Full spectrum philanthropy

Anantha Padmanabhan and Tasqeen Macchiwalla

Over the last 25 years, there has been increasing recognition of the role of philanthropy in India and its contribution to the country’s development. The vast majority of foundations and trusts set up by India’s current generation of ultra high net worth individuals (UHNWIs) were started after 1990. As the number of wealthy individuals has grown, so too has giving. UHNWIs have thrown their weight behind mobilizing their peers to give, the Indian middle class has stepped up, and small gifts have grown even faster. In 2014, India was 69th in the World Giving Index, up from 134th in 2010.

This raises the more difficult question of the influence of philanthropy on public discourse and government policy. Philanthropists have relatively easy access to decision makers in India, so we should be extremely careful to use this influence for the interests of the people on whose behalf we are working rather than to further our own. At Azim Premji Philanthropic Initiatives (APPI), for example, we have chosen to focus on supporting partners with a diversity of perspectives and enabling their voices rather than ours to be heard.

‘Philanthropists have relatively easy access to decision makers in India, so we should be extremely careful to use this influence for the interests of the people on whose behalf we are working rather than to further our own.’

For example, a consortium of 10 funders anchored by APPI came together to promote the Independent Public Spirited Media Foundation (IPSMF). By design, the funders do not have control over the decision-making of the IPSMF so that its grantmaking is truly independent of corporate/private interests.

In our Adolescent Girls portfolio, we are supporting two organizations working on sexual and reproductive health and rights for empowerment of adolescent girls – one a feminist organization and the other a public health organization. Both work with adolescent girls and their communities on the ground, as well as advocating for greater voice and agency for adolescent girls from their respective positions.

Project site run by Srijan Foundation. Photographer/ Mustafa Quraishi

Project site run by Srijan Foundation. Photographer/ Mustafa Quraishi

 

APPI was established in 2014 by Azim Premji with a mission to contribute to a just, equitable, sustainable and humane society. Until recently, Mr Premji was the only Indian to have signed the Giving Pledge. At APPI we are convinced that philanthropic resources should be deployed in diverse ways to cover the spectrum of approaches – seva (service), nirman (constructive work), chintan (new thought), sangathan (collectivization), and sangharsh (standing up) – that enable development in a democratic framework and empower communities to embed social change. The Indian regulatory framework does not, however, recognize this diversity of approaches. It assumes that the only purpose of non-profit organizations is seva or, at most, nirman, and it only grudgingly acknowledges the instrumentality of sangathan to address the immediate needs of vulnerable communities.

Over the last two years we have deployed resources to support ‘great people doing good work’ with vulnerable communities. These are organizations that are creating social impact and whose credibility and track record convince us that their work has inherent value in addressing vulnerability and marginalization. We expect our grants to help provide medium-term (three years) stability and enable them to do more of their good work.

We realize that the needs of vulnerable people and communities and the scale of the problems they face are far larger than the ability of any civil society efforts to address them. There is therefore a strong case for helping organizations to scale up. We have a programme of long-term (seven years), comprehensive (programmatic, institutional strengthening and resource mobilization) support for the ‘right’ organizations to become stronger, larger and sustainable.

‘The Indian regulatory framework, however, seeks to delegitimize all other forms of engagement and action, especially those that are deemed political – such as people’s movements and struggles. There is of course a need for better regulation of the not-for-profit sector to enable greater transparency and accountability, but regulation needs to move away from an atmosphere of suspicion and mistrust and to be better grounded in an understanding of the democratic role of civil society.’

Some of the much-needed changes can happen only at the system level. With nutrition and governance, for example, we are putting together a portfolio of grants which, taken together, could orchestrate system change.

The Indian regulatory framework, however, seeks to delegitimize all other forms of engagement and action, especially those that are deemed political – such as people’s movements and struggles. There is of course a need for better regulation of the not-for-profit sector to enable greater transparency and accountability, but regulation needs to move away from an atmosphere of suspicion and mistrust and to be better grounded in an understanding of the democratic role of civil society.

Anantha Padmanabhan is CEO, Azim Premji Philanthropic Initiatives. Email ananth@azimpremjiphilanthropicinitiatives.org

Tasqeen Macchiwalla is senior programme manager, Azim Premji Philanthropic Initiatives. Email tasqeen@azimpremjiphilanthropicinitiatives.org


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