Thursday,23 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1366, (26 October - 1 November 2017)
Thursday,23 May, 2019
Issue 1366, (26 October - 1 November 2017)

Ahram Weekly

A surge in giving

There has been a surge in charitable giving in Egypt in recent years, following the lead set by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, writes Azza Radwan Sedky

The concept of giving is deeply rooted in Egyptian society. Whether it is in the form of sadaka (alms) or zakat for Muslims, tithes for Christians, or simply good deeds, Egyptians have always been very generous. 

However, such giving has been most often directed to the donor’s immediate circle. It had gone to in-need family members and those seen on a daily basis such as servers, maids, custodians or janitors. The notion of giving to a charity or society at large has rarely been acted upon.

Yet, Egyptians today give lavishly, compassionately, and unconditionally to charities. Over the last few years, there has been a surge in giving beyond one’s immediate circle, and this has been evident in the ability of some charities to make pivotal improvements affecting society in a substantial way. 

The causes behind this surge include the fact that it is infectious. After President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi took office in 2014, he called on all Egyptians to donate. He set this in motion by donating half his salary and half his possessions to charity. By being a model in this regard, he not only encouraged Egyptians to give, but also to become more responsible citizens.  

After the establishment of the Tahya Misr Fund in July of the same year, the donations poured in. Today, President Al-Sisi continues to galvanise Egyptians to give even more.

Both the affluent and the needy donate to the Tahya Misr Fund and other charities. Large businesses, corporate citizens and athletes and football players all donate. Average citizens, the president’s wife, and government officials donate. 

At the other extreme, the very poor also donate. Recent footage of an elderly villager donating LE200 went viral. When asked if she still had enough to get by, she dug deep into her purse only to say, “yes, LE50. It’ll keep me going until the end of the month.”

Charity is triumphing, and its continuous delivery is leaving its mark on Egyptians. This in itself is cause for celebration, but it is also a factor explaining why Egyptians continue to give. The efforts of the Magdi Yacoub Heart Foundation, the Misr Al-Kheir Foundation, the Egyptian Food Bank, Hospital 57357 and the Tahya Misr Fund are swaying all Egyptians to donate more.

The Magdi Yacoub Heart Foundation is one of the most successful charities in Egypt today. Its endeavour “Save a Child’s Heart” has raised $558,490 so far, exceeding its original goal of $400,000 in an endorsement any charity would be proud of. 

The Tahya Misr Fund has prioritised its focus to include housing projects to replace existing informal areas, empowering women, supporting youth employment and eradicating the Hepatitis C epidemic. In 2016, Misr Al-Kheir received LE346 million in donations, and Hospital 57357 received LE15 million. 

The ease by which donations can be sent and received is another major factor in this explosion of giving. One can donate at a bank, via credit card, Paypal and money transfers. Donations can also be paid online, by sending a SMS message, a daily one if need be, or by calling the charity, which will then send a dispatcher to pick up the donation.

Egyptian donation apps, though fairly new, are also in, including MegaKheir and Fawry. Using MegaKheir’s mobile donations application, one can donate “at the press of a button, benefiting several charitable organisations in their fight against cancer, hunger, poverty, heart disease and many other causes.”

Social and standard media are playing significant roles, too, simplifying access even further. A call for donations resonates across Facebook and Twitter and thus gains momentum. Once a need is established, and the call goes out for assistance, the support flows in. The same goes for the standard media.

Honouring deceased loved ones by naming a hospital wing or a bed in their names is a practice known around the world. Though still fairly novel in Egypt, it appeals to donors as an “endless form of sadaka.” Hospital 57357 enables families to pay tribute to family members who have passed away, especially those who died fighting aggression or hostility, by naming medical equipment or part of the hospital building after them.

For decades, many people waited for others, especially the authorities, to provide for those in need. Most of the time the authorities lost this battle, but today more and more people are realising that some of the blame falls on their shoulders for not playing a more active role in effecting change, making today pay-back time.

During crises, whether natural or human, people become more empathic. This applies to Egyptian people, too: once they realised how other Egyptians were in dire need of assistance, they went out to help them. The need is transparent in poverty-stricken areas in the country today that lack water, electricity, schools, health services and proper housing, and so the Egyptians responded.

Again, the media plays an essential role in advocating for such causes and revealing deficiencies. 

All in all, more and more Egyptians are in solidarity with those in need like never before, and this is a good thing. The process may need some adjustment, but it is definitely a change in the right direction. It allows the Egyptian people to bear a share in the responsibility of rebuilding Egypt.  

One glitch lies in the number of charities that procure the most donations. Approximately 45,000 charities exist today in Egypt, but only a handful receives the lion’s share of donations. Though this is a reflection of the good work these charities are accomplishing, it does not allow other charities to move forward and help society in the same fashion.

Another issue is that people tend to donate to those charities that have the resources to promote themselves. During the month of Ramadan, a torrent of advertisements inundates the TV air time, maybe infuriating viewers, but remaining firmly entrenched in their minds. When they come to donate, they donate to these charities without much thought. 

It is also generally acknowledged that fundraising costs should not exceed 35 per cent of contributions to charities. Personally, I’d like to know how much each charity spends on running and promoting itself, as against how much goes to projects. Charities around the world let donors know where their donations go. It would be wise for charities in Egypt to do the same.

Such issues should not belittle the exceptional efforts made by Egyptians towards their compatriots. It’s pay-back time, and Egyptians are welcoming the act of giving willingly. 

The writer is a political analyst.

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