How a poll can change the world

What’s the most generous country in the world? Who does the most for good causes? Answering that simple (but quite difficult) question has led us to provoke debate round the globe and opened the door to some quite profound discussions about how the world is changing and how it could change for the better.

At the Charities Aid Foundation we aim to encourage people to support good causes in many kinds of ways. That involves a lot of research, analysis and policy development – to try to give some insight into how people and businesses support charitable causes and how we might encourage them to do more.

Like many organisations, we carry out research, analyse publicly available data and develop policy ideas. A few years ago we decided to publish an annual international index of generosity. Many international indices are based on a raft of variables – think the World Governance Indicator, the enabling Environment Index or the Inequality Index – and can be very good indeed.

By contrast, our World Giving Index is based on a relatively simple piece of global polling, the annual Gallup World Poll (which polls between countries around the world on a huge number of issues). We chose three questions: Have you helped a stranger in the last month? Have you volunteered your time? Have you given money? Add those three together and you have a list covering three main elements of generosity.

The polling questions are straightforward, and do not try to measure how much people give (which would clearly be skewed towards rich nations) but you get a rich answer, an overall league table and a league on each of the three elements. That gave us the scope to say interesting things about countries all over the world, and their relative position.

So the latest index, published last year, showed America as the overall most generous country. Britain came in at number six, although Britons are the most likely to give money in a given month than any country apart from Burma.

This league gives enormous coverage, and comment, across the world; coverage that extends year-round with hundreds references in the media around the globe. Here it is on CNN for example.

It has provoked an impassioned debate in Singapore, discussion in Brazil about volunteering and in Malaysia it provoked the introduction of new policy on volunteering, to name but a few. Colleagues could be talking about donations in Finland in one room and in China in another; the references keep on coming.

CAF spans the continents – we operate in the United States, Brazil, South Africa, Russia, India, Singapore and Bulgaria, so we have colleagues on the ground in many countries working to build up civil society.

So, we thought, what would happen if we started doing some more analysis? What would happen to the index given the rapid economic growth and social change in many parts of the world? This idea sparked out Future World Giving project, to look at the policy initiatives and reforms that would be needed to promote the growth of mass charitable giving.

Few people have looked seriously at how global economic development could lead to mass organised giving. So we looked at OECD forecasts for middle class disposable income over the next 20-odd years to establish the concept of the project.

The number of middle class people globally is projected to grow by 165 per cent by 2030 – from 1.8 billion in 2009 to 4.9 billion in 2030 – according to OECD data, with their spending power set to grow by 161 per cent over the same period. 

Seventy per cent of this growth is forecast to occur outside the traditional world centres of giving in Europe and North America.

The world’s ultra-rich is also growing, with the number of people worth $100 million or more predicted to grow from 63,000 in 2011 to 86,000 by 2016.

What would happen if those people give like we do in, say, the UK? The answer is a massive potential increase in donations equivalent to the GDP of Ireland – more than enough to wipe out extreme poverty in one go – a massive prize.

That concept has excited a lot of interest, and spawned a whole new raft of work on what we could do to make our forecast a reality – so what do we need to do about charity independence, freedom of speech and incentives for giving worldwide.

We have produced two new reports, on NGO independence and building trust in the voluntary sector.

Our building trust report argued that regressive policies towards charities and an atmosphere of suspicion among governments across the world risk undermining public trust and threaten to stifle the growth of charitable giving. Our report on independence concluded that the independence of not-for-profit organisations is at risk.

We are working on a third, looking at comparative tax incentives for giving, at the moment. The idea is to work towards a policy framework for building civil society, so we have a better understanding of what needs to be done to increase giving as the global economy develops and changes.

Our work has given us useful international perspectives on domestic issues such as the Lobbying Bill, where we were able to put proposed UK legislation in the context of developments across the world. But, building on the influence of the World Giving Index, it has also excited a lot of interest from the philanthropy community worldwide.

At the same time, we were keen to talk to people wherever we can about this work. Our project blog has proved an extremely useful way of sharing our thoughts as they develop. Adam Pickering, our international policy manager, who leads the project at CAF, started discussion this with NEXUS, an international network of next-generation philanthropists, and was invited to present his emerging findings at their Global Youth Summit at the United Nations last year. That relationship has grown and Adam took part in a number of sessions at this year’s event, who took place at the UN last month (July)

Working with our Brazilian colleagues at IDIS Adam, was also invited to speak at the second  International  Seminar  of  the  Legal  Framework  for  Civil  Society Organisations  (MROSC) in Brasilia. Overall, nearly  2.400  people  attended the  Arena  da  Participação  Social  from the 21st to the 23rd of May  His work is particularly salient for Brazil where the number of middle class people with disposable incomes is set to double by 2030.

We have been delighted at the interest these ideas have drawn across the world. We have high hopes that this work will drive debate about the future of civil society across fast-developing countries.

What it does show, is that a really compelling simple measure – in this case of generosity – can open up some quite profound policy questions and get people at least talking about how to change the world.

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Posted in Opinion
One comment on “How a poll can change the world
  1. karen handley says:

    Reblogged this on Curious about .. and commented:
    Fascinating insights into the power of polls

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