We The People | Are India’s Rich Charitable Enough?

December 10, 2017 | Philanthropy

According to a report, the richest 1% Indians possess 58% of all wealth in the country. With the country’s growing income gap, the silver lining seems to be the deepening philanthropic streak in India’s ultra rich; the Nilekanis being the latest addition to the list of Indian billionaires who have pledged a portion of their wealth for social betterment. On this episode of We The People, we ask: can the Indian rich help narrow down the widening inequality? Is philanthropy enough to push our development agenda without a streamlined structure and proper execution? Are CSR and inheritance tax feasible tools to help improve the way our resources are allocated?

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00:22 Speaker 1: Hello and welcome to We the People. The economic growth of the past two decades in India has led to a spectacular rise in affluence. India is now home to a hundred billionaires, more than any country other than the US, China and Germany and perhaps unsurprisingly, big-ticket philanthropy has also taken off in recent years. Now, according to the Bain India Philanthropy Report, private charitable giving tripled between 2011 and 2016 and most ultra-high net worth individuals expect to significantly increase the philanthropic contributions, their philanthropic contributions in the coming years.

00:58 S1: Now, some of India’s wealthiest individuals have signed the Giving Pledge advocated by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, whereby they pledge to leave a majority of their net worth to charity. Today on We the People, we’re discussing this trend. What has led to this rapid acceleration in private giving? What sorts of causes are most likely to attract the attention of India’s wealthy and is the Indian non-profit environment prepared to deal with the sudden surge in the availability of philanthropic capital? And what are the social implications of a small number of wealthy individuals exercising strong influence on increasingly powerful non-profit institutions?

01:38 S1: And to discuss this, we have with us today prominent philanthropists, philanthropy experts and civil society leaders. Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, CMD of Biocon India Limited, only the second Indian to take that Giving Pledge. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett’s 2010 pact, which around 170 billionaires have now signed on to, promising to give at least half their fortunes to charity. Medha Patkar, social activist, she needs no introduction. Pushpa Sundar, founder of the Sampradaan Indian Centre for Philanthropy. Amitabh Behar, Executive Director of the National Foundation of India. Lakshmi Nalapat, the 12th princess of Travancore. Shreyasi Singh, author, The Wealth Wallahs and Gurcharan Das, author and columnist, former CEO of Procter & Gamble, India and Jeffrey Alan Gettleman, the South Asia bureau chief of the New York Times and I wanna start with Rohini Nilekani, former journalist, top philanthropist and the latest entrance into this exclusive club of India’s super wealthy, who have pledged to give away half their wealth. Rohini, thank you so much for joining us on We the People today. Thank you.

02:44 S1: Now, the data clearly shows that there’s less philanthropic giving in India than there is in the West. How much of this is because the wealthy in India are less socially responsible as opposed to Indian non-profits not having the capacity to absorb large donations?

03:00 Rohini Nilekani: Well, I think if you look at some of the reports that Bain & Company and all have been doing, they say at this curve of the economy, actually Indians are giving more than others have been doing at that stage of the economy. So perhaps, it depends on the data you look at. Certainly, there is a lot more potential for people to give much more, because we have become a terribly unequal society and the top rich 1% are garnering more and more and more of the space at the very top; and so of course, people need to give much more, give much better but at least, if you read that report, it shows that at this stage of the economy, Indians are being, at least, if not more generous than other economies at this stage.

03:47 S1: Okay. So, our first point of disagreement, are we giving enough? We’ll take that on further. But Rohini, I was asking about the absorptive capacity of our institutions. A Harvard or Stanford, for example, might be in a position to absorb and use a billion dollars. I’m not sure if there are any Indian universities that can do so and so then, do we have a chicken and egg problem?

04:09 RN: I think we do and I think as the Indian wealthy are coming forward to give more, they find that they have to themselves help build out the ecosystem and widen the pipeline into which they can give, because otherwise it’s money all dressed up with nowhere to go. Now, the Indian non-profit sector is diverse and thriving but not many institutions can say, take in that much capital, right? So first, we also have to invest in building up the capacity of organizations to scale, so that they can receive all the money that’s waiting. So I think it’s a process, it’s not a quick fix, you know?

04:46 S1: Okay; and is it possible that one reason behind Indians’ reluctance to donate money is the sense that they’ve achieved what they’ve achieved despite India and our institutions rather than because of them? You know, in the US, people view their success as being something that the country and the institutions have contributed towards. Schools, societies, colleges, they’ve supported them in getting where they are but in India, we make it despite the system, despite everything and maybe this also explains why IT guys are a little more philanthropic. Like, you hear of people… We know people who’ve donated to IITs, not other educational institutions, though many Indians, including the Ambanis have donated recently to Harvard and other Ivy Leagues.

05:25 RN: Well, there are many reasons why people don’t give as much as they could. One; we already discussed that there’s not enough of a pipeline. I think the wealthy have only now begun to feel very comfortable that this wealth is not going away anywhere in the last 20, 25 years or even less and so now they’re much more prepared and this has been discussed before, the new wealthy are more willing to give because they have less of a burden to give forwarding to their families because a lot of it was inherited capital. So I think you will see much more giving and in fact, the new wealthy, I’m sure they believe that if they had not been in India, that they were in the right time at the right place to be able to become so wealthy so quickly. So I think that’s changing too.

06:10 S1: Are you talking about an inheritance tax?

06:14 RN: No, I’m talking about people who have inherited wealth, right? And therefore, they feel that they have to give it forward into their families rather than give it all away to philanthropy but since you’ve raised the question of inheritance tax, I think that subject must be discussed whether it’s a good time to bring in some kind of, if not inheritance tax, certainly more taxes on the wealthy in India because I’m afraid we are rather lightly taxed.

06:38 S1: Okay. Rohini, as you know the estate tax in Europe and the US was a big motivator of philanthropic giving. People took the view that they would rather donate their wealth to causes they care about than give it to the government. So do you think the institution of an inheritance tax in India will make people give more, be more philanthropic?

06:55 RN: Well, it depends on how it’s executed, right? Everything is always in the implementation. I’m sure there will be a lot of resistance but modern society should be discussing such things and I think the discussion should be opened up in India. What kind of tax that will be, how much it will be is worth discussing and how will it be used. Do we have the institutional capacity to make sure there is no… That it all goes smoothly? We have to see that but I think the discussion should be opened up.

07:26 S1: Okay. Let’s do just that. Thank you so much, Rohini. Let’s open up the discussion on two important points there that certainly reached out to me. One; Rohini says Indians are giving enough and two, I don’t know if that’s the first Indian billionaire that we’ve heard of actually giving a thumbs up to the inheritance tax. That might be the big headline for tomorrow. So Pushpa, to you first, respond to Rohini. She says Indians are rich, wealthy Indians are actually giving enough.

07:51 Pushpa Sundar: They’re certainly giving more than they have done so far.

07:54 S1: Well, that may be a low bar.

07:56 PS: About two decades ago, if you looked at social change organizations, there were no other options for them except to look to foreign donors or to the government. Today, a third source has opened up and that’s philanthropy. So there is certainly much more giving, almost a three times increase in giving and we are now up to, if you include individuals and companies, almost up to 70,000 crores in giving from philanthropic sources.

08:27 PS: I like to make a distinction between charity and philanthropy. Charity, which is something you give for immediate distress relief. Philanthropy is something that you plan for social change. You will think of a strategy for giving, which would make for the maximum impact. Now, we have a lot of charity. We give to dependents, we give to servants, we give to beggars on the street and even otherwise; floods, wars, everything. Everybody opens up their purses and they give a lot but the number of people who are giving thought to philanthropy, that is, giving in order to bring about positive transformative change. That number, I’m afraid, is still very very small.

09:14 S1: Okay. So it’s long term. It’s a plan for bringing about transformation and social change. Medha, can you come in here also. Then what is the role of philanthropy in closing the country’s inequality gap? Because you mentioned… You also said that corporates are giving much more but that’s really because of the government has forced them to. Are they doing it out of their own accord?

09:32 Medha Patkar: Philanthropy that comes from the lawful humanity as it is defined and something that aims at causing social good need not be taken as replacing the state’s welfarism and although it is welfare, it is not to be charity. So whether they are really taking up the basic causes of inequality, which leads to not only philanthropism but charity as well. Any kind of doling out, that needs to be questioned because the inequity is growing in a very vulgar way and look at the CSR, for example. How is it defined? Even in the Companies Act, anyone who is earning more than five crores rupees profit, net profit per year. How much is that amount?

10:29 MP: An ordinary laborer getting minimum wages will have to work for 500 years to get that much income as their net income and hence, something that comes out of inequity cannot really treat inequity and bring in equity or justice and yet, whatever contribution they are compelled to make, they must be making it with participation of people, then only that will be called as philanthropism and only if they really go with the people’s Mann Ki Baat, not only their Mann Ki Baat and involve them in even planning and drawing a vision, then that is philanthropy, not otherwise.

11:13 MP: Many people mistake it for charity, as she rightly said but that goes only to the disadvantage sections. Today we have the advantage sections in terms of skill, labour and all the natural resources as their capital but they are not getting their worth for the agriculture produce or their labor inputs and hence, they face inequity. So philanthropists must keep this in mind and only if they go that way that will be taken as something contributing to social good.

11:42 RN: Gurcharan, you, former CEO of Procter and Gamble, do you want to just come in here?

11:46 Gurcharan Das: Well, I wanted to make three points. One is that Rohini is right. That this is an unusual phenomena, in the sense that wealth accumulation in India really started after ’91. So we are really a very young country, as a capitalist country. We got our economic freedom after ’91 so it’s just a quarter of a century and we have a saying in India called…

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12:17 GD: Which means that the life of a business house is 60 years, which means the first generation makes the money, second generation had money, they don’t want more money, they go for power and the third generation has money and power, so then they want reputation and when they want reputation, they give money to philanthropy. So it takes 60 years and we are now what, the Bain report is remarkable because it’s showing that private philanthropy is growing faster than CSR. It’s growing faster than government spending on welfare.

12:57 S1: But why is that? Isn’t that disturbing?

13:00 GD: Well, I don’t think it’s disturb…

13:00 S1: Private philanthropy growing faster than CSR. Why is CSR not growing?

13:03 GD: Well, because it’s… I frankly think that private philanthropy is a far superior thing than CSR.

13:11 S1: Why?

13:11 GD: In fact, they have serious problems with CSR.

13:14 S1: Okay.

13:14 GD: You know, if I’m a widow, I put money in a company and that company is spending 2% of it’s profit on creating an art collection, I didn’t give my money for the company to create an art collection. I gave it for dividends. So there is a moral hazard here in CSR. It’s a kind of tax and therefore, we should have not CSR, but ISR and private philanthropies, individual social responsibility from your post-tax income. Nevertheless, I think at this stage in India’s development, whatever, whether we can do it through CSR or private philanthropy, both are good because we need it and frankly, this is a better use of money than the government usually makes of the money.

14:04 S1: What you’re saying is this effectively is taxing big corporations or individuals less. Because if you’re giving money away, that money is not being taxed, which would have actually come into the government that could have been spent on building our roads and our hospitals and our schools.

14:18 GD: Correct. So what I’m trying to say…

14:20 S1: But then you’re letting the government get away with not doing its duty. And we have voted this government, we haven’t voted these individuals.

14:22 GD: Yeah. I mean it’s a form of tax but I would rather it be CSR because it would be better spent than how the government would spend that 2%. So I think that’s…

14:32 S1: Sorry, I just want to pick on this. How do we know that it’s going to be better spent? Amitabh, can individuals work in such large scales and if you’re planning to or hoping to fix the monumental developmental problems of India, can you work without government? How do we know that this money is being put to good use? And I’m sure the individuals who are donating it would also worry about that.

14:51 Amitabh Behar: Absolutely. I would say that this argument is fundamentally flawed. In a country like India with the kind of inequity we see, both in terms of income inequalities but also social inequality, whether it’s caste, whether it’s patriarchy, to expect that any private or any corporate could, in any way, replace the state function is living in a fool’s paradise. That’s just…

15:17 GD: I don’t think anybody is talking about replacing all the state.

15:19 AB: That’s just not gonna happen. We…

15:22 S1: And it shouldn’t happen.

15:23 AB: It certainly should not happen. So if you look at the figure, CSR, we talked of CSR. After a lot of enthusiasm about it, we’ve seen that it’s been around 10,000 to 15,000 crores. Let me just give you another figure. NREGA, for one year, is… Just the allocation is 40,000. Forget about the infrastructure needed. So let’s be realistic. So what…

15:45 S1: So people are finding ways to get out of it?

15:48 AB: I would really say that that’s going the wrong path. It is about then you start creating this whole building a brand and so on. I just want to go back and say let’s distinguish between A, Charity, B, Philanthropy and C, what is more critical? Philanthropy, I think in a context of India, cannot be just philanthropy. It has to be strategic philanthropy for social justice and on that, I would be far more pessimistic.

16:19 AB: I’ve really not seen that grow except some remarkable individuals like Rohini, what you’re seeing is only growth of some services but not really issues of social justice. I do think that the civil society is extremely ready. I work in civil society. I come across hundreds of organizations, literally hundreds, every month who are starving of resources. To say that the supply line is not ready is not correct. It’s unfortunate that it was international philanthropy, which was also bringing in some resources. That’s been withdrawn and you really are now seeing these good entities starving for resources.

17:00 S1: Okay, Gurcharan, one second. I actually did ask Rohini also about that question when you said I’ve talked about social change and why don’t philanthropists put in money into these issues? We actually asked her about whether philanthropy needs to be apolitical? Let’s just listen to what she said.

17:15 RN: I mean, the work I do is fairly political. It has always been and when I say political, I don’t mean party political. I mean political in the best sense of the term, political, which is about the redistribution of power, right? When power is not distributed equitably or sustainably, then you have to, whether it’s in any sector, whether it’s water or education. When people don’t have access, those issues are political issues and much of my work has been in that space and I think it’s very hard for philanthropists to actually stay apolitical.

17:48 RN: All of us have our politics and they do play out when we give. So I don’t think there is any such thing as very safe philanthropy. If you want to make a difference, you should be ready to take risks, you should be ready to take even, you should be able to take on the questions of power.

18:04 S1: Okay, I want to just bring in Lakshmi Nalapat. She’s the 12th princess of Travancore. She’s an heiress and you broke away from the norm. You didn’t marry a royal or should I say, you married a commoner, a senior journalist and according to the press and sometimes, we know the press gets it all wrong so you tell us if this is right.

18:22 Lakshmi Nalapat: I’m married to a press man so I know.


18:27 S1: But you got married on a few 100 rupees.

18:31 LN: Yes, that was the amount required for me to take my books from my nani’s house to Nalapat’s house and then, we had to pay something like 150 rupees to the registrar who witnessed our marriage.


18:48 S1: Well, that’s a great story and tell us, where do you stand on this issue? Where do you think… Rich Indians, do we give enough? And are we making a difference? Are we giving in the right way that makes a difference?

19:00 LN: Well, first of all, anybody who gives in India, any… Whether it’s a society, organization, person, it’s wonderful. Having said that, I would like to ask a question. Do we have to wait till we are dead to help other people? I find that if you step out in India and Kerala… I’m from Kerala. Kerala is much more advanced socially than a lot of places in the North. If you step out of your gate, you can see at least 10 cases which genuinely deserve help. So how do you help them? I am very scared of routing any money through any government because you talked about taxes, right? Do we really… You said, you talked about building schools and roads, ma’am?

19:47 LN: Please, take a look around you. Look at the condition of the roads. Look at the condition of the schools, there are no teachers. There are students but they can’t learn and appointments go because of money. You want a job in a government school, the going rate in Kerala which I’ve heard is two lacs. So ma’am, where are we? I mean, what are we talking about? Let’s get realistic. If I give money, I would like my money to reach those who…

20:11 S1: So if that is the situation, are you saying that more rich people should give, more people should step up to the plate?

20:17 LN: Yes, I think they should do private philanthropy.

20:20 S1: And it’s not happening.

20:20 LN: The one thing which you can do is educate, okay? Instead of giving 10 bucks to a beggar. I’ve also given 10 bucks to a beggar, whatever it is.

20:27 S1: Difference between charity and philanthropy, which was what was first said.

20:30 LN: Yes but then if you educate, put them to places which they can’t afford. I think that’s something which you can do, privately.

20:36 S1: I have Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, who couldn’t make it here, but she’s joining us from Goa and I just wanna go across to her. She’s recognised as much for her entrepreneurial expertise as for her philanthropy and this year she’s become the second Indian, like I said, to take that Giving Pledge. Kiran, Andrew Carnegie had famously said that it’s more difficult to give money away intelligently than it is to earn it in the first place. So how does one give? How does one choose in a country like India where you have to work with the government but as panelists here are saying, you can’t depend on the government and at the same time, you want to make change.

21:09 Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw: Well, you know, as a philanthropist, I have tried to direct my philanthropy to areas where I believe I can make a difference. For instance, I have given a large part of my philanthropy to build a cancer hospital because that was a crying need in our city and in our country. So I felt that that could help to do something about building such a hospital.

21:38 KM: I have also directed my philanthropy to research because I feel that research is something that needs funding, that needs support and I have made sure that I fund a lot of research in various academic institutions. I have instituted fellowships because I think that’s a very important part of our future. So those are definitely areas where I feel I can make a difference and of course, I’ve also supported a governance initiative called BPAC where I believe that philanthropists and philanthropic money invested in these kind of initiatives actually build civic leadership with a focus on good governance. So I believe that each philanthropist have to find their own space, their own areas of interest. Mine definitely is… It’s definitely to scale up healthcare research and innovation.

22:40 S1: Okay. You may have missed the beginning of the debate but we have Amitabh here who raised a point that he says that Indian philanthropy doesn’t focus enough on bringing about social change because these are political issues and it’s difficult to venture into there and corporates and business houses don’t want to do that for fear of the government.

22:57 KM: Business houses may not do it but I think individual philanthropy can do it because business houses should not be looking at social change in the way you’re describing it but I think individual philanthropy like what I have done, like what the Nilekanis are doing, we’re all supporting various initiatives that can bring about social change. We’re looking at engaging with people who have lost their rights in many, many cases so legal initiatives, of course, this governance initiative that I talked about.

23:31 KM: So you know, there are lots of areas where I think individual philanthropy can certainly bring about social change. Now, I think when you talk about CSR, I think CSR cannot play that same role because I think corporate philanthropy is very shy of engaging with these kind of initiatives. So there is really focus on education, healthcare which are the safer areas, I would say, in which you can try and invest but again, it’s about scaling. I believe a lot in scaling and I think scaling can bring a big difference.

24:07 S1: Medha, you talk about bringing about social change. I’m assuming that’s by reducing inequality. Medha over here, raised the point. She says that the… It’s ironical that systems that bring about inequality are then doing philanthropy to bring about equality.

24:22 KM: I mean, each one has their own way of looking at it and I’m looking at it in a certain way. I want to focus on civic leadership and good governance. I want to focus on women’s rights. I want to focus on emancipating women and of course for me, a very important part of that emancipation is healthcare. So I’m focusing on what I believe will bring about social change.

24:46 S1: What is your response of Rohini seemed to say that she would be okay with the government introducing an inheritance tax.

24:51 KM: You know, every government looks at inheritance tax in a certain way and I guess, if inheritance tax is linked to some kind of tax break for philanthropy then I would welcome it because I think those kind of tax breaks encourage philanthropy like it has done in the US.

25:09 S1: So you would welcome inheritance tax if it actually includes all of this?

25:13 AB: She also says you have an inheritance tax but in the United States, you also give incentive for philanthropy at the same time. So there are two different things but both should be done at the same time and that will really make philanthropy flower.

25:32 KM: Exactly. That’s what I mean.

25:34 S1: Medha, just quickly respond. You wanted to chime in here and I’ll come to you Jeffrey.

25:35 MP: Yeah, I’m seeing that the corporates are not shy of, they’re scared of getting into the issues of social change and social justice. Take the wealth tax, for example. Remember what is the scale. If really India puts forth the appropriate wealth tax on the total wealth in this country, rest of the India will not have to pay any tax on anything. This is one of the calculations and that is what the state is feeling shy of. So the corporates have become the partners with the state and then the state becomes maximally flexible in taking away something from them and if that is in the form of philanthropy or the CSR then look at the rest of the society. What are they getting out of it? A small…

26:27 KM: I completely disagree with your statement.

26:29 MP: Pardon me?

26:30 S1: Go ahead Kiran.

26:30 KM: I don’t agree to that statement because…

26:32 MP: Yeah, you can disagree.

26:33 KM: Corporates are being taxed at one of the highest levels in the world. So I don’t think that’s correct, what you’re saying.

26:39 MP: No, I’m saying the wealth…

26:41 GD: And also when…

26:42 S1: The wealth tax is very, very minimum. Very, very minimum.

26:44 GD: Medha, when we had wealth tax, you know what happened to our country.

26:49 MP: What happened?

26:50 GD: What happened to our country. We had a 97% tax rate plus we had wealth tax on top of that and therefore everybody became poor. You know the rate of growth between 1950 and 1980 was the worst in India’s history and so…

27:07 AB: But… Can I…

27:08 MP: You say everyone becoming poor, the poverty is defined in different ways. The people were rich in natural resources, rich in human resources are considered as poor?

27:14 GD: You know the poverty between 1950 and 19…

27:17 MP: Well where are the main producers, where are the distributors? Where are the main contributors?

27:21 GD: Between 19…

27:22 MP: Those who have money and property only are called the rich.

27:24 AB: Can I just bring in two quick statistics to this? The tax GDP ratio in India is still 17%, 18%. And if you go to Europe, it is 35% to 40%.

27:32 S1: Correct.

27:33 AB: OECD is 34%. Even a country like Brazil, South Africa are far ahead of us and also look at what Piketty’s data is saying. In 1923, the top 1% had around 22% of Indian wealth, by 1980, the top 1% had only 8%. So all said and done, the distributive policies, re-distributive policies of the state was making it move towards greater equality and just since 1990, it’s again, the top 1% have 23%. So let’s look at that data.

28:13 GD: You know where I disagree with Piketty? I’ll tell you very honestly is; what is important is not inequality. What is important is to lift the poor above the poverty line. If one person gets filthy rich like Ambani, in the process of lifting people above the poverty line, you know we forget, we don’t like Ambani but we forget that he represents 14% of India’s exports. He represents 11% of India’s taxes and if somebody does that and the rest of the people get jobs and the society rises, who cares whether you have some billionaires and you have inequalities of those kind. It doesn’t matter in our…

28:58 MP: We care.

29:00 GD: At our stage in development, we should never talk about inequality. We should talk always about opportunity. We should give people opportunities, we should have good schools for everyone, good healthcare for everyone, that’s opportunity. Not redistributing poverty.

29:18 Jeffery Gettleman: But do you believe… Let me…

29:19 S1: Okay, so moving down this track, public schools…

29:20 JG: Do you believe people should have equal opportunity?

29:23 GD: I believe people should have equal opportunity. I feel that every which… Our schools, that’s where it starts, opportunity. Schools and healthcare.

29:31 S1: Gurcharan, if we are saying who cares if the rich get richer as long as more poor are being brought above the poverty line, how are they being brought above the poverty line? If one, for example, the rich aren’t even… Didn’t…

29:44 GD: Through jobs. They are getting good… Through good education.

29:49 S1: They’re not sharing that money because there’s only a certain… Resources are few and they have to be shared. So some are getting more and some are getting less. So let’s bring in Jeffrey who’s from the US, which is the most charitable country on the planet in terms of percentage of GDP and because of its size, hence it’s volume. So how is America different? Doing things differently? Are we trying to go on the US model?

30:08 JG: The US gives a lot more than any other country. For instance, I did a undergraduate degree in the US and a graduate degree in England. In America, at every university, just about every building is named after a family and within that building, a lecture hall will be named after a specific somebody and even a professor’s seat will be funded by a family. There’s a…

30:30 S1: What Indian families are doing now.

30:32 AB: Yeah.

30:33 JG: But here’s what I was thinking. One, you don’t see that in Europe. You don’t see that in Europe.

30:36 AB: That’s right.

30:37 JG: The greatest museums in Europe are public museums. The greatest museums in the US are private endowments. I think part of it is, when the US began to grow and when it’s economy exploded and when people became famously rich like the Carnegies, this was at a different time in history. We’re at a really greedy time right now around the world. It’s an especially greedy time like the statistics you just said and the rate of the CEO pay versus what the average worker make. So India is becoming newly rich or there’s lots of wealthy people in India at this time when the world is greedier than it’s ever been.

31:14 JG: And this is like a bit of a sweeping cultural statement but I just moved here four months ago from Kenya, to work for the New York Times and I’ve been struck by the strength of family here and I’ve been invited into more homes with the son living on one floor and his parents living on the other, even if they’re well-educated and have been exposed to other cultures and I just wonder; and in Europe, the sense of family is stronger than in the US and I wonder if there’s a inverse relationship between a strength of the family and giving because if you’re very close to people around you and you have this big extended family, maybe you feel less of this need to reach out and give to people. So in America, you have like Manhattan is an Island, New York city is an island of isolated people. People do not live with their families in New York. They come from all over the world.

32:08 S1: But it depends on the ratio of the amount of your wealth. Your kids are still being taken care of even if you’re giving away 50% of your wealth.

32:12 JG: But I’m not looking at it that directly. I’m saying if you have a sense of belonging to a bigger community like people do here, you may feel less of a need to reach out and touch other people. Whereas in America, people feel very isolated and so they have all this money, like Warren Buffet, this guy’s got $50 billion or something and he wants that, he wants to touch other people, he wants to feel more connected. I think you guys, many people in India feel that already.

32:37 GD: And this is where I think that what we can learn from the United States is the fact… And that’s why, you know, the Bain report is breaking all the stereotypes that Indians were callous etcetera, etcetera. The Bain report now is showing that this first generation is giving and the thing that struck me when I was working in the US was that there’s something you have called the United Way. In India, we have a similar thing called GiveIndia, where basically, from your companies, compete with each other in terms of giving. They actually ask their employers to give one hour, two hours a week to actually help improve the capability of the NGOs that are there. So this is where I think our CSR should really be directed by getting employees of the company involved.

33:38 S1: Okay but I wanna pick up what Jeffrey says. Shreyasi, come in here. So Jeffrey says that the newly rich are giving more at a time when the world is greedy or aspirational. I’m not sure which one is right but is that true? Is our newly rich giving because Gurcharan in the beginning said, it’s not newly rich, it’s third generation. When you’re born with money, you’ve made the money, you’ve got the power, you then want the reputation.

34:02 Shreyasi Singh: I think there is a big difference between the way inheritors of wealth, because they think they’re custodians of the family wealth and then therefore feel constrained by how much they can give and my interest area is really studying first generation wealth creators and usually in India, there are from the information technology industry or from pharma and they’re in their 30s or their 40s. So I think the truncated time it now takes for the first generation wealth creator to create money does lead to greater gratitude and a sense of responsibility.

34:34 SS: I think it also has to do with risk-taking and ambition. I think, because you’re not as worried for the first generation wealth creator, they have seen an exponential increase in their wealth in such a short time because of equity holdings, they have greater risk and innovation.

34:48 SS: I think one thing is very important. I think there is a judgment that we make about the rich and I think many wealthy people do deserve it but I think we have to also analyze the sociological motivators or triggers that would lead to or foster greater giving. And who really decides who gives how much and when, right? That is a very, very difficult conversation to have. Do all of us give consistently more every year? I think many of us on this panel can give 10% of our personal income on a yearly basis, take that to, 12 take that to 15 and then which cause is important, I’m not sure.

35:24 SS: I think in a country like India you’re working to preserve art and heritage, that’s important. You’re working to do education and healthcare, that’s important. So I think instead of trying to judge the wealthy, I think we have to create sociological motivators and I think one of the… Somebody that I’ve interviewed for the book said something really interesting, that could you link that to who society values as heroes?

35:46 SS: So when India became independent, our Freedom Fighters were our heroes. Then was there a point when wealth creators became heroes? Now when words like philanthropy, which has become much more mainstream, much like diversity has, much like entrepreneurship has, much like innovation has. So when that sociological filter for who you value and the metric of success changes, that will foster greater giving as well.

36:09 S1: In the past, we all used to give even when we spoke with Rohini, she said they’ve been giving for years but now giving has become public. You need to be giving and you need to be seen as giving. Is that a thing?

36:23 GD: Yes.

36:23 SS: I actually don’t think that’s a bad thing.

36:24 S1: I’m not saying it’s a bad thing at all.

36:27 SS: Yeah, I see somebody who’s of my wealth category or wealth segment giving more, doing more, investing more time and energy in cause-driven philanthropy or anything, I think there is… You do want to emulate, you do want to imbibe. It shows you a new way. So I think there are people who are branding it as PR but I think it’s important to also know what people are doing because sometimes stories inspire you and somebody’s personal story of giving like Rohini Nilekani’s or Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw’s inspires us all, right?

36:55 S1: And that’s the concept of the whole living pledge, right?

36:57 SS: Yes absolutely, so you do popularise. So I think it’s okay to talk about it.

36:57 S1: They meet once a year and everybody talks about their experiences [37:00] ____.

[overlapping conversation]

37:01 GD: And also…

37:01 S1: Kiran, is there a cultural change now? Are we also seeing more giving? Because in the past, it was quite silent giving but now it’s become public and there’s a need for it to be a public giving in order to encourage others also.

37:16 KM: Well, honestly I don’t see that huge change in giving but yes I think we’re seeing it in certain pockets. At least in the south, I find that philanthropy is far more visible than maybe in other parts of the country.

37:33 S1: Okay, let’s get some good… Since we’re running out of time, let’s get some reactions from the public if anyone has points of view.

37:39 S11: What I personally feel that philanthropy has kind of become a trend. Instead of doing it out of the sense of humanity and empathy, which is a basic essence of philanthropy, people nowadays do it because they just want to feel good about themselves. So my question is, can you actually call it philanthropy when…

37:58 GD: But look, the good is done. Who cares the motivation, whether you’re looking for reputation. The fact is if you do good and it helps the people, the good is done. It’s like what Vidura says this in the Mahabharata, that if the good is done, you don’t care about the motive of the person.

38:20 AB: On this what I would say is that, yes, it’s become a trend. What is also important is to unpeel the onion a little more. Philanthropy is being present. The Narmada Bachao Andolan has survived for 30 years, based on philanthropy and they call it [38:37] ____ of small and very small farmers who felt a great sense of empathy with the cause and that kind of giving, the Indian National Movement onwards, you’ve seen so many people’s struggles around the country where people have given.

38:54 AB: So I think it’s important to not get completely swept by this few remarkable individuals. So these people are remarkable and they’re giving remarkable giving, but that’s not got translated into a culture of giving amongst the rich. And on the other hand, I’m still saying that the poor probably give much more, so that needs to be recognized.

39:17 SS: No, I agree with him. I just want… I agree with him to say that…

39:18 S1: Go ahead.

39:19 SS: It’s not that every rich person is giving, not at all. I think the Bain Report, and other philanthropy giving index reports, does sort of overstate the amount and quantum of wealth that people are giving but I think it’s very important to disaggregate and not confuse activism, civil rebellion with philanthropy and actually if, whatever portion of full-stack personal wealth going to philanthropy, is also a pure form of giving. So I don’t think we should undervalue it but of course people aren’t giving as much and even with first generation entrepreneurs, they would all talk about, “Oh, on my mother’s birthday I went to an orphanage and I distributed sweets,” or “On my child’s birthday I make sure I go to an orphanage and give stationary” but very few have given to…

40:01 AB: And you call that charity?

40:02 SS: No. Very few have, which is not…

40:03 AB: You call it charity?

40:04 SS: No I don’t. Of course that’s not.

40:05 AB: You think that’s philanthropy?

40:06 SS: No, that’s not philanthropy. That’s charity.

40:08 AB: That’s charity.

40:08 SS: That’s charity and that’s very episodic charity. That is not cause-driven philanthropy at all, so we hope that they will walk the big talk, but they aren’t…

40:13 GD: I think that in this society… In this society we need both charity as well as philanthropy.

40:16 S1: But we know that… There is a… There…

40:17 KM: More value [40:20] ____.

[overlapping conversation]

40:20 KM: We see in the time of national calamities, you see, before even the state reaches out whether in the Cachar at the time of earthquake or the tsunami in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, we witnessed when we reached there on the second day after the calamity that so many individuals, groups, social groups, families come over and just started without a banner, without photographs. I think that is not counted. No reporting everything…

[overlapping conversation]

40:47 MP: I don’t think we should denigrate charity at all.

40:49 KM: You have to do evaluation of that kind of contribution.

40:51 MP: We should not denigrate charity at all. Charity is as necessary…

40:55 KM: Is that called charity?

40:55 MP: Especially in a country which doesn’t have social security of any kind.

41:00 S1: And also…

41:02 MP: At the same time, we need philanthropy, transformative philanthropy, not only to bring down inequality. I mean, if we reduce the value or the role of philanthropy only to reducing inequality, that is not to recognise the many other roles it plays. We need philanthropy, somebody to back experimentation, somebody to back innovation, somebody to back talent, which can then result in some part breaking change for society, which can then be taken up by government. So that is an important role that philanthropy has to play. It does not necessarily have to be all of it for either social justice or reducing inequality or anything. Besides, a society needs much more than bread, as everybody knows.

41:55 JG: But it’s about building institutions too because the…

41:57 MP: You need… I’ll just complete.

41:58 JG: Okay.

42:00 MP: You need also art, music, culture. You need somebody and government doesn’t have the money to back all this. So this is where philanthropy is also important. Simplistic…

42:11 S1: I’ll be coming to you for closing arguments also.

42:12 MP: It’s simplistic to compare Indian philanthropy with US because we are in two very, very different contexts. In India…

42:22 S1: How?

42:23 MP: Because USA has always valued private initiative. They do not like government. In India, because of colonial rule, we have got used to looking at government for everything, so the private initiative has taken a back…


42:37 S1: Look, they may not like government, we don’t have government. We can’t depend on the government, so we’re very similar in many ways.

42:42 MP: So that’s why we need philanthropy, yes but what I’m saying is we cannot compare the two cultures because they are very different. Secondly, we have a very strong kin… As he pointed out, we have a very strong kinship feeling. We do not want to leave our money to somebody to whom we don’t know. Some cause, some institution, with whom we have nothing. We would rather give it even to a distant relative and so therefore, philanthropy always exists not in a vacuum but in some kind of a socio-cultural political context.

43:15 S1: Let me quickly get two audience reactions here.

43:17 S12: Don’t you think that we are mixing the activism, the charity and the philanthropy into one roof? Because what I think is, as a young generation man, that the corporate houses, the individuals who are much richer, they are hiding their PR part, the branding part into the name of philanthropy because the giving part is not only about the money.

43:42 S1: So you’re saying corporate social responsibility, PR, all of that is getting mixed up. People are misusing it in the name of philanthropy. Quick response, one more here.

43:49 S?: You’re right. It is related to funding.

43:51 S1: Quick response.

43:52 S13: I believe there are many cases where corporates, they earn money by throwing environmental laws, by damaging the environment, by actually taking money from the public and then they went on ahead after through the case and then decided that [44:03] ____. So what do they think about it? Is that philanthropy?

44:05 S1: So you are basically saying what Medha has been saying all along. I wanted to get quick closing arguments. We’re completely out of time, so really short closing arguments. What do we need to do to get more wealthy Indians to give to philanthropy?

44:20 S?: Well first of all, wealth in India is made very differently from the wealth in US. Point one. Point two is that stop being so hypocritical. I have no issues about lots of venues for charity, call it philanthropy, it is just that you’re helping somebody who needs it. I don’t have a word for that.

44:37 S1: Okay.

44:37 S?: And my final question is, is there something called forced giving? I think it’s a contradiction in terms. I think forced philanthropy, by definition, is a contradiction in terms. That’s it.

44:48 S1: Gurcharan. The CSR, is it forced giving?

44:51 GD: Well, CSR is forced giving but in the long run I think it’s a good idea. What I’m so glad to hear at this programme is that we are not bashing ourselves by saying, as which we do in any get-together, that we are a callous people, etcetera; and I’ll just tell you one little story from the Panchatantra. It’s a story where an old merchant is giving advice to a young merchant and he’s telling him, “First you must learn how to earn money.” Then he says, “Second, once you have earned money you must learn how to conserve it. Don’t put it under the carpet. Third thing is how you must spend money and fourth, you must learn how to give it away in your lifetime.” This is, I’m talking Panchatantra fourth century. So we are not a culture which does not respect…

45:49 S1: Amitabh, we are not a culture that doesn’t give?

45:52 AB: A, I would say that yes, philanthropy is growing but it’s extremely nascent. We do need a regulatory framework which encourages philanthropy. B, we need to distinguish between what’s hype and what is sincere philanthropy, which I would say is extremely limited at the moment. Third, I would say that we need to recognise and get out of the super rich. There are many others who are also showing philanthropic tendencies.

46:17 S1: Quickly.

46:17 AB: Finally, I would say that what is very important is to understand that in a unequal country like India, the state has to play a central role and the philanthropy in a country like India, it should really be about making state accountable. How does philanthropy in western [46:32] ____.

[overlapping conversation]

46:32 S1: Okay, alright. We need to make the state accountable, fair, but Medha what is the role that NGOs need to play? We’ve seen earlier in the last two years, the government has cracked down on foreign funding for NGOs. How can NGOs improve themselves, their regulation opening up, so that people can give money to them that can be used.

46:48 MP: NGOs also can bring in a contribution to social change only if there is volunteerism, there is commitment to the right-based approach and there can be no philanthropy without such right-based approach. Given with dignity, not as beggars and the Indians do not want to beg. Whatever we need, we should get but that should come from my community, my nation state and then if authorities from the outside, it has to be not in the form of international financial institutions loans or the corporate loans.

47:26 MP: If the corporates are taxed appropriately and even then there is inequity, they should be made to give but give within the framework of constitution, law and committed to the social justice equity as also sustainability. That needs to be regulated.

47:43 S1: Okay. Shreyasi and Jeffery, closing arguments please.

47:46 SS: I think you have to create the culture of giving. Like she said, you can’t have forced philanthropy so you have to bait people, be pulled toward philanthropy and here I would say that I would err on the side of talking about it much more, actually celebrating some role models. I think when a Bill Gates began to do it, when a Mark Zuckerberg began to do it, others wanted to do it as well. So I think, even if on some things that will become too PR-y, I think it’s important to celebrate role models and here, I borrow from what’s happening with women’s issues and professional women’s issues. When you talk about things, when you talk about the good and the bad…

48:16 S1: When you talk about it, more people will do it. Okay.

48:18 SS: You talk about it, more people are aware.

48:20 S1: Completely. Jeffery, how does one encourage, create a culture of giving?

48:22 JG: Well, I think we should be ambitious. The money is in this country and people should be ambitious about building institutions that are gonna last for hundreds of years. Universities, museums, not just giving some money out to somebody who’s been hit by a storm or needs some money to get through the week. Ambitious philanthropy is for the very rich ’cause they’re the ones…

48:43 KM: But the government interference…

48:46 JG: Well I don’t know about government interference but the classic philanthropy was looking for a gap that wasn’t being met and having a vision. These guys that built these universities, nothing showed for decades and Harvard University it goes back hundreds of years and it has this, I don’t know what the endowment now is, many billions and that will last for… That will educate thousands of people.

49:08 S1: I know it’s very important to be somewhat long term, there needs to be long term vision. The government and NGOs…

49:12 JG: Yeah, exactly. Investments.

49:13 S1: All of them need to be there otherwise everything’s very short term but as Amitabh said that the poor give much more. So, we do have someone here today, I wanna give him the closing word on the show. Azar, he’s from Hyderabad, right?

[foreign language]

51:17 S1: And one meal a day, he said sometimes.

[foreign language]

51:20 S1: Okay, so even as we’ve raised questions… Look, point fingers at the rich, we all need to look first at ourselves. We’re completely out of time on We the People. Thank you so much for joining us. Bye bye, thank you.


We The People | Are India’s Rich Charitable Enough?

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