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[Report] 'Charity and Philanthropy in Russia, China, India, and Brazil'

March 27, 2014

BRIC reportOne of the most significant international developments since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 has been the growing economic power of the so-called BRICs — Brazil, Russia, India, and China. Dismissed in the 1970s by many as economic basket cases, the four countries, which account for over a quarter of the globe's land mass and more than 40 percent of its population, have, in the quarter-century since that momentous event, opened their economies to the world and emerged as dominant global suppliers of manufactured goods and services (China and India), and raw materials (Brazil and Russia).

The startling surge of economic activity in each of the four countries over the last twenty years has been accompanied by an explosion of wealth, which in turn has led to the emergence, in all four countries, of organized philanthropic activity and what those of us who cover philanthropy would call an infrastructure to support it.

Indeed, that activity is the subject of a new report just released by the Foundation Center, in collaboration with WINGS (Worldwide Initiative for Grantmaker Support), a global network of grantmaker associations and philanthropic support organizations. Authored by Joan E. Spero, a senior research scholar at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs (and the first president of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation), the report, Charity and Philanthropy in Russia, China, India, and Brazil (26 pages, PDF), identifies some of the cultural, economic, social, and political forces that are shaping giving in the BRICs and examines the growth and nature of foundations and the philanthropic sector in each of the four countries.

Because the charitable sector in each of the four countries is new and not well organized, the data on charitable activity in each country is limited and difficult to compare. Nevertheless, there are common characteristics and issues that emerge from a comparison of giving in these countries. For example, the report looks at the traditional cultural and religious origins of charity/philanthropy in the four countries, including the Jewish concept of "tzedakah" (or righteousness), which has influenced a small but important part of contemporary Russian philanthropy; the concept of "zakat," one of the five pillars of Islam, which has shaped giving in the Arab countries and on the Indian subcontinent; and the concept of "dana," which is embraced by Hindus and Buddhists and has also influenced the small but important Parsi or Zoroastrian community of India.

The report also examines the process of economic liberalization in the four countries (a process, as Spero writes, that "has been accompanied by the growth of the middle class and the accumulation of vast fortunes by a new, wealthy business class, often linked to the global economy"); considers the increasingly worrisome issue of inequality, which has increased in China, India, and Russia over the last twenty years and remains very high in Brazil, where it has always been a feature of the economic landscape; and looks at external influences, including philanthropic support from foundations like Rockefeller, Ford, Carnegie, MacArthur, Mott, and Open Society in the U.S., the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Germany, and the British Charities Aid Foundation.

Here are a few takeways from the report:

  • The amount of giving and the formation of organized charitable entities have increased significantly across the four countries; and there is a growing structure to philanthropy as a sector in each of the countries.
  • Grantmaking remains directed primarily to traditional charitable causes, including disaster relief, helping the poor, providing health and other services, and sports, culture, and the arts.
  • When talking about charity and philanthropy in the BRICs, it is difficult to separate personal, family, and corporate philanthropy.
  • While the countries in the study vary greatly in terms of their political culture, civil society, political system, and resulting legal and regulatory regimes, their third sectors share a common characteristic: they still lack legitimacy, resources, management expertise, transparency, and clear legal status.
  • Given the weakness of civil society organizations in the BRIC countries, donors are hesitant to use them as vehicles for grantmaking and often prefer to create their own organizations to carry out their charitable purposes.
  • Despite economic growth, the public sector in many BRIC countries lacks the financial resources and institutional capacity to respond effectively to growing social awareness, needs, and demands.
  • The legacy of inefficient bureaucracies and state-owned enterprises makes governments more willing to accept private financial support for the social needs of citizens, while remaining wary of yielding power to private foundations and civil society.

At the same time, the report is not shy about identifying challenges for philanthropy in each of (and across) the four countries, as well as offering solutions and/or possible courses of action. Among other things, it calls on foundations to do what they can to support improvements in the political environment for philanthropy, including legal, regulatory, and tax reform, and stresses the importance, in each country, of "a trusting yet independent relationship with political and bureaucratic leadership at various levels." It suggests that foundations in BRIC countries to be more open and transparent about their activities and the entities and causes they support. And it urges foundations in each country to work on and improve their own organizational and management structures.

The report does not say that any of these things will be easy to achieve, or that evolving political systems, corruption, and growing inequality will not be factors in the future shape and effectiveness of philanthropic and civil society organizations in these countries. But Spero and her colleagues at the Foundation Center and WINGS do agree on one thing: that the report itself is a first step in building "greater awareness and understanding of both the diversity and challenges faced by philanthropy in emerging economies."

We hope you agree and will join the Foundation Center and WINGS in a broader conversation about the development of better systems for documenting and sharing the story of philanthropy in all its forms around the world. Over the coming weeks, we'll be sharing posts from philanthropy professionals on the ground in a number of emerging market economies with the goal of sparking that conversation.

In the meantime, download a copy of the report and then share your thoughts about it in the comments section below.

Mitch Nauffts

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