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Civic engagement in Indian Life

August 28, 2009

In the article, “Where are India’s Great Philanthropists?”, Dean Nelson discusses the lack of philanthropic initiatives taken by Indian residents.  The article sheds light on three major issues: 1. The fact that India’s leading philanthropists are non-Indian, i.e. Bill Gates and Prince Charles 2. that the majority of giving practices are toward Hindu temples, and 3. that ashrams are some of the few places that focus on giving to social causes. 

Non-Indian philanthropic initiatives, such as Bill Gates’s Avahan project, have addressed issues surrounding HIV/AIDS and sex-workers.  Interestingly enough, a previous post I made on the Avahan project, highlights some of the major failures of that project.  The main reason Avahan was ineffective was that the project leaders did not take into consideration the needs of the Indians they were working to serve.  They lacked the sociological insight required to effect real change.  Though this Telegraph UK article elevates the outcomes of this project, it may have been more effective if Indian citizens had greater input in it’s design.

 The other major contributor, Prince Charles, gathered many of India’s richest men including Laxmi Mittal, K. P. Singh, and Mukesh Ambani.  These men formed the British Asian Trust which worked to protect it’s environment, preserve historic buildings, and support the unemployed young.

 In looking at these major contributions, the article explains that these are ventures taken by very few extremely wealthy individuals.  There is still a lack of civic engagement on a local level, which has become even more apparent as India’s economy is growing rapidly.  Nelson argues, that much of wealth obtained by the middle class is being donated in large sums to Hindu temples, who rarely invest that money outside of their physical surrounding.  Nelson ends the article by crediting ashrams as one place in local Indian society that contributed greatly to social causes.  Nelson has made keen observations about the funding of Hindu temples and the generous work of ashrams.  These assertions are also further supported in the research article Hindu Diaspora and Religious Philanthropy in the United States under our resources section. 

 In reviewing this article a few question came to mind:  Is there a way to engage Hindu temples in giving to social causes?  Also, is a lack of dialogue about giving the greatest barrier to civic engagement? and if so how can we change that?

5 Comments leave one →
  1. August 29, 2009 8:17 pm

    Thank you for this posting. I read both this and the previous posting (and the Forbes article) with great interest. It appears the Gates initiative with the Avahan project barely made first base. Work elsewhere suggests strongly that the involvement of sex workers and their organisations at the strategic planning levels of campaigns like Avahan is essential from the outset. The Forbes article shows what blunders are possible with bright new shiny trucks pulling up outside brothels and failure to address the people in the venacular.

  2. riyer2 permalink*
    August 30, 2009 2:17 pm

    yup, it’s showing that you can’t just throw money at a problem and assume it will go away. I would love to read any feedback the sex-workers may have had. It would be interesting to hear what they feel their needs are.

  3. August 30, 2009 4:21 pm

    This site, if you have not seen it before, may be of interest in your quest?

  4. September 22, 2009 6:22 pm

    I find my way back by Googling up your posting for the Avahan links, as I thought it a wonderful example of philanthropic Western ignorance to go with another I’ve just read about at

    There, the American evangelists are causing all sorts of chaos among the women and children of Vietnam and Cambodia. Lengthy, but well worth a read.

    I wonder if the Americans sell insurance against being rescued by the Americans?


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

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