The fundamentals of Giving
Op-ed co-authored by Rohini Nilekani & Vidya Shah in the Financial Express
Like the market in India boomed once tight controls were lifted, NGOs and CSOs in the country can thrive, and have more sustainable impact, if donor capital is flexible and NGOs can invest in their own growth.
The number of wealthy Indians has grown by 62% over the last five years, with 1,103 individuals having a net worth of Rs 1,000 crore and more. Thus, a great deal of media attention has been on the growing number of unicorns and billionaires in our country. But there has been little conversation on whether and how some of that wealth is being given away.
This changing profile of givers has also been accompanied by a shift away from charitable acts alone—that of giving food, clothes, and scholarships—to funding new and marginalised areas such as environment and sustainability, arts and culture, academic institutions, social reform, and so on. It is extremely heartening to see this upward trend in philanthropy. More support for such causes will help meet the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
As India outperforms other countries in GDP growth, it will be asked how well it is treating its citizens. What are we doing at home to ensure that all people have access to food, education, healthcare, sanitation, and employment? How are we ensuring that they can exercise their rights and fulfil their obligations? What are we doing to address the violence that is inflicted on all those marginalised by gender, caste, class, and religion?
These are not intractable problems, but they are definitely inter-generational ones, and require persistence, patience, and empathy. India has the most diverse and widespread network of civil society organisations that embody these attributes, working in the largest of metros as well as in the smallest of villages. Yet, many of them are struggling to survive in a rapidly changing reality where old funders have receded, and government regulations are tighter.
Can wealthier Indians blessed by the ovarian lottery step up to support good organisations, big and small, so that they can focus on the goals of justice, inclusion, and opportunity for all?
At EdelGive Foundation and Rohini Nilekani Philanthropies—the foundations that we head—we have seen the outsized impact of funding issues that are underserved or neglected. Support to organisations doing work on gender, young men and boys, climate change, social justice, governance, and citizen engagement, and other less ‘popular’ areas, has transformed the capacity and capabilities of both the organisations as well as the communities they work with. Non-profit partners have often told us that this kind of support has made their organisations more robust and the people they work with more resilient.
Thus, the importance of trusting the partners philanthropists work with is evident, as is recognising the difficulties of the field and giving them more room for experimentation and failure. Much like the Indian market—which flourished after tight controls were removed—NGOs and civil society organisations do best when capital is flexible, and NGOs invest in their own growth and development.
More research and data are often needed as well to understand the root cause of different problems, or the efficacy of solutions, but research projects/institutions and think tanks need more backers in India. To strengthen NGOs and community-based organisations, and to build up the intellectual infrastructure of India, we need more wealthy Indians to give deeply and boldly. The EdelGive Hurun India Philanthropy List is one attempt to encourage this behaviour among the wealthy. It was put together drawing upon published sources of information as well as outreach undertaken by the Hurun team with high-net-worth individuals. There exist many more philanthropists than this report captured. Still, it is hoped that by providing annual data on high-value giving, more people might be motivated to emulate their peers and give more of their wealth as a joyful responsibility towards a good society.