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Amit Chandra Brings a Portfolio Approach to Giving

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December 04, 2013
Cuckoo Paul

Amit Chandra is a prolific donor, not just of his money but also of his time. More significantly, he is a credible voice promoting philanthropy among entrepreneurs and professionals

Award : NextGen Leader in Philanthropy Amit Chandra
Age : 45
Why He won : For giving his time and money to social causes and bringing the advantage of his business networks to his philanthropic work.
His Trigger : a) Introspection during a Vipassana course. b) Reading Chuck Feeney’s biography The Billionaire Who Wasn’t, the story of the American founder of duty free chain DFS. Feeney, one of the greatest and most mysterious philanthropists in modern times, quietly transferred his entire wealth to a foundation, which would give away his entire wealth in his lifetime.
His Mission : To make a difference.
His Action Plan : To use 30% of his time to work with causes that he is passionate about. His Next Move : To scale up continuously to increase the impact of his work.
There was hardly a dry eye in the audience when the boys from Patna’s Shoshit Samadhan Kendra School took the stage at an event in July this year. The moment their performance started, the transformation was dramatic, their confidence absolute. The lines from William Shakespeare’s Macbeth were delivered just right, in perfect English. The children left the stage to thunderous applause.

The appreciation was for more than just their talent. The children belonged to Bihar’s most exploited and deprived community, the Musahars (rat-eaters); comprising mainly landless labourers, the community’s literacy is below 3 percent and its condition has been bordering on sub-human for decades. Described as Maha-Dalits, they live as bonded labourers in ghettos outside villages in central and eastern India.

The Shoshit Samadhan Kendra School, a residential institution for 320 students, was started in 2007 by Shoshit Seva Sangh, an NGO that was set up 2005 to provide quality education to Musahar children, thereby helping them break out of the vicious, soul-crushing circle of poverty.

The audience that day comprised teachers, parents as well as representatives of families from Mumbai that support the Patna school. The latter group included Amit Chandra, managing director of Bain Capital, and his wife Archana, who is the joint honorary administrative director of Jai Vakeel School for children in need of special care.

Two years ago, a friend had introduced the couple to Jyoti Sinha, a retired IPS officer who had started the NGO to help Musahar children leap-frog from the lowest rungs of the socio-economic ladder and avail of the opportunities that education creates. The Patna school has since become one of the core causes supported by the Chandras, with both their time and money.

Amit Chandra, 45, is among India’s most prolific donors; he gives away more than 75 percent of his annual earnings to causes of his choice. More significantly, he has, through his actions, emerged as a credible voice promoting philanthropy among entrepreneurs and professionals. He leads fund-raisers, events and auctions where others can get involved. He has also helped define new ways to channel organised giving.

Entrepreneur Ajay Piramal, who has known him from the time Chandra headed investment banking at DSP Merrill Lynch in the mid-’90s, says, “The big thing about Amit is that he is willing to give money and time to the numerous causes he supports. He offers a combination of strategic thinking as well as compassion. And this is immensely useful.’’ Incidentally, Chandra is on the board of Piramal Enterprises and has helped shape some of the group’s social initiatives.

The foundation for doing good was laid early in Chandra’s life. He grew up in a lower middle-class household in Mumbai. He remembers his sister helping their unlettered milkman Shyam Bali learn the alphabet. “She would teach him every day after coming home from school till, one day, he was actually able to read,” he says. Reminiscing about those days, Chandra says the growth in his philanthropic activity has been gradual.