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Lessons from the World’s Top 3 Most Generous Cultures

Updated: Jun 2, 2022

According to Charity Aid Foundation’s report on global giving trends, Myanmar, Indonesia, and Kenya were the world’s most generous countries in 2017. Generosity, in this report, was measured in terms of financial giving, volunteering, and helping a stranger.

It won’t surprise you to note that 80-90% of the people in Myanmar are Buddhists who participate in the spiritual practice of giving small daily donations of money or food to support monks and nuns at the monastery. This is a practice called dana.

Indonesia is home to the world’s largest Muslim population per capita practicing a pillar of Islam called zakat, or alms giving. Estimates suggest that between US$200 billion and US$1 trillion is collected in the form of zakat across the Muslim world each year.

Kenya’s culture of generosity begins with its coat of arms which features a single word, harambee, meaning “all pull together.”

The commonality here is not just that almsgiving is a cornerstone of the world’s most generous cultures, but that these countries were generous in giving not only money, but also volunteer time and willingness to help a stranger. Volunteering and helping a stranger requires an entirely new level of generosity that we often consider impossible in our carefully scheduled lives.

There is a necessary vulnerability that accompanies us into face-to-face generosity. It’s exposing ourselves not only to the elements of the stranger’s circumstances: the narrow shoulder on the side of the road, the apartment that smells like cooking fat, the loud sticky toddler that comes along. But it’s also exposing ourselves to the likely potential that we will feel helpless at best and insignificant at the very worst. Two feelings that are uncomfortable to people who strive to solve, fix, and promote themselves to increasing levels of control.

If I can make generalizations about the cultures of generosity and the cultures of protection that I’ve experienced, it would look something like this:

In short, the question “what can we learn from these generous cultures?” is trumped by the question, “what are we protecting ourselves from?” Before we can even ask ourselves what to add or change in our lives to be more generous, we first must consider what we’re avoiding.

Nonprofits are in the business of calling us to shift from avoidance to generosity. Fundraisers are the voice that raises the call. If we listen, they’re offering a new kind of life. What are we protecting ourselves from?

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