By Jane Arnott
How can we make the world a more generous place; how can we encourage more people to give their time or money to help others, be it by supporting organisations to do good or by a random act of kindness for a stranger?
When the Charities Aid Foundation conceived the idea for the World Giving Index five years ago, we wanted to encourage people across the world to start asking these questions and start thinking about creating the conditions that would make the world more charitable.
The index is based on surveys by Gallup in 135 countries over the past year and reveals welcome increases in the numbers of people giving money, volunteering their time and helping strangers. It shows the power of those three measures to look at generosity in a more rounded way, with the United States, the world’s philanthropic powerhouse, leading the index alongside Myanmar, a developing country that has endured many decades of isolation.
Overall the index found that the United States and Myanmar were the most generous countries in the world, with Canada third, the Republic of Ireland fourth and New Zealand fifth. The next five most generous countries were Australia, Malaysia and the UK (in joint seventh), Sri Lanka and Trinidad and Tobago respectively. Yemen was bottom with Venezuela immediately above them.
The proportion of people giving money to charity has fallen slightly — by 0.6 percentage points — and seems to reflect the slight fall in global GDP growth rate reported between 2012 and 2013. Analysis of the global giving over the past 5 years shows that across the three measures giving dropped in 2009, the year after the 2008 financial crisis, recovered in 2010, and then fell sharply in 2011 before rising again in 2012 and 2013.
But whilst fluctuations in the economy clearly have an impact on giving on a global scale, the World Giving Index also shows that any notion that generosity might be directly linked to wealth is deeply flawed. Just five of the countries in the top twenty are members of the G20, the group representing the world’s largest economies. Eleven G20 countries are outside the Top 50 and three of these are outside the Top 100.
One particularly encouraging finding in the 2014 World Giving Index is that transitional economies — nations that have developed sufficiently to no longer be considered as developing nations but are not yet on a par with advanced economies —have seen growth on all three measures of generosity this year with the proportion of people donating money to a charity bucking the global negative trend and growing by 2.6%. With the number of middle class people set to grow by 165% by 2030 according to the OECD, and with their expenditure set to reach US$55 trillion by that date, we are faced with a tremendous opportunity to create a truly inclusive global culture of philanthropy. CAF’s Future World Giving project exists to try to understand the barriers to making this future a reality.
The index also shows high levels of generosity in countries facing turmoil — reflecting the pattern of giving in post-conflict nations as people help others through the most difficult of times. And it shows people’s innate desire to help others, even in nations that do not have anything like the standard of living enjoyed in the West. Iraq has seen a huge jump in the proportion of people helping a stranger — from 42% in 2012 to 75% in 2013. This is likely to be a reaction to the increasing violence in the country and an increased need to help those affected. Typhoon Haiyan appears to have had a significant impact on giving in Malaysia. The country has risen from 71st to 7th in the index as participation in all three behaviours significantly increased, probably as a result of the humanitarian effort made towards the neighbouring disaster in the Philippines.
Although the desire to give in support of others crosses cultural differences, government incentives to give and public trust in civil society vary hugely between nations. We should not be complacent about existing engagement in giving and should continue to advocate to protect and promote a global culture and national environments that facilitate and celebrate giving.
Jane Arnott is head of the Global Alliance at the Charities Aid Foundation.