Gates & Buffett Shine Spotlight on Indian Philanthropy

2458863408_30c6ba7851I wrote the following piece for Give2Asia’s blog today. What do you think will be the outcome of the Gates and Buffett visit to India?

The Giving Pledge has generated much enthusiasm in the philanthropic field. In August 2010, forty families pledged to return a majority of their wealth to charitable causes. In December 2010, seventeen additional families joined the Giving Pledge community in the U.S. Since then, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have traveled to China and Europe, listening, sharing and learning about philanthropic approaches and the different contexts in which philanthropy exists.

In March, the spotlight is on Asia once again as Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett travel to India to meet with some of India’s leading business leaders and philanthropists. In a letter published in The Times of India, they write, “[w]e do not come as preachers, but more like cheerleaders. And first and foremost, listeners. It will be an honor to meet with those families who will be able to join us next month in Delhi, to hear about their own thinking and to speak of the deep satisfaction we have derived from our work in philanthropy.”

The media in India are already covering the upcoming trip from various angles. Many in the philanthropic field are looking forward to the excitement that the visit will generate. However, like the China trip, crucial questions are being raised. Will Indian philanthropists publicly announce their philanthropic intentions? Is there an Indian context to philanthropy that is shaped by their own history and traditions? Despite the growth and professional development of the non-profit sector in India, why are we not seeing a significant growth in individual and corporate donors?

Last spring, Bain & Co., released their report titled “State of Philanthropy in India” and estimated that philanthropic donations amount to 0.6% of India’s GDP. While this is better than Brazil (0.3%) and China (0.1%), it is low compared to the U.S. (2.2%) and U.K. (1.3%). The report also stated that individual and corporate donations in India make up only 10% of charitable giving, while in the U.S., they are responsible for 75%.

It takes time for philanthropic markets to mature, and India still has a long way to go. The number of wealthy in India has been growing manifold after the economic reforms in the early 1990s. Many with new wealth have not until recently begun letting go of their hard-earned wealth. However, this does not mean that Indians do not give. Families such as the Tatas, Birlas, and Bajajs are a part of India’s rich history of philanthropy. In addition, an abundant collection of stories exists but many Indians prefer to be silent benefactors.

As we at Give2Asia look at the research and practices of Indian philanthropy, we are excited about the potential and opportunities for its growth. Those of us working to promote philanthropy welcome the diverse reactions the upcoming visit to India is generating. We believe that everyone wins when there is increased attention, discussion, and focus on the field of philanthropy – ultimately, it does provide solutions to many of society’s problems.

Photo: mckaysavage, Creative Commons, Flickr

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