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Philanthropy or charity? What is young India inclined to?

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March 13, 2014
The Economic Times

By Dhaval Udani
The author is CEO, GiveIndia Shakespeare would turn in his grave at the debate on the difference between philanthropy, charity, impact investing, venture philanthropy and other recent new-age terms. After all he was a man of simple tastes who felt that a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.

So let me address three questions through this article :

1. Is there really a difference between the terms philanthropy and charity?

2. Should we not give because we can't give large amounts? Indeed, is that the purpose of giving?

3. How does the new and young India want to engage in giving?

Philanthropy comes from a combination of two words in Ancient Greek — philos (loving) + anthropos (human being) or "love of humanity". Charity comes from the Latin word "caritas" which means an "unlimited loving kindness of all others". One of Christianity's core commandments also says "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself". So philanthropy and charity are about helping others and reducing inequity and suffering while in the process becoming caring individuals.

To answer the second question let us look at how these words are used today. Charity is used to denote efforts to relieve individual pain of an underprivileged while philanthropy is used to denote attempts to solve problems at their root. Solving problems at their root requires large sums of money. But does that mean that those who can't practice philanthropy should not contribute? That would translate into us not loving humankind! Empirical studies show that the poor give a far larger share of their income than the rich — maybe it's because they see suffering all around and cannot but act to relieve the pain of their neighbour. Looking at giving chiefly through the lens of amount of money is inappropriate and belittles the efforts of those who are giving far more of themselves. Giving is about helping humankind and becoming better people in ourselves — to create a more caring community — one where we all love and respect one another.

So how does the new and young India want to give? This is a seminal period for India today — for the first time, those born in the first half of the 90s decade will get a chance to vote. They have grown up in a liberalised India — one of opportunities and challenges but not of hand-me-downs. And that reflects in their practice of philanthropy which I will explain in the framework of 3Cs — Convenience, Choice and Confidence.

E-commerce in India has come of age. You can buy electronics, clothes and even grocery and vegetables online 24x7. The same convenience must extend to giving. We run India's largest Payroll Giving programme with nearly 50,000 employees primarily from new age IT & ITeS companies where a large number of people who take part in the programme are the youth of India. We have witnessed them give a greater part of their income than that given by their older and senior counterparts. When we do sessions on giving during their induction it is amazing to see 50-70% of people signing up on the programme. Young India wants to give — they want a chance to make a difference which when offered will be grabbed with both hands.

Today's youth is independent — they are outspoken and their life is out there on social media. And when it comes to giving, they want to decide where their money should go and for whom. Many companies take away this choice from their employees in an attempt to create a more focused impact, rarely realising that it is not the true goal of the giver nor his philanthropy. It not only reduces their propensity to give but also reduces their engagement in the act of giving.

This is the Facebook generation — you cannot control what they want to do and even if you try to, you will not succeed. Today's youth wants to have the confidence that their money will be used for the right purpose and they are willing to go to great lengths to ensure the same including visiting the beneficiaries — once satisfied that their money is used well they will increase their contributions in both monetary and non-monetary terms. Most of our corporate partners tell us how it's easier to get their younger employees to turn up in huge numbers to give time but it's difficult to get the seniors. A testament to the giving spirit of the youth of India, of tomorrow's India. So don't take this spirit away from them. Grant it to see the growth of philanthropy. Promote it to see the love of humankind. Encourage it to help make a better India. When I see today's youth it reminds me of a saying by Margaret Mead: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

(The author is CEO, GiveIndia)