Tag Archive: Diaspora communities

Trends in Diaspora Philanthropy as represented by The Optimists of Bangladesh and USA

By Doug Bennet

The pictures are horrifying… the sort that newspaper editors decide not to publish, for reasons of taste and human dignity (and subscriber backlash).

Faces of lifeless children caked in concrete dust, bodies buried in rubble. Female arms and legs protruding from pancaked concrete floors of the crumpled factory, colourful clothing contrasting against the grey ruins. Rescuers tugging heroically, too often fruitlessly. Sudden, catastrophic death everywhere.

The collapse of the eight-storey Rana Plaza clothing factory in the Savar district of Dhaka, Bangladesh on April 24, 2013, killed 1,129 people, most of them young women. Another 2,515 were injured or maimed. The event shocked the world and put a searing spotlight on the worst excesses of global capitalism and blind consumerism.

For The Optimists, a Bangladesh-focused diaspora charity formed in 2000, Rana Plaza was just the latest call to action, if the most tragic in scale. The organization quickly posted graphic photos on its website as it reached out to supporters for donations.

The Optimists (not to be confused with Optimist International clubs) was established by ex-pat professional Bangladeshis living in New York City. Most of the founders have finance, medicine, or business backgrounds. They represent an increasingly mobile global professional class that has greatly influenced the modern evolution of diaspora philanthropy.

“During the information revolution of the 1980s and 1990s, a new generation of philanthropists emerged from the booming finance and information technology industries,” note the authors of Diaspora Philanthropy: Private Giving and Public Policy, a 2010 study published by Washington, D.C.-based Migration Policy Institute. “In the first decade of the twenty-first century, strong economic growth in emerging economies (particularly in South and East Asia) led to the emergence of new philanthropists with direct ties to the developing world.”

Helping The Optimists and diaspora philanthropists everywhere is a powerful tool that an early ex-pat philanthropist, the Scot-American Andrew Carnegie, could not possibly have imagined: the Internet. The charity maintains a website, offers online donations, runs a Facebook page, operates a blog, and publishes online videos. Material is published in both English and Bengali. The Internet “is making it possible for dispersed populations to organize, collaborate, and nurture ties across borders,” observe the authors of Diaspora Philanthropy.

The goal of The Optimists is to both address the symptoms of poverty and also its causes. The group provides underprivileged students with the means to continue their education. The Child Sponsorship Program, for a $135 USD annual donation, funds a student from grade 6 through grade 10. The Special Sponsorship Program is similar. A $310 annual donation supports a student from grade 11 through to a bachelor degree. Candidate students must show promise and must be from “underprivileged, distressed, dispossessed, orphaned, deprived, broken and/or vulnerable families,” according to the group’s website.

“Many children from rural areas in Bangladesh are unable to attend school in their villages because their parents can’t afford it,” says Fahmida (Farah) Ahmed, a New York-based volunteer for The Optimists. “They barely have enough money to sustain life. Most people barely even make a dollar a day in those areas. So sending their kids to school is luxury, not a priority.”

After the Rana Plaza disaster, The Optimists focused on supporting students directly affected by the loss or maiming of mothers or sisters who supported them. On January 17, 2014, the organization announced at an event in Dhaka that it had raised funds to support 81 students in its “Rescue Savar’s Future” program.

Something to think about on the next shopping trip.

Works Cited

E-mail interview with Fahmida (Farah) Ahmed, a New York-based volunteer for The Optimists.

The Optimists website


Asian American Federation, Census Information Center
Profile of New York City’s Bangladeshi Americans: 2013 Edition


Bangladesh history


Savar (Rana Plaza) Building Collapse


World Movement for Democracy
Report on Laws and Regulations Governing Civil Society Organizations in Bangladesh


Newland, Kathleen, Aaron Terrazas, and Roberto Munster. 2010.
Diaspora Philanthrophy: Private Giving and Public Policy.
Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute


Comments are closed

Filipino Diaspora Philanthropy

By Ezra Mayled

The sense of family is an important part of many cultures; the Filipino culture is no exception. From a culture that is often identified as being “hospitable”, the practice of philanthropy is also present. Over recent years there has been an increase of immigrants coming from the Philippines, with Filipinos being the highest number of permanent residents by top source countries from 2010 to 2012 (Citizenship and Immigration Canada, 2013). A similar situation can be found in the United States.

Also birthed from the migration of Filipinos to the Western World is what Garchitorena (2007) calls “Filipino Diaspora Philanthropy.” Diaspora meaning, “the movement, migration, or scattering of a people away from an established or ancestral homeland (Collins English Dictionary, 2012). When Filipinos move overseas they tend to “give back” (Garchitorena, 2007) to their homeland country.

Reasons as to why they give back vary from situation to situation; those who have done well abroad seek ways to share their “wealth or talent with their home country” (Garchitorena, 2007). As I took a second to reflect at how this is true in my own (family) life I see that the Diaspora Philanthropy is evident so who better to discuss the topic than my own Filipino family. Upon asking my father, his reply was “the reason for giving back is gratitude, because we are thankful for what our families have done for us, and we want to share the blessings we have received here in Canada” (P. Mayled, personal communication, September 19, 2014). Another reason for the desire to give back to the homeland is “self gratification in knowing that I have helped someone who is more in need” (N. Pantig, personal communication, September 19, 2014). “After giving back and sending Balikbayan boxes or money, I feel comfortable knowing that people who will be receiving the gift will be a little more comfortable in life themselves” (M. Mayled, personal communication, September 19, 2014).

Methods of giving back which have been briefly mentioned include Balikbayan boxes which are boxes filled with non-perishable food, clothing, health-related items. These Balikbayan boxes are sent directly to families usually on trips to the the Philippines where “there is great personal satisfaction when one can actually meet the person who will benefit from a donation” (Garchitorena, 2007) or by shipping it and the recipient(s) receiving it in approximately 4-5 weeks. Another common method is through money transfer. My family every so often sends money over to their families back in the Philippines, especially to help cover ever-so-expensive health costs for a family member. One other method my family gives back is by donating money through our local church especially to help victims of natural disasters such as typhoons, and landslides.

I believe one of Garchitorena’s (2007) reasoning encompasses why I would personally give back in the near future which is the “compassion for the poor and underprivileged”. I was born and raised in Canada, and have only seen a glimpse of living in the Philippines. With just that slight glimpse I know the way of living in Canada is a hundredfold different (and one could say better) than in the Philippines. I can see them as two completely different worlds. To see how my relatives in the Philippines live and how I live here in Canada makes me count my blessings, and even share them whenever I can out of the compassion of my heart.

Works Cited

Garchitorena, V. P., (2007). Diaspora Philanthropy: The Philippine Experience. Convention on Biological Diversity.

diaspora. (n.d.). Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. Retrieved September 23, 2014, from Dictionary.com website:http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/diaspora

Comments are closed

Armenian Philanthropy

sduncan post on February 25th, 2013
Posted in Diaspora communities Tags: , ,

By Araxi Arslanian

Armenia adopted Christianity as it’s faith in the 4th Century (Payaslian, 2007), and thus boasts the longest tradition of structured Christian philanthropy. Today the Armenian spirit of giving is alive and well (Libaridian, 2004). Armenia is a created state, like Israel. The Diaspora maintain their identity not only through their faith and language, but through their philanthropy (Dobuzinskis, 2005).. Read the rest of this entry >>

Comments are closed

Jamaican Philanthropy: At Home and Abroad

By Meghan Lynn Schnarr

The “culture of philanthropy” as it is understood in Western culture is far less established in other parts of the world. Understandably, specific conditions of given societies naturally call forth different philanthropic traditions. As such, the history and current day giving traditions in Caribbean culture, Read the rest of this entry >>

Comments are closed

Traditions of latino philanthropy

sduncan post on February 5th, 2013
Posted in Diaspora communities Tags: ,

By Danielle Casola

The Latin culture has participated in examples of informal charity and social giving through family and kin networks that dates back to the 1500’s. Until very recently, government agencies and churches, instead of foundations and community driven-non-profit organizations have held the primary responsibility for meeting social and community needs for the Latino immigrants to the United States. Read the rest of this entry >>

Comments are closed

Changes in North American Tzedakah

sduncan post on February 5th, 2013
Posted in Diaspora communities Tags:

By Miriam A

When I was a child, I visited my maternal grandparents regularly. In the kitchen was a small blue metal box with Hebrew writing on it. I liked to shake the box to see if it was full of coins or almost empty. I knew if it was full I could help to count the money, which my grandfather would then take to the synagogue. It was not clear to me then but that was Tzedakah. Read the rest of this entry >>

Comments are closed


sduncan post on February 1st, 2013
Posted in Diaspora communities Tags: , ,

By Krishna Mistry

Tzedakah, a Hebrew term, translates to the English word charity. However, while charity can be defined as, “generosity and helpfulness especially toward the needy or suffering” or, “aid given to those in need” many people have argued that there is a large difference between tzedakah and charity. Tzedakah is a fundamental value of the Jewish culture and is a way of life followed by many Jewish people. Read the rest of this entry >>

Comments are closed

The Jewish tradition of Philanthropy

sduncan post on February 1st, 2013
Posted in Diaspora communities Tags: ,

By Jack Papoff

The Hebrew word for charity is “Tzedakah”. This is for giving aid, assistance and money to the poor or worthwhile causes. Tzedakah is the responsibility to give a portion of ones earnings for the common good. However, charity suggests benevolence and generosity which is an act of the powerful and wealthy to benefit the poor and needy, while Tzedakah means righteousness, fairness or justice.

Historical Roots – At the end of the Jewish worship services the Aleinu prayer states a goal of the Jewish people to “perfect the world under the sovereignty of god”. Read the rest of this entry >>

Comments are closed

The Tzedakah Box: A religious obligation and tradition

sduncan post on January 30th, 2013
Posted in Diaspora communities Tags: ,

By Sue Kelley

Traditional Jewish homes commonly have a home charity box, a tzedakah, for collecting coins to give to the poor. Tzedakah is a Hebrew word commonly translated as charity – giving aid, assistance, and money to the poor and needy or to other worthy causes – but, the nature of tzedakah is simply an act of justice and righteousness, the performance of a duty, or giving the poor their due.

While Western style philanthropy is rooted in Christian traditions and is seen as an individual right, Read the rest of this entry >>

Comments are closed

The Evolution of Tzedakah

sduncan post on January 30th, 2013
Posted in Diaspora communities Tags: ,

By Meg Chalmers

“Tzedakah” is the Hebrew word meaning righteousness, justice or fairness. Tzedkah is often mistranslated to the English word “charity” , meaning giving without excepting any gratification and doing out of compassion. Tzedkah however , is an obligation and law found in the Torah to give : “ … set aside a tenth of all your produce..and give it to the alien, the fatherless and the widow..” (Deuteronomy 26:12).

Historically, Tzedakah was used intended primarily for agricultural giving. Read the rest of this entry >>

Comments are closed