By scoping patterns of giving within Colombo and around Sri Lanka’s global diaspora, the researchers are trying to understand the drivers and impacts of charitable and philanthropic activities on poverty alleviation, CEPA said in a statement.
The study is being conducted in Colombo and plans to probe Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, Muslim and secular forms of giving – including Corporate Social Responsibility – in the form of cash, kind or time and assess their contribution towards achieving development goals.
Charitable giving is huge in Sri Lanka with a population of 20 million people, the researchers said. For two consecutive years, the island has ranked eighth in the Charity Aid Foundation'sWorld Giving Index, ahead of any other developing nation.
“The reasons are complex, but giving is central to the traditions of Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Islam that exist in the country,” the statement said.
“Our research is highlighting the multi-layered relationships forming between different kinds of social engagement, from traditional gift-giving through communal religious charity to corporate social responsibility."However, the long-term potential of these practices – and where they may lead – remains an open question, the researchers noted.
Suspicion and hostility
First, due to hugesuspicion and hostilityfrom the government and many ordinary people, civil society organisations are limited in how they raise funds.
"We know we can't collect money locally," said the director of a Sri Lankan NGO, "because people think we're a front for the LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam]."
The ruling party of the day, often sees successful charities and philanthropists as a political threat.
The result has been dependency on foreign donors, but almost every organisation, the researchers spoke to, expects this money to dry up soon.
Avoid donating to causes
Second, although Sri Lankans do give generously, they don't give to the kinds of causes that international donors gave to.
For many organisations, the researchers contacted, the loss of foreign funding is creating a gulf that local charity is unlikely to fill.
"Once people have given to poorer relatives, the temple and their old school, there's nothing left for us," said one local fundraiser.
“Greater space for non-traditional actors can only be a good thing, yet development organisations fear they are going to disappear,” the statement said.
Third, the traditions of giving that do exist tend to focus on humanitarian relief rather than long-term change.
Preference is given to direct, in-kind donations to individuals, families and welfare organisations, including orphanages and elders' homes.
Fear of corruption or financial mismanagement explains part of this, but so too does a reluctance to pay for charities' administration costs.
It also reflects religious beliefs and obligations.
Yet even the biggest beneficiaries of in-kind donations complain they struggle to pay utility bills and wages because of this, and would like to encourage more by way of cash donations if they could.
Finally, indigenous charity and philanthropy is rarely co-ordinated. Giving tends to be impulsive and private, and few organisations work together.
Some large Sri Lankan companies are seeking to develop joint projects, as part of which they will conduct need assessments and impact evaluations.
But private business owners – whose activities account for the majority of large-scale giving – pick and choose causes according to personal preferences, and rarely bother to follow-up.
Although often donating very large sums, they avoid issues that require smaller but ongoing commitments.
Indigenous charity and philanthropy has the potential to transform development in Sri Lanka, the researchers said.
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.”
The study, which concludes next year, aims 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.