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

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.

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