Rebirth of Indian philanthropy

The same competence which propelled India onto the global stage is now focusing on transforming India where a billion thrive with dignity and equity

Over the past few months, I have embarked on an exciting journey with the India Philanthropy Series—a joint initiative between Dasra and the (Bill and Melinda) Gates Foundation that documents the giving journeys of over 20 of the most generous, strategic and innovative philanthropists in India. Through the series I have had inspiring, authentic conversations and learnt first-hand about different philanthropic journeys.

When it comes to how they began their giving journeys, many individuals spoke about growing up in middle-class homes and having a parent or older sibling who would put aside money each month to help those who were less fortunate. Others talked about learning giving from their own children, who openly questioned the need for excess money. A few mentioned that they were mere trustees of wealth, and they had an obligation to plough the resources back into society. Some even referenced scriptures and their religious duty to give back.

While the reasons to give were extremely personal and varied among this group, they all began their philanthropic journey with humility and commitment. This compulsion to give back is reflected well in this statement made by T.V. Mohandas Pai (chairman of Manipal Global Education Services): “Philanthropy is an obligation. It means that all of us contribute to the greater social good and leave a world behind which is much better than the world that our parents gave us." Pai’s words resonate in his support to Akshaya Patra (an NGO that provides 1.6 million children mid-day meals), Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy (a think tank which assists the government to make better laws) and Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations (a foreign policy think tank).

Through their philanthropic journey, individuals also began committing business skills to the organizations they support. Speaking about the importance of doing so, N.S. Raghavan (co-founder of Infosys Ltd) states: “It is absolutely important for business leaders to go above just funding these organizations. They need to give them support to build the organizations, therefore the involvement has to be at a deeper level than just giving money. Active donorship is very much required." His words are reiterated in the work he does with FAME India, which provides quality education to children with special needs.

Further, Ronnie Screwvala (founder trustee of Swades Foundation) adds, “If you are working with NGOs, treat them as if you made an angel investment—you nurture the entrepreneur as if he is going to make you your next level of wealth, you need to inspire him and keep him going. Figure out how the Rs10,000 or 10 lakh or 10 crore will get the highest return on investment."

Forging partnerships came up as a vital ingredient to enable scale and deepen impact. According to Sanjeev Bikhchandani( founder of Info Edge), “If you want to do great things, you have to collaborate. You have to let other people in. The truth is, Ashoka University is a product of the efforts of hundreds, maybe thousands, of people."

Rati Forbes (director of Forbes Marshall) concurs: “There’s absolutely no way that we could improve quality education in Pune municipal schools with only our single contribution. It’s the contribution of all corporates coming together, along with the local municipal corporation and teachers."

Hemendra Kothari (chairman of DSP BlackRock) spoke about how the Wildlife Conservation Trust’s role within conservation was to try and test innovations which can then be adopted by the government. Kothari states, “Government creates policies. We have to take care to see that these are implemented properly… So you discuss, give your views, get them really involved. There are many good government officials, we need to keep them motivated and engaged."

Ajay Piramal (chairman of Piramal Enterprises Group) brought up a similar view. “The first partnership we have is with the government itself. My belief is that in India if you have to make an impact, you have to do it at scale. And to do scale, you have to work with the government. No agency, not even the biggest, can do it on their own," he pointed out.

Through these conversations, the rebirth of Indian philanthropy became evident. While the last decade brought about large charitable announcements, the next phase is focusing much more on outcomes and impact. Ideas such as building powerful partnerships, investing in leadership, leveraging trust-based networks and accelerating social change are at the forefront.

The same uncompromising competence which propelled India onto the global stage is now focusing on transforming India where a billion thrive with dignity and equity.

Deval Sanghavi is co-founder of Dasra, a strategic philanthropy foundation.

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