s recap, first of all, as to how we got here. Back in 2010 a few of us decided to apply for ESRC-DfiD funding for a project looking at the role of indigenous charity and philanthropy in the development process. We’d been struck by a report by the World Giving Index that Sri Lanka was the most generous developing nation in the world, and wondered if this was having any effect at all on poverty alleviation in the country. Given Sri Lanka’s deeply complex social, religious, and political context, it seemed relevant to base the project in Colombo, the capital, so we could capture Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, and Christian forms of charity, as well as those of high, medium, and low income groups. To cut a long story short, our proposal was accepted, and we began the project late last year.
So what have we been doing for the past couple of months? Apart, it must be said, from moving to Colombo, partnering up with the lovely people at the Centre for Poverty Analysis (about whom more later), finding a flat, recruiting talented young Colombo-ites to work as research assistants, and generally becoming embedded in the field through an enthusiastic sampling of local cuisine, scoping the philanthroscape.
The what-o-scape, I hear you ask? I'll be going on about this much more through the course of this blog, but generally what we want to capture is the diversity of giving and receiving in all its forms - religious, social, political, individual - that makes up the landscape of charitable and philanthropic activities in the city. Admittedly, this covers pretty much everything, from financial obligations between family members, through forms of religious giving and community in-kind and in-time donations, to the work of major philanthropists like Kushil Gunesekera and the Foundation of Goodness. As the project progresses, key contours and features of the philanthroscape will emerge, from where it will be possible to stake out places for more in-depth study. But enough of the geographical metaphors.
So, that's where we are now. Figuring things out, talking to a huge range of fascinating people, and generally getting to grips with things. In future posts I'll zoom in on what appear to be interesting findings and problems, and as the research progresses so the blog will progress.
All that remains to say today, is, Oba samata suba aluth avuruddak wewa! Ungal ellorukkum iniya puththandu vaalthukal! (Or, Wish you all a happy new year!)