Charity Cannot Be the First Go-To Solution to Societal Challenges
Yunice Karina Tumewang
The empathy, generosity, and kindness raised and transformed into a hundred amazing philanthropic works during these tough times of COVID-19 were beyond our expectations. However, the glorification of this noble achievement would unexpectedly leave the root causes being overlooked.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, an immediate economic impact apparently has hit many of us as millions of people across the globe have lost their sources of income due to the halted economic activities. In response to this pandemic, various philanthropic works went on, particularly during the first semester of 2020, resulting in total funding collected much higher than those for other disasters, as reported by the nonprofit organization Candid (2020) closely partnered with the Center for Disaster Philanthropy. It is good news indeed, but we should not stop on this. When the importance of charity is increasing, there is a need to pause and reflect; is the financial problem of our society essentially eliminated?
Essentially, the reliance on the community’s work is caused by the failure of the Government to provide a reliable social security system for its people. To simply illustrate, we can see from the case of the PCR/Swab test in Indonesia. As the price of the test is pretty costly and unaffordable, some organizations took an initiative to organize a free PCR/Swab test for the public, one of which was held by Nahdlatul Ulama, the largest Islamic organization in Indonesia. However, this kind of initiative can only reach a limited number of people due to its budget constraints, considering the price for the test kit alone is pretty high, not to say the operational cost and so on. Meanwhile, when the government stepped in the pricing control for the test, every human being in Indonesia can now access a more affordable PCR/swab test which is very useful to mitigate the widespread of Covid-19. Irrespective of the Government's failure, we should acknowledge that the community’s work is limited in nature compared to what Government is able and supposed to do.
Even in a society where people are extremely generous, the problem of poverty remains. Indonesia is ranked in the first place as the most generous country across the globe, according to a report released by Charities World Foundation in its World Giving Index (2021). This report even revealed that more than eight in ten Indonesian people have donated in the past year, yet we still found that 27.54 million people in this country suffer from poverty. Charity plays a crucial role in preventing the enlargement of the poverty rate. However, the figure highlights that charity could not stand alone in combating poverty.
Poverty originates from either cultural or structural factors. Cultural poverty can be defined as poverty that is mainly caused by laziness, lack of desire to learn, and so forth. These issues can be addressed through approaches such as motivational seminars, entrepreneurship training, and direct financial assistance to allow them to find new jobs. On the other hand, structural poverty is caused by the political economy of the nation that sustains impoverishment and inequality. Structural poverty can only be addressed if the Government steps up and sets the rules. Problems such as the wage gap between men and women, racial inequality, and underpayment of some essential sectors prevent the marginalized individuals from being empowered in the country that they call their own.
As a simple comparison, we could take a look at the earnings of a Youtuber and a farmer. An average Youtuber with 1 million subscribers normally will be receiving around USD 60,000 a year or the highest YouTube salary recorded last year was USD 29.5 Million received by a nine-year-old boy who grew up in Texas. On another side, for every hectare of agricultural land, a farmer in Indonesia is merely expecting USD 1,500 in a year, causing them to live under the poverty line (BPS, 2020). This is a structural issue and charity will not be able to help all farmers in claiming their rights of decent income through a market-based activity that only the Government, apart from the economic actors, has the power to influence.
In the times of COVID-19, we can understand structural poverty even better. The effect of COVID-19 in people’s lives differ significantly based on the coping capability of each income category. The Governments divided the ongoing businesses into three groups which are critical, essential, and non-essential sectors. According to Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (2020), the sector is deemed critical “if its incapacitation or destruction would have a debilitating effect on security, national economic security, national public health or safety, or any combination thereof”. Energy, health, security, logistics and transportation, basic utilities are included in this sector. Meanwhile, the essential sector is related to the supply of goods and services needed by society on a daily basis such as finance, ICT (Information and Communications Technology), capital market, export-oriented industries, and others. However, somehow in many cases, we found that the non-essential sectors such as the entertainment industry, get a much better paycheck than the essential and critical sectors which hold a crucial role in the life of our people. These include, for instance, blue-collar workers in the public transit and warehouse industries (supermarket or convenience store workers), or those working in the agricultural industry who help provide a meal to our table (farmers, delivery service), are usually underpaid. Informal employment in food-related sectors is substantially higher in low-income countries (Brooking, 2020). People working in this sector do not merely require charities. They need a system that can protect them from the vulnerabilities of their occupation. And the Government must cater to such needs.
Charity should be listed as the ‘most prioritized’ moral obligation. But when it comes to the social security system, it should have been the last resort to call upon. In its best ideal situation, we are actually dreaming of a condition in time when charity is not needed anymore. And it’s not a eutrophic dream. Instead, it’s been our reality in the past which might be repeated in the future, when there was hardly anyone needing a donation under the leadership of Umar ibn Abdul Aziz, the Caliph from Bani Umayyah from 717-720 H. However, given the current condition when we should still rely on the charity, one thing to note is that we should not distribute it just as it is. We need to think of an effective and strategic formula for allocating and deploying these philanthropic resources so as to add value for wider and longer benefits.
There should be a new deal on this matter. To build a resilient and respectful society, we need to fundamentally adjust how we provide them access to capital and technology for the marginalized individuals – minimum wage, a secured and healthy working environment without any discrimination, and access to healthcare facilities. No more individuals should be marginalized. Everybody deserves respect, everybody deserves protection.
Yunice Karina Tumewang is an Assistant Professor at the Accounting Department, Islamic University of Indonesia. She is currently pursuing her PhD in Business and Management at the University of Southampton. She earned a BA in accounting from the Islamic University of Indonesia and an MSc in Islamic finance from Durham University. Her research interests include Islamic Accounting, Sharia Finance, and Sustainable Reporting.
This article is featured in JUSTIN Development Review (JDR) Vol. 01 Issue 03 — December 2021