Book Review: Revealing Indian Philanthropy

RevealingIndianPhilanthropyA recent book, “Revealing Indian Philanthropy,” published by UBS and the Alliance Publishing Trust in the UK provides a detailed look at the evolution of philanthropy in India. India has a rich tradition of philanthropy and the book chronicles its history and development over time. It also highlights the potential of philanthropy in the modern era, paying close attention to the role of business and personal wealth in solving the many socio-economic problems pervasive in the country.

The 120 page book begins with a history of giving traditions in India and then examines the role of philanthropy in the creation of the modern state. Among some of its useful observations are:

*  Philanthropy was not confined to a particular geography or community but was more wide-spread than previously understood. The book estimates that the Indian non-profit sector could be as large as INR 331,810 crore (USD 60.3 billion), with donations and grants accounting for INR 232,083 crore (USD 42.2 billion) – numbers much larger than projected in other estimates.

*  Giving is becoming more formalized. For example, over 70 percent of the 3.17 million societies registered in India were set up after 1990. According to a UBS analysis in 2011, a majority of the trusts and foundations set up by India’s current crop of billionaires were also created after this benchmark year.

*  The patterns of wealth creation in India have changed and, similarly, old ways of giving are shifting as well. Affluent middle class Indians are now giving to formal organizations instead of their immediate community and executives are demonstrating more support for organizations that are building the sector through capacity-building and strengthening non-profits. Several philanthropists shared their views on giving in the book, with the common thread being a strong family influence and an interest in achieving scale in order to solve society’s problems. Saving taxes is not a primary factor in the giving decision for most affluent Indians as India does not have inheritance tax; rather, they are motivated by the desire to give back to society. The book points to the Tatas and the Gateses as popular role models.

*  The Indian government is taking bold steps to further drive CSR spending. In addition to the new CSR regulations, the Minister of Corporate Affairs has recently proposed CSR trading (similar to carbon trading) as a way to share the exemplary work of a rising number of corporations as well as spread costs among a larger number of companies. Though this idea might never materialize into real action on the part of the government, it is an interesting example of the creativity and initiative of Indian entrepreneurs and the government in supporting philanthropy. This may be due to India’s unique history as a British colony and then a democratic, socialized economy; businesses there are not just about wealth creation or capitalism but rather behave as stakeholders in India’s development.

Overall, Revealing Indian Philanthropy presents a positive overview of the philanthropic sector in India and reminds us of philanthropy’s rich past, vibrant present, and its immense potential.

Book Reviewed by Nish Bakshi

Nishita (Nish) Bakshi is a philanthropy advisor and strategist. She is an expert in international grant making, Indian diaspora philanthropy, and corporate social responsibility. Currently, Nish consults with organizations in the areas of program development, grants management and social impact.

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