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Coptic Deacons chant the Nativity Liturgy at St. Mark's Cathedral, Cairo

The Hudson Institute just published a report on philanthropic freedom worldwide. It’s an interesting read if you want a global perspective on how easily–or not-so-easily–charities run around the world. But some figures it cites (from another study) are a far cry from what George Washington University and Coptic Orphans found in last year’s Coptic Diaspora Survey. Or what we know by experience in Egypt.

The Hudson Institute, citing the “World Giving Index” compiled by the Charities Aid Foundation in 2012 (full report here, and a nice infographic global giving map here), reports that 14% of Egyptians gave last year, and only 6% volunteered.

By contrast, last year’s Coptic Diaspora Survey conducted by George Washington University in collaboration with Coptic Orphans found that a whopping 66% of Copts outside Egypt had given during the previous year, and 83% over the previous two years: almost the exact opposite portion of the population pie.

And volunteer numbers were even more impressive. The Coptic Diaspora Survey found that 78% had volunteered during the previous year. Even if you take only the ones who traveled to Egypt to volunteer, you would come up with 12%: twice the total number of resident Egyptians that the World Giving Index says volunteered in their own country.

So why the big difference?

To some extent, it would not be surprising to see far less Egyptians give than Copts abroad. There are so many factors. Here is a short list of some:

  • Egypt has been a secular, socialist, totalitarian state for decades from Nasser to Mubarak. Secular Statism seems to coincide with the squelching of philanthropy elsewhere among great under-performers in the country list of the World Giving Index, such as the former USSR nations, and China. Copts in Diaspora have broken from that context.
  • Poverty squelches philanthropy, too. Egypt is facing food and fuel shortages as well as inflation and immanent economic collapse. The Coptic Diaspora Survey found that Copts in Diaspora are very educated, and very prosperous.
  • Egypt’s philanthropic culture lends itself to under-reporting, especially among Copts who strive not to let their left hand know what their right hand is doing.
  • Egypt’s upper classes tend to shelter themselves from the reality of poverty around them. Copts abroad want to give back to the Egypt that nurtured them.
  • The World Giving Index counts apples and oranges as part of the same basket. Most Egyptians are non-Copts. It’s not known how Copts and non-Copts compare in their giving. What we know from experience and the Coptic Diaspora survey is that for Copts, the Coptic Church is the singular and unique factor that influences giving.

But Copts in Egypt Do Much More, Too

Of course, the Coptic Diaspora Survey only looks at Copts abroad. But if we had hard numbers on Copts in Egypt, our experience tells us that it would also paint a much different picture than the World Giving Index paints.

400 volunteer “Reps” comprise the backbone of the work of Coptic Orphans in almost every diocese in Egypt. Their dedication as volunteers is amazing: they spend 10-20 hours a week–almost every weeknight and weekend–visiting fatherless families and making connections to other resources that can help those families like tutors, home-builders, teachers, trainers, and so forth.

But we also winow that number down from many more other applicants who want to serve as Reps. Almost every person we interview to become a Rep already volunteers in many other capacities at their church and in their village.

If only 6% of Egyptians volunteered, where would so many prospective Reps come from? We have never had a shortage, in any village we’ve worked.

While Coptic Orphans is a Diaspora-supported organization, we often meet families who tithe and give to others despite their abject poverty. Once, our executive director told a widow that we found her a mattress so she would not have to sleep on a piece of cardboard over her stone floor any more. Her response? “Oh, thank God, I am provided for. Give it to someone who needs it more!”

While that isn’t hard data, it does paint a strong picture. And with the other report that the Hudson Institute cites, it seems to confirm that Copts everywhere do out-give Egypt. By a whole lot.

Imagine, then, the good that Copts can do for their homeland.