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The Pledge Heard Around the World

August 16, 2010

The Giving Pledge continues to generate interest and conversation (see Nancy’s post from awhile back).  Devin Banerjee asked “Will an Indian Billionaire Take the Pledge” in the Wall Street Journal Online last week.  (Hat tip to Sharmila Thakkar in Chicago.)    I too was wondering whether India’s wealthiest (making up some of the wealthiest in the world) will participate in the Gates/Buffett call to action.

According to Banerjee, the answer is probably not.  More interesting than the conclusion, however, are the reasons why Indians aren’t philanthropic: (1) channels for giving in India are fewer; (2) individuals don’t trust charitable organizations; and (3) there is very little status accorded to philanthropic giving in  India.

Not surprisingly, reasons 2 and 3 seem to figure prominently in why South Asians in North America limit their philanthropic activity.  It seems to me that all three reasons are remnants of the past, or should be – whether one is in India or in North America.  There are many worthy causes and organizations in India, the United States and Canada.  With respect to philanthropy conferring status,  if this has not changed, it seems an easy thing to fix.  The Giving Pledge is a good start but it may take a bit in places without a strong history of formal charitable giving.  Still, it wouldn’t require too much.  A full-on campaign headlined by two of the wealthiest families in India (and the world) – the Ambanis or Mittals (or Shahrukh Khan, for that matter) – about the importance of philanthropy should do the trick.   Better yet, forget the Ambanis and Mittals, get some folks that have a bit less than them and use them in the campaign.   It will provoke some kind of response from the those two families and involve those who don’t see themselves in the same league.

India and Indians seem eager for change.  I hope in this respect too.  Do you think it’s possible?  Do you think that Gates and Buffett will be able to convince India’s billionaires to join the Pledge?

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