New Delhi: To coincide with the Joy of Giving week (2-8 October), Mint will be speaking with a prominent philanthropist every day this week about a cause they have championed and their views on the state of Indian philanthropy. We begin with Kalpana Morparia, chief executive of JPMorgan Chase and Co. in India, who supports the Bharti Foundation’s rural schools project. Edited excerpts:
What attracted you to the Satya Bharti School programme?
A couple of years ago, I remember reading a very interesting article talking about the scaling of the project in such a short period of time and the impact it was having on the wider community.
Hands-on approach: Morparia says it’s relatively easy to write a cheque, but it’s far more difficult to give time and expertise. Photo by Mint
One of the narratives that really touched my heart was about a child whose mother was illiterate, and every once in a while they would have a parent-teacher meeting and the mother was required to give a thumb impression. The second time, she went back and she said, ‘Give me a pen.’ The daughter had taught her to write. So I thought of the huge societal impact that this was having.
Did you do on-the-ground research before you decided to make your donation?
Yes. I went and visited a school in Haryana. I never discussed it with Sunil Mittal (chairman of Bharti Enterprises Ltd). I just called them and went and saw a school, and I was very impressed with what I saw. There was a good proportion of girls there, about 48%. But it was really about the learning concepts they used. The kids were all smartly dressed, and I ate a meal with them. The parents take the contract to make the meals and they are created nutritiously. So, all in all, I came away quite impressed and I was keen on promoting a cause that is both impactful and sustainable.
How much importance do you attach to the idea of sustainability and longevity in giving to a cause?
All of us worry when we are giving money (about) whether it’s going to be helpful. It’s like giving alms to a beggar; it will help him that day, but you don’t know about tomorrow.
But this has a community impact. You can give a lump-sum up front and it can sustain the community, not in perpetuity but for a very long time. I prefer making a sustainable donation.
Your first concern is how the money is being implemented and monitored. Given the fact that this cause was backed by a corporate house and the foundation, I felt secure. I’m now on the board of the foundation as well. I feel even better for being in a position to contribute in terms of ideas and brainstorming challenges than I did writing out a cheque.
Why does education seem more popular than other causes?
Because it has such an impact. When you are focusing on education, you are also focusing on gender, healthcare, empowering people. The root is really education; if you’ve got an educated person, a lot of the other things become sorted out.
I was raised by a widowed mother, who herself had only a basic primary education, but such a wonderful dream for what her daughters had to do. I would not be here today if it wasn’t for her.
Will corporate philanthropists begin to donate their time and expertise than just their money?
My philosophy is that it’s relatively easy to write a cheque, but it’s far more difficult to give our time and expertise, because outside the corporate world, we are not in our comfort zone.
Also See | The Cause (PDF)
Until now, businesses viewed philanthropy as a do-good thing. At the end of every year, they would write out a cheque. But it is the very same people who have created such huge successes in companies, who have never thought that the same managerial skills can be adapted to philanthropy.
What has changed over the past decade to increase the amount of philanthropic giving in India?
The social conscience of India in the last four or five years has undergone a dramatic change. As people get more and more economic security, they are more mindful of the need. The other thing is sheer communication, the level that is there today: the electronic media, the social media, print.
The youth of today is far more aware of voluntary contribution of their time, not just their money. Employees are giving their valuable time. In JPMorgan, it’s so heartening to see the actual work that these youngsters do.
The multinational corporates have good, structured programmes for employee volunteerism. They are already running programmes in their headquarters, and when they come to India, they bring them.
What does the future look like for Indian philanthropy?
One role that will emerge and be a great contributor is aggregation. People are doing fantastic work in one part of the country and then someone else could be reinventing the wheel in another. If we had more aggregators, I think we could do far more.