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Will give money, time for charity, 100 pledge at 'Giving Summit'?

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August 1, 2010,
The Indian Express
Swatee Kher

Will Give Money TimeMumbai In yet another indication that high net-worth Indians are becoming increasingly open to the idea of contributing money and time to charity, an elite group of business executives came together in the financial capital to pledge that they would donate almost Rs 5 lakh a year and dedicate 40 hours of their time to support non-profit organisations in the country.

Over the next year, the 100 men and women who made the pledge at a "Giving Summit" organised on Friday by voluntary group GiveIndia, will participate in five workshops to understand areas that need attention and learn to choose an NGO or method in which they can lend their support.

Inspiring the gathering was a family from the US, Kevin and his wife Joan Salwen, who, with their two children, decided one morning that they would give away half of their "things" to help others. The Salwens sold their 6,000 sq ft "dream" mansion and moved to a home half that size. "After a year of research and discussion within the family about areas we wanted to work, we decided we wanted to work in Africa. We associated ourselves with the Hunger project in Ghana for a five-year programme," said Kevin.

Indian couple Amit and Ardhana Chandra are emulating the Salwens. Amit, Boston educated and a former managing director of DSP Merrill Lynch, and Aradhana already have several support programmes. Now they also support Jai Vakil, a group which helps mentally challenged children, and Hear India, which supports children with hearing challenges... Both decisions were based on experiences of Amit's own problem with hearing and Archana's health issues.

"I went for Vipasana and came back to quit my job. Through that week, I realized I had benefited by scholarships. I had begun thinking about wealth and realized that it is useful if spent in our lifetime. Even if you give five percent it does not affect your lifestyle," said Amit. The Chandras decided to calculate their annual expenses, "holidays, trips, overhead expenses" included, and doubled that amount. "Unlike Salwens, we thought in doubles. We calculated our expenditure and doubled it. That became our capital pool which would be able to sustain us. The next task was to decide what to do with the remaining money. We sat down with investment and tax consultants and decide to give away the rest of money in charity," said Amit.

Explaining the idea behind such pledges, Narayan Vaghul, former CEO of ICICI and now chairman of GiveIndia, said, "the idea is not to narrow down our contribution to writing a cheque... We should be interested in betterment in society to create equality in opportunity."

"I began from a personal experience. We had a son and we realized that there were many who did not have a bed to sleep at night. We started by supporting an organization for orphans in Bangalore. Later, as we kept looking for more, we came across a much neglected area of mentally challenged homeless women. A group called The Banyan was working in this area and we have been supporting them," said Dr Nachiket Mor, former ICICI board member and Chairman, Institute for Financial Management and Research.

Mor inspired members to share professional skills in the area they choose. Citing his example, he said he realised he was good at starting from scratch and building it up.

Deval Sanghavi, co-founded Dasra, which provides philanthropists with intelligent investment strategies. The former NY investment banker created India's first venture philanthropy fund, Impact Partners in 1999. He has played a key role in incubating and scaling organisations including Magic Bus, Rural Innovations Network and Aangan Trust.

"I wondered why we cannot use our skills in the non-profit sector. I started out with helping in UP and Bihar. It gave me immense personal satisfaction but the question of impact remained. That is when we founded Dasra."

At the first Giving Summit, members had obvious questions about their donations like any of their other investment - how do I know that the money will be used for what I am giving? How do I identify a good NGO and when do I start to give?

Questions which were answered by a group of experienced and veterans in the field, who gave up their swish jobs to work within the community in India.

Answering the anxious new givers, Archana said, "It was a matter of starting. Once the ball sets rolling, it takes over our life. I started with giving half-an-hour a month to now being on board of organization."

Kevin added that "there were moments of panic. The decision had been so quick. We realized that to see what half that size would look like until we actually did it. Till then, we were not really fully committed."

Talking about the increasing trend of investment in NGOs and spending money in India, Dr Nitin Nohria, the first Indian dean of Harvard Business School, said "Rather than fear of taxation, there was more fear of what they had today would be gone tomorrow. People thought there was need to be conservative in their approach toward money. The fear has now transformed into confidence, reflecting a profound psychological change in the last two decades. People feel more secure and confident of giving and are sure of their future."

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