Archive for November, 2010

Philanthropy Lesson #009: Share success stories (with thanks to Sunil Mittal)

November 9, 2010

The Indian telecoms magnate and Chairman of Bharti Enterprises, Sunil Mittal, was named ‘Philanthropist of the Year’ at the inaugural session of the Asian Awards last week for his contribution in the area of education for the underprivileged. In many ways, Mittal’s newest accolade is conspicuous on the global philanthropy landscape, not only because Indian philanthropy has suffered a relatively poor reputation in the international giving tables, but because as an Indian philanthropist focussing his efforts towards his home nation he is part of an even smaller minority.

But why are Mittal’s philanthropic endeavours so incongruous with his country’s typical giving profile? Commentators cite a variety of different factors to explain this phenomenon, from India’s Janus-faced reputation in the international political economy as a country home to immense wealth and crippling poverty, to a preoccupation amongst India’s new (very) wealthy with high profile and audacious donations to their (often American, Ivy league) alma maters. That is one view; yet it is possible that these analyses are suffering from a case of short-sightedness. As Arpan Sheth of Bain & Co. highlights in his March 2010 report, India’s giving (quantified as % of GDP) actually leads that of other developing nations, ahead of both China and Brazil, for example. Others suggest that giving in India is not quantified simply by monetary donation, rather that the economy of giving is regulated through complex networks of cultural, religious and familial norms that cannot be articulated on a spreadsheet. Whatever the reasoning behind the trends in Indian philanthropy, however, one thing is clear: that there are too few visible Indian philanthropists, such as Sunil Mittal, with a focus on their native country, and opportunities to promote fantastic philanthropic work such as his ought to be celebrated.

Philanthropy Lesson #008: You need more than a hammer

November 2, 2010

If you’re struggling to tackle a complex social problem, and have been for a while, maybe its time to review your ‘tool kit’. Are you adopting the right strategies to get the job done, and are you being as effective as you can possibly be in your giving? Abraham Maslow once said “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”. It could be that you are pounding away at every social problem instead of unscrewing it. The solution: Innovation. Steven Johnson recommends you throw yourself headfirst into spaces that stimulate thinking and conversation – spend some more time on the Internet, extend your meeting in the Conference room, or even linger at the water-cooler during work if that means being surrounded by different opinions. From Teach for America to Grameen Bank, from Gmail to GPS, all great ideas are born out of a network of experiences, slowly fading into view over time. The trick to being innovative, creative and effective is placing yourself in an environment where these networks are likely to be formed. After all, when chance favours the connected mind, you’ll have more to use than just a hammer.