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Trading Futures

Sadaqah, social enterprise, and the polytemporalities of development gifts

Tom Widger and Filippo Osella

In this article, we explore what happens when idea(l)s of Islamic charity (sadaqah) and social enterprise converge within a low-cost public health clinic in Colombo, Sri Lanka. For both the clinic’s wealthy sponsors and the urban poor who use it, interpreting the intervention as a pious expression of care toward the poor or as a for-profit humanitarian venture meant extending different futures to the poor. The ambiguous temporalities of gifts and commodities anticipated by benefactors and beneficiaries involved in this challenges anthropological assumptions concerning the marketizing effects of neoliberal development interventions. Our ethnography revealed a hesitancy among the clinic’s sponsors, managers, and users to endow the intervention with a final interpretation, undermining its stated goal of promoting health care privatization and “responsibilization” of the poor.