Venkat Krishnan N. graduated from IIM-Ahmedabad in 1993 and started his career with the media, working first at The Times of India in various corporate and brand management functions. He then helped set up Sony Entertainment Television in India as part of the core management team. In 1996, he set up and ran the Eklavya School which used innovative pedagogical approaches to help children learn rather than be taught. In 2001, he co-founded Educational Initiatives Pvt. Ltd, a company that works on improving quality of school education in India. Venkat set up GiveIndia in 2000, to create a "giving culture" in India and transitioned out in 2008. In 2009, he, along with several other volunteers, conceptualised and launched DaanUtsav, a festival that aims to bring India together to celebrate giving. Held from October 2-8 every year, DaanUtsav is a platform that allows everyone from India's poor to its wealthiest to give back to society.
The Joy of Giving week started on October 2, and will go on till October 8. In this daily blog series, we will take you through seven habits of effective givers, one habit at a time, to help develop a culture of giving.
Unless you are a full time philanthropist, billionaire or non-profit worker, you are going to have fairly limited time at your disposal to ensure that you are able to create meaningful change in the little time, money and resources you may have access to. Focusing on one cause or one organisation can be a great way to maximise your own learning, and the impact you will create over a period of time. If all you can do is pay to educate one child a year - focusing on one child from class 2 to 12 and beyond, helping that child get not just a good education but a good all-round exposure, life skills and ‘preparedness for life’ can be far more meaningful than supporting 12 different children for one year each over 12 years.
So how to decide what to focus on? Before we go on further, an important point is that many of us worry given for the resources they have, would it be fruitful to spend a lot of time figuring out the right person or cause to help? Why not just give it to someone/ something and let the experts do their job? Unfortunately, the answer is that if you blindly give away your money to anyone, the long term result will be exactly what happens with your taxes, you’ll keep being told that your money is being spent well, but there will be a growing dissatisfaction with what is happening around you.
Abraham Lincoln said, “If I have eight hours to cut a tree, I would spend seven hours sharpening my axe”. If you plan to spend two hours a week (104 hours a year) or 2 percent of your income for the rest of your life, isn’t it worth spending 2-3% of that upfront to ensure that you have a well-planned way to spend it?
Here are some questions that will help you decide what to focus on. Today is #GivingTuesdayIndia, so what better way to celebrate than to commit yourself to something that you care deeply about? Spend three hours trying to answer these and you’ll be amazed at how you have clarity of purpose.
What issue do you feel the most strongly about? That there are street children and no one seems to have a solution to the problem? Or that there is growing lack of harmony and understanding in society? Or the environment, or how we treat animals? Or it could be a geography, like the living conditions in the slum adjacent to your house. If there’s something you feel very strongly about, there’s a “cause” you want to focus on.
Once you figure out the cause you care about, here’s what you can do about it, depending on your learning style (you need to do only any 1 or 2 of these)
1. Watch a few TED/TEDx videos on the subject to learn more about it
2. Read about the subject: It is very easy to find good quality reading material through a simple Google search these days, and websites like The BetterIndia, RuralIndiaOnline (for the more serious ones, research papers by the World Bank, and so on) will are great resources.
3. Meet people who are working on the issue. How to find people who are experts on a topic? Simple, just post on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or WhatsApp asking for references and you’ll be surprised how quickly you get connected in our world that is now rarely separated by more than three degrees of freedom.
4. Visit places where the issue can be observed personally (E.g., old age homes if the quality of senior life is the issue that bothers you), and learn for yourself.
All this will help you understand the issue better and figure out how you want to get involved, and the approach you would want to take. The next step is to decide how you want to get involved: will you volunteer your time, give money, or share your expertise, or would you like to do some combination of all of the above? More on this tomorrow, but having a basic idea of whether it will be only money or only time or both is useful.
If it is only money, try GiveIndia.org or CAFindia.org to find an NGO working on the cause that you care about. Read about the work they do and see if there’s something you like. Start by making a donation. Depending on your budget, you could pick 2-3 different organisations and support them with the idea that you will use the learning from the “feedback loop” to decide which one to go deeper with.
Or visit Guidestarindia.org to search for organisations working on your cause. Visit their websites and read up, or call their listed phone number or drop in and visit them to know more. And then (remember Habit 1 - Getting started?) - go ahead and make a couple of donations.
What do you do if there is no one issue or cause that you feel very strongly about?
Some people may choose to focus instead on their own skills and what value they can bring. For example, a technical skill (I’d like to use my coding skills to write software for NGOs or I can help NGOs improve their accounting systems, etc), or a relationship skill (I can help an NGO build a volunteer network, I can help them find good people), and so on. That’s a great way to get started too. To find an organisation that can use your skill, reach out to platforms like ivolunteer.in, connectfor.org or donatemytime.in, and take their help to get connected to suitable organisations.
If that doesn’t work for you either, then you’re likely to be an “intellectually driven, cause agnostic” giver. Here’s what I recommend for you:
List out what are your values and beliefs that you hold dearest (E.g., a belief could be that “we aren’t giving enough importance to talent, how can we solve problems if we don’t have great people working on them?” A value could be “equal opportunity for all”. Now write down a belief/ value statement that you care about deeply and ask yourself, “If I wanted to make the world more like this, what would I do if I had all the time and money in the world?”
Once you have the answer to that question, you ask around (social media to the rescue) to find out whether there are already some organisations doing what you want to do. Reach out and meet them, talk to them, read up about them and get to understand the issue more deeply. In doing so, you will automatically figure out how you want to help - through time, money or both.
There’s a very low probability that you won’t find any organisation working on the subject - India’s population is so huge that almost every imaginable issue has at least a handful of people working on it. But if you do face that issue, you can write to me and I promise to help you figure out a path and get you started.
Above all, once you find a cause, approach or geography that you want to get involved with, stay focused; resist the temptation to give up in the face of challenges, repeat the organisational search process again if required, but stay the course on the cause you picked.
Daan Utsav, the Joy of Giving week begins on October 2, till October 8. Over the next week, we’ll delve into each of these habits and help you with tips and methods to become an effective giver.
The author set up GiveIndia in 2000, to create a "giving culture" in India and, in 2009, he, along with several other volunteers, conceptualised and launched DaanUtsav, a festival that aims to bring India together to celebrate giving. You can get in touch with him at firstname.lastname@example.org.