Author: Vidya Shah, CEO, EdelGive Foundation
In our 2018 Annual Report, I wrote about our 10-year journey; our experiences, our learnings, our failings and how we see the future. Our conviction in our approach and strategy, our beliefs and values expressed therein have only strengthened in the year that has passed. Nevertheless, 2018-19 has also seen a deep questioning of what philanthropy means and does. Is it really delivering on its promise? Is it really “changing” the world and people’s lives? Or is it simply an extension of capitalism and an opportunity for the wealthy and super-rich to strengthen their “stranglehold” on not just economic activity but also on the development and social progress and stability, the traditional remit of government? And is government abdicating its responsibility by guiding and being guided by big philanthropy?
Only a few years ago, it seemed as though no philanthropist could do wrong. In India, the CSR Bill 2014 was first met with great distress and protest about an additional, disguised tax being levied on corporations, to do what governments needed to do. In the five years since, any corporation worth its salt is producing detailed sustainability reports to attest to its good corporate citizenship. Data on philanthropic giving is being tracked actively; the first India Philanthropy Report by Bain was published in 2010. Indeed, in the introduction to the India Philanthropy Report 2011, the authors wrote: “We were surprised by the chord that it (the 2010 report) struck and the conversation it provoked about the state of philanthropy in the country.” Many other reports also emerged, some excoriating the rich for their apparent lack of philanthropy; some, including ours at EdelGive, helping funders with better frameworks for thoughtful and strategic philanthropy.
So why do critics like Anand Giridharadas . worry that asking philanthropy to solve society’s problems means the return of “unfettered paternalism” last seen in the era of Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller? Why does Elizabeth Kolbert in her excellent article in the New Yorker . ask “Are today’s donor classes solving problems – or creating new ones?” And why are we hearing so much about The Gospel of Wealth . that Andrew Carnegie wrote in 1889?
Perhaps, Ms. Kolbert answers her own question when she says that “We live, it is often said, in a new Gilded Age—an era of extravagant wealth and almost as extravagant displays of generosity”. Or perhaps it is as David Remnick . comments “Philanthropy isn’t only fascinating in itself; it’s also a window into the structure of the contemporary world”. Or perhaps there is little trust in “the man of wealth considering himself the mere trustee and agent for his poor brethren, bringing to their service his superior wisdom, experience and ability to administer”.
I think the global financial crisis of 2008 engendered not only a great debate on financial regulation but also led to what Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation describes as a deep interrogation of the systems and cultural practices of privilege.
In a sense, what Andrew Carnegie was trying to propagate as the duty of the ultra-rich was to create equal opportunities for all — he believed that the best way to dispose of a fortune was to endow institutions that would aid “those who desire to rise”, aimed at improving “the general condition of the people”. Carnegie went on to endow Carnegie Hall, the Carnegie Foundation, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now part of Carnegie Mellon University), and more than two-thousand five-hundred local libraries.
What can perhaps only be explained by the norms, laws and practices of the day (yet not condoned) is his decision to break the workers’ union at one of his company’s plants outside Pittsburgh. Indeed, the strike was broken amid violence in which at least sixteen people were killed. This inconsistency between how Carnegie viewed business versus his philanthropy was depicted in a cartoon in the Saturday Globe on July 9, 1892:
Millionaire Carnegie in his great double role; depicted in a cartoon by The Saturday Globe, July 9, 1892
This criticism of philanthropy covering for the “excesses” of business is rather more widespread today thanbefore. In a sense, the pursuit of profit alone, or the doctrine of shareholder primacy at the expense of other stakeholders is under attack; and has been for some time now. In my letter last year, I referred to stakeholder capitalism versus shareholder capitalism. Looking at shareholder returns in the absence of care for customers, employees and the environment, has and will continue to erode the trust that businesses depend upon.
The 2008 global financial crisis also eroded trust and confidence in capitalism. There is widespread belief that corporations pursue profit and market capitalisation to the exclusion of broader citizenship, whether for their employees or the environment. Personal profit, wealth and renown seem to take precedence over equitable distribution of wealth. Large tobacco companies continue to make money off a deadly habit; the pharmaceutical industry has built its fortune on super drugs, which are inaccessible and expensive to those who need them the most. Big banks have paid considerable fines as they acknowledged bad practices and misselling. The FMCG industry has been criticised for creating a consumer society, setting aspirations driven by materialistic objects rather than values. And the food industry has been accused of exacerbating the obesity epidemic. The belief that capitalism is amoral is being deeply questioned. Companies have traditionally countered these increasing questions on perception through sustainability initiatives, marketing campaigns, brand-building and CSR.
Despite these criticisms, I think it is important to remember that the incentives that fuel ambition and “greed” in capitalism also led to the invention of some great products and services across sectors. If it wasn’t for the desire of human achievement of Vinton Cerf and Robert Kahn, we would not have ready access to information through the internet. If it wasn’t for the aspiration of the countless scientists dedicating their lives to research, we would not have been able to create vaccines for the most dangerous diseases. So, business, while profitdriven, is also driven by ambition. If one starts out as an entrepreneur largely driven by the accumulation of wealth (within the framework of law and regulation) but is motivated at some point not only to acquire but also to contribute positively to a stronger tomorrow, then so be it!
In point of fact, we are already seeing the evolution of capitalism towards sustainability issues, forced largely by the impact of corporations on the climate and environment, social equity and unfair trade practices. Investors, consumers, campaigners and regulators have come together to decry the old brand of capitalism and push companies to deliver not only financial performance but also a positive contribution to society.
This has led to the addition of purpose, inclusion and sustainability to the corporate lexicon. To be fair, many companies have made strong strides in this direction, but skepticism remains that this reformation may not be long term nor survive the markets’ downs and ups.
Along with this deep mistrust of corporations and their motives, we also know that public trust in government has been steadily declining: a recent study by Pew Research Center reveals only 17% of Americans today say they can trust the government in Washington to do what is right “just about always” (3%) or “most of the time” (14%) and the situation is not very different in other countries. On the other hand, government budgets, particularly on welfare, are shrinking. In India, central government expenditure has been falling continuously as a percent of GDP, from 13.34% in 2014-15 to 12.77% in 2017-18 . . This has put pressure on public spending and on schemes for the poor. Again, the situation is not different in other parts of the world. In the midst of this, we see a significant deepening of inequalities. The Credit Suisse Global Wealth Handbook shows that the top 1% of India’s population share of national wealth grew from 36.8% in 2000 to 58.4% in 2016. Over the same period, the bottom 10% of Indians’ wealth fell from 0.1% to -0.7%.
In the U.S., the outcry against the rich elite’s approach to solving issues of equality and justice has come under severe criticism. The belief has intensified that their approaches are tailored to obscuring the ways in which their wealth was created in the first place and preserving the status quo by supporting institutions and thought leaders who perpetuate their power and position in the social order.
In the midst of this, the sense of a shrinking civil society is all too pervasive. While funding for social causes has increased steadily, we also have civil society tell us that funder-directed efforts have also increased. Operating foundations by philanthropists have also grown. Indeed, in a recent gathering, I was told that the issues that plagued the sector three decades ago still persist: severe restrictions on unrestricted funding or organisation costs, unrealistic measurement, a short term orientation, and a band- aid approach to solutions. Government departments are also playing an increasing role in directing the behavior of both civil society and philanthropy by openly pushing and calling for both consultations and financial support for efforts they deem critical. So while we continue to believe that working with government is important to achieve long term, systems change, the space in which that dialogue can be had is getting smaller. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it is the elite that controls the resources when it comes to philanthropy. As Edgar Villanueva . , author of the book Decolonizing Wealth, puts it: “Philanthropy is top-down, closed-door and expert-driven”. Mr. Villanueva says that funders need to ask three questions. Where did this money come from? Who gets to allocate, manage and spend it? And, how can we rise above the processes we’ve created to reach folks who may have different solutions?
Most importantly, though, there is a lack of dialogue on solutions. What solutions can businesses adopt to ensure that there is more alignment? For example, Professor Raghuram Rajan . has spoken about such solutions by urging economists across the country to re-think, strengthen and empower local communities and civil society as a means to more equitable growth. We need to have a similar conversation on new approaches for the philanthropic sector. Needless to say, this will have to be a conversation which is inclusive and has society at large, at its core.
As I think about these criticisms and questions surrounding philanthropy, my mind goes back to my thought process when we decided to start EdelGive Foundation. I remember meeting some exceptionally talented and committed individuals who had a strong determination to create change. I remember this constant feeling of wanting to explore this sector more, learn about the challenges and contribute in any small way towards the solutions.
So, my closing comments are a reflection of this thought. What can we do to seem more aligned to the needs of society and be able to contribute more towards the same? Last year, I quoted from Curiosity and What Equality Really Means by Dr. Atul Gawande.
“To see their humanity, you must put yourself in their shoes. That requires a willingness to ask people what it’s like in those shoes. It requires curiosity about others and the world beyond. Once we lose the desire to understand, to be surprised, to listen, to bear witness — we lose our humanity. You must guard it, for curiosity is the beginning of empathy.” As funders, we must display very high levels of humility and empathy.
Humility in Programme Deliverables
Firstly, we particularly funders and donors, are doing a large disservice to society by claiming that we “Transform Lives” and then quantify that transformation through a number. This has led to “numerification” of an extreme kind – of the “beneficiary” and then multiplied by five for family size. There is a huge ring of arrogance to it. Who are we to transform “lives”? Do we seriously believe this? Also, it seems to suggest that the people we work for; men, women, girls and boys are helpless victims with no aspirations of their own, rather than the fighters they really are. Also, do we really understand that transformation is a process and comes from within but is enabled by nudges and triggers? So are we transforming lives or are we enabling transformation? While we have been guilty in the past of claiming to have transformed lives, at EdelGive Foundation at least, I hope to give this term a quiet burial.
Hearing All Voices
Secondly, we need to hear a lot more from the communities we serve. And we need to ask to hear it. In her excellent piece titled “Time for a Three-legged Measurement Stool”, Fay Twerksy who is Director of Effective Philanthropy at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation argues that funders need to go beyond traditional monitoring and evaluation to focus on feedback and this can lead to new innovations in the social sector. I think she makes a very valid point about moving away from a quantifiable evaluation to one, which includes a two-way dialogue and can help the funder community in raising the bar of their programmes. It is no longer enough to have a one-way assessment of programme delivery. M&E can no longer just be a tool to judge the accountability of the programme. It has to go beyond that. Fay talks about this feedback as a process, which involves systematically soliciting, listening to, and responding to the experiences of non-profit participants and customers about their perceptions of a service or product. She reiterates that by listening to customers’ experiences, preferences and ideas, we can gain unique insights that will help improve the quality and effectiveness of social programmes. The corporate world does this in the form of NPS surveys, but for the social sector, this also helps “to source innovation, to surface hidden problems, or simply to amplify marginalised voices in our typical systems of service delivery”. And we need not ask, how will you scale but how can we help you scale?
Systems Thinking and Systems Change
Finally, we need to observe a process of systems thinking towards systems change. We need to understand that all the problems we confront are interconnected and that we need to find interconnected solutions to them. We also need to look beyond the outcome of programmes to strengthen the processes that help in bringing about these outcomes. At EdelGive Foundation as well, we have used this thinking across our portfolios but particularly in education. When we began working in the field of education, most state governments were tackling the issue of enrolment of children. Data points for education were also around enrolment of girls and boys in schools. Gradually enrolment grew across states, but the state of education and learning was the same. We understood this as a need to build a more holistic programme, one which included not only children staying in school but also learning in school. To enable a holistic approach, we decided to collaborate directly with the service provider — the government - towards addressing the issue. We worked with district and block level government administrators, head masters, teachers and parents in building a systemic programme for education.
As EdelGive Foundation completes another year of existence, it gives me immense confidence when I see the team equally invested in improving dialogues within the sector, to improve the way we run and monitor our programmes. We have together ensured that our NGO partners are our main priority and that we continue to contribute equally to their needs as well as the needs of the communities they support.
I started writing my letter by presenting the current debate on philanthropy and the larger than life influence of big corporations on social change and I want to leave you with a thought - to look at that same influence and wealth manifested, as ambition, drive and passion as a conduit for something deeper. While we have a long way to go, I am confident that dialogue and deliberation will pave the way for a much better structure of philanthropy, one which is inclusive and committed to genuine social progress.
- Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World; by Anand Giridharadas, 2018
- Gospels of Giving for the New Gilded Age: Are today’s donor classes solving problems—or creating new ones?; by Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker, August 27, 2018
- The Gospel of Wealth; by Andrew Carnegie, 1889
- Sunday Reading: Modern Philanthropy; by David Remnick, The New Yorker, April 7, 2019
- Government’s shrinking Fiscal Space; by Rathin Roy, Business Standard, February 5, 2019
- Decolonizing Wealth: Indigenous wisdom to heal divides and restore balance; by Edgar Villanueva, 2018
- The Third Pillar: How Markets and State leave the Community behind; by Raghuram Rajan, 2019
A much-read, much-used copy of the Gita on my father's bed-side table was like any other book. Loved for just being a book of profound import and used for a meditative practice. My father was not a temple-goer, and abhorred ritual and rite as his early life taught him that unequal power resided in the people who performed them. I am, for good or bad, my father's daughter.
Growing up, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana were just fascinating tales of courage and deceit, greed and generosity, lust and devotion, ambition and sacrifice. The Panchatantra and the JatakaTales, Chanakya and Chandragupta Maurya, Nala Damayanti and Akbar and Birbal were devoured through great illustrations in my large collection of Amar Chitra Kathas. Growing up in Godrej Colony with the greatest diversity in my classroom at Udayachal High School led to a complete assumption of celebrating the different-ness of customs and cultures. I did not know any other way. In fact until I began to sink deeper and more meaningfully into my work at EdelGive, I had not realised the cocoon that I had grown up in. I never viewed Shah Rukh Khan's numerous portrayals as Rahul as Hindu; just Indian. Mohammed Rafi's famous Man Tarpat Hari Darshan ko Aaj set to music by Naushad was just that: a great devotional song reposing faith and trust in a higher power. The lens of religion or caste or even class did not colour my view of the world.
Mohammed Rafi and Naushad I Image Courtesy: Flickr.com
That is why the discourse today of re-visiting what it means to be secular leaves me in a state of great pain and anguish. How did this come to pass?
I began learning yoga about 15 years ago and was introduced to Patanjali's Yoga Sutras (believed to be written in approximately 200 BCE) by my teacher, Jehangir Palkhivala (you will have guessed from his name that he is Parsi). The sutras need to be taught as while they may seem simple on literal translation, they are profound and lay down the principles of living should one choose to "achieve stillness, or attain comfortable control of the oscillations of the mind to be in a state of yoga" (Sutra 2/Chapter 1). I don’t profess any academic or expert knowledge on the subject at all but I know this: Nowhere in the Sutras is God (as we now interpret the word) or even Hindu mentioned. Patanjali’s reference to a higher power is in the form of Isvara, loosely translated as the Lord. In fact, some Sanskrit scholars believe that Patanjali is not theistic (enough).
For me, the most important aspects of their Sutras is what they teach about ourselves and how we function as human beings. And these teachings are therefore universal. I grew up in an India where the opening page of every text-book contained the National Pledge. The words Divide and Rule served as a warning, lest we forgot the mantra of our colonial masters, and Unity in Diversity were salutary and celebratory of a country so differentiated by caste, religion and language that India was never thought to survive as a nation. Among the many things that have kept the idea of India alive and intact, it is the Constitution of India that has played the most important, central role. We chose the word SECULAR in our Constitution, because the leaders of the time refused to base nationhood on a single religion or language. Jawaharlal Nehru was particularly insistent that India not become a “Hindu” Pakistan. Indeed, the stark difference between the two Pakistans, East and West as originally created, bears testimony to the paths countries take when their foundation is based on a religious or alternately a secular identity. Pakistan chose to be an Islamic Republic, while Bangladesh chose to be a secular republic after toying with being Islamic (when it was East Pakistan and later in 1977, when President Zia ur Rehman and President H M Ershad under martial law administrations began the re-Islamisation of Bangladesh). In 1996, Sheikh Hasina became Prime Minister and reverted Bangladesh to being a secular state as it was at its birth in 1971. On almost all indicators, from GDP growth, per capita income, life expectancy, female labour participation, population growth rate and infant mortality to the global hunger index, the two countries have had diametrically different outcomes since independence in 1947. Watch Shekhar Gupta’s Cut the Clutter on the remarkably different trajectories traversed by these two nations.
In a sense, was securalism the environment I grew up in or was it pluralism? A strict definition of secularism holds that religious ideas have absolutely no place in the public arena. Any appeal to the divine is ruled out. So the idea of securalism is way beyond distinguishing the institutions of religion from those of governance; instead, the religious and the political should be entirely separate spheres. However, I don’t remember there being a studied absence of religion in our public lives. In a country like India, given the multiplicity of religions (securalism was originally termed separation of church and state), wouldn’t pluralism be a more realistic (and aspired for) state of being? In fact, if we are to be truly secular, how does one explain the oath of public office?Pluralism welcomes all to the public arena: Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Parsis and atheists alike. Pluralism believes that asking believers to take off their faiths the instant they enter the public arena is practically impossible and religion can perhaps never be fully separated from politics. However, the fact that one’s religious principles will have broader philosophical and political implications does not allow one to offer only religious arguments on behalf of a given policy; indeed there is a benefit to emphasizing secular political arguments. But that does not mean that references to broader religious ideals are illegitimate. Perhaps the best way to describe this difference is in this story about Jawaharlal Nehru, independent India’s first Prime Minister and Dr. Rajendra Prasad, independent India’s first President, from Ramachandra Guha’s excellent book, India after Gandhi.
[Nehru's and Prasad's] differences came to a head in the spring of 1951 when the president [Rajendra Prasad] was asked to inaugurate the newly restored Somnath temple in Gujarat... When the President of India chose to dignify the Temple's consecration with his presence, Nehru was appalled. He wrote to Prasad asking him not to participate... Prasad disregarded the advice and went to Somnath...
The prime minister [Nehru] thought that public officials should never publicly associate with faiths and shrines. The president [Prasad], on the other hand, believed that it should be equally and publicly respectful of all. Although he was a Hindu, said Prasad at Somnath, "I respect all religions and on occasion visit a church, a mosque, a dargah and a gurdwara."
Secularism sometimes forces us to obscure parts of our history simply to maintain a narrow secular vision of India. Leaving aside the large swathes of religious and political thought that enveloped this country from the beginning of known history robs us of the experience of the rich culture and heritage and political and other beliefs that led to the evolution of India as we know it today. Many of our founding fathers came from all faiths and believed in divine power. Much needed social reform came from both atheists and believers.
My idea of pluralism comes from the celebration of the magnificent diversity that this country offers and the principles of tolerance of, and respect for all that to me are basic human principles. Today, there is a massive movement towards diversity and inclusion in all corporations and institutions with definitive research showing the significant positive impact that this has on their financial performance, as well as on culture, people retention and balanced decision-making. Why then not extend it whole-heartedly to the social and political sphere of our existence?
Of the 196 verses of the Yoga Sutras, the one referred to earlier is the centre-piece to being a good human being. But Patanjali also says that should one choose to "achieve stillness, or attain comfortable control of, the oscillations of the mind to be in a state of yoga”, one should be aware of the five afflictions that prevent living in clarity. In Chapter 11, sutra 3, he says:
Avidya asmita raga dvesha abhinivesah panca klesah
“Avidya” is ignorance or actively being in a state of not seeing the true nature of reality, not just the ignorance of not knowing a fact. “Asmita” is egoism, an attachment to the ego. Having a healthy functioning ego is not the problem; unexamined attachment to its products is definitely one. “Raga” is attachment or strong desire and “dvesha” is strong aversion. Both are a form of attachment, one positive, the other negative. A gourmand loves food, while an anorexic avoids it. But both are attached to it, one in acquiring and the other in avoiding it. And “abhinivesah” is fear of death which interferes with our ability to remain in the present. I also interpret it as a single-minded focus on creating a legacy as a way of clinging to life; without reference to the inescapable impermanence of everything around us.
I did not intend to dive into interpreting a deep text, but aren’t these fives kleshas all around us today? Won’t a realisation of this and a purposeful understanding of our rich, magnificent collective history enable us to enjoy this absolute wonder that is India? Won’t moving away from the bite-sized intelligence of Twitter and WhatsApp to reading the numerous rich texts of our heritage lead to less avidya, raga and dvesha? Won’t a concerted understanding of our birth as a nation and its foresight-laden Constitution be a pathway to build greater tolerance and indeed embrace our remarkable and unique diversity?
 The National Pledge: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Pledge_(India)
 Winston Churchill, for example, predicted that after the British left the subcontinent, “India will fall back quite rapidly through the centuries into the barbarism and privations of the Middle Ages”. He also thought it likely that “an army of white janissaries, officered if necessary from Germany, will be hired to secure the armed ascendancy of the Hindu”. Extract from https://www.newstatesman.com/asia/2007/08/democratic-india-british
 The Preamble of Indian Constitution: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Preamble_to_the_Constitution_of_India
 I, (name), do swear in the name of God (or solemnly affirm) that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India as by law established, and that I will faithfully discharge the duty upon which I am about to enter.
“Young men and women growing up today face unique challenges. We all have an equal responsibility to invest time and energy in shaping their thinking and building their capacities to prepare them for the future.”
- Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, Founder and Chairperson, Bangladesh Rehabilitation Assistance Committee (BRAC)
Amidst the news coverage of nationwide protests and agitation against CAA and NRC, most of us missed bidding farewell to Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, Founder and Chairperson of BRAC, arguably the world’s largest NGO.
It is rare that we come across a life that is lived entirely in the service of others. In these complex times, with the privileged seeking refuge behind their wealth and resources, the story of Sir Fazle Abed is a lesson in in how personal strength, backed by strong intent and effort, can be used to elevate millions of lives.
Born in Baniachong, Abed studied in the UK and acquired British citizenship in 1962. He returned to (then) East Pakistan to join the oil company Shell. The 1970 cyclone and 1971 Liberation War in Bangladesh dramatically changed the direction of his life. The turmoil in the country forced him to leave his job and move to London. While in London, he helped initiate ‘Action Bangladesh’ and ‘HELP Bangladesh’ in support of the Liberation War. He returned to an independent Bangladesh that had suffered huge economic losses in 1972. Ten million refugees, who had sought shelter in India during the war, returned to Bangladesh and needed urgent relief and rehabilitation. Sir Abed was guided by a desire to help these refugees develop their own capacity to better manage their lives. Using his expertise and influence, he negotiated for financial support from organisations across London and political support from neighbouring India to help in the redevelopment of Bangladesh, and in that, BRAC was born.
Sir Fazle Hasan Abed spending time with Children I Image Courtesy: The Daily Star
BRAC's multi-dimensional approach towards poverty alleviation, involved using microfinance to address issues around sanitation, agriculture, education, hygiene, and family planning, among others. It is now one of the world’s most compelling examples of how a non-profit establishment can create transformative impact when rooted in strong business practices.
The story of BRAC and Sir Fazle Abed’s unparallel role in it is a tall one, and not just because of its mission to achieve long-term poverty alleviation and empowerment of the underprivileged, especially women. It is a story of complete alignment between an audacious vision of a selfless man, a concrete mission, a well-defined and need based strategy, and an efficient execution plan engaging diverse stakeholders.
The success of BRAC over the years serves as a great learning for organisations within the sector. BRAC has consistently tested, measured, and modified its solutions in order to maximize its effectiveness in tackling poverty-related challenges and issues. Their approach entails working directly with the community to develop solutions together, not as an outside force.
BRAC has recognized the limits that government, religious and social norms had on women, and thus, placed women’s empowerment as the key to sustainable development. Within those constraints, BRAC identified industries where women would be permitted to work, helped them set up microenterprises and provided them with market linkages. Combining traditional microfinance loans with other programs like health care, education, human rights, legal services, and social enterprise, they recognised that sustainable development is complex and highly inter-linked. Lastly, most of BRAC’s programmes were based on the concept of “massification”– that could be expanded exponentially to serve large populations. This allowed BRAC to be highly effective when expanding to other regions with dense populations of people living in extreme poverty.
Sir Fazle also reiterated that much of what he was able to do with BRAC was because of his experiences in the corporate or business world. He achieved goals by setting targets that not only cover the width of the poverty-stricken populations, but also the depth of the several challenges that they face. In several of his interviews in the past, he credited the role that diverse stakeholders (including Funders and the Government) played in the success of his programmes.
Today, as I reflect on his legacy, I am struck by his resilience in building self-sufficient lives and communities in his country. A man, a leader, much ahead of his time, he has left us with so much to learn from by the rare combination of deep commitment to the cause and strategic effort to solving problems of such immense magnitude. Simply put, he did whatever it took. As he has very rightly said, “Small is beautiful, but big is necessary.”
A Tribute to Sir Fazle Hasan Abed
It is rare that we come across a life that is lived entirely in the service of others. In these complex times, with the privileged seeking refuge behind their wealth and resources, the story of Sir Fazle Abed is a lesson in in how personal strength, backed by strong intent and effort, can be used to elevate millions of lives.read more
‘The Power of One’ shines the spotlight on stories that remind us that even the smallest shift of the needle is significant. It keeps reminding us in EdelGive Foundation, of why we do what we do.
Given the scale of problems and solutions in India, our conversations tend to revolve around big numbers and even bigger problems. One can get overwhelmed by the sense of magnitude on looking at the big picture. For EdelGive, keeping the big picture in mind while supporting the small and medium initiatives in the complex development sector of India has been a learning journey in itself. Last year we celebrated EdelGive’s first decade in philanthropy with ‘The Power of Ten’. We wanted to talk about the cumulative impact of all our efforts and demonstrate that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. That one size does not fit all. Especially within the diversity of India. This year, we decided to flip this narrative on its head and shift focus to all the parts that make us whole. The independent threads that collectively form an indestructible social fabric.
‘The Power of One’ shines the spotlight on stories that remind us that even the smallest shift of the needle is significant. It keeps reminding us in EdelGive, of why we do what we do. Imagine an issue like Education in its scope and complexity. Such a task is daunting for a single person, let alone a large group of people working together. We’d be hard-pressed to decide where it begins and ends, since it is so entrenched in our society, culture and economy. On the other hand, if we zero in on a few schools in a small district of Maharashtra, a path starts to emerge. One that can then be scaled or adapted for another small set, and another, and so on. We can then narrow down even further on Mr. Harish Chandra Awhad, a teacher at the Zila Parishad school in Dakanpada, in Nandurbar district of Maharashtra, who is helping his students develop their imagination through creative writing. This process of zooming in and out is what working in the development sector is largely about. There is the big picture, where we face huge, complex problems such as social inequity, injustice and the denial of basic rights to entire sections of society; and there are micro-issues, which stem from complex power structures down to individual values. Our way to make progress in solving these problems is by breaking them down into smaller, manoeuvrable challenges. For us, by attending to one child, one school or one action at a time, there may be a resolution. Our growth and understanding of how we view the landscape of issues and possible solutions is a study in introspection and a continuous desire to learn from all participants of this landscape. And while scale is aspirational for us, and The Collaborators for Transformation Education is a significant step in approaching a problem with a systems approach to large scale solutioning, we find ourselves enamoured by the Power of One, that we keep encountering.
We have thus analysed examples of change and its impact using three distinct lenses:
One-person Army of Change…
“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.” –Dalai Lama
In a country of 1.3 billion people, it’s easy to be disheartened into believing that one person simply cannot make a difference, no matter how hard they try. But we have to start somewhere. It can be with small steps helping those nearest to us, or in the case of Dashrath Manjhi, by taking on an impossible mission himself carving a path around a mountain. After losing his wife in a fatal accident while climbing the mountain outside Manjhi’s village, he armed himself with hammer and chisel, and single-handedly created a 360-feet long, 30-feet high, and 30-feet wide passage that effectively shortened a distance of 55 kms into only 15. Rather than waiting for someone else to help him, the ‘Mountain Man’ decided to “be the change”. I have had the privilege to meet many other inspirational men and women like Manjhi who have singlehandedly worked towards affecting change. Anshu Gupta of GOONJ, Aditya Nataraj of Kaivalya Education Foundation, Osama Manzar of Digital Empowerment Foundation, Sujata Khandekar of CORO, Chetna Gala Sinha of Mann Deshi, Flavia Agnes of Majlis; and so many others who took the untrod path and kept at it. They are living examples of what can happen with the humble beginnings of ONE.
One Purpose Harnesses the Power of Many…
In a gentle way, you can shake the world. –Mahatma Gandhi
On 6th September, 2018, the Supreme Court overturned Section 377 of the penal code in a landmark judgement decriminalising homosexuality in India. This was the result of thousands of people, fighting for some decades, demanding that they should be treated as equal citizens in the eyes of the law. The archaic law proved no match for the collective strength of the common man. These people used no violence, but by joining hands they spoke with one forceful voice. Sometimes, one tragic incident too can shake the foundations of society to its core. Nirbhaya’s rape shocked the country. United in horror, the common man once again rose up to put pressure on the government, leading to the amendment of Indian rape laws. It was the death of one child labourer and two Dalit labourers that provoked Ashif Shaikh to launch Jan Sahas, an organisation working to eradicate bondage in all its forms through the empowerment of women and girls, providing legal justice, food security and empowering barefoot leaders who can take communities out of poverty
There is the big picture, where we face huge, complex problems such as social inequity, injustice and the denial of basic rights to entire sections of society; and there are micro-issues, which stem from complex power structures down to individual values.
One Voice Can Start a Movement…
When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful. –Malala Yousafzai
Any story of change is at its core also about a choice – choosing not to throw one’s hands up in defeat but persevering towards what many consider an impossible goal. History offers many such examples. While still a teenager, Malala Yousafzai showed true grit when she stood up in the face of violence and began her fight for education for girls everywhere. And long before Malala, India’s first feminist Savitribai Phule was paving the way for women’s rights and education. Sampat Pal Devi’s ‘Gulabi Gang’ has empowered over 270,000 women to speak out against domestic violence and archaic practices like dowry, child marriage and desertion. A short distance from EdelGive Foundation’s offices in Mumbai, lawyer Afroz Shah, along with his 84-year old neighbour Harbansh Mathur set their sights on cleaning Versova beach in 2015. One by one, concerned citizens joined them in picking up all kinds of trash. 20 million kilos of garbage later, this initiative went on to become the world’s largest beach clean-up exercise.
We are humbled by the Power of One. And as we move towards scaling ourselves and our partners, we continue to appreciate what this power can unleash. In the last year, EdelGive Foundation has had its own share of victories and milestones that are the culmination of the three approaches outlined above. We launched two ambitious collaborative efforts – The Influencers and the Coalition for Women Empowerment (CWE) — aimed towards a more equal and respectful India. We also launched phase two of our education coalition, The Collaborators for Transforming Education and continue to see remarkable improvements in learning outcomes of children. We rely on robust data to be both accountable and effective in our investment decisions. To this end, we have fortified our Monitoring & Evaluation (M&E) capabilities through the development of the Measure for Impact (M4I) tool. We believe that binding together the many individuals and organisations working independently with the right resources can create exponential impact. After all, our team and extended network of NGO Partners and funding partners is a collective of many ‘ones’ joining together to power real change.
EDGE 2019 is all about the small ideas that have evolved into actions that have enabled change for thousand others. Ideas that have changed lives! Ideas that have shaped thinking!
Join us as we celebrate these real stories of change, and hear the inspirational journeys of vision and dedication of our esteemed speakers at EDGE 2019.
EDGE is a collaborative platform initiated by EdelGive Foundation with the aim to connect exceptional non-profit organisations with the funding fraternity, in-turn facilitating conversations on collective impact. Apart from speakers and panel discussions, the EDGE Talks platform will showcase EdelGive’s NGO partners as they share their journeys of change.
If you wish to attend EDGE 2019, write to: email@example.com
For more information on EdelGive Foundation, visit: www.edelgive.org
India made a significant stride towards a system of structured philanthropy, with the introduction of Section 135 of the Companies Act 2013, mandating a 2% share of profits (of qualifying companies) to be put towards CSR. This amendment commissioned on April 1st, 2014 was institutionalized as an attempt to engage the corporate world with the country’s development agenda and supplement the government’s efforts of delivering benefits on ground.
An overall increase in spending
As the CSR mandates completed five years of its existence, it has had significant impact on corporate giving. The CRISIL CSR Yearbook 20191, a report showcasing the CSR spending of Indian companies has shown that the cumulative spending of the last four years (up-till the last quarter of 2018) has topped INR 50,000 crore (including INR 34,000 crore by listed companies and nearly INR 19,000 crore by the unlisted ones). The report also shows that spending by listed companies has risen 12% on-year in fiscal 2018 to INR 10,000 crore – the first time it has reached this mark.
Education & skill development were two domains which have received maximum investments under the act, amounting to 35% of total CSR spend. Healthcare & sanitation came in second, with 24%. Among others, rural development, empowerment, and benefits for armed force veterans also saw growing investments. Sadly, this is not surprising as both these sectors provide a mechanism of evaluation which can showcase quantitative or physical impact as compared to a project on slum development for example, which will account for several regulations and is a lengthy process towards showcasing results.
Besides the numbers, the need for a structured format for conducting CSR is essential as it ensures that more companies, meeting the profit criteria contribute to social progress.
This can be extremely beneficial for industries that have large manufacturing facilities and as a result of the same, interact with the local populations at an increasing pace. For such companies, a social commitment to the community where companies operate from, can help maintain smooth industrial relations.
Additionally, with the mandate opening up, career opportunities for those in the social sector have also increased with the sector slowly evolving as one of the primary career destinations. It has moved beyond the traditional roles of volunteering or field jobs, into specialised roles catering to the challenges, limitations and essentials of the field.
Making CSR impactful
Even with the above positive changes, the quality and impact of spending still remain a challenge for corporate India. Answering the important questions such as, “Is our contribution actually creating impact?’; ‘Are we partnering with the right organizations?’ and “How can we create more value to our beneficiary against our spending?”
At EdelGive we have looked closely at answering these very questions. The evolution of EdelGive was guided by an early but not clearly articulated understanding of stakeholder capitalism as opposed to shareholder capitalism where the focus is only on creating value for the shareholder. Stakeholder capitalism involves building the ability to manage multiple bottom lines beyond the bottom line related to profits; such as those related to customer centricity, employee welfare, government and regulator interactions and most importantly the value added to society by creating jobs, making efficient investments and directing CSR budgets, strategically and thoughtfully.
It is not wrong to say however that the new development of the Companies Act which restricts spending on expenditure (5% of total CSR spending), will create a road-block to companies from enhancing their in-house capabilities. At EdelGive we have tried to bridge this gap with increasing our focus on co-funding. We are able to find partners and collaborations that will enable us to create a wider pool of investments and relieve the burden of some of those additional expenses incurred.
Focus on Monitoring and Evaluation
From a NGO view point, the companies act has also affected the way in which NGOs are reporting and documenting their journeys. Given the mandates focus on documentation, companies want to engage with credible organizations, who will be able to monitor these figures effectively. So, as due-diligence mechanisms increase at the corporate end, organizational development and capacity building will increase for NGOs. The role of third-party evaluations has also grown because of this. There is increasingly a need for evaluations at all stages of a CSR program – from choosing the NGO to work with; to setting up goals and targets; to documenting how these goals and targets have been achieved.
CSR towards SDGs
In 2017 however, the rules of the game changed. The Companies (Amendment) Act, 2017, changed the eligibility criteria to be based on financials of the ‘immediately preceding financial year’ rather than the earlier stipulation of ‘any three preceding financial years’. Estimates from the CRISIL report shows that this can shrink the giving universe in years to come, in terms of both number of companies and their total spend. This is worrisome when we look at it from the point of view of achieving our ambitious Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
As an extension of the (Millennium Development Goals) MDGs, the SDGs have widely included the corporate sector to bring in innovation and a business management approach towards achieving these goals. Thus the potential for private sector participation will be very high. In fact, Schedule VII of the Act, enables companies to spend on a sector liked directly to SDGs. By restricting the eligibility criteria, there could be a shortfall and a limitation in the number of participating companies involved in CSR spending.
What we cannot ignore in this equation is the role of private funding towards CSR. Indian ultra-rich and corporations need to step up further to bridge this gap.
There is also a lot more potential to work together and focus our energies on co-funding projects, innovations in capacity building, creating coalitions and collaborations and creating a connected social sector in India. I am certain this will ensure a more effective philanthropic approach and will enable more players to join in and work towards social goals.
Five years of mandated structured philanthropy in India
India made a significant stride towards a system of structured philanthropy, with the introduction of Section 135 of the Companies Act 2013.read more