Charity and Social Entrepreneurship

Last two weeks I joined another tire upcycling workshop organised by Takween and facilitated by Renet Korthals and Ahmad Borham, we created different play elements to be placed in public spaces for kids to play for free.

The second day of the workshop, we had a mockup of the play elements prepared and we went and showed it to the kids, and I had a kid coming up to me asking “why are you doing this? Is it for god?” “No, it’s for you” was my reply.

This happens all the time at these kinds of community based workshops, I always have residents approaching and asking ‘leeh? lillah?’ -are you doing this as a good deed? for god?.

I haven’t connected all the dots of this one yet, but personally, I don’t find having charity in a religious context the best way to do charity, which is the most common way it’s done in Egypt. And for many reasons:

First, charity might become more of a selfish act because the focus changes from just benefiting others, to also benefiting yourself- doing good, going to heaven etc, so it’s not really a selfless act anymore and this affects the way people perform charity.

Second, Religion in many countries exists in a cultural context, so you have many charitable acts that are more common than others like the free water cooler you find every few steps on the streets of Cairo. Which is great, I’d die for a cup of cold water in this heat, but on the other hand, this kind of stereotypes the kinds of charity people get involved in and limits where people think their donated money, effort, or time should go.

Third, in many cases it simply leaves out many people who do not belong to that faith, whether it’s done deliberately or not, we are social beings even when it’s doing charity we like to belong to a group and fit in.

Fourth reason is an outcome of the second reason; having some acts linked to the cultural and religious definition of charity. For example, many nonprofit organisations in Egypt are now collecting recyclables like paper to generate money to be able to run their organisations, many of which are faith-based. And many people do send in their recyclables, but are they doing it for the environment? Nope, not necessarily. Which is fine but when a profitable business starts collecting recyclables to be recycled and starts promoting a more sustainable way of living, that’s when you’ll examine changes in the recycling behaviour of people.

On that note, the following two Ted Talks offer very interesting stances on Charity

I think faith-based non profits have done an amazing job in Egypt, they have certainly chosen the toughest duty to fulfil. But am rather questioning the sustainability of it. The real budding question is; How can social entrepreneurship redefine the way we do charity?