India – Community philanthropy

Noshir Dadrawala

The world’s oldest surviving community foundation – Noshir Dadrawala

People in the West tend to assume that community foundations are a modern, Western innovation. This is incorrect. Probably the oldest surviving community foundation in the world exists in the city of Mumbai (Bombay) in India.

Its history is linked to European colonialism in India. In about 1530, Portuguese
traders took possession of some parts of Mumbai. When King Charles II of England married a Portuguese princess in 1661, Mumbai was given away by way of a dowry. Charles in turn gave it to the trading East India Company for a rent of £10 a year in 1668. Governor Gerald Aungier knew it would not be easy to rule over a foreign population with such deep religious and social mores and so asked all religious communities in Mumbai to form social organizations to govern their own people.

All religious communities (Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Parsi, etc) formed associations called Punchayets. Except for the Punchayet formed by the Parsis[1] around 1672, all these have died out. The Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP) set up its first funds in 1826 – for funeral expenses and for giving relief to the poor and destitute of the community. It presently has a corpus/endowment of Rs 700 million (US$14 million). Its funds and properties are managed by a board of seven trustees, elected by members of the Parsi community for a term of seven years.

BPP today maintains over 1,000 separate Khatas or funds, each a trust by itself, and looks after Parsis ‘from the “womb to the tomb” and beyond’.[2] BPP is just the ‘custodian’ of about 160 of these funds, which are given to BPP by other rural Parsi Punchayets. BPP invests these funds and hands over the interest/dividend to the other Punchayets.

More recently, in 1991, the Bombay Community Public Trust was established by the Centre for the Advancement of Philanthrop,y and a number of other community foundations have been, or are in the process of being, launched in India with the support of the Ford Foundation. The United Way of Mumbai was launched in July this year.

In the modern, Western context, community foundations work in a specific geographical area, typically a town or a city. In India, the term community is often associated more with a religious or ethnic denomination than with a geographical area. BPP, for example, raises funds from the Parsi community all over the world to support the needs of the Parsi community in India.

Noshir H Dadrawala is Executive Secretary of the Centre for the Advancement of Philanthropy. He can be contacted at

1 The Parsis are a religious and ethnic minority community in India, following
one of the world’s oldest monotheistic religion called Zoroastrianism.
2 S F Desai (1960) History of the Bombay Parsi Punchayet BPP, p130.
Putting old wine in a new bottle – Mathew Cherian

In India the concept of community foundations is not new – it is like old wine in a new bottle. Traditionally, Indian villages had informal groups that acted as watchdogs for the welfare of the community. In the post-independence period, many of these groups started formalizing their activities as the NGO movement gained momentum. In the last few years, several community foundations have been established, three with the support of CAF India.

CAF started these community organizations by creating local projects, and involving the local community and business in supporting them. In this way the local organization was able to provide grants and programmes relevant to local needs immediately, through the funds that CAF was able to provide from local employee giving schemes and corporate donations. These organizations are now independent of CAF, but the flow of funds through CAF will continue.

The first was Friends of Carterpuri and Choma Village, started in 1999 in Gurgaon near Delhi. The main emphasis is on education and the first project involved improvements to the local high school and primary school.

Hamara Lucknow (Our Lucknow) Community Foundation also focuses largely on education. CAF India’s first step was to conduct a survey of 150 government primary schools in and around the city of Lucknow. In collaboration with the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII), CAF raised funds from CII member industries and repaired ten schools on a pilot basis and provided training to teachers in those schools.

Building on this pioneering work in creating partnerships between companies, government agencies and the voluntary sector, the role of Hamara Lucknow is to ensure that the citizens of Lucknow continue to have a forum to discuss and actively contribute to the city and its development. As one of the first community foundations in northern India, Hamara Lucknow is being supported by CAF India, CII and Lucknow Development Authority.

The most recently formed is Kutch Community Foundation. With the support of corporate donors, including GlaxoSmithKline, resourceful local people have succeeded in rebuilding 12 schools and one health centre destroyed by the devastating earthquake of 26 January 2001. Formation of the Kutch Community Foundation will ensure that local people remain in charge of future local development efforts. The new trustees have identified livelihood restoration, disaster management and rain water harvesting as key issues to be tackled.

CAF India will continue to play a role in enhancing the capacity of these three new community foundations to develop sustainable organizations. It will also help them raise funds from local companies and their employees, merchants’ associations, government and other donors.

Mathew Cherian is Director of CAF India. He can be contacted at


Empowering communities through village funds – Pushpa Sundar

In many countries of the world, community foundations have become a very popular vehicle for the practice of community philanthropy. In a sense they serve as a savings account for the community. While they could be replicated in urban India, their applicability in rural India and city slums is limited because of very low income levels, deep caste-based divisions and low levels of literacy. In this context the recent evolution of community foundation-like organizations in some villages in Rajasthan is of particular interest.

The village-level community funds which have evolved since the early 1990s in 394 villages in two districts of Rajasthan are known as Gram Vikas Kosh (GVK) or village development funds. They represent the pioneering initiative of a development NGO called Sewa Mandir, which has been working in 500 villages in these two districts since 1969. These are largely very poor, marginalized peasant communities consisting mostly of tribal people with low levels of literacy who subsist on small plots of land subject to perennial drought and with almost no irrigation facilities. With no other means of livelihood, they are forced to migrate seasonally in search of work.

Sewa Mandir tried a variety of anti-poverty strategies in these villages but the impact was marginal because the communities were still not in control of decision-making regarding their well-being or of the resources to translate such decisions into reality.

The GVK experiment aims to foster village institutions through creation and management of a village-level corpus formed from people’s own contributions. The fund is managed as a collective resource so people all come together to discuss their problems and have access to resources to do something about them.

The GVK fund is built largely through villagers agreeing to transfer to a common fund an agreed portion of the benefit they derive from a Sewa Mandir project, eg 30 per cent of the wages received from planting saplings on common or private lands in a forestry programme. Assistance from Sewa Mandir for a project is made contingent on this. The income from the fund is then spent on projects of common benefit to the village –mostly in the form of interest-free loans.

The fund is managed by an elected committee drawn from all sections of the village (women must be included). The committee is given training in record keeping, conducting meetings, keeping accounts, investment of funds, sanctioning projects out of the fund, and so on.

One problem is that most of the funds are very small and the avenues for enlarging them very few. This can make the villagers lose interest, especially if only the interest is allowed to be used and not the capital. If eating into the capital is allowed, then the fund can be destroyed. A second problem is that the whole initiative rests on Sewa Mandir’s ability to provide the funds from which the initial contributions and even later contributions can flow into the GVK funds.

Pushpa Sundar is director of Sampradaan Indian Centre for Philanthropy (SICP). She can be contacted at

This article is based on a longer article by Pushpa Sundar called ‘Empowering Communities through Community Funds: An indigenous model’.

For more information about SICP, see

For more information
about Sewa Mandir, contact Chief Executive Neelima Khaitan.
Tel + 91 129 451 041/450 960
Fax + 91 294 450 947

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