Pakistani Expats Wary of ‘Charities’ From Home

KARACHI – Amid reports of money collected by Pakistani charities abroad ending up in funding terrorist activity comes new research that suggests that the prosperous Pakistani-American community is extremely wary of sending money to organizations from the home country.

According to the study, Pakistani-Americans give away, annually, a $1 billion in charity, but only 40 percent of this is directed toward causes in Pakistan. Another 40 percent goes to causes completely unrelated to Pakistan, and the rest goes into furthering Pakistani causes in the U.S.

While on the surface it seems that this community of around half a million is generous, there is the niggling question: why is it not giving more to the home country?

The first barrier, states the report, "Philanthropy by Pakistani Diaspora in the U.S.," is the distrust in and deep suspicion of "philanthropic" organizations in Pakistan.

An overwhelming 80 percent of respondents said they believed such organizations are inefficient and dishonest. Over 70 percent felt they are ineffective and inattentive to the most pressing problems. "It is the single most critical and possibly debilitating challenge for the future of organized philanthropy in Pakistan."

Practical difficulties in giving in Pakistan because of new U.S. regulations on charitable organizations, especially after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, form the second hurdle. There is little information available to Pakistanis in America of charitable organizations that solicit their support.

Since 9/11, several Pakistani charities have been proscribed by the U.S. and other countries. In May, the U.S. government labeled the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (Call to Righteousness) – which was active in collecting money internationally for the devastating October 2005 earthquake – a terrorist organization

Lack of trust has led to funds being given directly to individuals rather than to institutions and organizations, with friends and relatives playing an important part in deciding where the money goes. The report speaks of "a deep sense of distrust in the honesty, efficiency, or effectiveness of organized charities." But often, the giving is directed toward social development – poverty alleviation, education, and health.

Adil Najam, the lead researcher, sees no reason why more charity should be sent to Pakistan. "I am not convinced that we should be trying to divert all the giving of this community into Pakistan."

But Najam, who is associate professor of international negotiation and diplomacy at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, said he and his 15-member team were themselves "trying to give something back to Pakistan" by carrying out the study that is based on analysis of a set of 54 group discussions, conducted around the U.S. in 2003-4.

Coordinated by the Pakistan Center for Philanthropy (PCP) and the Aga Khan Foundation-USA through a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation the study takes in 461 questionnaires, interviews with community leaders, philanthropists, and representatives of Pakistani-Americans.

With developing nations facing enormous developmental challenges, says PCPs executive director, Shahnaz Wazir Ali, there is an "increasing need to explore non-governmental sources."

Wazir Ali looks upon diaspora communities as a potential reservoir of support. "Those living in the U.S., Britain, Canada, and the Middle East, increasingly constitute well-to-do populations who are also becoming more conscious of a role they can play in helping their country address the overwhelming problem of poverty and it’s concomitant social and economic implications."

"This study enables a better understanding of their philanthropy practice, issues and constraints. On the basis of informed social research, PCP (as well as other organizations and even the government) can design programs to garner the potential and actively facilitate channeling it toward priority areas of need in Pakistan," says Wazir Ali.

According to Najam, the 9/11 events have had a profound influence on donating patterns and made Pakistani-Americans feel that they need to be even more involved in their adopted communities. "As such they really do act as Pakistan’s ambassadors. So the contributions that are not coming into Pakistan are still serving Pakistani interests."

One interesting finding of the study is that while faith-based "moral duty" to give is the "biggest motivator of philanthropy," members of the community donate far less to religious organizations than other Americans.

Surprisingly too, when it comes to donating to philanthropic activities in the U.S., the same individuals readily give to organized charities.

"Philanthropy is not a zero-sum game," said Najam. "Our data suggests that the contributions they make here in the U.S. do not take away from what they give in Pakistan. The way to get more money directed to causes in Pakistan is to build trust in Pakistani institutions (government as well as non-governmental)."

Since the report was completed before the Oct. 8, 2005, earthquake, it does not cover the overwhelming response the devastation generated from Pakistanis living abroad, particularly the U.S.

But Najam plans to release a book titled Portrait of a Giving Community next month, which is based on the study, but will include inputs on the massive response to the earthquake.

Calamities, reflects Najam, "bring out the best in societies … and just as the earthquake response brought out a gushing of goodwill and community spirit from the proverbial ‘Khyber to Karachi,’ it also brought it out from ‘Boston to Seattle.’ The reaction was amazingly powerful and profound. I know of dozens and dozens who just took off from their jobs and went back to help in whichever way they can."

While he could not do an empirical analysis, his guess is that Pakistanis in the U.S. probably contributed more than $100 million in cash, kind, and time in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake – much of it in response to a direct appeal from Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

Read more by Zofeen Ebrahim