Back to resources

Decoding Reinvigorating Philanthropy & The Art Of Giving With Experts | India@75 | CNBC-TV18

Civil Society | Strategic Philanthropy | Aug 13, 2022

In this segment of India@75, a panel of distinguished guests, Neera Nundy of Dasra, Amit Chandra of ATE Chandra Foundation and Rohini Nilekani of Rohini Nilekani Philanthropies, discuss the topic ‘Philanthropy Push: The Joy Of Giving’. Experts also speak on India’s social spending.



0:00:14.5 Sherene: India is marking the 75th year of independence, from a GDP of over two lakh crore rupees in 1947, to more than three trillion dollars today. The growth story has been staggering, but it’s also been unequal. The wealthiest 10% hold 74% of the national wealth. More worryingly, the wealthiest 1% hold more than 42% of the national wealth. The bottom 50% hold only 6% of the national wealth. What’s also concerning, is that India lags behind in meeting the 17 targets for sustainable development by the United Nations. The targets are meant to be achieved by 2030, but at India’s current pace, it needs 64 more years to meet them.

0:00:54.9 Sherene: A report by the DPIO shows that India’s currently spending 7% of its GDP on social spending, and this needs to go up to 13% of GDP, to achieve sustainable development goals, like eradicating hunger, providing clean water and sanitation to all citizens. Now, to even out the wide inequalities, the government had mandated a 2% spend by corporations on corporate social responsibility, which has grown at 15% annually, in the past seven years, as per the Bain Dasra Indian Philanthropy Report 2022. The report also highlights the contraction in giving by the ultra rich, dropping from 1.4% of their wealth donated in FY19 to a mere 0.1% in FY21. Now, for India to really deliver on the promise of inclusive growth, the philanthropic sector is in need of reinvigoration, with new models and collaborations being tested. Today, on this special episode, we bring together key stakeholders driving change in India, to talk about the role and relevance of philanthropic capital and their new effort, The GivingPi Network.

0:01:58.9 Sherene: Please welcome Rohini Nilekani, chairperson at the Rohini Nilekani Philanthropies. And also, the co-founder and director at EkStep Foundation, Amit Chandra, the chairperson of Bain Capital Advisors, India, he’s also with us. And the co-founder of ATE Chandra Foundation. Also with us, Neera Nundy, co-founder and partner at Dasra. Rohini, Neera and Amit, many thanks for joining us here on this very special edition of India at 75. Rohini, let me start by asking you, the idea of giving and philanthropy is not new to India, the idea of trusteeship is not new to India. But if I were to ask you about your experience of having worked in the philanthropic sector in India for over the past two decades, what do you believe has changed? And more importantly, what do you believe will be the role and relevance of Indian philanthropic capital as we move forward?

0:02:49.9 Rohini Nilekani: Yeah. Thank you so much, Sherene. It’s great to be talking about these issues at the 75th anniversary of our beloved country, and I think philanthropy is going to have a meaningful role to play. It should never have too large a role to play, because then as Martin Luther king says, “You’ll have to start wondering what are the social needs that cause so much philanthropy to be needed.” But having said that, as you yourself pointed out, there’s so much wealth creation in this country. And now, we’ve been seeing for the last two decades, thanks to people like you, the media has put a spotlight on the responsibility of the wealthy towards society. So I think India’s philanthropy, as I’m sure my panelists will agree, is at a very exciting time, what is needed to keep the public pressure on this topic and also for new forms, new associations, new institutions to come in. Which is where today, we are going to talk about an exciting new idea that has come up called GivingPi. But I think overall, there’s much more interest in giving much faster. And truly, I believe after the pandemic, we have seen the retail funding pi growing, we have seen… Obviously, the corporate has had to grow, but we are also seeing families and wealthy individuals of a younger age wanting to experiment, innovate and give fast.

0:04:08.0 Sherene: Yes, exciting times, as you called it for the Indian philanthropic sector. But Amit Chandra, you’ve been part of this sector like Rohini has, for the past two decades or more. Amit, what I wanna understand from you, the challenges that we are dealing with, whether it’s education or healthcare, or the many inequities that I spoke of, these are large challenges, these are large problems, they require redressal at scale. Now, in your experience so far in having working with the social sector, with the other philanthropists etc., how successful have we been at addressing these problems at scale? And as we look ahead, what more needs to be done to ensure that we can replicate the models that have worked?

0:04:50.3 Amit Chandra: Hi Sherene, thank you for having me on this panel. I think that’s a great question. To me, the glass actually is probably half full or half empty, depending on how you want to look at it. We have indeed made a lot of progress, if you simply look at the data on education and health parameters over the last few decades, no doubt about it. But at the same time, I think there’s a huge task ahead of us, and a long road to travel, on any of these parameters. And I think, the role of philanthropy, at the end of the day, in my mind, is to actually partner with the government, to make sure the quality of spend improves enormously.

0:05:41.0 AC: And that can happen in many, many ways, for example, innovation, risk taking, do things that the government necessarily cannot be good at, come up with better mousetraps, find out ways in which government spending can become far more effective because you used a very important word in your question scale. At the end of the day, while philanthropy itself needs to scale up dramatically, even if it does miraculously scale up even hundred fold, it cannot make a huge impact at national scale the way government spending can. And so the role of philanthropy has to work collaboratively, often, not just between philanthropists, but with the government in itself, to materially improve the quality of social spending. And I think that’s the opportunity in the road ahead, and I think we are beginning to see some evidence of that happening across sectors in the last few years.

0:06:40.4 Sherene: Yeah, well the need to up social sector spending is well-known, well-documented. And the question now is how do we actually get to the targets that we need to achieve? But Neera, that’s exactly what I wanna talk to you about. Rohini pointed out that there’s been a lot of change, these are exciting times, which is what Amit concurred with as well. But let’s just take a look at the data, and you know the data better than I do, Neera, because you’ve been working on the report with Bain at Dasra. And while we have seen CSR spending, because it’s mandatory, go up and go up significantly over the last seven years, the same is not true when it comes to philanthropic capital. So what will it take to ensure that we actually unlock this pool of capital, which is a large available pool of capital?

0:07:23.8 Neera Nundy: So I think that the biggest piece here is we need more leadership and momentum, like individuals, like Amit and Rohini, and they keep trying to push the agenda on giving. But it also we need more platforms and we need more vehicles, and how do we just make it easier to give? And so really creating something like GivingPi is twofold, really to open up space for families to engage on philanthropy. See, we see families having played an incredible role in our own freedom movement. We’re all very values-based. A lot of religion is underscoring our cultural context. And we see that as a unit to be quite powerful in how it can be an equalizer. It can take more risk, families are far more patient. And that’s where we’re seeing, if you bring this community together where people like Rohini and Amit are there and where we bring the next hundreds of families into being able to give, where there is government gaps as well.

0:08:18.7 NN: I know Amit spoke a bit to, we must partner with the government, but I think we can also use families to really take more risk and innovate. The challenge, Sherene, is we don’t have enough data. So CSR, you start tracking, but families actually give in ways that don’t get documented. What we’re excited about in this network, is can we measure this pi? And can we really encourage this pi to grow? And what might be those triggers? And so we are really looking at this kind of family giving to grow by 25% in the next five years, which would outgrow CSR and other forms of giving, if it can start being better organized.

0:08:57.8 Sherene: I certainly hope that you are able to achieve that aspirational number that you just held out, Neera. But Rohini, what will it take to ensure that India’s wealthy give more? How do you hold India’s wealthy more accountable?

0:09:13.9 RN: Yeah, Sherene, let me just address the giving GivingPi thing, which is part of the answer, right? You need vehicles to make it easier for people to give. Now, the super wealthy seem to have committed to giving, like some of us have declared publicly that we are going to give away at least 50% of our wealth. And some of the other super wealthy, you just had some big announcements by Gautam Adani… Mukesh Ambani has always had his foundation going. So these are some of the richest people in the country. We know about Azim Premji. So many of them have publicly committed to their philanthropy. But I’m very excited about the next layer, which is… And in fact, the super wealthy… The question of more taxation needs to be on the table too, so that we don’t only depend on individuals’ generosity. But I’m excited about this GivingPi and its focus on family giving.

0:10:04.4 RN: We’ve always had generous families for hundreds of years in this country. Mr. Pachaiyappa Mudaliar, we don’t talk about some of these names, we talk more about the wonderful Birlas, Bajajs, Tatas etc. But he set up the first private college in Chennai 300 years ago, okay. Similarly, there are people like Jagannath Shankarseth, and so many others, the Jejeebhoy families, the Bilimorias, so many Parsi families. We forget just how much families have done. I recently heard something I didn’t know about, that many, many families in the 40s and 50s gave significant amount of land holding to the alma maters like Delhi university etc. And that’s a really generous thing to do. So I think there is a kind of family tradition of giving and talking about giving, and leaving a sort of cultural legacy for the next generation in the family. And I believe in India, if we tap strategically into that, and if you also support organizations that can absorb the generosity of family giving, I think we can meet the numbers that Neera was talking about. So I am excited about that because I have seen families get animated and bind together better when everybody has a voice in family giving. So I’m excited.

0:11:31.8 Sherene: Rohini, two very important points that you spoke of. One, of course, about the absorptive capacity. If you’re unlocking all of these pools of capital, are there enough organizations? Are there enough institutions to be able to take that money and put it to good use? But the other aspect that you brought up was the institutional mechanism. We have family offices, you have family foundations, you talked about the role and relevance of the family in perpetuating a legacy of giving. But Amit, let me put that question to you. In terms of institutionalizing giving mechanisms, and GivingPi is only the latest effort and the latest example of taking that forward, what has worked? What are the hits and misses on that front, in the context that we speak of, a relevance for India?

0:12:15.9 AC: Yeah. So Sherene, I first of all want to echo what Rohini just said. We often don’t talk about… We only talk about very few examples. But if you look back at Indian philanthropic history, just outside those top few examples, there’s actually a very rich history of philanthropy. Just the Bhoodan Movement of Acharya Vinoba Bhave, there were tens of thousands of agricultural families, which gave up large tracks of land, so that the small farmers who didn’t have holdings could get access to them. And that just happened, because one man went walking across the country and asked people to make sure that those who didn’t have something, had at least land to farm.

0:13:03.9 AC: And so we literally have tens of thousands of stories, somewhere over the last few decades we’ve forgotten these stories, and I think we have an opportunity to bring that back. And part of the opportunity lies in creating platforms like GivingPi. We have Living My Promise, another platform, which is over a hundred signatories now, many of whom are middle class who have pledged to give away 50% of their wealth in or at the end of their lifetime. So I think platform creation is very important. And now, answering your question. This point of absorption capacity, in my mind is the myth. If we have the absorption capacity to stop wealth and spend it in creative ways, be it in material pursuits or in investing, I think we have the capability of using our minds to set up offices, which can do the same thing in the philanthropic sector.

0:14:06.5 Sherene: Welcome back. You’re watching this special episode of India at 75. We’re talking about the role and relevance of Indian philanthropic capital. Neera, what I wanna address with you now, is A, the specifics on what GivingPi is going to do differently. B, the problem has been that many different players, many different stakeholders are trying to address the same problem without enough collaboration or enough association of partnership. How do we ensure that… Some degree of overlapping is obviously a part and parcel of development. But how do you ensure that when we’re talking about scale, that there is much more collaboration, and we’re not operating in silos across this space?

0:14:49.5 NN: No, absolutely. Sherene, what I’m very excited about, and I’m sure Amit and Rohini will agree is, what GivingPi will need to do and we need to do in the philanthropic sector, is define what is Indian giving? So these last few years, let’s say a decade or so, we’ve been looking to the West and a lot of us cover perhaps how these pledges are with the Gates Foundation or others. And we need to redefine and think about what is giving going to look like and what is it like? And at the core of that, we see the family unit being really important. And so, building a platform like this, the first thing that this will offer is some visibility, so that where we know families are giving. So maybe to become a member, you actually need to disclose it’s trust based, but share where you’re giving. So we might find that out of the first hundred families, 20 are giving to this NGO, 50 are very focused on education, 10 are very keen to do a learning journey around climate. So we can really facilitate that by understanding their giving needs, but also fostering collaboration, Sherene. That’s the whole point of this, is to really foster collaboration, to come jointly and fund things together, and ultimately to really learn where can giving make a difference? And track that. So where we might start the size of the pi, is this pi growing and ultimately, is it having an impact?

0:16:10.9 Sherene: Absolutely. I think it is important to track the outcomes as well, not just how much you’re putting in, but what that’s actually resulting into, in terms of meaningful impact. But Rohini, I wanna pick up on something that Amit as well as Neera alluded to. And that takes me to the point of your book, where you talk about the confluence of the Samaaj, Sarkaar and Bazaar. In that context, where there is a citizen’s first approach that you advocate for Rohini, where do you believe that philanthropic capital can be best placed? Can be best put to use in that context of Sarkaar, Samaaj and Bazaar?

0:16:47.8 RN: Yeah, I really think Indian philanthropy capital needs to look at the thriving and diverse civil society institutions and leadership in this country. There is just so much out there that needs support. Sometimes there’s stuff happening below the news, such as the floods in Assam, where thousands and lakhs of people need immediate assistance. There are organizations out there who need that philanthropic support. Government can’t go everywhere. Bazaar may not have such a great role to play in natural calamities yet, it’s not structured to do that. So there’s tons of opportunity, so nobody has any excuses. Even Amit was saying to say, “Oh, where shall we give them the money?” There’s a million causes right under your nose, and 75 years of a country is a great time to recommit to the prosperity of all. And so there’s lots to be done right there. So Samaaj, in all it’s use, working together, the reach of the Samaaj, working with those who are working on behalf of the poor, that’s a very simple collaboration. Philanthropists obviously need, as again, Amit was saying, and everyone understands this very clearly, that philanthropy will have to work with the Sarkaar to fulfill its mandate of equity and inclusion. They are often open to it. We have to find those opportunities and commit, without wanting to say, “Oh, we did so much.” Because the Sarkaar has ways to scale, we just have to do some gap filling.

0:18:15.9 Sherene: Amit, to the point that Rohini was making there about gap filling, the kinds of solutions that philanthropic capital should support in India, can support in India, risk capital, patient capital, where the Bazaar is unwilling to go, because you don’t have a horizon in terms of profitability or a return on investment. In your assessment, where are we seeing this kind of patient and risk capital from the philanthropic sector being put to use? And where would you like to see much more of it being put to use?

0:18:48.4 AC: Yeah. Sherene, actually, we are seeing a lot of examples of that. I can tell you, for example, the work, just we do with farmers, and in rural India, we’ve been working on addressing the issue of water security for the last now 10 years. And it’s not an issue that has unfortunately a market-based solution, unless you’re an armchair economist. And so what we’ve been doing is figuring out how to build a participatory movement, and ultimately partner with the government to have a solution that ushers in water security, through rejuvenation of water bodies across thousands of villages across the country. Now, the reason we do that is that we know at the end of the day, that unless you address water security, civilizations historically have followed water. And if you don’t have a water security, a civilization cannot prosper.

0:19:48.0 RN: The call to action to the really wealthy philanthropist is, if we want to see change at scale, we need philanthropists to act as system builders, to be able to provide all the support needed in any sector, education, healthcare, water, whatever it is, so that Samaaj, Bazaar and Sarkaar can do what they do best. We have to learn how to design for what works at scale. Just scaling up things that work is not enough. And to do that, you need a kind of scaffolding around the project. And I think that requires some big money. I hope philanthropists will become systems builders to distribute the ability to solve across Samaaj, Bazaar, Sarkaar. That’s essential today.

0:20:30.9 Sherene: Wealth, that is essential. Philanthropists acting as system builders, as system integrators, putting that scaffolding in place, as you point out Rohini, that is going to be imperative. But Neera, what I wanted to ask you, and understand from each one of you now is, in the context of opportunities for the future, a large chunk, the line share of the philanthropic capital continues to go into sectors like education and healthcare. These are of course the felt needs, the real needs, but these are also perhaps familiar territory for a lot of people to engage in. And now, where do you believe capital needs to start to go into R&D for instance? I see so many people, for instance, on my Twitter timeline, talking about needing grants for research, etc. Where else do you believe this philanthropic capital should look at moving to, where it can play a meaningful role, new areas of opportunity? .

0:21:26.7 NN: So I think it’s a little bit to what Amit was saying, is that we need to invest in horizontal. So all sectors are equally important, I wouldn’t stand here to say, go for health over education. But I think what we don’t talk enough about is actually investing in organizations. You need to fund people’s salaries. These organizations need talent, they need systems, they need technology. We need a lot more data to see are we moving the outcomes on whether it’s health or education or livelihoods? So I think being innovative about where philanthropy strengthens institutions, where it allows for systems change, so there’s underlying data being looked at it. I think, start investing in entrepreneurs, leaders, and institutions that are bringing this aspect into the sector, I think will really help us accelerate. Otherwise, just investing in organizations to organically grow their scale and impact, that’s not going to solve our problems soon enough.

0:22:23.4 Sherene: Yeah, it won’t. Rohini and Amit, I wanna address an issue with the both of you. Rohini, since you spoke about the need for big money, big capital, to ensure that we have system builders, transparency and trust, and the two go hand in hand. How do we ensure that we build a culture of transparency across this sector, so that we do see that big money follow through, and be put to good use as well?

0:22:51.3 RN: So what’s interesting is transparency is growing, both from the giver’s side and the receiver’s side. Receiver’s side, because a lot more policy has mandated a lot more transparency. Sometimes too cumbersomely, but overall, good. Let the civil society institutions be transparent, great. Wonderfully, thanks to Dasra, thanks to many… And again, thanks to the media, much more transparency coming into giving. Many of us have been saying, “Now, don’t hide behind your cultural roots, saying left hand should not know what right hand is doing, that time is over.” So there is much more pressure on philanthropists to say exactly how much did you give, and the Guru Index and all that.

0:23:30.8 RN: So that transparency is growing, and it should come much more. So on transparency, fine. On trust, I still think we have a long way to go. People have started talking about trust-based giving, let go of control, trust people. If trust is betrayed, you can always take many steps. But if you start with trust, you will end with trust. And this conversation is very much out there, Sherene. And everyone has come to realize that if you don’t build on trust, or if you don’t build bridges, as it were of trust, during so-called peace time, when there is no conflict or crisis, you are not likely to be able to quickly deploy what is needed in times of crisis. And I think the pandemic has brought that out. So there is a lot of trust bridging, building of trust capital going on right now, more than before, but we have a long way to go.

0:24:19.0 Sherene: Let me end by asking you, and Neera, I’ll start by asking you, and then come down to Amit, and end with Rohini. “Freedom on my mind”, that’s the hashtag that we’re going with. What will that mean? What is the dream that you have, as far as the Indian philanthropic sector is concerned, over the next 75 years?

0:24:39.6 NN: I would love for this family philanthropy to take more risk, to invest in really equalizing our communities, to have difficult conversations around caste, around religion, and really make this an inclusive India for all.

0:24:53.0 AC: Freedom to provide opportunity. All of us who have had opportunity, this country has enabled us to do great things. The people who are left behind, are left behind because of inopportunity. And I think, as philanthropists, if we can use even a small part of what we are blessed with to provide opportunity to those who don’t have it, I think this country will grow at a much greater pace and rate, and we’ll see the world that we really want to see before us.

0:25:21.0 RN: Years ago, the poet Rue Oliver said, “Knowledge and wealth that are not shared are useless.” So I would say share your knowledge and wealth, both are critical. To that I would add, share your best resource of time, share of yourself. This is our country. Each one is interdependent on the other. Nobody can succeed from the common good. This is the time to recommit your wealth, your knowledge and your time. Thank you.

0:25:49.9 Sherene: Well, that is the perfect way to end this conversation. Rohini Nilekani, Amit Chandra and Neera Nundy, many, many thanks for joining us here, on this special episode of India at 75, Freedom On My Mind. Thanks very much for your time. We wish you and your organizations the very best of luck, and we do hope that they continue to inspire many more, to give and to give big. That’s it then, on this edition of India at 75. From all of us here on the team, goodbye. Thanks for watching. We’re back with more in just a minute.


More like this

Civil Society  |  Others  |  COVID-19

Keep the Change: Can Bengaluru Sustain the Lessons of the Pandemic

This is an edited version of a panel discussion moderated by Rohini Nilekani, on the city’s hope for a new normal post COVID-19. The focus is on what we have learnt from the pandemic, why it is worth preserving and, most importantly, how that good can be preserved, post lock down. The panel included Nitin […]
Apr 30, 2020 |

Water  |  Civil Society  |  Societal Thinking  |  COVID-19

Rohini Nilekani on Water, Societal Platform Thinking and COVID-19 Response

Rohini talks about the water sector, the COVID-19 pandemic and her vision for the city of Bengaluru. You can read the full interview at the India Water Portal.
May 6, 2020 |

Civil Society

Skills vs. Passion: The Challenges for Corporate Professionals Who Move into the Social Sector

Professionals “are very impatient to scale, and don’t realize that in the social sector, what to scale is more critical than how to scale,” says Rohini Nilekani, philanthropist and founder of Arghyam, a Bangalore-based NGO. Corporate professionals, Nilekani adds, tend to have a strong and mistaken belief in the power of the markets to solve […]
May 19, 2011 | Article

Civil Society  |  Others

India@75 I Samaaj, Sarkar, Bazaar I Rohini Nilekani on the Citizen, State& Markets I Barkha Dutt

In her new book author and philanthropist Rohini Nilekani talks about the intersection of the market, society, and state. Watch the full interview with Barkha Dutt. Transcript 0:00:00.0 Rohini Nilekani: We are capable. We have evolved to be social creatures who are willing to reach up. Kindness to strangers is something our species can actually […]
Aug 12, 2022 |