Academic journal article Austrian Journal of South - East Asian Studies

Giving Trends in Myanmar: More Than Merit Making

Academic journal article Austrian Journal of South - East Asian Studies

Giving Trends in Myanmar: More Than Merit Making

Article excerpt


Myanmar has a reputation for generosity. According to the World Giving Index, Myanmar has topped the list as the number one giving country in the world for the past three years. Developed by Charities Aid Foundation, this index creates a picture of generosity by measuring people's behavior in terms of charitable action, with a special focus on how frequently people help a stranger, donate money, and volunteer their time for charity. In addition to placing first for donating money to charity from 2014-2016, Myanmar placed first also for volunteering time and donating money in 2015, the first country to be placed at the top for two of the three ways of giving since 2010 (Charities Aid Foundation, 2015, p. 5). In the 2016 report they increased their overall score as a result of an increase in both volunteering time and helping a stranger (Charities Aid Foundation, 2016, p. 21).

Myanmar's achievement as the number one giving country in the world is all the more surprising in that Myanmar is one of Asia's poorest countries. The fact that Myanmar, while ranking as one of the least developed countries in the world, can demonstrate such strong generosity and is, in fact, the leader of the world giving index, confounds conventional wisdom that assumes that people practice generosity out of their abundance. According to data from the Charities Aid Foundation Giving Report 2016, 91% of the people in Myanmar donated money during the survey month, yet the Asian Development Bank research suggests that one quarter of the population remains below the poverty line (UNDP, 2015). In other words, whether rich or poor, young or old, and across religious and ethnic lines, Myanmar people give money more regularly than anywhere else in the world. Similarly, Myanmar's excellence in giving is not shared by other ASEAN or Buddhist countries. Apart from Indonesia, there is neither any other ASEAN nor Buddhist country on this list. Additionally, the gap between Myanmar and the closest competitors for the title of most generous nation is wide. Countries ranked from number two through to number ten are within nine points of each other, whereas Myanmar is 16 points ahead of the nearest competitor, the Muslim nation of Indonesia. This data suggests that Myanmar generosity cannot be simply explained as an 'Asian' or 'Buddhist' practice. Ironically, only five of the G20 countries are in the top-ten list of countries in the 2016 World Giving Index (Charities Aid Foundation, 2016).


Brown & Wong (2009) provide a review of the economics literature and summarize two differing explanations for the motivations underlying charitable giving. The 'public goods' model is exemplified by giving based on an anticipated private return to some form of public good, where everyone can benefit (Sugden, 1984; Warr, 1982). In contrast, the 'private consumption' model arises when donors derive utility from the act of giving, often because the public approves of such giving, which may benefit the donor (Arrow, 1972). For example, conspicuous donations or the "look at me" motivation (Dawson, 1988; Guy & Patton, 1989) may signal wealth, thereby enabling donors to interact with people in higher socioeconomic strata, as such networks are advantageous (Glazer & Konrad, 1996). However, Andreoni (1990) notes that donors may also receive a "warm glow" (p. 464) from making charitable contributions if the well-being of others enters their own utility functions, even when there are no social benefits (Andreoni, 2015; Makoto & Kotani, 2011) to donors, and when the beneficiaries of charitable giving are not known to the donors. Research by Guy and Patton (1989) and Dawson (1988) found that individuals donate because of intrinsic reasons such as to enhance their self-esteem, to reap public gratification, and to gain satisfaction and fulfilment through meetings one's obligation to others.

Rose-Ackerman (1982, 1996) proposes that people derive utility from charity only if they personally donate. …

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