India ranked 82nd among 128 countries for generosity over the last 10 years, as per the 10th World Giving Index.

Up to a third of Indians helped a stranger, one in four donated money, and one in five gave their time volunteering, the report said, attributing India’s low ranking to its strong culture of unorganised and informal giving to family, community and religion. It recommended more formal mechanisms of donating to charity.

The report, published online in October, was based on surveys of 1.3 million people in 128 countries over the last 9 years. It asked interviewees if they had helped a stranger, donated money to charity or volunteered their time in the past month. The surveys used Gallup World Poll data and were commissioned by the Charities Aid Foundation, a UK charity that provides services and assistance to international charities and their donors.

India’s rank on the Index has yoyoed vastly, the lowest being 134th in 2010 and the highest being 81st last year. This year’s report aggregated data for each country for the last 10 years. India’s overall World Giving Index score this year was 26%.

India’s 26% World Giving Index score was less than half of 58% scored by the United States in the top spot. China, with a score of 16%, was at the fag end of the index. The Asian giant also had the lowest score for all three measures considered – helping a stranger, donating money and volunteering.

New Zealand, on the other hand, was the only country to appear in the top 10 on all three counts.

Improvements in ranking

Five of the 10 countries to have improved their rankings the most on the giving index were in Asia. Indonesia, the country that improved its ranking the most, moved into the top 10 for donating money and volunteering. Sri Lanka achieved the highest score for volunteering in the world; at 46%, its volunteering score was more than double of India’s 19%.

The report attributed this rise in rankings to cultural factors. For example, a majority of people in Myanmar are practising Buddhists, 99% of whom are followers of the Theravada branch that mandates giving. Sri Lanka too has a high population of Theravada Buddhists.

Similarly, in Indonesia, which has the largest Muslim population in the world, giving is closely tied to the religious obligation of giving, zakaat.

The improved rankings are also an outcome of countries’ economic development. “It is not a surprise that these Asian countries have been increasing [their ranking] due to their rising economic prosperity,” said Ingrid Srinath of the Centre for Social Impact and Philanthropy at Ashoka University in Sonipat, Haryana.

India was the least generous of the seven South Asian countries in the Index, behind neighbours Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka. India’s economic growth in recent decades has been felt by fewer and fewer people, which may explain why its philanthropy is not increasing at a rate similar to that of its Asian counterparts, Srinath said.

Only 69% lower-income families donated or sponsored help in the last 12 months. Lower-income families are anyway less likely to participate in charity as compared to families with a household income of more than Rs 1.7 lakh per month, 82% of whom donated, the report stated. “The study does not account for the degree of giving from an individual, only whether they are giving or not,” said Batra of Charities Aid Foundation India.

“India also has more cleavages than other countries around it in terms of religion, class and caste,” said Srinath. “It is possible that these divides make people less inclined to commit to national philanthropic efforts.”

Under-reported giving

“In India, there is a strong culture of regularly helping and assisting each other,” said Batra. Sixty-four percent Indians said they give money directly to people and families in need or to a church or religious organisation while 58% families said they contributed to non-profits or charitable organisations, as per the India Giving Report, a country-specific report by the Charities Aid Foundation Global Alliance, a network of organisations working in philanthropy and civil society.

Besides, India has over 500 forms of traditional religious giving, such as Hindu daan and utsarg, Islamic zakaat, kums and sadaqa. “This form of giving may not show up on the Index because Indians consider this a family or a religious obligation,” said Batra. “For instance, it is commonplace for Indians to feed poor people outside places of worship, or serve a meal to pious and holy men. Those responding to the survey would not have counted this as giving, because they consider this to be their duty.”

Incidentally, up to 38% Indians said they would donate more if they knew how their money would be spent, and 32% would donate more if there was more transparency. “There is potential for organised non-profit organisations to provide more formal options of giving,” said Ben Russel of Charities Aid Foundation.

Rich give little

In 2017, the wealth held by India’s wealthiest 1% increased by Rs 20,913 billion. This was equivalent to the central government’s total budget that year, as per this report by Oxfam India.

The contribution of India’s richest to philanthropic activities has grown at a slower pace than the increase in their wealth, as reported by IndiaSpend earlier this year. Large contributions – of more than Rs 10 crore – by ultra-high net worth individuals who have a net worth of more than Rs 25 crore have decreased 4% since 2014.

India’s lowest World Giving Index score in the last six years – 22% in 2018 – coincided with its reporting a record number of 121 billionaires – the third-highest number of ultra-rich individuals in any country, behind China and the United States.

This article first appeared on IndiaSpend, a data-driven and public-interest journalism non-profit.