For the past five years, Charities Aids Foundation (CAF) has been reporting levels of generosity in countries around the world using three categories: giving money, volunteering, and helping strangers. In 2015, Thailand ranked 19th in the CAF World Giving Index for the overall score of 48%. But in the donating money category, Thailand scored as high as 87% and seconded only to Myanmar, which ranked first in the overall CAF index. TDRI’s calculation, based on the National Statistical Office’s Household Socio-Economic Survey, also found that Thai households are donating more and more money every year, amounting to more than 75 million baht in 2014, or around 0.6% of the country’s GDP that year. These statistics suggest that most Thais are kind and generous when it comes to giving money to others.
But have we ever wondered whether our donation money actually makes any impact? Many Thais would say no. This is because giving away money, or tum boon, is part of our culture and religious values. We have been taught since we were kids that we shall give without demanding anything in return. Moreover, giving money is so swift and easy, but tracking it requires time, effort, and often more money. So why bother?
There are plenty of reasons why we should bother demanding more concrete results from our donation money. Imagine what we could do with the 75 million baht. This is roughly the same amount of the 4G bidding price; or the government’s budget for “Pracharat” (public and private partnership) housing project. The money donated by the Thai people is seven times higher than the budget of the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security. This means that we Thais could have dealt with many social challenges on our own without waiting for the government to collect taxes, and decide and distribute the budget.
So how should we start? First of all, we need to change our mindset by transforming the idea of donations into a social investment. That is, expecting something in return for our donation money, like an improvement in the social issue we are donating to. Next, as dictated by the basic principle of investment, find the gap in the issue we want to improve, because that is where the biggest return on investment, or the change we are looking for, lies.
Funded by the Thai Health Promotion Foundation, TDRI research found that the most popular social cause that Thai people like to donate to is education. This is usually in the form of student scholarships managed by schools or non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Providing scholarship for those in need is not a bad thing, as it helps children gain access to education. But is access to education the biggest concern in our education system?
The IMD World Competitiveness Yearbook 2015 ranked Thailand 48 out of 61 countries in terms of the quality of education. PISA 2012 also reported that Thai students ranked 55th place from the total 65 in math, and 48th in science as well as reading. It seems that quality of education is a highly serious problem, and giving out scholarships may not improve the situation much.
In fact, improving the education quality should come before widening access to education. Otherwise, we would only be giving our children education and not helping them find good jobs after graduation. That would not yield high return on our investment.
So how could we use our donation to improve the quality of education? Instead of scholarship for students, we could offer scholarships for teachers to develop their teaching skills and techniques, or give a grant for inventors to create a new tool or method that can deliver knowledge and understanding to students more effectively.
Another possible option is to turn your investment away from education into other social problems. TDRI found that people with a social stigma, such as former inmates, are those receiving the smallest support from the society.
Very often those with prison records cannot get back on their feet as not many employers hire them. Being left with not many choices and support, it is not surprising that 21.75% of the prisoners in Thailand re-offend and return to prison. Many of these people have to leave their kids behind. Lacking sufficient guidance and role model, it is difficult for these children to stay focused on their education. Imagine what happens to them when they leave school and can’t find a decent job.
In sum, the prospect of social investment in Thailand is promising. Thai people are ready to give away money, as shown by statistics. What we need is a new way and new target for our investment. Just because we plan to give our money away to a social cause, let’s not forget to demand and monitor the result of our social investment, making sure that our money can and will actually bring the change that we want to see.
Boonwara Sumano is a research fellow with the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI).
First published: Bangkok Post on Wednesday, August 10, 2016