Funded by the ESRC-DfID joint programme on poverty alleviation, between 2012 and 2013 we conducted a study into the actual and potential development impacts of Sri Lankan charity and philanthropy (C&P). While our research supported previous findings indicating high levels of indigenous C&P in Sri Lanka, we also found the vast bulk is unplanned, highly personalised, and often takes place within ethnic and religious silos. We often found that benefactors pay little attention to the needs of beneficiary groups, or how to achieve or measure effective poverty reduction – despite these being stated key aims. More generally, we found that C&P in Colombo tends to reinforce and perpetuate economic and social inequalities including forms of gender, generation, ethnic, religious, and class discrimination. In the vast majority of cases, C&P is primarily focused on givers’ desires to discharge religious, humanitarian, business, and/or personal ‘obligations’ to the poor. There is little consideration given to the rights of the poor to live free from poverty and other forms of inequality, and what this entails in intervention terms.
Crucially, however, we also found that C&P actors in Colombo are often aware of these shortcomings. Motives for giving varied widely, encompassing both ‘selfish’ and ‘altruistic’ interests. Motivated by what could be a ‘passion for giving’ alongside a range of other humanitarian, religious, and bResearch participants, including philanthropists, corporations, and community organisations, expressed a high level of interest in how their projects could be designed and monitored better. We also found that new national initiatives like ‘CSR Lanka,’ a CSR platform established by USAID and run independently by local companies, lacked the necessary technical competence to design products and services for members. More widely, high levels of interest were also expressed by civil society and donor organisations, for example UNICEF and ADB, in how to develop corporate funding and project partnerships. The results of our research were thus on the one hand quite negative, but also offered important glimmers of hope. It seemed clear to us that an intervention building on the passion for giving that we found, but which also foregrounded best principles and practices of an inclusive, rights-based approach, could help to maximise the impact of Sri Lankan C&P.
A follow-on grant awarded in 2014 gave us the opportunity to respond to these insights. Drawing from our research findings and a short training needs analysis to identify priority areas, we worked with CSR Lanka and a local Stakeholder Response Group to develop the intervention. This included: (1) the design and deliver learning and development workshops in philanthropy, CSR, and social business approaches that would meet the realities and needs of Sri Lankan C&P actors; and (2) supporting a pilot project showcasing best practices with tangible outcomes for individuals and communities in Sri Lanka living in poverty. The overall aim of these activities was to share knowledge and skills and build partnerships and collaborations within the Sri Lankan C&P arena, and thus to encourage the development of innovative poverty reduction programmes.
The training workshops, held in June 2014, took participants on a journey that showed how to transform the passion for giving into impactful projects. We held seven workshops, and due to high levels of demand, we increased participant numbers each day from 15 to 20/25. In total, more than 130 organisations passed through the training.
The daylong programme contained a mix of formal presentations, multi-media presentations, and group activities, including the opportunity to plan a collaborative team project and commit to post-workshop individual and group action plans. Participants were sent pre-session learning materials, and on the day given a workbook (in English, Sinhala, and Tamil) providing comprehensive background information on the subjects addressed. We also posted learning materials on our project website. Having asked participants to indicate areas of thematic interest, we tailored each day to a specific Sri Lankan development challenge. These included child and youth development, education and skills, health and sanitation, ageing population, and post-war reconstruction/reconciliation. We included gender equality and other diversity issues throughout. By the end of the day, participants had developed individual action plans that would enable them to cascade learnings through their organisations, integrate new knowledge and skills into existing and forthcoming projects, and take the necessary steps to launching the theme-targeted collaborative projects they designed as part of the training.
Each day, participants broke into two teams and designed a collaborative project they would implement over the coming six to twelve months. Proposed projects included a commitment to reducing water footprints, funding a local charity helping female victims of sexual abuse, supporting child development in Sri Lanka’s tea estates, providing employment opportunities for ex-LTTE combatants, combatting the epidemic of chronic kidney disease in Sri Lanka’s farming communities, and promoting ‘green tourism’ initiatives.
Our experience of delivering the p4 workshops was very positive, and feedback from participants suggested it was equally valued. We felt honoured to have the chance to engage with such a diverse group of stakeholders, and look forward to following up over the coming months and years to see how their work is progressing.