Sunday, August 25, 2013

Letter to Financial Times on Indian Philanthropy

The FT published a drastically shortened version of a Letter to the Editor which I had submitted.

Here is the full version:


John Godfrey (Letters, February 2) writes that “literature and studies on philanthropy in India and Asia more widely are in short supply”. He may be pleased to hear that I started work, last Autumn, on a history of Indian philanthropy from Vedic times to the present, examining the historical impact of Buddhism, Jainism, Islam, Sikhism, Christianity, and Hinduism as well as the contemporary impact of secular modernity. That work is what led to my initial letter on the subject.

In addition, another study is expected to be published in the next few days by Coutts; still another study is forthcoming in the next few months from Sage, written by three North American academics. So studies of Indian philanthropy do appear to be emerging.

However, there is a question of how various studies define the subject: do we wish to include donations in India, whether from the poor or from the rich, to temples and priests or do we to we wish to confine ourselves to donations that are actually philanthropic? It was just this week that a report was published by a religious organisation in India announcing donations of the equivalent of over half a billion dollars to that organisation in the last year alone! While it is true that some temples and religious organisations have started philanthropic work as a reaction against Christian influences over the years, it is unclear how much of the money received by these temples and religious organisations is now devoted to philanthropic causes.

Outside the world of temples and religious organisations, I agree that genuine philanthropy has increased, though a lot of it, perhaps inadvertently, ends up strengthening the gap between the rich and the poor.

In fact, it is not clear how much Indian philanthropy has even attempted to address the real problems of the country or to ameliorate in any systematic way the lot of the masses – India has more poor people, more uneducated people, and more people dying from preventable diseases, than any other country. Indeed, India apparently has one NGO for every 400 people: so, while Mr Godfrey is undoubtedly right about the scale of aspiration in the area of philanthropy, one is perplexed about how to understand, evaluate or remedy the relative lack of impact. Though I remain cheered by Mr Godfrey’s belief that India’s bureaucracy might be able to regulate and support the growth of Indian philanthropy, it is clear that India’s poor taken as a whole are benefiting at best only marginally both from the expansion of India’s economy and from the growth of Indian philanthropy.

There is the further question, which I will raise in my lecture at the National University of Singapore later this month, of whether the newly promising forms of Indian philanthropy, as they follow in the wake of developments in the USA, may also end up strengthening the trend towards crony capitalism in India as they appear to be doing in the USA, or whether a more positive outcome in India might be in view.

Lastly, I am not aware of any assessment of the historical and contemporary role and impact of Indian philanthropy as a whole (which is partly what I am aiming to do through my book), and any comments on that from your readers would be particularly useful.

Prabhu Guptara, William Carey University, Shillong, India

Sphere: Related Content

Where to begin?

We Indians tend to speak in superlatives, so please excuse the superlatives in which the following mail to me is couched. It was received on Saturday in response to Rajan's reading the text of my talk titled "Towards Creating the Right Kind of Globalisation - Why it does not happen, and what to do about it", which was delivered some time ago at a conference organized by the Max Planck Society and held at the University of Munich. Here is the entire mail from Rajan:

Dear Prabhu,

I'm again overwhelmed by the breadth and depth of your historical and religious knowledge and vision, this time in the international rather than Indian context.

And I'd again humbly request that you indicate, from your viewpoint and in terms of priorities, where, how and who specifically should start in moving forward - you'll be familiar with the concepts of SMART objectives and the logical framework.

Warm regards, Rajan

I have, this morning, responded to him as follows:

Dear Rajan

Many thanks for your kind mail. I am convinced that there are many more people like you, prepared to start on the road to making things better in the world - the main challenge is locating them and then enabling co-ordinated effort.

The answer to your question depends on the resources, commitment and vision of the person asking the question. Some prefer to work on creating or reforming global institutions, others at the national level, and still others at the regional or local level. At the very least we can begin at our individual level…

At the individual level it is a question of seeking to know God and His “call” regarding my unique life purpose.

At the local level, it is a matter of working with at least two other individuals to identify some specific need that could be addressed. If one wants to work at regional level, or at national or global level, one needs proportionally more human and financial resources though one has to start with what one has, which might mean quite a small start.

The most strategic levels are of course the global and national ones.

I have tried to lay out the agenda at the global level (haven’t been able to get beyond that, as I don’t have the human and financial resources); and am involved at the local level primarily in India (schools, hospitals, corporate governance…but also right across the Hindi-speaking BIMARU belt in our country – so, in that sense, also working at the regional level).

At the national level in India, the challenge right now is to construct a viable Third Front and, more important, a Third Front which has something like the right policies for our country – and, most important, whatever may be the policies, the commitment to actually delivering on those (it is better to have poor policies that are delivered, rather than excellent policies that are not delivered). At present, I am trying to develop a sense of what might be possible regarding the creation of a Third Front given the range of individuals and organisations involved.

So at what level(s) do you see yourself involved - or getting involved?

Warm regards


Sphere: Related Content