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Worldwide recognition: international and comparative philanthropy is catching on.

International understanding of philanthropy--identifying, appreciating and sharing varying cultural views, traditions, practices and innovations--has never been more timely or more important than it is today.

The popular tendency is to describe philanthropy as "a uniquely American phenomenon" whether formally structured or practiced informally among family members and neighbors. But, it is an integral and often ancient part of every society. From the Islamic tradition of Sadaqah to Kenyan community giving practices known as harambee, every culture includes philanthropy.

Philanthropy is on the move in many places around the world. For example, Arab leaders from throughout the Middle East recently announced formation of the Arab Philanthropy Establishment to enhance philanthropy and increase its effectiveness there.

A new report on Arab philanthropy by the John D. Gerhart Center for Philanthropy and Civic Engagement at the American University of Cairo in Egypt has been issued. It notes that while "voluntary contributions to causes that serve a public good are a longstanding and important aspect of cultures in the Arab region ... institutionalized philanthropy is rapidly growing in the region.... While the study finds great variance among the countries covered, Arab philanthropy is experiencing a renaissance everywhere and at an accelerated pace."

In China, The Wall Street Journal Asia recently reported traditions are evolving. For example, while deep traditions of responsibility for providing for one's family first and Confucian traditions of giving quietly so that the giver does not benefit have long shaped philanthropy, more formal, public demonstrations of philanthropy are beginning to grow. And, the government is gradually becoming more accepting of some of them.

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The paper notes that Li Ka-shing, described as China's richest man, "is leading a growing group of wealthy Chinese who are challenging tradition and embracing a more open approach to giving. Last year, Mr. Li announced plans to give a third of his fortune--a pledge estimated at more than $10 billion (U.S.)--to his foundation to fund philanthropic projects around the world," which would place it among the world's largest foundations.

As attention to our interconnectedness as a world grows, so does awareness of and interest in the international role and scope of philanthropy. We are more aware than ever of the conflicts, crises, poverty and disease afflicting people around the world. Thanks to technology ranging from YouTube to social networking sites to online giving options, we are or can be more personally acquainted with those affected, and more personally involved in providing opportunities and solutions, whether through organizations like Heifer International or individual microloans.

Philanthropy is and must be at the center of these issues. Coming together within and across borders to address these challenges, however, requires philanthropically minded individuals around the globe to have a much greater understanding of national and cultural differences and similarities in philanthropy.

As noted by Bill Plater, director of the Office of International Community Development at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, "As lines blur among governmental, humanitarian, nongovernmental, philanthropic and world intergovernmental agencies--and even global corporations--the issues of what philanthropic activity actually is and how it affects society become more important."

Sharing perspectives on philanthropy is important for many reasons. It provides a gateway to understanding other cultures (as well as our own), offers a common ground on which to build relationships between people, institutions and nations, and helps us identify new approaches to philanthropy to which we can contribute and from which we can learn.

Philanthropy is an expandable notion. Sharing giving information and practices among nations may help us identify ways to expand the pool of charitable giving in the U.S. and other nations. For example, personal solicitation on the streets, which is common in many European cities, has recently seen success in some U.S. cities.

During the past 25 to 30 years, researchers and universities have extensively and intensively studied philanthropic traditions, values and practices, primarily in the U.S. but also in other nations. Also during that period, the U.S. has identified and built a vital, flourishing nonprofit sector and a solid professional and educational infrastructure to strengthen and support it.

Although definitions and practices of philanthropy vary widely outside the U.S., a growing number of countries and cultures are addressing issues similar to those confronting our own nonprofit sector.

In several regions, philanthropy is becoming more formalized or more institutionalized. Our international colleagues are joining us in seeking ways to increase giving, to define and measure philanthropy, to help nongovernmental organizations operate more effectively and transparently, and to find innovative ways to enhance and expand philanthropic efforts.

Where applicable, invited and welcomed, in equal partnerships with local colleagues we can help other countries and cultures identify and understand their distinct philanthropic traditions and values and help develop culturally appropriate approaches to researching and understanding philanthropy. We can help build, strengthen and support civil society and nongovernmental organizations. We can provide frameworks for education and training in keeping with local customs and traditions and that support and encourage them. And, importantly, we can learn from them.

Researchers, scholars and universities can play a unique, critical role in facilitating international cooperation and effective sharing of best practices.

Lester Salamon and his colleagues at the Center for Civil Society Studies at The Johns Hopkins University Institute for Policy Studies in Baltimore already have done much to help us understand what the nongovernmental sector looks like in other countries. Organizations of scholars and researchers, such as the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA) and the International Society for Third-Sector Research (ISTR), have been exchanging information for many years.

A number of other promising efforts are under way. The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University assisted the University of Bologna in creating the Master's in International Studies in Philanthropy degree program, which attracts students from throughout Europe and from Africa and elsewhere. It seeks to develop professionals who will be leaders in meeting the challenges of globalization through work in philanthropy and NGOs. Many other university centers dedicated to nonprofit management and philanthropic studies are increasingly developing international partnerships.

The U.S. Department of Education and the European Commission's Directorate General for Education and Culture are jointly funding a major international university partnership to analyze graduate programs in nonprofit management, social entrepreneurship, and philanthropic studies around the world. This Benchmarking NonProfit Organizations and Philanthropy Educational Programs project (BENPHE) will include a summary of best educational practices in transatlantic cooperation and graduate-level exchange programs.

According to Roseanne Mirabella at Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J., from Morocco and Sudan to Bangladesh and India, more than 200 universities worldwide now offer some kind of education in nongovernmental organizations, civil society or philanthropy. Several universities, from Turkey to Indonesia, have established centers for disaster relief to apply academic knowledge and student efforts to responding to natural disasters.

Many scholars internationally recognize that much of the study of philanthropy and NGOs to date is geographically limited in scope and understanding. Additionally, much of the current research, especially outside of the U.S., focuses on issues related to civil societies and nonprofit/nongovernmental structures. There is a need also to specifically study philanthropy within national, religious, ethnic, geographic and political frameworks and look at it comparatively, to study various cultures of giving and volunteering and factors that influence them, and how philanthropy relates to and impacts societies and institutions locally and internationally. We also need to define and study international philanthropy that reaches across or transcends borders.

Because there is an urgent need for capacity building for nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations, we must work together to share among nations and cultures the knowledge and best practices each has already developed. Universities collectively can set up communications systems, education and training programs and other efforts to facilitate that kind of sharing and learning.

Such efforts could include faculty and student exchanges, jointly developed degree or other programs that would serve students internationally, using distance education and new technologies for education, capacity building, collective research efforts and other collaboration.

At the Center on Philanthropy, the presence of many international students enriches learning and reminds us of the importance of understanding international philanthropy. Nadia Alvarado arrived on campus last fall after working for a women's fund in Nicaragua for several years. She shared that in her home country people primarily give to their church or disaster relief because many nonprofits have a negative reputation. Through her graduate studies she aspires to change that perception and increase giving for women's human rights in Central America. Nadia's classmate Tuty Herlina, who is from Indonesia, is studying philanthropy with the goal of raising awareness of how philanthropy can improve social welfare for her fellow citizens.

Christiana Atibil wants to explore the philanthropic traditions of her native Ghana and Africa and use them to guide modern forms of formal philanthropy and increase giving. She says, "It is good to be the beneficiaries of external philanthropy, but it is better and more dignified to recognize one's own philanthropic traditions and put them to work for the public good."

Doctoral student Jen Shang plans to conduct research on the psychology of giving in her native China to help provide insights and guidance for the philanthropic policies and practices there. She believes learning from experiences of how philanthropy has evolved in other cultures can help nations avoid unnecessary costs and mistakes as they nurture their own approaches to philanthropy.

International cooperation strengthens philanthropy both within and across national and international borders. No one nation or culture--whether the U.S. or any other--can act imperialistically or paternalistically. But if we come together as mutually respectful and curious colleagues dedicated to understanding, communicating and exchanging ideas, there is much that we can learn from each other that will improve and expand philanthropy in our own cultures and internationally.

Eugene R. Tempel is executive director of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University and a nationally recognized expert and author on the study, teaching and practice of philanthropy, fundraising, and nonprofit management.
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Title Annotation:FUNDRAISING
Author:Tempel, Eugene R.
Publication:The Non-profit Times
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 15, 2008
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