Covid-19 crisis – Philanthropy’s response in Pakistan

The Covid-19 has confronted the world with a new and emerging challenge whose complete scale and magnitude are yet to be properly understood and established. The Federal and provincial governments have taken a number of measures to further counter the spread of Covid-19, with the main measure in this regard being the lockdown of all activities, including closure of schools/educational institutions, offices, shopping centres, restaurants and other public places.

The unprecedented scale of this crisis across the globe has painfully made evident that government resources and institutional frameworks are not adequate for catering to the massive response required to effectively tackle this pandemic. Pakistan is no exception to this and the country’s civil society and business sector are also coming forward to supplement the government’s efforts in this testing time by helping the vulnerable segments of population. Pakistan has a long and established tradition in philanthropy with private philanthropy coming to the nation’s aid in difficult situations throughout its history, with the more recent examples being the floods of 2010 and the earthquake of 2005.

Pakistanis are a generous nation as reflected in the social and religious ethos of its people. Being a Muslim majority country, giving for charitable causes is embedded in the teachings of Islam which makes it mandatory for the well to do to share their wealth with the poor and destitute segments of society, in the form of Zakat. In addition, Islamic teachings also encourage and motivate other forms of voluntary giving, like sadaqa and khairat, while the two main religious festivals of Eid ul Fitr and Eid ul Azha also call upon the affluent believers to share in the festivities with their well fortunate brethren through giving of fitrana and sharing of meat from Qurbani. An earlier study by the Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy (PCP) shows that the total annual philanthropic giving of households in Pakistan amounts to an estimated Rs. 240 billion, representing one percent of the country’s GDP. This amount which includes the three broad dimensions of – monetary giving, in-kind support as well as time volunteered for charitable causes – is much higher in comparison to other countries at similar level of development.

This philanthropic nature of our society is offering a unique ray of hope for the segments of society worst affected by the present crisis. With most of the country having gone into a virtual lockdown for over three weeks now, the immediate humanitarian costs of this crisis have started becoming visible. As a result of the shutdown of economic activities, the poor and vulnerable population segments, which includes the daily wage workers, domestic workers and street vendors have been confined to their homes and are facing loss of their livelihoods. In these circumstances, providing food rations on a sustainable basis to these affected population segments is an urgent priority and is an area where philanthropy has quickly come forward to supplement government’s efforts.

Many civil society organizations across the country are involved in collecting funds for provision of food rations to the poor and marginalized households. Besides donating generously to a large number of organizations involved in such endeavors, people have also come out as volunteers to help in the distribution of food rations and other vital supplies to the affected households. The affluent and elite have also joined hands in raising funds for those hit hardest by the novel coronavirus. A group of philanthropists based in Karachi has donated an amount of Rs 8 million to a number of charitable organizations for providing relief to the low income segments of population by providing them with free food rations.

Many volunteer groups are on the frontline in the battle against the novel coronavirus pandemic; volunteers of Pakistan Red Crescent present at the Chaman and Torkham borders are assisting the government agencies in initial screening of incoming travellers for the coronavirus. A number of charitable organizations are providing the necessary medical and safety equipment to public sector health institutions that are being frequented by a growing number of potential positive cases. A noteworthy initiative in this regard includes the group of doctors, biomedical professionals and engineers that is using 3D printing to manufacture all the necessary medical and safety equipment such as facemasks, face shields, hazmat suits and even ventilators locally to deal with the deadly contagion for supply to the major public hospitals. The group has raised donations from doctors in top hospitals in Pakistan to fund their activities.

Awareness raising of the general public on ways to deal with COVID-19 and to take appropriate protective measures is another area where a number of philanthropic organizations are actively engaged. Many awareness campaigns have been launched to advise the people in following precautions to ensure their safety. Thousands of people including the old, poor and the children have been reached through such awareness campaigns nationwide to provide them with proper orientation on personal hygiene.

The government is also fully cognizant of the supportive role of civil society in supplementing its efforts for dealing with the rapidly deteriorating situation arising from Covid-19. In due recognition of this role, the local NGOs working on the Covid-19 response have been exempted from signing of MoU with Economic Affairs Division for utilizing foreign financial assistance. In times to mobilize financial support with agility for the trust worthy and credible organizations enabling them to provide much needed services to the underprivileged communities, PCP, once again, reached out to donors at the national and international level. Responding to PCP’s request and based on its experience with the organization, PepsiCo Foundation immediately conveyed its willingness to partner with the certified organizations in Pakistan and approved grants of US$700,000 to be allocated to the certified organizations. This confidence is underpinned by these entities having obtained certification from PCP, which serves as a seal of good practice among non-profits with regards to internal governance, financial management and program delivery. PCP’s certified nonprofits throughout Pakistan makes it possible for donors to reach almost any community and support a wide range of causes. All these certified organizations offers a pool of trust worthy and credible service providers across Pakistan. It allows donors to quickly connect with them with the support of PCP. With its Advised Grant Making (AGM) services, PCP has been connecting national and international donors with the certified organizations and handles all the operational requirements of grant making while providing donors with the opportunity of achieving their philanthropic goals in an effective, efficient and confident manner.

The coming days are very crucial for Pakistan and will determine the direction this epidemic will take in the country. Despite the looming dangers and challenges ahead, the nation can count on the generosity and compassion of its people to tackle any adverse situation and support the ongoing efforts of the government to deal with the emerging crisis. With the month of Ramazan near, when the major share of Zakat is collected, the charitable organizations across the country can expect to have large stream of donations coming in to enable them to effectively scale up their operations in the fight against COVID-19.

(The writer is Head of Research, Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy. The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the newspaper)