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Indian philanthropy’s changing face

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Indian philanthropy’s changing face

By Yogita Limaye Business reporter, BBC News, Mumbai

India is home to 4% of the world’s billionaires, yet the country’s rich have often been criticised for not sharing enough of their wealth through philanthropy.

Things seem to be slowly changing though, with more being done to promote a greater culture of giving.

“Painting is what I like to do most,” says Nikita Shah, 30, and judging by her confident brush strokes on a large canvas, she has a great flair for it.

Nikita is autistic, and in a country with few facilities for those with developmental conditions, her immense talent may have gone unnoticed if not for the Om Creations Trust.

The Mumbai organisation helps 70 women with developmental conditions earn a living, by teaching them how to make handicrafts and food items.

Om Creations is financially supported by the Tata Group, which is not only one of India’s biggest corporate houses but also a name that has been associated with philanthropy for many decades.

“We couldn’t have done it without the Tatas. We had good ideas but no financial backing,” says Dr Radhike Khanna, a special educator and founder of the trust.

Low-income country

India is at the number four spot on an international list compiled by Forbes magazine, based on the number of billionaires a country produces.

Yet it comes in at a dismal 91st place on another list, the World Giving Index, which ranks 153 nations according to charitable-giving behaviour.

This performance though is a vast improvement over the previous year, when India ranked 134th.

“India is a low-income country so clearly we are not going to see as much philanthropy as in advanced nations,” says Adi Godrej, the head of another big Indian conglomerate, the Godrej Group.

“But compared to developing countries, the philanthropic culture here has grown over the years.”

Some say Indians are more inclined to donate to religious causes rather than philanthropic projects.

“In India if you ask someone to give money to set up a school or hospital it is unlikely they will agree, but at the temple they will most certainly drop something in the donation box,” says Subhash Mayekar, the chairman of the Siddhivinayak Temple Trust in Mumbai.

Siddhivinayak is one of the most popular temples in Mumbai and every year it collects more than $11m (£6.9m) in the donation boxes that lie in every corner of the temple.

Mr Mayekar says this money in turn is spent on charitable causes such as building schools for underprivileged children and rehabilitating people after natural disasters.

In fact, many rich temple trusts in India have been known to donate a part of their earnings to charity every year.

As India grows economically, individual mindsets too seem to be changing, according to Dr Khanna from Om Creations.

“Recently we have been finding that people are not only giving to temples but are looking for causes to donate to,” she says. “Another change we’re seeing is that people are now leaving money for charity in their wills. Earlier they left everything only for their children.”

And it seems India’s younger generation is powering a new trend of social awareness and responsibility.

A report by the consultancy Bain released earlier this year observed that people under the age of 30 are driving progress in Indian philanthropy.

Hamara Footpath is one example of the new generation’s growing role. The organisation is run by Anuja Sanghavi, 29, with six other young professionals in Mumbai.

Three days a week, after their own day jobs, Anuja and her friends gather street children from the neighbourhood on the steps of a building and teach them basic English, maths and even some physical exercises.

“We’re often complaining about how things are and what’s not working in our country. But we figured that if something has to change we’ve got to be contributing,” Anuja says.

“We can’t expect somebody else to do it all the time.”

Compulsory giving?

In the future, the concept of giving back to society is expected to grow further in India.

Wipro chairman Azim Premji and HCL Technologies founder Shiv Nadar have both pledged a part of their wealth to charity.

Over the past year, the government has been mulling over making it compulsory for companies to spend 2% of their profits on corporate social-responsibility projects.

And with incomes growing, the country’s middle class too is now gearing up to take on its role in Indian philanthropy.


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