Deep Kalra, founder of online travel site MakeMyTrip.com, says his philanthropic journey began when he met old friends—and made new ones—who were giving back to the villages, cities and forests around them, mostly on a modest scale. Whether it is working on programmes like I Am Gurgaon, a citizens’ initiative aimed at making the city a better place to live in, or making small tweaks to an employee volunteers programme at MakeMyTrip, or advising Ashoka University, Kalra applies some of the survival skills he learnt in business to philanthropy. Edited excerpts from an interview:
How do you go about choosing the philanthropic causes you support?
When I started my giving, I didn’t think about it too deeply, but the thought process became more evolved and better informed with time. Now, the obvious starting point is when you connect with an issue simply because emotionally, it’s difficult to ignore; for me, this is what happened with Udayan Care, which takes young children, abandoned or orphaned, and gives them a home environment and an education.
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Then there’s something like I am Gurgaon, which came out of the frustration of some friends and mine about the system and the infrastructure in and around Gurgaon. After sitting around complaining about it for a long time, we decided one day to just do something about it.
And the third and most important parameter would be potential impact—estimating whether something you support can trigger change. With Ashoka (University), the cause was so compelling that I agreed because I saw some scope to have high impact.
Have there been any disappointments along the journey as a philanthropist?
I wouldn’t really say disappointment, maybe because when you put in enough research, you eliminate a lot of that right away. But yes, some causes haven’t gone the way they were meant to; for instance, I tried doing something with smaller NGOs, but I found it very hard to monitor them.
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What do you think is the value of collaboration in philanthropy?
Collaboration is an imperative. Like I said, you can always identify a good cause and write a cheque. But if you want to have a longer-term impact, you join a project at the brainstorming stage, or you work at a board or advisory level. At the I am Gurgaon initiative, a group of friends had decided something had to be done about the city and three of them set it up. I think I was member number five, and initially we spent a lot of time planning it out—until I realized I didn’t have any more time to give! Still, I’ve been happy to support it in other ways.
What does it take to build a strong partnership?
Trust is the key component. You definitely also need a shared vision. The third ingredient, I think, would be a very frank discussion around who brings what to the table. On a slightly micro level, you also need to have a fair idea of how much of your own resources you can commit—I’m a good example of this. On the I Am Gurgaon initiative, I overcommitted my time.
How do you leverage your strengths as an entrepreneur in your philanthropy?
My primary business skills include the ability to forecast, plan a project, understand resourcing and bring in a degree of strategic thinking. And I feel these are skills best brought to younger projects. So an early-stage social venture is much better suited to my strengths rather than joining forces with, let’s say CRY (Child Rights and You). Not that I haven’t worked with CRY, I think they’re fantastic. But I don’t think I’m in any position to add value to them beyond contributing money.
What are the barriers to giving in India?
I think a big barrier is that we don’t talk about it enough. In the US for instance, it’s something that’s celebrated and seen as the right thing to do. And I think we should bring that here.
This interview is a part of the India Philanthropy Series, a joint initiative between Dasra, a strategic philanthropy organization, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. This series showcases through videos the journeys of some of the most strategic and innovative philanthropists in India.