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More Questions . . .

November 22, 2008

From Venu — As Archana mentioned, she and I have been debating about the role of South Asians and South Asian Americans in the United States for almost ten years. During law school, we were affiliated with non profits in different capacities. And since law school, we both have chosen to spend our professional and person time outside of the private sector. And in doing so, often have been tasked with raising significant amounts of money for one or more not-for-profits.

So it’s not surprising that the same question would reappear in our conversation: “Why is it so difficult to get Indians to donate to charity, even when the charity impacts our community?” We would discuss the existence of differing social norms and philanthropy in varying forms (giving to religious institutions, monetary transfers to family members, giving to organizations in South Asian, etc.). Yet, we never came up with an explanation that satisfied me. So, I remain interested in the question and hope to explore it with all of you.

Behind this question, however, is an assumption that easily is disputed. The assumption is that South Asians have the means to be philanthropic. Certainly, countless national newspapers and magazines have cited the growing wealth of the South Asian community. Many involved with South Asian focused not-for-profits, however, are quick to point out that the South Asian community is not monolithic, and poverty exists far and wide in our communities as well. And, they are right. The dismissal of this reality, often by members of the South Asian community, is very important to this conversation and will certainly resurface.

But, if for the moment, we assume the South Asian population in the United States is growing exponentially and large segments of this group either (1) are relatively wealthy or (2) have the potential to be wealthy, then, for me, there are two particularly difficult questions. Do South Asians have a philanthropic responsibility within the United States? If so, to whom/what do they owe that responsibility?

I have several thoughts about the questions above and look forward to thinking them through with all of you. The hope, of course, is that this dialogue will inspire all of us to create and discover vehicles for engagement – at the very least with one another, but we hope much more! Thanks for joining the conversation.

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