According to the World Giving Index (WGI), a study carried out by the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF), Myanmar is the most generous nation on Earth. The index, conducted in 2016, yielded the same results as the 2014 and 2015 editions of the report. So how does a nation with a history of civil war and oppression find itself ranked top of the study three years in a row?

The way that WGI results are collated is significant. The CAF’s annual report details the generosity of more than 140 countries across the globe; some 70 per cent of the world’s nations. The study endeavours to create equality amongst countries of unequal per capita incomes. Rather than calculate the gross total of money given to charity by a nation, the study factors in the percentage of people in a nation who donate money to charity. The report also takes into account non-fiscal forms of generosity, such as individuals giving their help and time to charitable causes.

Having been carried out first in 2010, the WGI is now in its sixth year of operation. Questionnaires are completed by around 1,000 individuals from a range of geographies, backgrounds and ages of each country included in the study. The CAF says that results represent 96 per cent of the world’s population. People taking part in the study are asked three questions pertaining to their charitable habits over a one month period. Have they assisted a stranger who needed help? Have they donated money to charity? Have they volunteered time to an organisation? Based on the results, a percentage score for each question is attributed to a nation. Individual scores are then combined to give a country its aggregate total.

The top five places of the subsequent table are populated by a number of predictable protagonists, such as the USA (2nd), Australia (3rd) and New Zealand (4th). The United Kingdom, meanwhile, is ranked 8th in the index, one position ahead of Ireland in 9th and two rungs below Canada, placed 6th. For the third consecutive year however, the country humbling all others with its generosity is Myanmar.

Since gaining independence from Britain in 1948, Myanmar has endured lengthy periods of internal strife. The country participated in one of the longest running civil wars in history. Between 1968 and 2010, the military regime in operation in the Southeast Asia territory was widely considered to be one of the world’s most oppressive.

Far from dividing the country, however, these conflicts may have engendered a culture of philanthropy amongst the people of Myanmar. Data from the WGI suggests that the rate of charity can increase in a country during conflict. Iraq, in the midst of an ongoing civil war, is the highest ranked country in the category of helping a stranger, followed by Libya, currently experiencing its own internal crisis.

Myanmar’s place at the top of the aggregate table may also be owed to the pervasiveness of Theravada Buddhism in the country. The religion espouses the performance of worthy deeds, like donating money, time and effort to others, as a way of gaining merit. Followers of the religion believe that accomplishing such endeavours in the current life will have positive consequences in the next. Sri Lanka, a country in which this particular branch of Buddhism is also widely practiced, was fifth in the overall 2016 table.

Since the release of the WGI results, Myanmar has made headlines for far less positive reasons. Its government is recently alleged to have killed over 1,000 Rohingya Muslims in an apparent suppression of the minority group. If true, the claims further undermine the already flawed human rights record of the country. Yet while governments, regimes and conflicts may come and go, Myanmar’s ranking as the world’s most generous nation is evidence that charity at a societal level can endure and transcend such difficulties.

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