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India's Middle Class Steps Up


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July 29, 2009
The Wall Street Journal, Asia
Prashant Agrawal


Prashant AgrawalGiving can come in all sizes and shapes. Paul Beckett wrote about the lack of giving among the most fortunate in India. It's also true among the emerging Indian middle and upper class.

Come Christmas time, the U.S. turns to its favorite hobby, shopping. But Americans also do something a little more than that, they give. Across the United States, charities of all sizes, shapes and stripes count on the largess of the American public to help support their activities.

Like Shiv Nadar among India's billionaires, there are a few organizations geared towards India's middle class trying to make a difference in India. One in particular, the JoyofGovingweek.org is organizing a nationwide week of giving from Sept. 27 to Oct. 3, just ahead of Diwali. JoyofGivingweek.org (www.joyofgivingweek.org) is made up entirely of volunteers who are reaching out to corporations, CEOs, individuals, NGOs, and the government to come together and help the charities that bring needed relief and help to our communities.

"Take any natural disaster and you will see Indians line up to volunteer and give."

The list of activities arranged to date is impressive:

Shadow A CEO - Indian School of Business to get on board India's top 50 CEOs and elite B-schools for a unique fundraising and learning opportunity

Wildlife Conservation Trust - To match all donations made for certain wildlife conservation projects during the week, up to 1 crore rupees.

Stars 4 Charity -- To be anchored by Farah Khan (with many from Bollywood participating). The proceeds will go to Jai Vakeel Trust.

CEOs Walk The Ramp - Taj has agreed to host the event pro bono. CEOs do a fashion show for charity School Design Challenge - 35,000 schools across the country to participate in a new contest that invites children to think of solutions to India's problems, and implement them during the week. Goonj's Clothes collection drive will reach out to 25 cities across the country and raise 10 million donated clothes.

Apollo Organ Donation Campaign -- Apollo Hospitals will promote a large campaign inviting people to pledge their organs and save lives.

India hasn't seen such a nationwide event before. And we could use more of them. Indians are a generous people. Take any natural disaster and you will see Indians line up to volunteer and give. However, on an institutional scale such giving is still in its infancy.

The JoyofGivingweek.org is one such example. The Mumbai Marathon is another good example. It's not easy to name other examples. They should be at the tip of our tongues and they aren't yet.

With the JoyofGivingweek.org, over 100 companies are participating from the biggest Indian companies to multinationals to small family-owned businesses. In the U.S., several thousand companies participate in United Way Campaigns and hundreds of thousands volunteer their time and effort. There is no reason that India can't have lakhs of companies participating and crores of volunteers. The difference such a group would make is incalculable.

-Prashant Agrawal is CEO of Indipepal.com, based in Mumbai

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