Home/ Specials / The Philanthropy Issue/  Zia Mody | My giving is determined by my religion

Why I give is a very personal question to answer. The reason is different for each one of us. Obviously, the most important is the outcome.

Over the past five years, I have seen a heartening shift in the profile and the number of people who want to give and ultimately do give. Our culture in India generally has different life cycles, one of which concentrates on making money before giving back to society. I see a change. I see people wanting to give money while making it at the same time. I see quite a few youngsters looking at careers in socially guided companies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) instead of lucrative MBA opportunities. This change is good.

As for myself, why I give and the cause close to my heart is very much determined by my religion. I follow the Baha’i Faith (a monotheistic religion emphasizing the spiritual unity of all humankind), a religion founded by our Prophet Baha’u’llah over 150 years ago. Apart from the faith having an irrefutable principle of men and women being absolutely equal in the eyes of God (which made it very attractive for me!), it is a religion of choice.

I became a Baha’i at the age of 21. My mother, grandmother and great grandmother were all Baha’is before me. My father is a Zoroastrian. My husband is a Hindu. One of the critical tenets of Baha’i faith is that it is a privilege to donate and the fund-giving is called the “life blood of the faith". Only a Baha’i can contribute to the Baha’i Fund. The Lotus Temple in Delhi is a proud icon for the entire world’s Baha’i community and delights millions of visitors each year. It was entirely funded only by Baha’is from all over the world and, therefore, took 20 years to build. In addition, we are required under the Baha’i law to give a certain percentage of our savings every year to the fund.

So my wallet is almost entirely committed to donate to the Baha’i fund. Apart from this, I give comparatively small donations to other causes—in particular education and healthcare for the girl child.

Almost as important as giving money is giving time to people and to help understand causes. Time to see what different NGOs are capable of doing, connect them to companies and individuals which will be open to donating and participating in their good work.

Corporate social responsibility has become an important pocket to dip into. This connection is often very important because it allows NGOs to scale and reach out where they otherwise would not have been able to open the doors alone. My philosophy on this is quite simple. If you are not asking for yourself, if you believe in the cause that you are asking for, there is no shame in asking and there is no problem if the person you ask can’t help out.

I just attended a conference on Saturday (20 September in Mumbai) organized by GiveIndia’s First Givers Club where Bill Gates spoke. The audience was indeed an eye-opener. Chief executive officers and managers across all sectors, professionals in their 30s and 40s committed to the cause of philanthropy, and young boys and girls in their teens who came to listen and to learn about the giving philosophy. It was a morning well spent indeed. If India Inc. and many of the men and women forming the upper-middle class turn on to this tune, the cascading effect will be noticeable.

And I have one final thought: who says you have to be very rich to give? You have to have enough and then learn how to give. It is the best habit we can give our children. A legacy of opening their hearts and then their palms.

Zia Mody is co-founder, AZB and Partners.

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Updated: 03 Oct 2014, 01:07 AM IST
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