Collaborating internationally to empower Indian women


Alison Bukhari and Dasra

Alison Bukhari

Alison Bukhari

As a philanthropy advisor in the UK with a focus on India, I have had a difficult year listening to the growing opinion that we should scale back our philanthropic funding to a country with so many millionaires; it’s a constant theme in my blogs. An article last week in the Guardian, however, puts fuel on my fire and campaign to improve and increase philanthropy to a country whose living standards sadly seem to come from multiple centuries. The headline reads: ‘India bad for women: How did this leading G20 country get labelled the worst place to be female?’ How did it indeed? Having lived there for eight years I still consider India my second home; in fact I now have family there. I have always felt safe, and yet I have always been acutely aware of the dangers and discrimination faced by women on a daily basis. So the following facts were not a surprise to me.

India ranks as the fourth most dangerous place in the world for women to live, after Afghanistan, Pakistan and the DRC. So say 370 gender experts surveyed by TrustLaw earlier this year. This week’s headline focuses on India’s ranking amongst the G20 countries, and it comes in as the worst, even behind Saudi Arabia. The Guardian article goes on to catalogue recent atrocities in India with stories of abuse, discrimination and female foeticide. What it also highlights is perhaps even more shocking ‒ apathy and public acceptance that seem to be permitting this violation of basic human rights on a large scale. 52% of women in India are said to agree that it is acceptable for a man to beat his wife.

If we ignore India as a destination for funding, social investment and skills transfer then I believe that we too are joining this apathy. If women are subject to such discrimination then surely carefully targeted funding from both local and international philanthropists is vital. How this funding is deployed is perhaps what needs to be discussed.

This article came out just as Dasra launched its latest Giving Circle, with philanthropists from India and around the world taking up the cause of adolescent girls’ empowerment – obviously a hot topic. Based on Dasra’s latest sector report, Owning her Future, a group of donors from the UK, Singapore and India have come together to collectively donate just over half a million pounds to one non-profit, working to change the future for thousands of girls in some of the most backward districts of northern India. Can they help to move India away from its position as the worst place to be a woman? Only time will tell.

By making its grants through a circle model, Dasra uses a collective approach to build a movement around an issue, as well as bringing management assistance to the non-profit’s leadership, which we hope will enable the chosen organization not just to flourish but to scale up its outreach and impact dramatically. What is also exciting, and may silence the critics who feel that India should be providing its own philanthropic capital, is that the majority of the donors in the circle are based in India.

We would be lying if we said it has been easy to put the circle together. Unlike child malnutrition and formal education (the focuses of our first three circles), girls’ empowerment has been a more difficult subject to persuade local donors to support. The impact of the interventions is less tangible, the evidence of programs working is short term, and perhaps, given the headlines, donors realize that this is an incredibly difficult problem to solve, due to deep-rooted cultural and systemic barriers. But those who have now joined the circle show an enlightened commitment and deep understanding that girls can be a highly leveraged social investment.

So why the circle model? International donors giving together with local donors ensure a locally sensitive and appropriate approach. As an example, it is a given in India that sex education is not delivered through schools. The subject is taboo – sexual and reproductive health issues have a different platform. For international donors this was news; for local donors it is something they are aware of already. When interventions are being analyzed, basic schooling may have been the international donors’ chosen model, but more investigation on the ground enabled Dasra to recommend non-profits that deliver through non-school-based youth groups.

South Asia is a favoured destination for UK giving, with only East Africa beating it to the highest amount of foundation funding, according to the latest CGAP report. Sadly some of this international giving has delivered isolated programs, created parallel systems and created a dependency on international aid, while ignoring the potential to partner with local donors. I have heard of a large number of NGOs in India getting into dire straits after international donors have not renewed their grants. A dependency had been created and the financial crisis has had hard-hitting effects. They have been left with no local fundraising capacity and an inability to find local funding sources.

Dasra’s Giving Circles seek to break this trend. As well as maximizing the social impact of international philanthropy, they also seek to inspire a new generation of strategic givers within India, diversify funding bases and bring together local champions for the NGO’s problems and solutions.

Gender inequality is one of the issues where I feel building local support is critical. The issues faced by women are not just isolated to poor communities. Having a female president and leader of the current party in power has done little for India’s male bias that permeates every section of society. By mobilizing the support of philanthropists in India (a number of whom in the circle are women), Dasra hopes that not only their funding but also their leadership will start to create change. Over time, by speaking out about the importance of investing in girls in their circles of influence, Circle members will achieve a multiplier effect with their money and their skills.

Reading about India’s position in world rankings gives our new Dasra Giving Circle members a sense of assurance that a focus area they have decided to invest in is critical. In a recent debate on the UK government’s decision to ringfence the international development aid budget, Chris Mullin said that we had a ‘moral responsibility’ to protect and deploy that funding. For the sake of millions of women in India I agree, and would like to promote collaborative giving with Indian donors as the way forward for international philanthropists seeking to support the millions living in poverty in India.

Alison Bukhari is director of investor relations at Dasra

Further articles from Alliance magazine related to these topics:

Tagged in: Dasra Giving Circle Gender funding India International aid women

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