4 key ways how families should approach philanthropy to rebuild India

Family philanthropy is not an exception to the changes brought by the pandemic. Amid the ever-widening inequality gap, families need to deliberately engage and approach giving in a way that enables dignity, equality, and social justice

Neera Nundy
Updated: Feb 22, 2022 07:05:04 PM UTC

According to Social Progress Index, the world will not achieve the Sustainable Development Goals until 2094—64 years after the deadline set by the United Nations. If this isn’t humbling enough, take a moment to absorb the fact that this estimate was projected before the Covid-19 pandemic hit us all. While the last two decades have given us a great reason to celebrate historic progress in fighting poverty and improving health around the globe, the last tumultuous 1.5 years have forced us to confront our current reality with absolute candour. This progress has now reversed.

India, a nation with large vulnerable populations—such as girls, women, migrant workers, and tribal communities that are already disproportionately disadvantaged with regards to basic human needs—has been hit particularly hard and experienced consequences graver than that of any other external disruption that the country’s social sector has ever seen before. With over 33 million Indians having contracted Covid-19, public healthcare facilities faced unimaginable stress and a shortage of essential equipment. Herds of migrant workers fled back to their hometowns with little or no financial, food or health security, and over 230 million people were pushed back into poverty. Discrimination against already marginalised communities has intensified and NGOs serving at the frontlines are at a breaking point.

The seriousness, scale and complexity of India’s development challenges have far outpaced the ability of our government to singlehandedly address them. With an annual gap of at least $60 billion for India to achieve just five of its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, the need for family philanthropists to step up and lead alongside the government in accelerating India’s development is more urgent than ever before.

But while unlocking greater family philanthropic capital towards India is critical, it is not enough. Amid the ever-widening inequality gap as a result of Covid-19, the need for families to deliberately engage and approach giving in a way that enables dignity, equality, and social justice for the most marginalised communities across India, has never been more significant. There is an urgent need to improve grant-making practices and change the discourse and direction of mainstream family philanthropy to one that puts social justice at its core.

Below are four key recommendations on how families should look to approach their giving to rebuild towards a stronger, more equitable India:

Invest in building institutional resilience

With philanthropists largely redirecting funding to Covid-19 relief programs, the accessible pool of CSR funds is expected to diminish drastically. The core operational costs for many nonprofits is increasing significantly to address the growing needs of vulnerable communities during the pandemic. The institutional and financial resilience of nonprofits is under serious threat. According to the “ResiLens Stress Test” conducted by Dasra on 125 nongovernmental organisations (NGOs), one in two NGOs has an income base that is more than 60 percent restricted. With funding challenges and long-term CSR partners altering their funding arrangements, these NGOs—already reeling under the impact of reduced foreign funding due to stringent Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) rules—found themselves struggling to remain secure.

Such a concerning situation highlights the urgent need for philanthropists to support partner organisations with flexible capital to strengthen their institutional backbones. Offering non-financial assets in the form of capacity building opportunities, resilience-building tools and advisory support are also important ways to help build grantees’ organisational resilience over the coming years.

Adopt a strong Gender-Equity-Diversity-Inclusion (G.E.D.I) lens 

The Covid-19 crisis has been a wake-up call that has unveiled deep fault lines around the inequities seeping through India’s development systems. Whether it is migrant workers, women, tribal communities or children, there has never been a more important time than now for India’s philanthropy community to think about how we, as a society, are caring for our most vulnerable populations. And make an intentional shift to fund organisations that work with the most marginalised communities—especially at the intersection of caste, class, gender, and poverty—that have the greatest chance of falling through the cracks. This focus can be adopted in terms of both funding decisions with grantee partners, as well as increased incorporation of the G.E.D.I. lens within the culture and principles of grant-making institutions.

Engage in “proximate giving” to support rural, localised, community-led efforts

Grassroots organisations with the greatest proximity to vulnerable communities have a critical role to play at the local level in engaging and supporting these communities through the pandemic. There is a growing need for funders to expand their focus beyond large, well-established city-based nonprofits to also support more such grassroots organisations. It is only such organisations that can enable last-mile efforts where government services are unable to reach those in need. Crowdfunding platforms such as GiveIndia, Ketto, ImpactGuru, Milaap and so on played an instrumental role in providing cash relief to grassroots organisations by encouraging local and individual giving. Through its India Covid Relief Fund (ICRF), GiveIndia disbursed Rs 220 crore towards Covid-19 impact relief and Rs 49 crore to over 90 NGOs across 65 cities.

Participate in collaborative action

There is a fast-growing realisation that no individual stakeholder is singularly capable of creating change at the scale and pace urgently required to move India forward. The magnitude, complexity and seriousness of development challenges in our country necessitate collaborative action among multiple stakeholders at a greater scale than ever before. Joining forces with multiple stakeholders to drive collective impact through collaborative platforms offers family philanthropists the opportunity to drive deeper and faster impact by leveraging greater resources, a wider network and more diverse skillsets. Several Indian collaboratives have emerged during the Covid-19 pandemic, including Covid Action Collaborative and Rapid Community Response to COVID-19 (focused on immediate Covid-19 relief efforts), as well as Social Compact, Saamuhika Shakti, Revive Collective, and Migrants Resilience Collaborative (focused on adjacent issues such as supporting India’s migrant workers).

Family philanthropy has a critical role to play in supporting local partners with innovative opportunities to exercise power, agency and leadership. And to reimagine systems change that is led by local organisations and inclusive for all people of India. The urgency for this cohort to step up and reimagine the way they give to support India’s most vulnerable communities has never been more pronounced. It is only by doing this and adopting these 4 philanthropic approaches that they can truly realise their full potential in transforming India and propelling its growth story at the scale and pace that the country so desperately needs today.

The writer is the Co-founder and Partner at Dasra.

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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