Philanthropy: Take it from me
Posted on January 10, 2011 | Author: Sudeshna Sen | View 661
I ve been having a blast of a time reading up fellow columnists all over the world.It hadnt occurred to me that this is the first new decade in 20 years the last decade was the turn of the century,all about Y2K,when we were tensely biting our nails in office till midnight expecting systems to go bust,and writing about the doomsday clock.
Which,in case you are too young to remember,they didnt.All the Y2K scare did is set the Indian IT industry on the path to glory and riches.The one before that,I was much too young to be bothered about.
For all those who think columnists are opinionated,arrogant,pompous windbags,well,yes we are.Most columnists tend to be generalists,i.e., we read enough history and future history which is what SF and fantasy is to sound erudite.There are people who are comparing the Ambanis to the Medicis.Whoa,thats awesome.
Depending on who you read,the world is (a) going back to the 12th century with multiple centres of global power,(b) turning away from globalisation,(c) China and India are back to the late 1800s in Europe and America,(d) the world is heading for a renaissance after loads of pain Just pick your favourite period in time,past or future,and find the common threads.
Right,now to the gyan for the week.If youre reading this paper,you cannot but be aware of the fact that the theme for our annual excess,ET Awards,is all about philanthropy.Please note,Im writing this well before the bigwigs have their say I have no clue whats in the neighbouring pages.
Philanthropy,in the Indian context,is a load of complete crock and thats putting it politely.I remember having this discussion with like dedicated social workers from Katha,and I asked em the question Ive been asking for the past three years.Why are Indians so bad at giving Simply,the lady explained to me,our prosperity is too fragile.
The need for financial security outweighs the need to feel charitable,except for religious or economic purposes.Besides,Indians have this insane need to provide for the next generation that,in turn,generates those fabulous savings rates that are the envy of the developed world.
If you had to pay inheritance tax,like in UK,you wouldnt be saving up as much as you do.
Indians dont give also because of the entrenched belief in Karma which applies to all Indians,whatever religion you happen to be.So sue me.Ive already apologised for being arrogant.According to the global happiness index,India rates among the bottom end in giving,time,money or resources.
The thing with philanthropy,or CSR,is that the basis is religious and cultural.Charity,as like giving money and resources to the less privileged without aims or returns in mind,is fundamentally a Christian concept.Islam institutionalises charity,but in a more egalitarian fashion possibly the least patronising,globally.
Building temples and investing in an afterlife is a tenet of religions that believe in reincarnation or afterlives,like Hindus,Buddhists and Confucians.In these traditions,giving involves creating opportunities for the less privileged to advance their own destiny,not bearing their burden.
If you consider that poorhouses were invented in Europe,where the rich as a class bear the burden of managing the poor,and microfinance was invented in Bangladesh,which charges interest for lending to the poor,a concept that originally shocked Western sensibilities till Mohammed Yunus was given the Nobel Prize,youll know what I mean.
And then we come to CSR,a much abused and misinterpreted term.The economic facts are simple.In the developed world,the government is expected to take care of social infrastructure and welfare of the people through taxes and welfare.Any American CEO heard spouting developmental and societal objectives would be laughed out of his bonus.Not so in India.
Simply because the state has always been too poor,and too distracted to provide basic infrastructure,you have institutions like Jamshedpur and Jamnagar.I mean,honestly,who was going to provide drinking water in these godforsaken places if not the private sector Its not a matter of philanthropy or CSR,its plain common sense and survival.
Reliance,if Im not mistaken,has built valuable orchards in its Jamnagar green belt,combining commerce with common sense.Indian business knows that if they dont take on the load of social infrastructure,they aint gonna have a consumer base;something multinationals still dont get about emerging economies.
Now that the developed countries find theyre not as rich as they thought they were,social responsibility is devolving on the private sector,and people like Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett.It is,for them,a deep change in attitude to move to a returns-oriented giving and reform regime.Its against the religious bedrock of charity,and an equally entrenched political separation of state and business.
Capitalist-philanthropists are still looked on with deep suspicion by the liberal or centre-leftist segments in the West.
Back home,all this buzz about philanthropy and yes,I totally approve of Azeem Premji and his ilk is (a) a rebound from the corruption scandals la 19th century America or Europe,(b) big business earning social brownie points like,say,tobacco companies,and (c) basic common sense in a talent-scarce and highly aspirational society.
h,I forgot.We columnists are also career cynics,when were not pontificating about new decades.