Photo: iStockphoto
Photo: iStockphoto

Philanthropy benefits the philanthropist

A small act of kindness can indeed change the life of the giver. How we leverage the act of giving is always our choice to make

When asked, “How can a random act of kindness change a life?" most people respond with anecdotes: a maid’s child who went on to study at an IIT; an unemployed person who built a business. Most examples are of acts of kindness which provide an “equal opportunity" and help someone succeed. But rarely do we ask ourselves, “How can an act of kindness change the life of the giver?" Indeed, many would ask, “Can it, really?"

The change in the giver’s life, is not always apparent or immediate. In his previous avatar as a journalist, Anshu Gupta once interviewed a man, Habib, who collected clothes from corpses at cremation grounds. Habib was paid by the municipal corporation to dispose of unclaimed dead bodies. He collected the clothes and gave them to people who could use them.

That memory never ceased to haunt Gupta and eventually gave birth to the thought that “clothing" is a fundamental issue. No major NGO (non-governmental organization) worked in this area in India at the time. Eight years later, in 1999, this persistent memory gave birth to Goonj, and today, many people get clothed with dignity through Goonj’s incredible clothes-for-work programmes. Gupta’s life has undergone a complete transformation. He won the Magsaysay Award in 2015.

Of course, not every change in the life of a giver has to be this transformational—Gupta’s story is an exception.

But working with GiveIndia, a non-profit I founded, gave me the opportunity to see thousands of individuals make small contributions—a braille kit for Rs750 to help a blind child read, or a smokeless chulha for Rs250 that transformed the life of a rural woman. What excited me was to see how many of them, on knowing what happened with their money, went on to give far more significantly, and to find immense joy in doing so. A few of them engaged with the organization as volunteers leading various divisions—at one point, five of GiveIndia’s management team of nine were volunteers! As GiveIndia sets out on the path to try and create 100 million givers in India, it gives me goosebumps to think how this could transform our citizens.

Peter Drucker, author and social ecologist, said, “Giving is necessary above all…to satisfy the need of the…people for self-realization, for living out our ideals, our beliefs, our best opinion of ourselves. To make contributors out of donors means that the…people can see what they want to see—or should want to see—when each of us looks at himself or herself in the mirror in the morning: someone who as a citizen takes responsibility. Someone who as a neighbour cares."

In today’s world, where most of us have moved away from our moorings, we still need a community. And it is volunteering and small acts of kindness that gives us a sense of community, a purpose—whether it is distributing food to the poor, or teaching at a local government school, or donating blood every now and then. When I ask my fellow #DaanUtsav volunteers, “What makes you do this, given you are already working hard in your career?", I get the same answer from all of them: “Because here I am able to make a difference, I am able to contribute. And I feel part of a wonderful community."

A small act of kindness can indeed change the life of the giver. How we leverage the act of giving is always our choice to make.

I began with a story, let me end with another.

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me," he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil—he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is good—he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you—and inside every other person, too."

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?"

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed."

Venkat Krishnan is co-founder and director of Educational Initiatives Pvt. Ltd. He is also founder of GiveIndia, and one of the volunteers who evangelizes DaanUtsav.

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