Photo: iStockphoto
Photo: iStockphoto

The Philanthropy Issue | Joy of Giving

The ice bucket challenge shows philanthropy is evolving, and the Daan Utsav, or the Joy of Giving Week, reflects this increased interest

Facebook timelines and Twitter news feeds were recently taken over by talk of ice buckets—the seemingly obscure idea to dump ice water on your head and donate money to a cause, which in this case was research into ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), an affliction commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

The idea went viral. From world leaders to teenagers, everyone rushed to the nearest ice bucket. In the process, the ALS Association has managed to collect $115 million since 29 July.

To be sure, there were critics of the ice bucket challenge. Many called it a gimmick and objected to what they felt was the trivialization of an important cause. Others questioned whether the donations actually matched the claims.

Nevertheless, the ice bucket challenge showed that philanthropy is evolving. It’s no longer only about what the wealthy do and how much of their money they give to worthy causes. It’s also about bringing together young people who want to make a difference, sparking their interest in a cause using innovative campaigns, and communicating not only the need for altruism but also its benefits.

In India, too, philanthropy has changed in the last few years. While there is no hard data to prove it, the involvement of people, particularly the young, in charitable causes appears to be on the rise. The Daan Utsav, or the Joy of Giving Week, reflects this increased interest.

In 2013, more than 2 million people participated and organized nearly 900 events across 80 cities. But in a country the size of India, that’s only a start.

This Mint philanthropy edition coincides with the 2014 Daan Ustav, which runs from 2-8 October. Across the pages of this edition, we bring together those involved in the philanthropy movement, those who give their time and money to worthy causes and those who are trying to ensure that the increased interest in philanthropy makes an impact.

Veteran banker Narayanan Vaghul, who devotes his time to a number of philanthropic ventures, acknowledges that while involvement is increasing, the impact remains thin. Vaghul says there is a need for organizations to pool their resources and work toward a common goal in order for philanthropy to make a meaningful difference in reducing inequalities (See Page 11). Even so, wealthy individuals and business families continue to do their bit in contributing to their chosen causes.

Giving money is one aspect of altruism. Giving time is another—and one that may bring greater rewards. Lawyers, doctors and investment professionals we spoke to are increasingly getting involved with causes close to their hearts and offering their professional expertise as a way to give back to society.

Why do people give? Is it a whimsical decision? Are there social, economic or even neurological factors behind the act of giving?

Biju Dominic, chief executive officer (CEO) and co-founder of FinalMile Consulting, details recent research which shows that our brains are hardwired towards giving, which activates the ‘reward areas’ of our brains and releases dopamine and oxytocin.

If that is the case, why don’t more of us give? Dhaval Udani, CEO of GiveIndia, says one way to get more people to give is by spreading the word about the joy that people can derive out of giving. The movement of philanthropy would also benefit from role models, adds Udani in his conversation with Dominic (See Page 21).

Communication is also key to advocating a cause and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working in the field need to be able to pitch their causes more effectively, adds Murray Culshaw, an independent development worker who works with NGOs to help them communicate better (See Page 19).

“The NGOs have not learnt to communicate their work. My argument is that they are the best people to communicate," Culshaw says. “If you believe in something so passionately, then you are the best person to communicate it."

Along with the need to communicate better, organizations working in the field of philanthropy are also trying to keep pace with the times by using technology and more innovative means of funding.

Data analytics, for instance, has become a key tool for large philanthropic organizations and is slowly being used by a wider set of organizations to design their giving more effectively, reports Mint.

Those looking to raise funds are also looking at innovative structures as part of the impact investing movement, which is still at a nascent stage in India. While the number of impact funds are growing, their investments are still concentrated in areas such as microfinance, where returns are more predictable. Crowdfunding, while now part of our everyday vocabulary, is still to pick up in India.

The history of giving in India is long and the potential is large. But while certain government initiatives, such as mandating corporations to spend 2% of their average three-year profit on corporate social responsibility activities, may direct more money towards certain causes, there is a fair deal of scepticism on the impact they will have.

What will undoubtedly have an impact is the involvement of more people in causes that are dear to them. The magnitude of that impact, though, remains unknown.

Ira Dugal is assistant managing editor of Mint.