Of course, the ideals of charity and philanthropy pre-date Rockefeller. Like greed, charity is probably as old as humanity itself. And right from the beginning, there is an element of enlightened self-interest. For example, in the Hindu religious text, the Rig Veda (1,500–900 BC), we are told: ‘If it is expected of every rich man to satisfy the poor implorer, let the rich person have a distant vision (for a rich man of today may not remain rich tomorrow). Remember that riches revolve from one man to another, as revolve the wheels of a chariot.’ Similarly, in the Upanishads, another of the Hindu scriptures, it states: ‘Like in a well, the more you fetch, the more water oozes. The more you give the more you get. This generosity is mandatory to every individual. Hurry to promise or pledge to help.’
Islam also has a strong tradition of charity. Zakat, or alms-giving for the purposes of alleviating poverty and helping those less fortunate, is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. The practice is generally in the form of an annual tithe or tax of 2.5% of an individual’s wealth (although the percentage can vary by country and tradition), including money made through business, savings and income. The zak_at must also be above an agreed minimum (called nisab), which is said to be around $2,640 or the equivalent in any other currency. As important as the collection of zakat is in a community, its fair distribution among the needy is even more important. Another form of charitable action by Muslims is sadaqah, which literally means ‘righteousness’ and refers to the voluntary giving of alms or charity. These ancient traditions are considered to be a personal responsibility for all Muslims, practised out of love for humanity, to ease the economic hardship of others and eliminate inequality.
There are numerous other religious and cultural variations on the theme. Philanthropy in Latin America typically revolves around asistencialismo, which is charitable giving for poverty alleviation. In Eastern Europe, Bulgarian communities have, over the years, raised donations to build churches, schools and cultural centres called chitalishta. In India, Gandhi’s trusteeship concept has been adapted and applied to welfare acts. In Mexico, the Raramori, who still live in the mountains of the state of Chihuahua, use the expression korima, which means ‘to share’ resources in times of stress. In Southern Africa, ubuntu is the practice of humanism based on the collectivist notion that ‘I am a person through other people’. And so on, all around the world.