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Financial security: How much is enough?

January 28, 2009

Venu and I have been having some wonderful conversations and interviews with South Asian philanthropists, professors, and nonprofit leaders across the country in trying to refine SAPP’s business plan and think through our research questions. Almost everyone we talk to identifies “financial security” as a key factor or challenge to increasing South Asian philanthropy.

For South Asians, especially those of the first generation of immigrants, it takes a lot to feel financially secure. The constant specter of failure, of becoming penniless, of having to return to India, of not having enough to build a better life for one’s children and grandchildren – that sinking feeling inhibits South Asian giving. Like Venu described in her conversation with her father about giving, it takes a lot to feel like there is enough.

The effects of this mentality are striking – just today, the Asian American Giving blog notes that there were no Asians on the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s recent list of the top 50 most generous U.S. donors of the year. There were no South Asians on the Slate 60 either. Although many South Asians are business leaders and – among those – a fair number are millionaires (see the 2000 census data in some of the reports on our resources page), the question becomes: How much is enough?

Is this feeling of lack or of potential failure dissipating among the next generation? Will there be an upswing in philanthropy when today’s South Asian young professionals come into their own financially? Or will the second generation still hold on to the feelings of financial insecurity – and the definitions of what it takes to be or feel secure – that they heard from their parents? I don’t know if a drastic change is possible over just one generation without some intervention, some education, some outreach, some dialogue – hopefully that is something SAPP can contribute to…

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