Seventeen years ago, Deepa Bansal made a resolution from which she has never wavered. “No matter how much my husband and I earned, we decided to donate a minimum of 10% of our salaries towards philanthropic causes,” says Bansal, 43, an independent marketing and consumer insights professional based in Gurugram. These causes range from providing food and clothing to the underprivileged, contributing financially for books and computers, or teaching at the school they support. Bansal also volunteers with few environment citizen groups and her husband, a property developer, offsets his work by planting trees. “For each home he builds, we plant 100 trees. That’s 400 trees annually,” she says, explaining it is her duty to share and help.
Previous generations tended to give later in life, once they had accumulated enough wealth after working for decades. But the present increase in disposable incomes and the growing sense of social responsibility are giving rise to a new trend: more people in their 30s and 40s, like Bansal, are engaging in philanthropic activities.
From first-generation entrepreneurs, consultants and lawyers, to C-level executives and other upwardly mobile working professionals, these individuals are willing to donate significant portions of their income consistently, motivated by a strong sense of social responsibility. They no longer want to wait for authorities to bring a change; they want to participate in solutions to address inequalities.
In the works
Though philanthropy is deep rooted in Indian culture, the country is still developing in this area compared to the US and the UK. But it is encouraging to see philanthropy growing in India.
Bain & Company and Dasra’s “Indian Philanthropy Report 2021” shows private sector giving reached $8.6 billion in 2020, up by 23% compared to 2019.
Afshan Japanwala’s philanthropic journey began at the age of 20, shortly after the death of her father who had always placed an emphasis on giving, believing it was their duty to share with those in need. “I wanted to continue my father’s philanthropic legacy. He always stressed the importance of educating girls, which would help future generations,” says Japanwala, 42, who comes from a family of landowners and runs a property business in Delhi. “I continuously increase the number of girls’ education and rations I sponsor through an organization which I know well. If I started at 10 girls annually, I increase to fifteen the next year and so on,” she says. Other causes include sponsoring an eye centre at the Masonic Polyclinic, in tribute to her father, a former Masonic member.
Helping the givers
The World Giving Index ranks India 82nd. The US, which experienced significant wealth creation in the early 20th century, is ranked first globally.
As philanthropy grows here, advisors and facilitators are needed to assist givers in creating enduring and sustainable impact. Accelerate Indian Philanthropy (AIP) is one such body that does exactly this. It is a non-profit foundation, set up by philanthropists for philanthropists.
“There is latent demand and tremendous potential for giving in India. But barriers exist like a fragmented philanthropic ecosystem, poor access to knowledge, learning and collaboration. Our peer network supports ultra high net-worth individuals to give more, give sooner and give better,” says philanthropy advisor Radhika Jain.
Living My Promise is a community that promotes philanthropy by creating a collective of “promisors”, individuals with a net worth above ₹1 crore, who will publicly pledge at least half of their net-worth towards philanthropic causes of their choice during their lifetime or in their will. “While the cultural norm is to be private about philanthropy, we want to break this barrier and encourage people to talk and inspire others to join the movement,” says Sushanth Kodela, the collective’s development manager. Currently, 90 promisors are featured on the group’s website.
“Several are younger promisors, a newer generation of wealthy first-generation entrepreneurs, as young as 26 years.”
One of the promisors is Lucknow’s 36-year-old Prabhat Saxena, a petroleum engineer who returned to India in August last year after working abroad for several years. He’s currently looking after his non-profit Srijan Ek Soch, focused on quality education in rural India.
“I was one of the first people from Rath, a small town in Uttar Pradesh, to get into an IIT. Despite being the district topper, I was conscious of the huge difference in my education and others in my college, a disparity in the quality of rural and urban education,” he says.
To address this gap, Saxena started Srijan Ek Soch. “Even one person in a village who gets into an IIT or becomes a doctor can influence the whole village.”
Saxena has pledged 50% of his personal wealth towards the non-profit after his death. “If I don’t make it now, there will always be greed to spend on various things. This pledge helps me to be more focused and do what I love.”
The pandemic exacerbated social inequities, spurring many to help those in distress and also look at lasting solutions. Apurva Purohit, 55, has been donating for years towards girls’ education. “I prefer donating for long-term projects rather than helping for the moment,” she says. “Earlier people had to work for long before they could start their philanthropic journeys because whatever was earned went towards kids’ education, buying a home, saving for retirement. But my husband and I could start earlier because we got several opportunities in which income levels grew beyond what we had ever envisaged.”
The big question is: What exactly is motivating people to start donating earlier, rather than enjoying their wealth now and starting philanthropic journeys later?
Deloitte’s recent “2021 Millennial and Gen Z Survey” offers an answer. The report found that these two generations, which fall somewhere in the 20-40 age group, are determined to hold themselves and others accountable on society’s most pressing issues, aligning spending and career choices with their values.
As Japanwala says, “There is no harm in enjoying wealth, but many of us have more than we require, so why not use some of it to help others?”
Purohit agrees. “At some point in time, all of us should be able to say ‘enough’ and be content with whatever we have. And to start asking ourselves how are we paying off our debt to society and our planet?”