Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

India has seen a significant rise in strategic philanthropy: Nandan Nilekani

Nandan Nilekani on the diverse philanthropic landscape in the country, and the challenges in terms of aligning goals and methods

Harichandan Arakali
Published: Feb 5, 2024 01:03:40 PM IST
Updated: Feb 5, 2024 01:13:34 PM IST

India has seen a significant rise in strategic philanthropy: Nandan NilekaniNandan Nilekani, Cofounder, Infosys Image: Wei Leng Tay / Bloomberg via Getty Images 

Q. What is the gap that philanthropy fills that any other form of (for-profit) investment cannot?

Risk absorption and innovation: Philanthropy often fills gaps in areas that are too risky or not immediately profitable for traditional investments. Philanthropy can be a means to seed innovative solutions that require initial risk-taking and long-term vision, which for-profit entities might not be willing to undertake due to the lack of immediate financial returns.

Addressing equity: Philanthropy can target issues of equity and access, especially in sectors like education and health care, where the market may fail to reach or adequately serve marginalised communities. Philanthropy is a significant lever to level the playing field for underprivileged sections of society.

Catalysing systemic change: Unlike for-profit ventures typically driven by market demands, philanthropy can address systemic issues and create long-term societal change. For example, IIHS and EkStep are initiatives that build robust institutions and infrastructure, respectively, and will have a transformative impact over time.

Q. In your assessment, how is India doing as a nation of philanthropists?

Growing strategic philanthropy: India has seen a significant rise in strategic philanthropy, moving beyond traditional charitable giving to more structured and impact-oriented approaches. While this progress is notable, there is scope for further evolution, especially to underwrite risk and innovation and leveraging technology for social good.

Diversity of giving: The philanthropic landscape in India is diverse, drawing contributions from various sectors beyond tech, such as real estate and biotech. This diversity enriches the philanthropic ecosystem but also presents challenges in terms of aligning goals and methods.

Scale and collaboration: There’s a growing recognition of the need for scale and collaboration in philanthropy. This is vital for systemic challenges and the importance of partnerships, especially with the government, to amplify the impact of philanthropic initiatives.

Also read: Nandan Nilekani: Paying it forwards, at scale

Q. In which areas, in particular, would you like to see more philanthropic investments in India?
Technology for social good: More investment in leveraging technology for social impact. This includes digital infrastructure that can provide widespread access to essential services and information.

Education and health care: These are critical sectors where philanthropic investments can make a considerable difference, especially in improving access and quality for the underserved population.

Environmental sustainability and climate change: With the growing global focus on sustainability and resilience, there is value in increasing philanthropic efforts towards environmental conservation and climate change adaptation and mitigation, aligning with international efforts to tackle these pressing issues.

Institution building and research: It is essential to support institutions and research bodies that can contribute to policymaking and providing thought leadership in various domains.

India has seen a significant rise in strategic philanthropy: Nandan Nilekani

(This story appears in the 09 February, 2024 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)