Dr. Sujatha Byravan
This edited volume aims to trace philanthropic activity from recent Indian history through modern times. All the articles have been written by managers of trusts or foundations and industrialists of families that donate to philanthropic activities. The book is divided into four parts that cover the history and tradition of philanthropy in India, the role for business in philanthropy, modernity and tradition, and the road ahead for philanthropic giving in India.
According to Non-Profit Institutions in India 2012, a handbook that offers an extended study of the sector from the Government of India’s Central Statistics office, the strength of the non-profit sector in India is over INR 330,000 crore and that donations and grants account for INR 232,083 crore. This fact alone should highlight the importance and growing size of philanthropy in India.
One learns lots of titbits and stories about philanthropy in India from this book. For example, the Tata Endowment was set up as early as 1892; Birla’s money supported MK Gandhi’s effort towards the freedom movement; people of all incomes have been giving to temples, waqfs, and gurudwaras for ages; and more than two-thirds of foundations in India are new to the world of giving. Many donors are concerned about how effectively and efficiently civil society groups use their funds, whether they are accountable, and are also disappointed with how government departments use their funds and implement programmes.
Since the 1990s, after liberalisation and with greater wealth flowing into industry, many corporations have set up trusts that donate funds for various causes, often carrying the name of the corporate head. New government rules on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) now require that companies with a net worth more than INR 500 crore spend at least 2 percent of the average net profit towards CSR activities. This rule has provoked a much needed national conversation on what entails corporate responsibility and has also induced industries to set up CSR wings that function separately from the business establishments. CSR activities are generally in areas of education, hunger or poverty alleviation and preservation of cultural heritage.
Many philanthropic activities are distinct from the corporation’s sector of work, such as WIPRO’s Azim Premji Foundation that focuses on educational and related activities, and often an effort is made to integrate corporate management practices into philanthropic activities. A few foundations are trying to convert the beneficiaries of their social activities into customers by using a social-business approach.
Some foundations have been seeking government funds to implement programmes, functioning more like operating foundations as can be seen in the case of Naandi which partners with various state governments, corporate houses, and development organizations for large scale delivery of public services. This has promoted new partnerships between government and private agencies for social change. How well such partnerships will work over time and whether conflicts of interest will arise with foundation activities promoting government programmes or promoting business profits still remains to be seen.
As members of the Indian diaspora get wealthier, they too have been contributing to social change activities within the country. There are increasingly clear channels for such funds to flow through new ventures or groups that promote innovative approaches in education, finance, or even infrastructure.
Like many edited volumes, the articles in Indian Philanthropy are uneven in the quality of content and writing style. Many of them pay tribute to their own families for promoting philanthropic activities while a few of them, especially those written by fund managers, offer a little bit of analytical information on what areas draw philanthropic funding and why.
The burgeoning crop of next-generation philanthropists raises interesting possibilities for social change in India, especially in the context of new government rules on corporate giving. The new philanthropists are also more heterogeneous in their interests and do not have a family tradition of giving that they are compelled to adhere to, thus opening up new possibilities for philanthropy. Some of them are choosing intermediaries that provide advice or are outsourcing their giving.
While the rich will give to activities and causes they are most interested in, the sector does require further guidance and clearer strategies to identify what to fund and how best to be most effective. A broad and detailed study that examines the main challenges of the country or the South Asian region, the numbers of people affected by them, government funding going towards specific programmes that address these problems and the potential opportunities to promote change is sorely lacking. Such analyses could provide much needed social data on what exactly is required, exactly where, and also identify the best levers to promote change. This knowledge would sharpen or focus existing philanthropy and also expand it to a range of broader issues that need attention. These may include promotion of movements for change such as those that encourage scientific thinking to change harmful social practices, greater representation from marginal groups, sustainable agriculture among the youth and so on.