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India’s business approach to philanthropy

March 29, 2011

I just had a chance to read the Philanthropic Spirit series that Sharmila posted about the other day, and that SAPP friend Michael Edwards had emailed us about.  I was struck by the focus on India’s entrepreneurial spirit when it comes to philanthropy.  On its own, philanthropic innovation is certainly a good thing – finding new ways to solve entrenched problems.  But a business approach to philanthropy on its own runs the risk of replicating the very structures causing such problems.

In the final post, Rohini Nilekani (wife of former Infosys CEO Nandan Nilekani) hits the nail on the head in my opinion by calling into question the Indian philanthropic focus on business models of development:

But there is another view struggling to be heard. A view that broadly spans the philosophy spectrum from Marx to Gandhi. Which reflects an anguish that the promised trickle down is not happening and may not happen, ever. That we need to re-examine the model of growth we are pursuing, because of its tremendous negative impact on people’s lives and livelihoods and on the environment systems that support us all.

And Michael, whose book we featured in a Q&A last year, renews his criticism of this business approach to philanthropy by calling on major philanthropists to be more democratic – and innovative – in their giving:

Indian philanthropists could diversify their boards and include some representation from the groups they seek to support. They could encourage ordinary citizens to become philanthropists and make the whole field more inclusive and democratic. They could inject resources into philanthropies such as the Dalit Foundation that are run by disadvantaged groups. And they could concentrate attention on long-term changes that will never generate short-term returns.


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