“We have been working tirelessly for many weeks, and this may last for many more months, if not years”. When the Deputy Tahsildar from a hilly district of Kerala, standing in the middle of a relief camp with more than two thousand in-mates mentioned this, I couldn’t help but notice his saggy eyes. Those were clear signs of sleep deprivation and exhaustion. But the steely tone of his voice, and determination on the faces of the scores of active relief workers around him communicated much more.
If there ever was a time to be inquisitive about philanthropy, this was it. In the past few weeks, ever since the torrential rains and deluge down south, the support pouring in from across the world has been overwhelming. But very many questions were raised too. Questions like what motivated people to give? Who gave? What those who gave, expected? What next? Let’s see if we can find some answers.
Why we Give?
Early in September, the finance minister of Kerala had announced the launch of a special lottery, with the objective of mobilizing about 100 crores towards flood relief operations. A lottery during troubled times, and one may wonder about human behavior and economics at play here. The basics of economics indicate that people are inherently selfish. Then, why would someone who works hard for their money simply turn around and give it away? Economists explain the behavior of charitable giving through various models. The ‘pure altruism’ model suggests that individuals consider the final output of their charity activities as public goods, where they too obtain some benefit or derive utility from. Another is the "warm glow" theory, by which donors derive internal satisfaction and revel in the positive emotion from giving, even if their contributions remain entirely anonymous. The model of ‘prestige’ postulates that the individual who offers charity expects to be recognized. Such a giver would only give to improve his reputation, to signal his wealth, or to increase his prestige in the community and is unlikely to donate anonymously.
The book titled ‘Philanthropy in India - Promise to Practice’ is an interesting read and traces the tradition and evolution of ‘giving’ in India. The authors enumerate an array of reasons why Indians engage in philanthropy, and undoubtedly these are influenced by a combination of very personal factors. It seems that 60% of Indians cite ‘giving back to society’ as their main motivation, and for about 25%, it’s a means to ‘effect meaningful and measurable social change’. Though not often admitted openly, the list of motivations is also linked to political reasons, religious beliefs, financial benefits like tax breaks and the desire to leave a positive legacy.
A recent research by the Charities Aid Foundation carried out across 130 countries showed that the top five countries in terms of giving index are Myanmar, USA, New Zealand, Canada, and Australia. Globally, more than 70% of charitable donations are from individuals, 15% from foundations, 8% from bequests and the remaining from corporate donations. Reports suggest that 19% of Indians are donating money and about 10% are volunteering time for charity activities. Although several demographic characteristics have been found useful in predicting charitable giving, INCOME is by far the most important predictor of giving behavior. Interestingly, ‘giving’ as a function of income has a U-shaped pattern. People in the lowest and highest income groups are willing to give larger proportions of their income to charity than individuals in middle-income groups. It is also observed that charitable giving is bound to increase with AGE and EDUCATION of donors. Researchers have also found that WOMEN have the tendency to perform charity more than men. Most of the attitudinal factors are found to be insignificant with the only exception being FAMILY influence, which implies that increasing the awareness of current generation, and have them donate today may result in future generations with the good habit of giving.
In the early nineties, while walking on the beaches of Zanzibar with wife Melinda, during their African vacation, was when Bill Gates had a serious thought on how to pursue ‘giving’. In 2006, the second richest man in America, Warren Buffett, pledged to give away 85% of his wealth to philanthropy, a path later followed by many Indians like Azim Premji and Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw. Whether one is a billionaire or not, the basic questions encountered by any philanthropist is how they can be sure that it reaches the needy, and how to measure the impact? In the sub-continent context, even diversion of funds away from the root cause is a serious concern.
It’s proven that human brain best develops empathy when it can visualize an individual who needs help. Hence, the recommendation to charity houses is to help the donor to visualize the recipient, and also to trigger empathy by having a micro list of actions. People give more readily if they can visualize the impact of their gift. The electronic dashboard displayed on the website of Kerala Chief Minister’s Distress Relief Fund (CMDRF), which displays all the receipts and expenditure is a good beginning in bringing transparency to the system. As we move forward, let’s hope that the administration will take further steps to communicate tangible outcomes of each expenditure.
Power of Memory
In their best seller “Power of Moments”, authors Chip and Dan-Heath elaborate on the importance of certain moments and experiences that leaves an extraordinary impact in our lives. What happened in God’s Own Country in August 2018 has the prospect of being an epic moment. Great tragedies do have the potential to create significant positive changes in history, like the atomic bombings or the holocaust. As a leading columnist mentioned, the challenge will be to ensure that the “flood marks in Kerala are preserved for posterity”. With time, the priorities will change for the majority, and those who suffered would have just started building their lives all over again. Hence, preserving community memory is key, and the role of storytellers, movie makers, educators and governments have never been so critical in recent history.
The Last Stroke
It was one of my best friends who introduced me to the beautiful world of Tamil songs. And one of his favorites is ‘Pachchai Nirame’ (means Green color), a song composed by AR Rahman and penned by Vairamuthu. After beautifully equating the colors of green, red, yellow, blue and black with one’s lover, the lyrics end by comparing the mind of the loved one to the color of WHITE. Romanticisms aside, this must be true for all the beautiful minds who have been lending a helping hand to the needy, ignoring the colors of politics, caste, religion, language and geographies. The naysayers and trolls on modern media are here to stay, and whatever may be the motivation, let’s pledge to add our mite to the cause. Let the world realize that despite the ‘Diversity’, we will remain united in ‘Adversity’. As the eminent humanitarian activist Dan Pallotta indicated in his TED talk, Philanthropy is after all, the ultimate market for LOVE.
The author is Co-founder & Director @ BioQuest Solutions Pvt. Ltd, a Bangalore based MNC that has been partnering with clients across the life-sciences knowledge value chain since 2005.