Friday 21 July 2017

Guest blog: who studies charities seriously?

This blog was written by Harry Brooks, who was on work experience with us this week.

Research is one of the most important aspects of the third sector, often relegated behind more glamorous aspects like fundraising and big donations from philanthropists etc. I’ve spent the last week delving deeper into this key field, and what goes on outside of the UK.

My initial impression of the academic research scene was the difficulty in getting any information, truly like getting blood from a stone. The lack of a centralised list of institutes and centres presented the main challenge, especially when approaching non-English speaking universities.

There were however some very useful resources that provided a foot in the door. From there it became obvious that the Anglosphere is still the dominant research area, from the UK to the USA, and a reasonable number of contributions from both Canada and Australia. The general feel from this was that as countries with very close links to the UK their third sectors, and subsequently their research, is also similar in content and scope.

The USA deviates from this slightly as it has a less regulated sector, in terms of charity foundation and tax breaks. However their sheer number of institutes makes up for this. When compared to their Anglosphere counterparts, continental European higher education establishments with third sector research seem few and far between.

The main two institutes that I found in continental Europe were however, large, and in the case of the WU (Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien-Vienna University of Business and Economics) rather prestigious. Their research is quite wide in scope, from Czech NPOs (non profit Organisations) in Masaryk, and Austrian organisations at WU to general management to the accessibility of data about the third sector.

As we move further afield towards Asia, there is a clear absence of academic rather than corporate research centres. China seems to be trying to buck the trend by partnering with universities and established philanthropists like Bill Gates in order to try to achieve parity. I came across an institute based in Karachi however, with a feature that I found rarely in my search and prevented any further insight - limited access to research. For the Karachi institution there were no examples of papers that did not require a registered paid account, so I was forced to move on

Even amongst the corporate centres in Asia, the focus on philanthropy was clear and perhaps highlights the meteoric rise in numbers of high earners in this area, particularly China and India. However, as has been seen in recent disasters, this growth has somewhat applied to charity too, with more and more people able to see the positive effects it can have. Religion is also very closely linked with at least some charity in almost all places but China. Despite this China is not devoid entirely, instead mainly populated by foreign entities like UNICEF and the Rotary Club.

Beyond the three continents above there are a very limited number of research locations, especially in Africa, although this may be due to prioritising research in other subjects, seen as more traditional.

I think that while it always pays to be cautious, the concerns of many that charity research has reached somewhat critical levels are thankfully a bit pessimistic, and that across the Anglosphere, and to an extent the rest of Europe and China, the only way is up.

Harry Brooks

Monday 3 July 2017