By Tilak Jha
Map philanthropy+ Manage philanthropists = Promote humanity + Charity (Business included)
I have read dozens of columns, interviews, reports and initiatives over last four days to write a thousand words on any particular philanthropic initiative. I have been wondering why it has been so difficult to actually write about philanthropy. But while I came across hundreds of initiative across the world, the difficulty of writing without actually being part of it or talking to those people is what prompted me to talk about my understanding of philanthropy and charity.
Katherine Lorenz founded a nonprofit organization that partners with rural communities in Mexico to promote better nutrition and health. The organisation initiated an innovative method to counter malnutrition: the re-introduction of amaranth, an ancient and highly nutritious grain into the diet of the rural poor population of Oaxaca.
Rashesh and Vidya Shah worked at Edelweiss, an investment banking firm. They decided to use their financial expertise in the not-for-profit sector and set up the EdelGive Foundation in 2008. One of the many things they did: Devising technology solutions for Mumbai Mobile Creches to help them complete their day-to-day processes such as payroll and MIS (management information systems) efficiently.
Nivara Hakk, an NGO chaired by film actor Shabana Azmi involved the government of Maharashtra and a private builder, Sumer Corporation to resettle 40,000 slum dwellers who were living in the National Park (near Borivali) free of cost after a very long and laborious process.
Ratan Tata, the chair of Tata Sons, the largest and most consistent company in philanthropic activity in India, once said in an interview that today philanthropy is no more about building development institutions such as hospitals but about creating awareness of things like discrimination against the girl child; to get people away from moneylenders; promoting water harvesting and conservation; in moving more towards small community initiatives.
The common thing about all of them: they all are working to make lives better for someone. The difference: they did it differently. Call it charity or philanthropy, it all boils down to whom the benefit reaches.
Having worked with a couple of Non-Profit-Organisation (NPO) for quite some time, I never thought about the difference between philanthropy and charity. I still believe that at the core of their meaning, it is not the ends where the two words differ. It is but the means where all the difference comes. And that becomes very important in the present context.
Then and Now
In Europe, in medieval times, to engage in philanthropic acts was a Christian duty. Even in India the concept of daan i.e. donation was more a religious duty. The scriptures said, “शत हस्ते समाहार , सहस्र हस्ते संकिरा (Earn with hundreds hands, Donate with thousand hands).
In the post industrial world, man took the center of social world and thus an ethics that would be based upon human reason and agency was required. Still, donations were mostly made as charity. But what changed the way donation was always looked at is the new paradigm of re-positioning the concept of donation as a kind of investment and not charity. Contemporary studies say that philanthropic investment and the benefits are measurable like any other investment.
The new approach in philanthropy is called philanthrocapitalism. Philanthropy, for the wealthy, is a strategy. The rich apply their funds, entrepreneurial skills and business acumen to the causes of their choice. It promises to change the landscape of development and even signify a new paradigm of development; a paradigm where an act of charity becomes a tangible element.
Trends and Technology
Philanthropy has evolved to a point where this activity makes you a member of the moral community. Today, the most effective aid programs are run by private donors. The wealthy, because of their philanthropic activities, have not only influenced institutions within society but are also producers of such institutions. The increasing disparities between the rich and the poor suggest that the future of philanthropy lies with such producers of wealth.
John Havens and Paul Schervish at the Social Welfare Institute of Boston College portend a Wealth Transfer Microsimulation Model (WTMM). According to this model, across a 55-year range between 1998 and 2052 an estimated $6 trillion to $25 trillion will be channeled towards philanthropy.
Another major change on the philanthropic landscape has been the introduction of Information and Communication Technology. ICT has lowered the cost, increased the speed, and improved the transparency of charitable donations. Further, the internet also promotes immediacy by connecting donors directly to recipients, transforming the joy of giving into a purely personal moment. Kiva.org posts profile of small businesses registered with microfinance institutions on its website. Potential lenders can browse these profiles and invest in them.
There has been a multifold increase in number of NPOs as well over last three decades. In India, there are more than 1 million NPOs as of now.
Individual is the King?
In the world of extremely rich individuals NPOs can’t bring all the fireworks to philanthropy. An Arpad Busson (a London-based socialite and French financier) managed to raise £26 million at one dinner. In 2006, Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway gifted $31 billion to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation creating a mega-philanthropy worth $60 billion. The world never saw this much money for the cause of humanity.
Albeit, ideally for social transformation, philanthropy should be bottom-up. Something in which everyone including the marginalized should participate. The marginalized should participate in both the development and political process. For a healthy society, poverty reduction best happens through job creation, good governance and investments in human capital.
The need to tap individual potential and yet work to create a health society is where the need to map the philanthropic landscape of the country comes. It holds the promise to tap the great amount of material and human wealth in a way that will emancipate humanity out of its guilt conscience.