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Getting smart about giving

Big philanthropic announcements in India have pleasantly been coming ever so frequently in recent years. To me, however, as important as the increasing size of the contributions is the change in attitude towards philanthropy in the country.

india Updated: May 10, 2011 21:20 IST
Rakesh Bharti Mittal

Big philanthropic announcements in India have pleasantly been coming ever so frequently in recent years. To me, however, as important as the increasing size of the contributions is the change in attitude towards philanthropy in the country. Starting from the very rich to the middle class, everyone has found a way to contribute. Rising individual prosperity propelled by rapid economic growth has made this possible.

Though big ticket philanthropic announcements are a recent affair, India is not new to the concept of giving. Wealthy families contributed generously to build schools, hospitals, community centres as their contribution towards a more equitable society. An encouraging trend today is that many philanthropists are moving beyond merely a donation and making a sincere endeavour to become agents of change by getting actively involved in the execution of philanthropic projects.

Another important dimension of philanthropy today is its increasing professionalisation. Though we still have some way to go in this regard when compared to countries like America, we are making good progress. Bharti Foundation, for instance, the philanthropic arm of Bharti Enterprises, is running 242 primary schools and one senior secondary school in rural areas across five states reaching out to over 30,000 under-privileged children. The programme is specifically focused on the girl child.

To run a programme of this scale and the geographic diversity it operates in, the foundation has put in place a strong team of professionals to manage day-to-day operations. It aims to set up 50 senior secondary schools and 500 primary schools in a phased manner. One important initiative is the foundation’s collaboration with Google Inc to scale up and run 50 elementary schools in India. Such a collaborative model will help increase the reach and quality of school education in India rapidly.

It does not surprise me when I hear that students from the schools prevented 16 child marriages in Jodhpur in Rajasthan and that they led a campaign against alcoholism in Haryana. These schools have managed to develop a symbiotic relationship with the communities around them.

I am a firm believer that philanthropy is not merely nor exclusively be limited to financial contributions. Sometimes a more powerful impact can be created by giving one’s time, talent and skills to a cause. A lot of work is happening in our country to encourage people to volunteer in grassroots projects.

Given India’s rising status as a global economic power, comparison with developed societies is but natural. According to a 2010 study, philanthropic donations in India amount to 0.6% of the GDP, whereas in the US, it stands at about 2.2%.

The fact that individual and corporate donations make up only 10% of charitable giving in India — in the US, three fourths of all philanthropy is led by these segments — does not really come as a surprise. Indians, being family-oriented tend to bequeath personal wealth to the next generation. Therefore, donating a large share of wealth for social causes is still not a trend.

But things are changing rapidly. I clearly see a transformation in attitude with regard to philanthropic giving. Though it is going to be largely led by corporates and the rich, the middle class is also going to pitch in enthusiastically and play an important role in driving this change.

Rakesh Bharti Mittal is vice-chairman and managing director, Bharti Enterprises & Co, and chairman, Bharti Foundation
The views expressed by the author are personal