So, another week has passed. This week we have a theme for the blog! Freedom Vs Equality
Freedom is abstract, Equality is limiting. Which way do we go?
Think about it while I shift your focus to a different issue I want to address today. One that has been on my mind ever since I attended a lecture by Ms. Kim Meredith, Executive Director of the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society (Stanford PACS).
Ms. Meredith’s lecture was primarily about strategic philanthropy and the change to donors becoming drivers/partners/catalyst to social change. It highlighted the change in perception about philanthropy and the focus on research in social innovation and philanthropy. The presentation and subsequent discussion was thought provoking and made me reflect on a lot of issues which are highly applicable yet different in the case of India.
Our professor correctly pointed out that most religions have in them the concept of altruistic giving. India, being a diverse country with people from different religions, such practice is common. Philanthropy on the other hand has a scientific touch to giving, focusing on fighting the root causes of global problems. Instability is high when the basic needs of countries are not fulfilled. This is exactly the case in India. How will there be national growth and development when more than half of the population is homeless and going hungry every day?
Charity/Donation and Philanthropy have a very thin line of difference. Charity is more about giving whereas philanthropy is more strategic and focused on achieving a particular goal. In India, these terms are used differentially but the treatment is synonymous. What bothers me about charity is not the act of giving/donating, but the hidden intention and reluctance to be a driver for social change. Most people do charity because doing so makes them ‘feel great about having done a good deed and earning special brownie points’, philosophically speaking. This does not in any way undermine their good work but the motivation is misdirected and an obstacle to social change. People refrain from taking an active role and instead occasionally (yearly or even less) donate and feel they have done their bit for the society. This is why I am more in favour of philanthropy because of the strategic aspect.
Donors, however, aren’t always willing to map their investment and direct it towards a change effort. Only big foundations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation take an active role in being drivers. This reluctance can be attributed to generational behaviour. Donors from the earlier generation would give money because they were passionate about a cause. They didn’t really want to map their investment as that would be regarded as showing disbelief to the organisation you were donating to. However, today’s generation has seen a shift in this regard. Donors are more focused on impact and willingly want to be drivers/partners/catalyst to social change.
This number is still relatively low. I ask, why? Why is it wrong to ask where your money is going and whether it is actually making a difference in the cause you are donating it for? Year after year, schools in India ask their students to collect donations for causes like natural disaster relief, save the tiger, etc but the parents of the students are never given an account of where and how exactly the money is being distributed/utilised. The upper wealthy class announce the high number of donations they give each year and for every possible cause. Why then are the affected not able to lead better lives? Where is the improvement? Some can argue that the responsibility is on the organisations to report their work but I argue that along with the organisations, it is also the responsibility and duty of the donors to ensure that the goals are being achieved. For an over-populated, extremely diverse country like India, this is absolutely necessary. There needs to be a change and we need to ensure it. Trust, but do not take a backseat.
Some sections of donors want to be doers and not joiners and so instead of donating, they invest it themselves in the problems they want to tackle. This is mostly good but in hindsight, it just leads to the increase in the number of non-profits rather than making an actual difference in society. I call for philanthropists and other people to be strategic and active. I would like donors to take an active interest in the cause they are giving money to and play a role in ensuring social change which incidentally is in consonance with the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) set by the United Nations.