It’s never too early or too little to start giving. Take baby steps, find a cause you are passionate about and set out on your philanthropic journey today.
More than a decade ago, around the time our daughter was born, my wife, Archana, and I asked ourselves a life-changing question: ‘How much is enough?’ We soon came to the conclusion that we needed a finite amount of money to live the life we desired. So, we decided that if we could somewhat cap the lifestyle we wanted, we could start focusing more vigorously on social sector pursuits.
Knowing how much is enough allowed us to pursue more interesting and meaningful things. It helped us to contribute to building a university, a super-specialty paediatric hospital and a school for Musahar (disadvantaged community living in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar) children, besides working in drought-affected areas.
We could also invest our resources and time in setting up capacity building programmes for the social sector, promoting philanthropic platforms and helping build movements like the Joy of Giving Week and Design for Change.
None of this would have even crossed our imagination when we started, largely because we felt limited by artificial mental constraints on how much to give in terms of time and money.
It’s a journey
Early on in my life, I didn’t have much money, so I gave my time. Then, as a young and busy professional, I started donating money. I soon realised that I enjoyed knowing that my skills were useful to organisations I was interested in. So, I gradually started giving both time and money.
Over time, Archana and I decided to undertake a more structured programme to allocate money to causes that we were passionate about. With the benefit of hindsight, we know we made a lot of mistakes and we continue to make some even today. But it’s been a journey to become more thoughtful donors today—a journey that others can embark on too.
Take baby steps
I believe that the biggest enemy of any change is inertia. One needs to start experiencing things, even if it means in a smaller manner, to make progress. When it comes to the social sector, potential givers always overthink, waiting for the elusive perfect moment. Their expectations of nonprofits are that of a perfect life partner, which I feel is strange.
Many of the people I know are business professionals who understand investment. They are willing to invest in an imperfect stock, knowing that it’s the only way to ultimately make money. Then why not invest in an imperfect nonprofit? With imperfect stocks, you start by investing a small amount, see how it performs and once you are comfortable, you enhance your allocation over time. Why isn’t this logic applied to nonprofits? With any form of consumption, one usually starts with trying something out and experiencing what that feels like. Then, if one likes it, one is willing to try more of it. But these rules somehow don’t seem to apply when it comes to us thinking about participating in the social sector.
To relate a recent example, I met with a CEO of a mid-sized nonprofit who told me that an individual she knew very well was hesitant to give her money because she didn’t have a perfect succession plan. Ironically, this well-wisher happens to be a rather sophisticated hedge fund manager. I can bet that nine out of the 10 companies he has invested in don’t have robust succession plans. The standards therefore very different—and they shouldn’t be.
Accept that everything will not work People must approach the social sector with the same intelligence they use in other facets of life. Like everything in life, they have to be realistic that every experience will not be great. The key is to take the plunge, stick to whatever works and discard what doesn’t.
People should work harder to understand the social sector because its organisations and its people are solving a much bigger problem than many companies are attempting to solve. In the world of business, there are thousands of people solving one corporate problem: there are six major telecom companies solving your communications problem, there are eight large auto companies solving your mobility problem. But how many people are trying to solve issues such as sexual abuse of the girl child, water sustainability, or developing an urban plan to make Mumbai more liveable? These are issues that impact all of us in our lives today and tomorrow. In fact, their impact is far more powerful than what companies do. If one of the auto companies goes bankrupt, another will take its place. But if civil society fails, what hope do we have for our country?
Unfortunately, most of us have desensitised ourselves to our surroundings and we have all become ‘comfortably numb’, as Pink Floyd puts it. We are lulling ourselves into a sense of complacency.
Then there is this huge sense of misplaced pride that we as a culture are big givers. But if you look at the data, it simply doesn’t support this. I spend a lot of time in rural India. At least anecdotally, I know that rural Indians are bigger givers than urban Indians, and that our poor are bigger givers than our wealthy.
In fact, when you look at the history of our philanthropy and the extraordinary donations made by families like Tata, Godrej and Bajaj in the early part of the 20th century, I feel we might well have been greater givers when we were a poor nation. As India becomes wealthier, we must introspect if we have become stingier with our wealth.
I fear that we Indians are beginning to celebrate consumption and display far more than we did earlier. In a country with so much inequity, this needs to change. For that to happen, we need society to celebrate giving.
Our country needs more role models—wealth creators like Azim Premji, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Rohini and Nandan Nilekani, Narayana Murthy and Ashish Dhawan; and professionals like Pramath Sinha, S Ramadorai, Nachiket Mor, Venkat Krishan and Atul Satija—who are giving a large part of what they have in terms of money and/or time back to society.
The growth of philanthropy should reach a tipping point where it becomes a major national movement. A movement can become real when they gather critical mass, when something magical happens and people look at it and say ‘this is the way we want to be’. My hope is that this happens before we have a cataclysmic event in our society. The onus is on philanthropists themselves to create that critical mass. My hope is that India reaches a point where we have so many compassionate capitalists that it becomes difficult to not emulate them.
People should be able to look at role models and want to give more. For instance, someone giving two per cent of their wealth should want to give 10 per cent, while someone at 10 per cent should want to give 30 per cent because Premji is giving 50 per cent. And that should start the race. I hope it is a race that philanthropists willingly get into instead of being mandated. It should always be a pull instead of a push.
There are people shining the light and encouraging others. Chuck Feeney and others showed the light to Bill Gates, who showed the light to Warren Buffet. Gates and Buffet created the Giving Pledge and dozens of others have followed them, making it a movement. I hope that it happens in India and that we get to a stage where if you are an Indian billionaire who is not a signatory to the Giving Pledge, you are an exception.
(Amit Chandra is the MD of Bain Capital and a philanthropist. He is a trustee of the Tata Trusts, a board member of Give India and The Akanksha Foundation.)
Courtesy: India Development Review