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From Private Patronage to Organized Philanthropy

In the 1990s, despite the successes of the huge NGOs and 'social enterprises' like Grameen Bank, BRAC, and ASA, private action for the poor was seen as ideally about personal charity. Assistance to the known poor—particularly those closest to the core of the concentric circles of patronage (poor relatives; needy kin; folks from the home village, district, or region; the deserving poor more widely)—was ideally benevolent and kind, and the personal touch was favoured. There was a strong gender dimension to this, as elite women were particularly expected to perform personal acts of charity, but also to be involved in charitable groups and efforts. This 'Lady Bountiful' style of private charity was part of older Bengali modes of clientelism, but it also made a particular statement about high culture and good breeding (Hossain 2005).

More recently, that relationship has become more institutionalized and professionalized. Private giving no doubt still goes on and patronage networks are characteristic of the environments of the rich and powerful. But there has also been a flourishing of new types of charitable organization that aim to dispense with the old inefficiencies and inadequacies of private giving in favour of more rational modes of charitable assistance that do not, for instance, breed dependency. They are licensed and organized; some, like the highly regarded Jaago Foundation, depend on social media and youthful idealism (Hossain 2014). The Jaago Foundation is one of the organizations through which the students of the elite International School Dhaka get involved in social service. The change is also notable in the rise in corporate philanthropy and corporate social responsibility. There is much goodwill and enthusiasm for social justice in these new modes of charitable action. They nonetheless reflect a society in which the gap between the richest and the poorest, undetectable by measures of inequality such as the Gini coefficient, has become far wider, and in which it is increasingly through the medium of an organization's bureaucracy that the relationship between them will be mediated.

Aid as a percentage of gross national income, 1973-2013

Figure 3.2. Aid as a percentage of gross national income, 1973-2013

Source: World Development Indicators. Accessed 14 October 2016. data/reports.aspx?source=world-development-indicators.

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