Time is money, goes the hoary adage. It certainly holds true for a set of professionals who want to make a meaningful contribution to society by committing their time and expertise rather than just contributing money to preferred causes.

Five-and-a-half years ago, Sandeep Naik, managing director of General Atlantic India, was approached by a friend who ran a non-governmental organization (NGO) in Dharavi to help her solve a problem. The NGO, which was working to improve nutrition among newborn babies in Dharavi, had received a notice from a local law firm alleging that its work in the Mumbai slum, one of the largest in the world, was illegal. Naik spoke to a lawyer friend from an eminent law firm and got him to draft a 13-page response to the legal notice on behalf of the NGO. The NGO never heard back from the local law firm.

This was the beginning of a new chapter in Naik’s life, who later went on to set up a not-for-profit organization called Toolbox India to offer consulting services for free. Toolbox India brings together professionals from the for-profit world as a way to help NGOs with capacity-building, by lending their core skills free of cost.

“What the non-profit world needs more and more is time from people like us. There are a lot funds waiting on the sidelines, but if you can get these non-profits to have the best processes, systems, data and communication, they can go ahead and pitch their story to get funding," said Naik.

Currently, Toolbox India has 75 professional volunteers including lawyers, private equity experts, investment bankers, media and ad agency professionals among others. Its volunteers have devoted a total of 9,500 hours and helped at least 30 NGOs in the last five years, he said.

“We don’t raise funds for NGOs. What we do is help them improve their processes. If an NGO gets a dollar of contribution from some foundation, then they get 11 times the benefit on that dollar because of Toolbox India people that are working for them free of cost. We do the basic plumbing job," said Naik.

The average charitable giving by wealthy individuals rose to 3.1% of their total income in 2011, up from 2.3% during the previous year, according to the India Philanthropy Report, 2012, by Bain and Co. The report also said many next-generation donors, who have been educated overseas, are looking at structured ways of giving, with a focus on outcomes. Data beyond 2012 was not available.

For many professionals, these structured ways of giving also include devoting time to a cause.

Prasoon Joshi, writer and executive chairman of McCann Worldgroup India, dislikes the word charity, as he does not believe in first hoarding money and then distributing it. Instead, from the beginning of his career as an advertising agency professional, Joshi says he has worked to create advertisements for free for causes close to his heart. He has also worked on campaigns linked to a wide variety of issues such as eradication of polio and malnutrition in India, children committing suicides due to exam stress and issues pertaining to women’s rights.

“I like to contribute through time and talent. My strength is my pen and the ideas it generates. As a salaried employee, the contribution I make in terms of money to social causes is minuscule compared to the kind of impact I make through my work," said Joshi.

Currently, he is involved in a free ad campaign for dabbawallahs in Mumbai, where he along with his agency, has designed a unique sticker used to mark lunch boxes delivered by dabbawallahas, but not consumed for some reason or the other. The sticker helps dabbawallahs identify unconsumed food and distribute it among the needy at the end of the day.

Joshi is not alone—many professionals across the country are involved in similar work and many more are keen to join their ranks.

A 2012 research paper titled The Dilemma of Middle Class Philanthropy by the Resource Alliance and the Rockefeller Foundation said middle class India wants to be actively involved in giving and does not want to make mere “passive donations".

Chennai-based pulmonologist Hisamuddin Papa feels the same way.

Papa, who is chairman and founder of Huma Specialists Hospital and Research Centre Pvt. Ltd, has been organizing tuberculosis (TB) screening and treatment camps for the poor at marginal cost in Tamil Nadu for over five years. From prison inmates in Chennai to beedi workers in Vellore, Papa has screened more than 15,000 people till now.

“India has the dubious distinction of having 25% of the world’s TB patients. The only way to eradicate this disease is detection and early diagnosis. Someone has to create awareness about the disease, so why not me? It gives me immense satisfaction that as a doctor I am doing my duty," he added.

Papa, who takes a minimum of three days to a week to conduct a screening and treatment camp, feels that his services to those who cannot afford basic healthcare facilities are merely “a drop in the ocean" as most medical practitioners in India have become commercial.

“Earlier people had time and the heart to serve the community," he said. “Now nobody has time or inclination to give."

Not everyone shares this sceptical view.

The Bain report of 2012 noted that wealthy young Indians appear particularly interested in increasing their philanthropic involvement.

“We believe that facilitating these young donors and their preferred methods of donating—as well as novice donors of all ages—is crucial to the continued growth of philanthropy in India," said the Bain report.

Chandubhai Mehta, a third generation corporate lawyer who regularly fights cases for free, also feels that there is no dearth of people who are eager to give.

“People want to give, but somebody needs to approach them in a correct way for a genuine cause," said Mehta, managing partner of Mumbai-based corporate law firm Dhruve Liladhar and Co.

Mehta is now encouraging his son to take up cases for free. “It’s the upbringing that teaches you to give," he said.

Mehta is a champion of the legitimate rights of abandoned widows. In 1994, he got a court to award a compensation of 6 crore to two young widows who were abandoned by their joint family after they lost their husbands in the 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts.

More recently, Mehta offered his services for free in a high court case aimed at getting the clogged Mithi river, which was the prime reason for floods in Mumbai in 2005, cleaned up.

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