Counting What Doesn’t Count; How to Measure Generosity in Africa
In 2014, the Economist Magazine ran a story of Africa’s missing data. The article mentioned that “fewer than half of births are recorded while some countries have not taken a census in several decades.” This data blind spot creates a significant error in perspective in attempting to understand development issues on the continent. The business of collecting data and information becomes more challenging when one attempts to count something that is considered not-to-count; such as how much low net-worth individuals in Africa give as acts of philanthropy.
Within the context of philanthropy and giving, we do not yet know how much Africans give. In the developed world, data from crowdfunding websites and online payments to charities can be aggregated to get a ballpark figure of how much low net-worth individuals in the developed world give. But doing the same in Africa presents an exciting research problem. CivSource has taken on this problem.
But how does one measure a big moral issue such as the generosity within Africa’s low net-worth communities? Especially because acts of kindness are perceived individually and have varying degrees of utility and usefulness.
Because CivSource Africa is currently tracking and recording how generosity manifests itself across the continent, some day we shall be able to place a figure of value to an act of kindness and perhaps even track the consequences of that generosity.
Counting and Measuring Abstract Concepts
The curious souls of the past and present have shown us that it is possible to place a measure to many abstract things that we previously assumed were impossible to quantify.
Today the global development community can place a measure to abstract concepts such as happiness as seen by the global happiness index. Insurance companies have been measuring uncertainty for as long as the industry has existed. The global corruption index measures corruption – a subtle irony when you consider that the majority of corruption cases happen within a context of secrecy.
Accountants have about 5 different formulas used to calculate the depreciation of an item of value. All these lead you to a different answer but they are all widely accepted.
Bridging the Data Divide on Generosity
The first step to measuring anything is to define it. We know that generosity includes selflessly giving time, money, food, or kindness to people in need. CivSource is collecting stories that fit this profile. These stories will form a database. A database that will someday form an index to tell us what the most generous countries are on the continent.
Anyone interested in understanding how much African communities give must be prepared to create formulas and equations that do not yet exist. So we can collectively push the boundaries of knowledge and eventually learn to count what doesn’t yet count. We invite all curious souls to work on this exciting research problem with us.