THE BLOG

Which Is the Most Generous Country on Earth?

19/11/2014 16:02 GMT | Updated 18/01/2015 10:59 GMT

How do you tell the most generous country on earth? It's a simple question, but one that's profound, and pretty difficult to answer.

The Charities Aid Foundation's annual World Giving Index is one attempt to find an answer. The Index is the only comparative study of its kind, and looks at whether people donated money in a typical month, whether they volunteered some time and whether they helped a stranger.

Those are three fairly universal measures of giving, in the same way asked across 135 countries last year, and allow us to get a feeling, a snapshot of how giving looks in most parts of the world.

Top of the index this year are America and Myanmar (Burma) two hugely different countries, with massively different incomes, histories and cultures, but nations which seem united in a willingness to help others.

This year's top 10 includes Malaysia, Thailand, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Trinidad & Tobago and us in the UK. A diverse list but one that is united by a common human desire to help our fellow people.

Of course, our index does not measure how much people give, or the income levels in their home country. Instead, it tries to get at the overall willingness of people to do whatever they can to help others - how they are motivated to give, whatever their wealth or circumstances.

So the index shows a huge leap in Malaysia's ranking, which has gone from 71st place to seventh this year, a likely consequence of the humanitarian effort made towards the Typhoon Haiyan disaster in neighbouring Philippines.

One particularly heartening trend in this year's study is that transitional economies - as defined by the UN - have seen growth on all three measures of generosity this year with the proportion of people donating money to a charity outstripping the overall global trend.

We have all seen the amazing growth of fast-developing economies around the world, and this trend reinforces my belief in the potential of the people in these countries to put their newly earned disposable income to good use for the common good.

The OECD has estimated the phenomenal growth of the world's middle classes between now and 2030 and their potential incomes. If those people give along the same lines as for example, people do in the UK, it could yield more than $225 billion for civil society. That's a massive sum, which for example would dwarf the estimated cost of bringing the world's peoples out of extreme poverty.

There are many things countries could do to make that dream a reality: better, more consistent regulation; guaranteeing freedoms for non-profits; putting sensible tax incentives in place; and having a constructive dialogue with civil society about the problems many countries face.

Of course, it is humbling that Britain remains consistently in the 10 most generous countries on earth. The people of these islands have an amazing, innate tendency to help others in need.

Not that we should be complacent. We strive to increase giving, which in the UK stays remarkably constant from year to year, which is why we are working to help bring the #GivingTuesday movement to Britain for the first time this year on December 2nd.

The #GivingTuesday movement asks people to do one good thing: give their time, money or their voice to a good cause, whatever that may be. That summarises the spirit of altruism which is at the heart of the World Giving Index, and is something we should all strive to increase.