CAF has this week launched the second edition of its “World Giving Index”, which measures and ranks 153 countries around t
he world based on Gallup World Poll data to find which is the “most generous”. This generosity is split into three categories: “giving money”, “volunteering”, and “helping a stranger”. The idea behind this is to try and move beyond measuring things solely in terms of monetary donations, which one suspects would lead to a bias towards wealthier countries with more formalised structures of civil society, and get a more rounded picture of generosity across the globe.
Perhaps not surprisingly, given its much-vaunted philanthropic culture, the USA is top of the giving pile this year. The only surprise is that it has had to rise from 5th place last year in order to replace the previous joint leaders, Australia and New Zealand. Also flying high is the Republic of Ireland in 2nd place, with the UK in 5th. In the case of the UK there is a disparity between giving money (for which we come 2nd in the world) and volunteering (for which we come joint 32nd). Given the importance of volunteering to the current government’s Big Society programme, it is interesting to note that as a nation we appear to be more likely to put our hands in our pockets than give up our time. The UK is in fact bucking a trend here: there has been a decline in the percentage of people globally saying they have given money, but the overall level of generosity has risen, due to an increase in the number of people saying they have volunteered or helped a stranger.
Moving away from looking at things in strictly monetary terms inevitably throws up some peculiarities. Liberia, for instance, comes first in the world judged solely on the criterion of “helping a stranger”, Turkmenistan comes first in terms of “volunteering”, while Thailand comes first in terms of “giving money”. Trying to come up with social, cultural or political factors that might explain some of these oddities makes for a very enjoyable intellectual puzzle. For instance, is it possible that the highly religious nature of Thai society and the practice of giving monetary offerings to Buddhist monks, might explain its top ranking? Of course, this immediately raises the question of where other Buddhist countries come in the rankings, and if they are not similarly high, why not? I would like to propose a similar suggestion for the case of Turkmenistan, but sadly my knowledge of central Asian politics and culture isn’t really up to it! But as you can see, armed with a bit of knowledge, it is possible to theorise for hours.
What an index like this shows is that generosity comes in many forms around the world, and people in countries with very different political, cultural and social structures tend to give in different ways. This suggests that attempts to develop a culture of giving need to be tailored to the particularities of a given country– there is certainly no one-size-fits-all solution. In the UK, this means that while we can aspire to match the US in terms of levels of generosity, we are unlikely to do so simply by aping them in every way. Instead we need to develop a philanthropic culture that is uniquely British and reflects our and society and way of life.