I believe the vast majority of Colombians are extremely generous and caring people.
Friendly and outgoing, and willing to share what they have with those in need.
However, not everyone has the same opinion of the Colombian people as me.
Let us see if we can find some evidence to support my perception.
The Colombian people have been blighted with a reputation for human rights abuses, greed, violence, and a lack of compassion. These misconceptions have been fuelled by a global media, portraying only the negative aspects of Colombian society.
The drugs wars of the 1980’s and 90’s, and the 60-year civil war, amplified the situation. It has fuelled a long, slow burning generalisation about the people of Colombia, and negative stereotypes.
It is true the country has an endemic corruption problem throughout commercial and governmental institutions. These practices have stunted Colombia’s progress, and undermined the integrity of the Colombian establishment. The average citizen has little faith in a Colombian organisations claims of principle.
This cynicism transfers to the philanthropic sector in Colombia. A member of the Colombian elite can create a charitable foundation, but will face an uphill task in convincing the people of its credibility. The perception could be a tax dodge, a publicity tool, or even an outright scam, and the Colombian people will be hard to convince otherwise.
How the powerful Colombian families have divided up the national wealth over Colombia’s history. The methods they have used to hang onto that power and wealth, and still continue to do so to this day. Then you can understand the widespread mistrust.
World Giving Index
The Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) undertake a World Giving Index study each year. They ask the citizens of each country three questions. In the last month, have you done any of the following-
Helped a stranger, or someone you didn’t know, who needed help?
Donated money to a charity?
Volunteered your time to an organisation?
They provide each score as a percentage of the population, but they also compute the figure into a Giving Index score. Basically, an average of all three scores.
It should be noted that all these results are compiled by a third-party market research company for CAF. They are taken from sample groups from each country, by simple interview process. So, while they are probably not 100% accurate. They do at least give a general idea of charitable donations.
Overall in 2016, Colombia finished #73 out of 140. So pretty much middle of the road. Its is the individual scores that provide a little more information.
Colombia Giving Index Scores 2016
|Helped a stranger?||59%|
|Donated money to a charity?||21%|
|Volunteered your time to an organisation?||19%|
There is clearly a big difference between a Colombians willingness to help a stranger, or a person they meet, than to donate time or money to a charitable organisation.
This can be interpreted many ways. It maybe suggested, that helping a stranger, would always be more likely than donating time or money. But the result for all of the North-Western European countries (UK, Ireland, Germany, Scandinavia, the Netherlands etc.) the opposite is true. The citizens of these countries all donated more money to charity, than they helped a stranger.
Let’s look closer at the economic and social situation of the Colombian people.
The income disparity in Colombia is one of the worst in the world. The UN, the World Bank and the CIA all calculate Colombia to be in the top ten worst countries for income disparity.
This measures the disparity between the richest 10%, and the poorest 10%. We can assume from this that Colombian people across the lower classes, may not have the expendable income to donate to charity.
Average working hours of the Colombian people
If we look at the how often Colombians volunteer time to organisations, we find a similar picture. Colombians have one of the highest average working times in the world.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation & Development (OECD) study the average hours worked per year by country. They rate Mexico as having the highest average hours worked per year at 2,246 hours per year in 2015. Followed in second and third by Costa Rica and South Korea. Colombia do not participate in this study.
LA-KLEMS research their own figures and calculate Colombia to work more hours than Mexico. In 2010 they calculate the average Colombian to have worked 2,383 hours per year. The same year for Mexico in the OECD study was 2,242 hours per year.
Taken from LA-KLEMS: Economic growth and productivity in Latin America (Hofman, Mas, Aravena & Fernandez de Guevara 2016)
We can see from this evidence, that workers right in Colombia may play a role in limiting how much time or money, the Colombian people can donate to charity.
Helping a Stranger
To measure how often Colombians, help a stranger. I can only offer anecdotal evidence.
In all my years of living in Colombia I have noticed a great generosity by the Colombian people to those in need. Giving coins to a homeless person is extremely regular occurrence. In a taxi, you will always find the driver donating a few coins to a passing transient. An unofficial service and entertainment industry takes place wherever you go. Street entertainers, windscreen washers at traffic lights, homeless people helping shoppers with their bags to taxis, are just a few processes where those with a few coins in their pocket, can redistribute them to those who have none.
It shows real character that your average Colombian, who most likely works long hours, for minimal salaries take it upon themselves to help the less fortunate. However, we should not discount the work or philanthropy among the elites. The affluent families of Colombia may struggle to generate charitable donations from the Colombian people, but they are still more than capable of redistributing their own wealth. With their favourable social position they can also generate donations from other wealthy Colombians.
Many of the powerful Colombian elites are involved in Philanthropic activities. To name but a few –
The former first lady of Colombia, Nydia Quintero Turbay, is the president of Fundación Solidaridad por Colombia. A foundation dedicated to helping Children, the poor, and the disabled.
The powerful Santo Domingo family, whose Mario Santo Domingo Foundation is a major aid contributor to the poor of Colombia.
Catalina Escobar, a Colombian business woman who sold her company and created the Juan Felipe Gómez Escobar foundation in memory of her deceased infant son, to help young mothers and children born into poverty.
The Colombian people are very generous at all levels of society. The economic and social situation may prevent them from donating to actual foundations, but they are always willing to help people in real situations.
I believe there is a disconnect between social classes, when it comes to philanthropic endeavour. These divisions are deep and complex, and will probably take decades to heal and repair. The peace process is critical as a starting point. Then social and human rights need to be addressed. The divide must be bridged for this to happen, which is quite a task considering the history.
Will it ever happen? I like to remain positive, and believe that Colombia has come a long way in difficult conditions. It still has a long way to go, but it is pointing in the right direction.
I believe a country filled with such generous and kind hearted people, will always prosper in the end