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SAPP Blog Forum – Day 4: Archana Sridhar and Venu Gupta

February 5, 2009

Professor Sudhir Venkatesh, Columbia University:

What should we do?

I posed the following question to three people who are involved in philanthropy and the nonprofit sector. “South Asians are, for the most part, an economically successful group, so why organize their charity along ethnic lines? In particular, perhaps they should think about looking outside their own base to find recipients of philanthropic largesse. If South Asians should not necessarily give (solely or primarily) to South-Asian causes, then how should they approach their philanthropy? Give us some alternatives.”

(More from Sudhir on this special SAPP Blog Forum.)

Archana Sridhar and Venu Gupta are the co-founders of the South Asian Philanthropy Project. Archana is Assistant Dean for Research at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law. Venu is Executive Director of the Chicago Committee on Minorities in Large Law Firms.  


We, South Asian Americans, are linked by a porous, often fragile identity – one that includes diversity along almost every conceivable line – language, culture, and religion, just to name a few. And yet, the strength of what our community – even loosely affiliated – has to offer is tremendous.


It is striking to imagine the impact on America’s charities and civic institutions were South Asians to become more engaged in philanthropy and volunteering. South Asians are one of the wealthiest and most educated immigrant groups in the nation, according to the 2000 census. Our considerable wealth and expertise would remake charitable sectors and communities in the United States and worldwide, redefining the field of possibility in areas such as health care, technology, and the arts.


And, as we know, the need for charity, resources, and volunteers everywhere is far greater than the supply. Through many conversations and interviews, we have found that this is particularly true among organizations focused on South Asian/South Asian American issues, as underscored by Sayu on Monday.


So, there we have it: according to the demographic data, a significant percentage of South Asian Americans have the resources to engage in philanthropy and, on the flip side, there is a corresponding, ever-increasing, need for resources both here in the United States as well as overseas.


Therefore, while the question of where and how to give is vitally important, we here at SAPP are of the opinion that it’s equally important to make sure that we, as a community, are giving in the first place. And hence our focus is on inspiring more South Asian Americans to engage in charitable giving – in all amounts and of all varieties. Connecting philanthropists with each other and with causes they want to support, as well as providing education and resources to aid donors in their giving decisions is something our community needs to do better – perhaps turning to the Jewish American community as a model, as suggested by Aly.


We believe philanthropy begets philanthropy. By creating a community norm around giving and holding each other accountable for our community engagement, we raise the tide for everyone: individual South Asians Americans, South Asian not for profits, U.S. neighborhoods and cities, and communities abroad.


In our view, the principles that should guide South Asian philanthropy should include dialogue about how to increase giving as much as it should include discussion about where to give. Too often, the conversation seems to focus on the merits of giving here (North America) versus there (South Asia). Instead, like Sunil wrote about, each of us can examine what drives our altruistic sensibilities – what inspires our support and where do we want to make a difference? Maybe it’s our own cities, maybe it’s in our home countries, maybe it’s somewhere else – Haiti, South Africa, Guatemala, or elsewhere.


SAPP hopes to be a catalyst in South Asian communities for these types of conversations, in order to encourage giving or volunteering in a more impactful way. There is clearly a groundswell for an initiative like SAPP. Over the past year alone, we have discovered burgeoning partners in our endeavor to inspire a movement of South Asian philanthropy. The organization Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy (AAPIP) is launching two South Asian giving circles. Charities serving South Asian constituencies came together to found the National Coalition for South Asian Organizations. And, academics, such as the host of this forum, Sudhir Venkatesh, are examining trends in South Asian philanthropy.


The long-term goal of SAPP is to inspire and galvanize charitable giving and volunteering among South Asians living in the United States. As a part of this goal, we envision working with private and community foundations as well as charities to offer training workshops for South Asian donors, to have roundtables with philanthropists and charities, and to hold group events for civically-engaged South Asians. We also aim to become the authority on research and national dialogue about South Asian Americans and giving.


In order to achieve these long-term goals, we have three shorter-term objectives: to develop a website and blog; to convene a summit and other in-person events; and to conduct research studies about the state of giving among South Asians in the diaspora.


We’ve decided to focus on our first goal for now, specifically to see a monthly increase in our readership so more of you have access to the resources we’ve assembled here and exposure to some of the nonprofit organizations in our community. We’re looking forward to an increasing presence on the web and robust discussion on the blog. The summit and research are in the early planning phases, and we have heard from many of you that there is a great need for both.


SAPP is only one answer to the question “WHAT SHOULD WE DO?” What’s yours?

6 Comments leave one →
  1. February 6, 2009 4:55 pm

    I think it would be good as you start this project to do a survey or series of polls understanding what the wider South Asian community is doing in the philanthropic sector. My sense – at least from here in San Francisco – might be that many South Asians could be involved with or contributing to non-ethnic causes or organizations. Some good data on involvement to go with demographic and economic data and comparisons to other ethnic groups would be a nice starting point and give you a base to compare activities in different parts of the US.

  2. asridhar permalink*
    February 6, 2009 6:17 pm

    Thanks, Omar – great suggestion. One of SAPP’s goals is actually to do just this – conduct research on the state of giving among South Asians today. We’re hoping to collaborate with Indiana University’s Center on Philanthropy and SAAPRI (South Asian American Policy and Research Institute) to analyze existing data and to conduct surveys and focus groups. There is surprisingly little out there about the questions you raise. Thanks!

  3. Kiran permalink
    February 9, 2009 2:58 pm

    I personally feel that a significant population of South Asians need a basic skills in managing their giving. Most donations are one time donations and often made due to personal connections through friends in the US and abroad, essentially there is a general lack of planned giving. With the proper information, the South Asian community could easily build sustainable endowments, maximizing their giving and maximizing the return on their giving. In order to have a long term impact, this is the direction South Asian philanthropy would have to take.

  4. asridhar permalink*
    February 9, 2009 4:48 pm

    Thanks for your comment, Kiran! You are exactly right and SAPP is trying to do exactly what you’re talking about – assemble the educational and outreach resources to help South Asians become more strategic and consistent with their giving practices. Please keep reading and offering more suggestions! Your thoughts on impact are right where we are trying to go…

  5. June 4, 2016 10:20 pm

    I am assured, what is it was already discussed.


  1. Top SAPP Posts of 2009 – Happy New Year! « The South Asian Philanthropy Project

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