Culture, uncertain economy effect giving


A new report identifies a weak charitable spirit in Turkey and the Balkans.

By Menekse Tokyay for Southeast European Times in Istanbul -- 04/03/13


Turkish people break their first day of fasting for Ramadan with meals distributed by the Eyup Sultan district municipality, on a bridge in downtown Istanbul. An international report recently evaluated the state of charity in Turkey and other countries. [AFP]

Most Turks are comparatively reluctant to donate to charity or take time out to help strangers in need, according to the 2012 World Giving Index, a report based on survey data published by the UK-based Charities Aid Foundation.

Overall, the report ranked Turkey 137th out of 146 countries from across the globe. The index is compiled using survey data from more than 155,000 people. Rankings are determined based on three measures of giving behavior: the percentage of people who donate money to charity, volunteer their time, and help individuals they don't know.

This year's results indicate that people were less generous last year compared to 2011 figures, with a significant fall in the number of people giving money to the needy. According to the report, Australia is the most generous country in the world, where more than two-thirds of the population is said to donate their money or help strangers.

Experts interviewed by SES Türkye attributed the differences between countries to cultural variations, divergent economic circumstances, and political factors including laws regulating tax breaks for donating money.

Tevfik Basak Ersen, general secretary of the Third Sector Foundation of Turkey (TUSEV), a civil society group that engages in charity, said Turkey's low ranking reflected cultural and political conditions in the country.

"Turkey should re-consider its taxation policy because donors to charitable organisations can claim a tax deduction of [only] up to 5 percent of their taxable income, while you can reduce 100 percent of the corporate tax when you build a school for the state," Ersen told SETimes.

He added that corporate charity is still in its infancy in Turkey, while many people still prefer giving money to beggars rather than established organisations due to their cultural habits.

Ozden Sik, an Izmir-based fashion designer who sends two children to school through TUSEV, linked Turkey's low ranking to cultural traits.

"I think that the basic reason why Turkish people are less charitable is that our society has no established culture for giving," she told SETimes. "People prefer to secure their own benefits instead of carrying others."

Kosovo ranked 79th in the index, making it the only country from Southeast Europe to be placed in the top 100.

Asad Gashi, a researcher at the Pristina Centre for International Studies, attributed Kosovo's comparatively strong performance to the country's close-knit social structure.

"The people in Kosovo have been used to support each other for a long time, be it a member of the family or the broader community, due to the bad economic conditions in the country and the feeling that if the state is not able to do something then it's up to the people to take actions," Gashi told SETimes.

The report also documented low levels of charity in other Balkan countries.

Montenegro was ranked as the second-least charitable country in the world, coming in at 145th out of 146 overall, and last in the region. The country has struggled economically in recent years.

According to Milos Besic, professor of sociology at the University of Montenegro, most Montenegrins donate through informal channels that don't necessarily register on research reports.

"Montenegro is a small country where family and friendship bonds are still strong and people feel like if they have to help someone they should help someone in their own circle of family or friends rather than helping stranger," he told SETimes.

But Besic added that an emerging culture of social competition in the country doesn't bode well for charitable giving.

"In addition, Montenegrin society is going towards more liberal and economic kind of competition, meaning people are focused on their own well-being, and very often they like to compare their status to others," he said. "Under these circumstances, helping a stranger is not recognised as something that is expected from people."

Romania was ranked 119th overall and 8th place in the Balkans.

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Since 2000, the country's fiscal code has allowed citizens to redirect 2 percent of their income tax to a non-profit organisation. Currently, 25 percent of taxpayers and 25,000 non-profit organisations are said to benefit from this provision. However, the amount of money donated annually fluctuates depending on economic circumstances, decreasing to about 25 million euros in 2012.

Daniel A. Bujorean, spokesman for the Bucharest-based Casa Sperantei Hospice charitable group, said the decrease was caused by economic turmoil.

"Strategies to raise funds were profoundly adjusted due to the effects of the economic crisis in Romania," he told SETimes. "If, in the past, fundraising efforts were concentrated mainly in sponsorships from the corporate environment, the non-profit organisations [recently] had to modify their strategy and focus on raising funds from the community."

Correspondents Katica Djurovic in Podigorica, Gabriel Petrescu in Bucharest and Muhamet Brajshori in Pristina contributed to this report.

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