Philanthropy in India: A Working Paper

Caroline Hartnell (Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace in association with Alliance, WINGS and the Centre for Social Impact and Philanthropy, Ashoka University)

This working paper does not attempt to address the acknowledged lack of comprehensive and reliable data on philanthropy in India.

Rather it aims to throw light on the current state of Indian philanthropy through conversations with people who have been trying to promote, support or strengthen different areas of philanthropy. The writers asked them what currently exists in terms of their particular area of philanthropy and what role it is playing in relation to the state and the private sector; what is driving it and what is holding it back; and what potential role it could play.

The writers also asked for examples of stellar achievements. The areas covered include various forms of giving by the wealthy – what we have called ‘impact-focused philanthropy’, progressive philanthropy, corporate philanthropy and impact investing; social justice philanthropy, self-funded activist movements and community philanthropy; and giving by individuals of modest means. The writers’ aim is to provide an overview of philanthropy in India, particularly shining a light on new areas and innovation within philanthropy, and the implications of these for its future role. 



Asia’s embrace of social enterprises: governments lean in

Philanthropy Impact Magazine, Autumn 2017

Asia is awash with enthusiasm for social entrepreneurship, and Asian governments are demonstrating their faith in it not only with ancillary services but with cold, hard cash.

This article looks at government support for social entrepreneurship, particularly in India, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and Thailand.

This article was first published in Philanthropy Impact Magazine.

Building the Bench at Indian NGOs: Investing to Fill the Leadership Development Gap

Pritha Venkatachalam and Danielle Berfond (The Bridgespan Group)

Believed to be the first data-driven study of NGO leadership in India, the Bridgespan Group identified systematic gaps between the sector’s leadership development aspirations, and the investments made by NGOs and the funders by surveying approximately 250 NGO leaders, and more than 50 interviews with funders, intermediaries, and NGO executives in India.

Click here to read the full publication.

Civil Society Briefs

Asian Development Bank

Introduction: Civil society is a very important stakeholder in the operations of the Asian Development Bank and its borrowers and clients. It is distinct from the government and private sector and consists of a diverse range of individuals, groups, and nonprofit organizations. They operate around shared interests, purposes, and values with a varying degree of formality and encompass a diverse range—from informal unorganized community groups to large international labor union organizations. These Briefs provide an overview of civil society organizations (CSOs), with a particular focus on nongovernment organizations (NGOs). These Briefs were first published by the Asian Development Bank (”

Click here to read the Briefs.

Asian companies develop new forms of philanthropy

Nikkei Asian Review

Anxiety about the gap between rich and poor has spread to Asia.

Rising joblessness led South Koreans to replace the dominant Saenuri Party in April. Even in the Philippines, with the healthiest economic growth since 1970, voters rejected the ruling elite in favor of the anti-establishment Rodrigo Duterte, who campaigned on profanity-laced vows to cut poverty. Yet not all solutions to social problems are political. Around the world, companies are seeing community engagement as not only in their own interest but also as an important part of their role in society.

Donations already play a large role. Corporate philanthropy has been on the rise for a decade and continues to grow. In 2012, 66% of all charitable giving in China came from corporations, as estimated by the Conference Board, a non-profit business research group.

India now requires top companies to pay 2 percent of after-tax income into certified philanthropic activities. According to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, such giving totaled Rs 8,347.47 crore in the last year, about $1.5 billion USD. We do not know if the money is being spent wisely or efficiently, but it is clear that the bottom line is massive and will trickle through to increase the impact of many charitable programs throughout India.

Companies can help in at least four other ways, starting with sharing technical expertise. Some companies are already using their skills alongside financial resources to build capacity and bring about sustainable change. In India, the Axis Bank Foundation (ABF) opened a strategic partnership with Dilasa Sanstha, an organization devoted to helping farmers increase production and earn stable livelihoods. The ABF helped Dilasa expand rural credit, strengthen internal budgeting and create an evaluation system. For the first time, Dilasa could collect critical data on beneficiary income, household assets, education levels, diet and investment plans.

Similarly, support from Khazanah Berhad, Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund, helped improve the capabilities of Mercy Malaysia, a medical response group active after natural disasters. Khazanah helped Mercy develop systems that assist it in managing people and resources and deploying them efficiently to disaster zones. The partnership has helped Mercy become an internationally acclaimed provider of disaster assistance.

Social delivery organizations may be non-profits, but they need to think more like businesses. To maximize their impact, they should be concerned with transparent accounting, financial forecasting, strategic planning, organizational management and development and a host of other skills that have traditionally been labeled as business skills. The private sector has plenty of these skills. In both of these cases, the companies provided financial resources and technical resources. They committed to the social delivery organizations for the longer term.

Another way companies can help is through shared value initiatives. Shared value, a term coined in 2006 by Harvard professors Michael Porter and Mark Kramer, is a strategy in which companies bring economic value to themselves while addressing a social need. In the Philippines, Manila Water figured out how to decrease siphoning and protect the pipeline so that clean, cheaper water reached those in the poorest districts of Manila. This successful project improved water access for the poor and increased Manila Water’s bottom line.

Uniqlo owner Fast Retail provides another example of shared value. With garment factories in Bangladesh, Fast Retail knows first hand the difficult circumstances facing many workers there. Uniqlo has launched a line of products inspired by traditional designs. Proceeds from these clothes go toward continuing education for women working in their factories.

Not surprisingly, there is considerable excitement around the notion of shared value. When the company and the community both prosper, the initiatives are more sustainable. Still, shared value initiatives are new globally and very new in Asia, and we can expect to see much more innovation of this kind.

A third strategy for community engagement is when companies work on their own. They believe and with some justification, that they have the skills to deliver a social good more efficiently than by working through an NGO. Shopping mall operator SM Prime Holdings in the Philippines is building clinics and schools, through its BDO Foundation, in the typhoon-ravaged areas of Leyte and Samar. The Reliance Foundation, the philanthropic arm of India’s Reliance Industries, carries out work through its own rural development, health and education initiatives.

Lastly, in some cases, corporations find it useful to develop alliances to bring about change. In China, corporate leaders have come together to create the SEE Foundation to work on environmental issues and the Ai You Foundation to provide medical aid to children. The Philippines’ largest conglomerate, the Ayala Group, and the telecommunications firm PLDT together created the Philippine Disaster Recovery Foundation to build a disaster operations center to coordinate the private sector relief efforts during major disasters.

How can companies evaluate whether they are doing enough? There are several key questions to ask.

First, how robust is your volunteer program? According to a Deloitte survey, 90% of HR managers believe that volunteering aids in building an employee’s leadership skills and according to a Price Waterhouse Coopers study, employees are less likely to resign if they feel engaged with their companies including through volunteer programs. A robust volunteer program can assist local charities while at the same time boosting employee company pride and loyalty.

Second, what subject areas best align with a company’s strengths and goals? Community engagement is much more sustainable when aligned with key competencies. It makes sense for Uniqlo to be utilizing clothing to engage with the community or for Axis Bank to focus on livelihoods and financial inclusion. Not everything a company does must be aligned with its interests and strengths, but it is helpful to know what these are and how they can be utilized to benefit the community.

Third, tone from the top is critical but innovation at all levels of the company is equally important. Employees have ties to the community and understand the needs of those living there. Creating programs that allow some latitude in addressing community concerns can harness this knowledge.
The rise in corporate involvement is clear. There is no question about whether a company should engage with the community, the only question is how. With their technical expertise, shared values and productive partnerships, Asia’s corporations are poised to be constructive, long-term stakeholders in the region’s continued growth.

Ruth Shapiro is chief executive of the Centre for Asian Philanthropy and Society, an organization dedicated to facilitating excellence in philanthropy.

This article ran originally in the Nikkei Asian Review.


Frugal Innovation

BAIF Development Research Foundation: Transforming Lives in Rural India

Through 50 years of innovation in agricultural technology, BAIF Development Research Foundation (BAIF) has helped millions of Indian farmers to upgrade their animal husbandry practices, cultivate productive homestead orchards, and better manage natural resources.

From its early days, BAIF has focused on driving rural prosperity. Initially, it empowered farming communities to improve productivity of animal husbandry through technology and training — it had supported 5,892,045 families in this way by 2014. The organization went on to help 201,144 rural families roll out innovative homestead agri-horti-forestry, or “Wadi,”orchards, that combine techniques and resources to allow farmers to rear fruit trees, flowers and vegetables. BAIF has also applied its technical expertise to help farmers find better ways of managing their land, soil, and water resources. Over the years, it has expanded its focus to undertake health, women’s empowerment, and resilience programs in conjunction with its agrarian interventions to drive holistic development in rural communities.

Helping Mothers and Children

Society for Nutrition, Education & Health Action: Nourishing India

A walk by a caring pediatrician through one of the world’s largest slums inspired the founding of a Mumbai NGO that became a model for how to help poor mothers and families learn about nutrition and protect the health of their children.

From 1999 to 2015, the Society for Nutrition, Education and Health Action (or SNEHA, meaning “affection” in Hindi) grew from a five-member team working on an ad hoc basis and driven by the simple desire to help the poor, to a 360-person institution with focused and integrated programs to nurture the physical and emotional health of its clients.

The development of community-rooted programs with demonstrable impact was a key reason for SNEHA’s success. The approach was simple and two-pronged: spread information about healthy habits and provide the resources to develop them. A second reason for SNEHA’s success was the decision to collaborate with government to utilize and coordinate public health systems and maximize resources. The government experience of its leaders enabled it to establish government relationships that might have been more difficult for organizations too prone to accept ideas about how government red tape can stand in the way of progress. The bottom line is not red tape, but what is possible.

Water for Life

Dilasa Sanstha: Securing the livelihoods of poor farmers in India

By adapting indigenous irrigation techniques and empowering farming communities to generate alternative income streams, Dilasa Sanstha has changed the lives of impoverished rural farmers in Maharashtra State. Its partnership with the Axis Bank Foundation has allowed it to scale its rural interventions to new heights.

Based in Maharashtra State, Dilasa has been working with farming communities in Vidarbha from the mid-1990s. Today, the NGO works across 1,170 villages spanning ten districts in Vidarbha, Marathwada and South Maharashtra. The organization began life as the brainchild of individuals who shared a common goal: to bring relief to suffering farmers.

From there, Dilasa has emerged as a pillar of the rural communities it serves, now helping farmers to access alternative sources of income and credit options. In this evolution it was supported by a strategic partner, the Axis Bank Foundation, which has encouraged Dilasa to operate at a scale and reach beyond what its founders could have imagined when it was founded as a seven-person organization.

Homegrown, World-class

Council on Energy, Environment and Water: Building an Independent Policy Think Tank for India

The Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) was formed to provide independent domestic research to Indian policy makers for creating a sustainable India.

CEEW was established in 2010 with a mission to identify the integrated solutions required to achieve balanced growth and development for India. Given the global nature of climate change and resource challenges, and the need for cross-border, collective action, Arunabha Ghosh, CEEW’s founder and chief executive officer, envisioned an internationally focused institute to “solve real problems using world-class research.” Since its founding, CEEW has engaged in more than 100 research projects, published more than 50 peer-reviewed policy reports and papers, and organized more than 110 seminars and conferences.

Changing the Game

Magic Bus: Giving Young People a Sporting Chance in Life

With thousands of volunteer mentors across India and a unique organizational model designed to help maximize its impact, Magic Bus uses sports and other activities to help children and teenagers live, learn and grow well.

The Magic Bus’s  roots were planted over 16 years ago, when its founder and chairman, Matthew Spacie, began teaching teenagers from the wrong side of the Mumbai tracks how to play rugby. It grew to an organization that today helps about 300,000 children and teens find a better path in life by playing games with meaning beyond the immediate reward
of the winning kick, bat or dash.

The idea of using sports as a teaching tool caught on, and on, and on, as over the years Magic Bus kept getting recognized by national and international foundations, funders and governments at all levels. It now operates in 22 of 29 Indian states, serving its one quarter-million clients through a network of 8,000 mentors, known as Community Youth Leaders, who volunteer their time and follow the same Activity Based Curriculum, known as the
ABC, which evolved over time in consultation with educators, healthcare professionals, social workers and behavioral psychologists.