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Private philanthropy's global reach

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But there's no sign yet that this dramatic change means a significant increase in resources for developing countries. Part of the reason may be the incomplete reporting of private giving, which is a work in progress in many countries. The most positive note for poor nations appears to rest instead in the surge in remittances sent by migrants to their families (see charts).

"They are tackling a big job no one else has wanted to tackle," says Melissa Brown, associate research director of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. "It's a huge data-collection problem."

The Index offers no global total for philanthropy, but estimates that investment and philanthropy together reached $209 billion in 2006.

In the US, private giving shows an uptick. Yet total American dollars flowing to the developing world would have decreased significantly over the year had it not been for remittances.

Comparing index reports for 2007 and 2008 reveals that US private philanthropy increased about 4 percent, rising from $33.5 billion in 2005 to $34.8 billion in 2006. At the same time, government aid decreased by 15 percent (from $27.6 billion to $23.5 billion). Private capital investments, too, decreased by 10 percent, from $69.2 to $62.3 billion.

Remittances rose by 16 percent to $71.5 billion, twice the amount of charitable giving. They account for 37 percent of private flows. Total dollars for economic dealings with the developing world remained the same, at $192 billion.

The largest growth in philanthropy came from foundations and religious organizations. Foundations gave $4.4 billion, almost 70 percent more than in 2005.

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