Foreign Policy Blogs

On Culture and Philanthropy

AsianWeek ran an article yesterday discussing the differences between oriental and occidental philanthropic practices. The Asian model, they say, is more based on quiet philanthropy and assistance to families and communities. I commented on a similar article back in January. It doesn't presume to establish large foundations.

I’ve seen this practice for myself in Russia (not exactly an eastern culture) and Central Asia, and friends have reported similar stories from their travels in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. For that reason, I always assumed that this community giving was a survival practice in places where the safety net isn't provided by the state or financial system – not a factor of an inherent element of Asian culture. To survive people have to band together and help out when their brother/neighbor/friend is having problems. I don't know, but would guess that Europeans and Americans had similar practices in leaner times.

There may yet be something to this idea of Asian family values driving very private philanthropy, but to be convinced I’d have to see the pattern hold while controlling for levels of economic development. It is interesting that AsianWeek is writing about Asian Americans – many of whom may have been in the US for generations.  It would also be interesting to look at giving patterns in an Asian country that has been wealthy for a multiple generations – Japan comes to mind, and then to watch giving patterns in China as its economy grows. I don't have the time to investigate these issues, but wish that I did.



Kevin Dean

Kevin Dean is a graduate student pursuing a master's degree in international conflict management and humanitarian emergencies at Georgetown University. Before returning to school in Fall 2006, he spent six years working in the former Soviet Union - most of that time spent in Central Asia. He has managed a diverse range of international development programs for the US State Department and USAID. He has also consulted for several UN agencies and international NGOs, and is fluent in Russian. Kevin is originally from Des Moines, Iowa and studied Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies at the University of Iowa.