Back to resources

Comments at SVP, Kolkata 3rd Anniversary Meet

Strategic Philanthropy | Civil Society | Apr 5, 2021

Rohini’s comments at SVP, Kolkata 3rd Anniversary Meet on 5th April

Transcript

0:00:04.1 Speaker 2: Thank you so much. Thank you, Sunil ji. Thank you, everybody who is here. And first of all, heartiest congratulations on your third anniversary, SVP Kolkata. So let’s just give it up for a few seconds at least, because I know how hard the journey is. So thank you, and I hope you’ve enjoyed every moment of it. I was asked to speak for about 15 minutes about my journey, and I hope I can do some of that without boring you. But the part that I always enjoy in these sessions, is the interactive sessions. So I hope that we can have some interaction, and I guess, Sunil ji or Snigdha, one of you is going to anchor the interaction later?

0:00:50.7 Speaker 3: Yes. Yes, we will.

0:00:52.0 S2: Yeah. So, I’ll just try to be brief because it’s more fun when we are asking questions and reacting to each other. I’m so sorry, we are not meeting personally. I guess we’re all getting used to being on Zoom.

0:01:12.6 S1: One second. Rohini, you are on mute, just unmute yourself.

0:01:17.8 S2: Oh, you all couldn’t hear me? Can you hear me now?

0:01:20.0 S1: No, no no just got…

0:01:20.5 S2: I didn’t know that. I was trying to unmute somebody, and by mistake, I muted you. Sorry about that.

0:01:26.0 S2: Are we okay?

0:01:26.8 S1: Just the last 10 seconds. Just the last 10 seconds.

0:01:27.0 S3: Yes. Yes.

0:01:29.6 S2: So no, just I was celebrating SVP and your learning journey, and SVP Kolkata, especially today, to celebrate the third anniversary. So I’m going to be talking to you for a little bit. I’m really looking forward to a good interaction with all of you here, so that I can hear from you, and if you have any questions for me. So I’ve been on this journey for about three decades now. I started very small. I think the real journey started, like with all of you, with my ancestors, because it is what you learn that you take forward. And in my family, there was always great respect paid to my grandfathers, who were very philanthropic individuals, especially my father’s father, who pretty much gave up a lot of his income-generating part of his livelihood, to join Gandhiji, to join the freedom movement, and so on. He was among the first people to go to Champaran in 1917, to spearhead the development work that was done in the first Ashram started by Gandhiji in Bhitiharwa. So, in our family, it was always a credo that you have to have simple living and high thinking, and that what your life in some sense is about sharing and giving forward. It doesn’t mean that you have to wear loincloths, you can certainly enjoy your life, but there was a lot of emphasis, and lot of conversations around responsibility towards society.

0:03:10.3 S2: So I’m sure, like all of you, that’s how we came into this idea that our lives are not surrounded just by the walls of our home, or even our community, that we have to look much further than that. So I was a bit of an activist right through college days and everything, but… And as a journalist, I got to see a lot about how people have to live, and how most people cannot take for granted, what we so easily take for granted. And especially, because I grew up in Mumbai, I must tell you that, even in those days, we took for granted relatively good public infrastructure. And I learnt the importance much later, about how simple public infrastructure can help people rise up to their own potential, even if they are not economically well off. But when they’re stuck with bad public services, every day is a battle. We had water, we had electricity, we had roads. I know that sounds very basic. We had public safety, we had parks, we had the beach parks to walk on, all the things that actually make urban city life much more meaningful for individuals to prosper. And you can’t say that, unfortunately, in India anymore. We have not kept pace with public service delivery.

0:04:32.9 S2: So we grew up in that kind of middle-class atmosphere in a cosmopolitan city like Bombay. And later, we went to America. And again, there, I was a beneficiary of amazing public infrastructure. We had no money in the early days of Infosys. Literally, we had an allowance of $500 for the month. And luckily, food in America was cheap, and public transport was cheap, and best of all, public libraries were free. So for me, it was like discovering a treasure trove of the knowledge of the whole world at my fingertips. And I spent hours and hours doing that. The reason I begin my story like this, is one, because we always rest on the shoulders of our forefathers and fore mothers. Two, it’s very important, the level of public infra that we are exposed to, it really helps all of us move forward. And so to remember that when we come back to thinking about philanthropy later.

0:05:35.4 S2: Now, when I invested all of my money at that time, I had 10,000 rupees and that’s it, in 1981. And I put all of it into a small company called Infosys, mostly because I trusted in its founders. And we got lucky. And that 10,000 rupees, without us really wanting it to do any such thing, I mean we wanted Infosys to be successful. The idea of Infosys was really bigger than all our personal ideas of ourselves and our families. But we came in… It succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. And we came into unprecedented wealth. And I must tell you that when I, I’ve said this before, that when I suddenly first time when the ADR of Infosys was done, and I came into my own 100 crore rupees, I actually didn’t… It took me a long while to settle to wealth of that kind. Now 100 crores doesn’t seem much, but in those days it was really a lot.

0:06:33.6 S2: And because of the previous things that I talked to you about, I decided to put all of it into a foundation, and that’s how Arghyam was born in 2001. I put all of that 100 crores into Arghyam, even though I didn’t know what to do with it, but I said I don’t need it, if I put it into a trust, then it’s public money, then I become a trustee of public wealth, not private wealth. So that’s really how my structured journey of philanthropy started, though it had started earlier with setting up some institutions and stuff and joining Akshara Foundation, the Pratham Network, where I gave some donations but was also actively involved in those organizations. Now then, of course, once I… So I started to learn the ropes of giving in a more structured manner through Arghyam, for the first few years, just randomly trying out some stuff with learning grants, and then from 2005 onwards, I focused on water, because water was clearly a sector that impacted everyone at all levels, and that we were clearly not very good at managing sustainably, and so there was a system play and also a human play where it impacts everybody’s quality of life if you don’t have access to water.

0:07:57.6 S2: So I’m very glad that 16 years have passed and Arghyam has been able to make a fair dent, a fair impression with a lot of impact in the water sector, and alongside I co-founded Pratham Books, which really was one of the most joyous phases of my life, because we decided to put a book in every child’s hand. We started with this very big mission, and I can tell you in those 10 years how much we did to actually achieve impact at scale, so that really we could open up the idea of… We could truly democratize the joy of giving… The joy of reading, sorry, for children. And today, Pratham Books is 17 years old this past January, and we have literally reached… I left it six years ago, but the next team did even better and we have reached literally hundreds of millions of children, with good stories from around the world, not just all over India. And then we tried many other things, Nandan’s philanthropy also scaled up, he does a lot of institutional philanthropy. Unlike me, I have a long tail, I support many, many organizations, and I’ll quickly tell you why. Nandan does very large grants to very few organizations such as IIHS, such as NCAER, such as ICRIER and others, and really eGov, and he focuses on impact at scale using technology and other means, but I tend to focus, and I’ll tell you what my… And I’ll stop there for questions.

0:09:34.7 S2: Over the years, I learned that what I really believed in, was the power of people, the power of citizens to do some things for themselves, and then I began to build a construct, which I’ve talked about very often, so I’m sorry if it’s repetitive to some of you. I built this construct that in the idea and the continuum of Samaj, Bazaar and Sarkar, which is Society, Markets and State. For me, Samaj is the first sector, the basic sector for which markets and states are developed, because society needs institutional authority so that we don’t collapse into disorder, we needed markets to create prosperity, to create innovation, but they have to work for the larger public interest, and then because we needed order, we needed rule of law, the state was there to support societies, to have rule of law so that they could be their best selves. But all of us are citizens first, none of us are subjects of the state first, none of us are consumers of the market first, no matter if we work in government or are heads of large corporations.

[foreign language]

0:10:47.5 S2: Who are we? We are citizens of our communities and our nations first. And I think it’s when people understand that we as citizens can come together to solve our problems, and we can together create the structures to hold markets and state accountable for everybody’s public interest, then you get a thriving good society where all of us can hope to flourish. There’s no such thing as a perfect society, but there is such a thing as an imagination of a society that is constantly striving to be better. So my philanthropy is based on this simple premise, if we can support moral and ethical leadership of the Samaj, if we can support the building of better and better institutions of the Samaj, that understand and contextualize local problem solving, then we create what we now have understood through the pandemic that we really need, which is resilience. So if we want good societies, we need resilient societies, and so we have to always look out for the opportunities in the Samaj, to support good people, good ideas, good institutions, so that we can continuously innovate our way to a better future.

0:12:16.3 S2: So I support people in many areas, in access to justice, of course in education, especially through EkStep, I support work on independent media, I support work with young men and boys, I support a lot of work on the environment because I truly believe that we are about to cut off the branch on which we sit, and we really need to understand how the ecology is at the heart of the economy, and we need to change the way we look after how our relationship with nature has been broken. So these are some of the areas that I support, Nandan and I have committed to give half our wealth to… Back, give forward half our wealth, hopefully in our lifetimes, but our children are also involved in this journey and have promised if God forbid something happens, that they will fulfill our commitment.

0:13:10.2 S2: I think all of us are philanthropists because all of us feel that something needs to change, something is not right, something can be better. And we all want to be a part of that positive change. And I really like the idea of SVP because it brings many people together on a common platform where you co-create your own mission, your own vision of what you want to support. I know its been livelihoods primarily, but maybe you all are opening up to other ideas which I would love to see, and the fact that you all commit every year to doing something and put not just your money, but your head and your heart is very inspiring for me. Ever since SVP came into India, and I’ve got a chance to meet so many of you. So I end my talk by congratulating all of you once again, especially SVP Kolkata, and I’m really open to any questions whatsoever. Dhanyavad, Namaste and thank you.

0:14:09.3 S3: Thank you, ma’am. That was so, so, so wonderful. Heard you so many times but it’s never enough.

0:14:16.0 S2: Thank you, Snigdha.

0:14:17.5 S3: I would like to invite one of our youngest and most dynamic partners, Mr. Vivek Dinodia to please ask a question.

0:14:27.9 Speaker 4: Hi, Good evening. I’m extremely sorry, I’m calling in from the car because I got delayed for a meeting, but thank you so much for joining us in today’s call and an extremely inspiring speech from your side, detailing how your journey into philanthropy began and all the different institutions that you’re involved with, so definitely really inspiring, especially for someone like myself who’s just 27 and has probably another 50 years into this field. So just one question, with India’s… Two-thirds of India’s population is living on less than $2 a day, so in extremely poor living conditions. Keeping this in mind, what is your take on putting money into things like arts, culture, and sports, in terms of making philanthropic contributions in these spaces in a country like India, when we have far larger problems to attack or solve?

0:15:34.8 S2: Yeah. So thanks, Vivek first of all, at your age for already being interested and being a partner of SVP, so first of all we celebrate you and I always feel it’s never, ever, ever too early to start on this journey of giving forward, because the more you give forward, the more you get back, so it works both ways. So thank you for starting early and thank you for a very good question as well. You’re right, everyone asks about how do you prioritize, there are so many problems in this world and in India, there’s so much poverty, there’s so much inequity, so must I only focus on those very urgent problems of poverty alleviation. But I will answer this very quickly. I would say first of all, we are talking about philanthropy, okay? Philanthropy is love for humanity, and it can be expressed in a myriad ways. Secondly, philanthropy is voluntary, and the minute you take away that voluntariness from philanthropy, then it’s not really philanthropy, it’s something else. So voluntarily, you must go where your passion is, and if your passion is with art or music or culture or sports, I promise you there are many, many pathways to the same goal. Through art, music, and culture, that’s how we create the energies and the creativity that allows people to understand poverty, to understand justice, to understand philanthropy and so many other things.

0:17:08.3 S2: It allows us to understand how to make meaning of our journey on this little planet, and so I don’t think art, culture, or sports for that matter is in any way less important than say, feeding the hungry. Because after all, there are many institutions for feeding the hungry, right? When we talk about philanthropy, we are allowing ourselves creative expression of our humanity, so I would say, do what you think comes from your heart, and then of course, make the journey to your head. I mean, connect your heart to your head so that you’re also being smart. But nobody should have to apologise for following their passion and philanthropy. And there are, as I said, again, there are so many paths to the same goal. Through sports you can create healthy, young, team-oriented people who may take on very different approaches to solving economic problems in their communities, you, we don’t know. So I would encourage you go do whatever you believe in, and after all we can, even though we try for impact, the whole idea of “Karmanye Vadhikaraste” is that we have a right to do our duty and our action, but we don’t really have a right to expect the fruits from it. So if art is the path, go ahead.

0:18:34.9 S3: Wonderful. The next person I would like to invite is Mr. Ravindra Chamaria. Ma’am he has been the mentor of our chapter, my mentor, he’s an amazing and humble philanthropist in his own right.

0:18:47.7 Speaker 5: Namaskar.

0:18:48.8 S3: Chamaria ji over to you.

0:18:52.2 S5: Pleasure meeting you, Mrs. Nilekani. I’ve heard so much about you. You are an institution in philanthropy, I get things to learn from you. My humble question is as far as SVP is concerned, there are many NGOs who approaches us. So what we should be doing, should be focusing on some of them and help them grow to at a much bigger level, or we keep on helping whoever comes? And our resources are limited. So what do you think, you know SVP much better than I know. So we would like to understand that, what is the way forward?

0:19:29.2 S2: Yeah, thank you. That’s another very good question, and I don’t want to be prescriptive, okay? So already, I told you the difference between Nandan’s way and my way, right? So Nandan makes a few big bets and he goes doubles down and goes deep, right? He’ll give hundreds of crores to some institutions. Whereas I take the other approach, which is… Eventually, I double down, okay? Eventually, I do double down. Like I just announced a 50 crore grant to ATREE, for example. But I like to do a little more experimentation in, especially because, Ravindra ji, I try to open up new fronts in philanthropy. So for example, young men and boys…

[foreign language]

0:20:16.8 S2: Right? And some of the access to justice… Some of these are very new things, so I mean… It depends where you are in the maturity of your portfolio. Sometimes you’ll need to experiment with a lot of little organizations to figure out which of them will be able to scale. So it’s not easy for me to tell you which approach to take. But if you are at about, say, one crore or whatever it is, I would think you need to first… And if you’re only three years old, you do, I feel, and I could be wrong, to make a few more learning grants. You’ll quickly be able to tell… I mean all of you have run your organizations and all, you’ll quickly be able to tell which organizations are showing potential. And once you, as a group, are sure of that, then, double down, double down, double down. Right? And one more thing I would say is, trust, I lead with trust, right? My whole philanthropy is trust-based philanthropy. So if you find organizations that you can trust. And sometimes one knows that when one meets the founders or the group, you just know. If you can lead with trust, the winners will make themselves known to you quickly, those who are going to scale impact. That’s what I would say.

0:21:37.8 S5: Great. Thank you very much.

0:21:41.1 S3: I would like to now invite Mr. Bhattacharya. He’s been one of our founding members, the chairperson of our grants committee. Over to you, Mr. Bhattacharya.

0:21:50.6 Speaker 6: Hello and good evening once again. Great to hear you. It’s really been a fantastic journey, and it’s been very inspiring for me, at least. And, especially, when you talked about the Bombay of old… I mean I’ve also grew up in the Calcutta of old, okay?

0:22:08.9 S2: Yes.

0:22:09.3 S6: Of the ’50s, where public facilities and all that, they were on a different level altogether than what they are today. So the question that I wanted to ask you, you talked about Samaj, okay, which encompasses everybody, all communities, everyone together. Now, I keep wondering, when I drive along the streets and I stop at a traffic light, okay, I’m always disturbed and perturbed by the transgenders, who are there, literally begging for money, and it’s… But somehow or the other… I mean, we do not really recognize them as a part of the Samaj that you talked about, right?

0:23:00.4 S2: Yeah.

0:23:00.8 S6: What do you think we should do to really break this social taboo and bring them more onto a platform where they can interact like any other normal people. There are so many things that they can do. Like many things that I can think of in security, in retail, in whatever. And I feel that we are losing out on a huge potential of people who can contribute productively to the society. So what would you say your thoughts would be, and how really we should change the social mindset of people, so that the taboo that is associated with them, really goes off.

0:23:45.5 S2: Yeah. Thank you, Soumitra ji, for that question. It’s very heart warming that you brought up something that many people prefer not to talk about. I think some people are afraid to go there. And that’s really sad in a country with a 5000-year old history of inclusion of sexual diversity, okay? And we can try to shut that part of our past, some people want to, but it’s there to be seen quite physically, and through our literature. So I think, as you said, there are many ways to include all genders in productive spaces in our country. But first, we need a mental model to shift, and that’s very hard, especially, when mental model that was open, has become closed. And closed… When mental models become closed, it’s often because of fear or ignorance, right? So there are plenty of organizations working with transgenders, with people of different sexual orientation. And one way is to just support them, because they are experimenting, innovating in many ways, to see how the taboos can come down, how people can become more accepting. And another way, really, is to walk our talk, that if we really believe in gender diversity, and we believe that it is something to welcome and not to be afraid of, or to pretend or ignore, then what better way than to create livelihood opportunities in our own organizations, right?

0:25:22.6 S3: One of the reasons I work with young men and boys, is because I feel that we have not paid enough attention to what is actually going on in the minds of our young males, around the globe, but also in India, 200 million of them, who are perhaps feeling very insecure about their future. And sometimes, become aggressive because of that, and begin to shut out others because of that. So working with them at a young age and giving them safe spaces to talk. And one of the things we do encourage our partners to talk about and they have taught us that they know how to talk about this, is about sexuality and it’s very many dimensions. So I think starting with young men, young males, to even bring different gender norms to the table, is how we can start. So these are the three responses. Support whichever organizations are working with gender diversity. In your own organizations make real space. Talk to your own families about these things and say…

[foreign language]

0:26:38.9 S2: So start conversations and fourth, work with creating positive livelihood models for them. Thank you.

0:26:51.4 S6: Thank you very much. That was very interesting and I think Sunil and Snigdha, maybe this is something we should discuss in the chapter, you know, because this is something that keeps bugging me all the time, everyday. You know I… That crossing over there, these people are all there, and I really feel if we could spend some of our energy and our finances towards their betterment, it will really be great. Thanks a lot ma’am.

0:27:20.2 S3: Absolutely, Mr. Bhattacharya, thank you. My next partner I would like to invite is Dr. Meenu Sareen, she is one of our newest partners yet highly engaged, she’s actually an HR coach and is helping our NGOs with their HR issues. So over to you Dr. Sareen.

0:27:45.0 S7: Good evening Ms. Nilekani and good evening to all of you.

0:27:47.2 S2: Good evening.

0:27:48.0 S7: And thank you for giving me a chance to be here. At the outset, I would like to say that personally I feel that you and your husband would be termed as model citizens for any country.

0:28:03.0 S2: Thank you.

0:28:03.6 S7: Those who have contributed to the economy of the country and are working relentlessly for the upliftment of our society, so any country would, you know, want people like you around them. Yes as Snigdha says, my husband and I, we are new entrants to the SVP family. Over the years, at a personal level, I have been involved with many lives and where for sure, I know that I have made a difference, and not only human lives, but I also have been involved with strays and so on and so on, then Govind and Snigdha, Sunil they brought us into this fold, and the reason has been that an individual effort is always minuscule but to capture from your phrase, as you said, there is power in people, and I want… We wanted to be a part of positive change, so these two months, you know, that kind of involvement has been there. I have two questions from you, one is at a very personal level, as I said, that I have been part of many lives, it could be a person undergoing chemo in the times of this pandemic or a breaking marriage or… It could be anything, and it doesn’t mean that I have gone and met the person also. I am still connected with a lot of people.

0:29:37.3 S7: Since you have been in philanthropy and upliftment for so many years, do you ever feel emotional distress? “Oh, it’s so much happening.” And then how do you cope with it? Though I am a psychologist, but I am asking you this question because sometimes that involvement, it kinds of overpowers you.

0:30:05.3 S2: Yeah.

0:30:05.7 S7: When I’m working with strays, sometimes I just don’t like to see those pictures.

0:30:12.8 S2: Yeah, so yeah, I’ll answer that quickly, you’re very right you know. People who want to be actively engaged in philanthropy are also empathetic, and so we can feel other people’s pain more sharply perhaps. And one of the… And I used to sometimes come home like really in a bad state and sometimes take it out on that poor Nandan, he used to be like.

[foreign language]

0:30:40.8 S2: But I didn’t know what else to do, and I had to really train myself over the years to keep detachment, so now the credo is maximum concern, but minimum attachment, and that doesn’t mean that… So maximum concern is very important, but minimum attachment and when I say… Sorry, minimum attachment to the fruit of the action of your… So your concern, you keep doing but detach yourself from the result so that you can continue. Otherwise, you can’t… If you allow your empathy to override your abilities, then you know you will not be there for the long game, and it’s very hard to do, I have to reboot, especially after a field trip, I have to reboot each time, and I use prayer, I use music, and once in a while I dip into some favorite chapters from our many, many scriptures to get back on even keel, but I don’t always succeed. So I know where you’re coming from.

0:31:53.3 S7: Yes, so thank you for sharing this with me and with all of us, because I’m sure this would be an issue with all of us. And another question that always comes to my mind that I find an NGO is actually a work of passion. It starts with individual passion, and I find the NGOs they keep growing to a certain number of years, but the moment the founder member is not there, maybe because physically is not there or is unwell or for whatever reason that work stops there. Since now, I have joined SVP, I would actually like to guide these NGOs on how to ensure that this passion outlasts them. Like you said, that even when I am not there, Nandan is not there. We have coached and trained our children that they will take this forward. How do we guide them as SVP? I would consider this as a big effort.

0:33:01.7 S2: Yes. Yeah, another good question. Another good question. And I have tried to do that throughout, okay, Nagrik when I started, we were incredibly unsuccessful. Okay, by the way, you have to get used to failure in this journey. We were marvellously unsuccessful, but even then, I quickly gave up chairmanship to the next person. Akshara Foundation, quickly realized when a wonderful person Ashok Kamath came saying I’ve had enough of the corporate sector, we sort of grabbed him and pulled him into Akshara Foundation. Poor fellow wanted to work with older people, older citizens. We said…

[foreign language]

0:33:40.2 S2: “You work with young children.” And we pulled him in, then he was so amazing. He became the next chairman. Similarly, in Pratham Books, always looking for the next team that will take it forward. Hand it over to Suzanne Singh who took it to the next level. So, I think you’re right. Founder sometimes get to attach to their creations, their institutions, and it never works. We have seen too much of that, so you’re right that there… When you talk to your partners whom you support, this question should be on the table. How is your succession planning going? Who are your next level of leaders? You’re right. That is very important for institutional sustainability. One charismatic founder is good for some time to draw in other people, but not enough for the institution to last. So, it is a common problem. It’s good to bring that conversation out when you have open talks without sounding, again, prescriptive. If you can ask this question, coming from the right place, I think it will really help the sector. So, thank you.

0:34:49.2 S7: Thank you, Ms. Nilekani. And just a small input, Mr. Bhattacharya, you were talking about the transgenders being an important resource for our mission. I always believe that the transgenders are people, who have the cultural etiquettes of a woman and the strength of a man, so that’s the perfect combination of a well honed human being. So, I fully understand and support this cause that you have taken up and in the Calcutta chapter, I think we should discuss and take it forward. And we’ll keep you informed on this, Ms. Nilekani. Thank you so much.

0:35:32.5 S6: Thanks a lot for that.

0:35:34.1 S3: Thank you. I would now welcome Govind. Govind, would you like to ask a question?

0:35:40.5 S8: Yeah, Hi, Rohini. A question really around SVP and our own journey, Kolkata, and many other chapters. I’d love to get your insight. I’m picking up a lot of passion when you connect with an NGO. You talked about the concern, but not attachment. You talked about how you have to let yourself balanced after that one of the things we struggle with is most of our SVP partners tend to be in full-time jobs, and it’s very important… They want to be… They wanna give back. They wanna do things, but it’s a struggle to get the time to do it. In a situation like that, I think, would love to get your insights on how you worked with others who may be having other things to do, but where you brought them into the ecosystem and what’s… Any suggestions you might have of all of us spending our time in the best way possible to understand an NGO’s journey, understand the passion there, understand, because I think we don’t want to be armchair advisors. We want to be actually implementers at the ground level. How do we do that? And I would love to get any insights from you.

0:36:42.6 S2: Again, it really depends on how much time you’re willing to commit, but in a predictable manner. You can’t come in and out saying.

[foreign language]

0:36:52.9 S2: “I can’t do it”. If you can commit predictable time, even if it is one hour a week, and if that partner knows that they have one hour a week of your time, then you can fashion out what you want to do, because if it’s haphazard, it won’t work. But then I would say that all the experience you have in your corporate lives and other work will always come in handy. It’s best, however, not to… I am telling you frankly it’s best not to push yourself onto the NGO partner, but to ask them what they need from you and they will be more than happy to say, “We would like your advice”. If you’re in the legal profession, we would love to hear about this. If you know how to deal with accounts and finance, if you know head hunting like Govind knows from… I think you’re born with it, then that is so useful. So what… Every one of you has a particular skill, and if that skill of yours becomes discoverable in predictable quantities, then an NGO will be more than happy to engage you. But if we come thinking that we know how to help that NGO to solve something or do something, then perhaps the relationship won’t go so well, but do please offer your time and wait for the NGO to ask for it, and then you are legitimate and then you can together co-create solutions and then it’s really exciting. Then it’s all open, but wait for the request.

0:38:29.1 S8: Very well put and definitive time. Identify what you can do and what you can’t. Thank you.

0:38:34.1 S2: Yeah.

0:38:35.9 S9: Hi, if I may. Rohini, hi. Malay here. I really know inside and out of your good things because of Srikant and…

0:38:44.6 S2: I don’t know, who’s speaking actually. I can’t make out.

0:38:46.8 S9: Oh, this is Malay here. Right here.

0:38:49.2 S2: Okay, Malay. Okay. Hi, yeah.

0:38:51.7 S9: Hi, so we talk about you in a great depth and we have a lot of respect as an organization. Here of course I am from representing the bank, HDFC bank. And Nandan is a very good part of it, he had basically written Foreword for our old book, new book and with the wherever he is, wrote a new book. So we are well aware of it, Srikant is our dear friend, and so also, by the way coming to the question, I guess. Is that of lately, what is happening is, what we find from SVP point of view is when we want some corporate or business, donate, I mean contribution, we do not get it. We have to fund from our own… We should do, obviously, but nonetheless, we want other small or to mid-level corporates to participate for missing funds. But there is a, some kind of disconnect. For larger corporation, I understand, they have their whole kingdom of things to do. But for mid and small caps, basically, I don’t know how open they are to… Because at SVP, we are everywhere. We are on every, sort of, helping people out. So there is something for everybody there. And then we want to utilize that fund I think, to do more better job with the great big paradigm. Right, Govind?

0:40:27.2 S2: Yeah.

0:40:28.8 S?: Yeah, right.

0:40:31.1 S2: So the question is, how do you get more leverage for your personal funding by getting funding from CSR. Right? So I’m not sure I have a perfect answer for that, but you… The best way, I think, is to find one champion inside that company. Because, if you find a champion to whom you have told the story in an inspiring way, there is something he can take back to his… If he is the senior-most, then well and good, if he is not, he might be able to take that story. I think for smaller mid-cap organizations, they need to work in their communities of interest. They can’t just simply support some trek to the Himalayas or something. So what can you offer them? How can you make it investible? If you want CSR, of small and mid-cap companies, you’ll have to package it in such a way that they feel it is investible, so that they get social returns on it. And find one champion inside that organization.

0:41:37.4 S9: They are little bit of matrix-oriented, so to speak. Right?

0:41:41.0 S2: Yeah yeah.

0:41:42.8 S9: Yeah, good. And Sanjiv and Angana, if you add something, you can now, on this slide is your low, on daily wages sort of challenges and all.

0:41:53.7 S10: Rohini, this is Sanjiv Sachar. Good evening to you.

0:41:56.9 S2: Hi, Sanjeev.

0:41:58.6 S10: You know, every time I hear you, it’s… One gets inspired.

0:42:04.0 S2: Thank you.

0:42:04.4 S10: And more so by the passion and humility which you shared the journey, is absolutely amazing. So hats off to you.

0:42:13.0 S2: Thank you.

0:42:13.4 S10: My question, you know… A guidance actually. One heard about the way you got introduced to giving back, by the environment in which you grew. Where it was that even if you earn 10 rupees, please ensure that you give at least two rupees back to the society. That is something which even I remember my grandfather telling me, that, you know, from day one. In your mind, what can we do… Because one of the things in the corporate world, having spent so much of time in the corporate world, why do people think of giving back only when they retire? Why do we say that, “Look, I will do social work, only when I retire.” How can we, sort of, really build this thought process that, look, it’s important to start giving from the day you start… Maybe you start becoming aware of what’s happening around you, because people say, “Oh, I’ll have enough money to give back.” Why is it about scale? Why is it about only, “When I have that big bank balance?”

0:43:27.4 S2: Yeah.

0:43:27.8 S10: Just love to get your thoughts on it.

0:43:29.7 S2: Now we should ask our young friend, Vivek, to be our ambassador to his peer group on this question. You know what? Sometimes I think, something has to click into place, right? And I’m telling you, things are changing. See, earlier, I must say… My parents grew up in this License Raj. People have to work really hard to make only a little bit. Either you’re born with it, your parents were wealthy, and… Otherwise, you know… So there was a sense of… There was a sense of potential, but not enough security to say that we need to start giving. In India, people give anyway to their family, their community, their temple, all that they do. But to do what we today call structured philanthropy, I think a society also needs to reach a level of confidence in its economy, in its future, right? And today you’re getting all these young people becoming wealthy. And they don’t have to be super wealthy. They have some surplus money. And all around them, they are seeing, through social media, through communication channels, they are seeing what’s happening around them. And they realize how intricately their lives and futures are connected to those who are left. So they’re getting interested and stimulated by the question of how they can be part of creating a much better system.

0:44:49.2 S2: So I have seen hundreds of young people, Sanjiv, wanting to give back early, and not waiting. And like Vivek, so many are just… I’m talking to the Zerodha founders, there are so many others just now. My young friend from Healthify, they are all saying, “We came into a little money. We just took out a little money for ourselves, and we are going to immediately set aside 20% of that. Please tell us how should we invest.” So I think the culture is shifting and changing. I think this pandemic has also taught us a lot of stuff about how the elite has to stop thinking that it can secede to its private world, and everything is alright. The virus doesn’t recognize your gated communities, right? So, we have no choice but to swim… We swim in the same water, and we have to make that water healthy for all.

0:45:44.4 S2: Because otherwise, it is not going to be healthy for us also. So I think that realization is coming, and last but not the least, the ecosystem around giving, is also improving in India, Sanjiv bhai. So it’s much easier to give transparently, right? If for any cause, you like art, fine there are thousand NGOs doing well. You like sports, fine you like just… Anything that you like, you can find easily, organizations are more discoverable, bridging organizations have grown, so it’s also easier to give back. And young people are also always idealistic. So it’s become easier to tap into their interest, not just to give money but to give their energy. It’s a young country, I expect a lot…

0:46:31.7 S10: No it’s phenomenal, Rohini, you mentioned a very important point, which is the ecosystem. For example, you have the ecosystem of the family, now you’re saying ecosystem of the society. And therefore if you look around India, and you’ll see a lot more people giving, let’s say in a city like Bangalore, because they have people like you, they’ve got people like a friend of mine whose on this chat, Shantha, Jogen, all these… When you look in Bombay, you got people like Govind, or so. Unfortunately, it varies from city to city. Maybe Delhi is a little more politically hungry than… It’s more taking than giving. [chuckle] So, on a lighter note, but thank you very much, Rohini it’s always…

0:47:24.8 S2: And also, also Sanjeev Bhai, retail giving in India is going up to actual civil society organizations, not just to temples and stuff, which is hard to quantify. But especially in this pandemic, we are happy to report that giving by citizens who are not so wealthy shot up, we raised like hundreds of crores. I mean, this is the spirit of India that we have to tap into. Kindness to strangers, kindness to strangers is something that we have done as a culture, we need to revive that idea.

0:48:03.6 S10: Thank you Rohini, thank you very much. Really…

0:48:05.6 S6: If I can just add something from my personal experience, it’s also the way you were brought up and you were taught in schools and things like that. So, I was in St. Xavier’s Kolkata and we had a system called poor box. So every Monday, a small tin used to go around the class and we used to contribute one paisa, two paisa whatever in those days, and all the proceeds used to go to missionaries of charity, when the world hadn’t heard of Mother Teresa. This was in the early 60s, okay? So from early childhood, this sense of giving, spare a thought for the poor or whatever, was actually drilled into our heads sort of, from early days, and it’s a practice that can be followed in schools and everywhere where somebody is ingrained into this, from a very very early age.

0:49:10.3 S2: I think we have to re-imagine the culture of giving, right? It has to be a culture, it has to become the norm, and we need good storytelling around it, we need inspiring, and SVP is an example of that, that we need many more such institutions that show that the people can come together for a much larger purpose, for societal missions. And that even if we are small, we can become part of a very large stream of giving forward. And so you can feel equally creative whether you’re doing something 10 rupees, 10 lakhs, whatever it is. And that’s what I think builds that culture of giving, that every node in the giving process is important. And that also telling the story of how we know that the brain is really wired for joy by giving, and so there are many multiple rewards for society and for individuals in this giving journey. So re-imagining a culture of giving small and big. I think all of us can carry that story forward.

More like this

Strategic Philanthropy

Women in Philanthropy: A conversation with IMC Ladies Wing

A conversation between IMC Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Rohini Nilekani on the subject of Women in philanthropy- a personal journey, a public conversation. Transcript 0:00:00.4 Speaker 1: Hello. Good afternoon, everyone. A very warm welcome to all our members and guests for this event. A warm welcome to Mrs. Rohini Nilekani and Shloka […]
Jan 20, 2021 |

Strategic Philanthropy

Nilekanis pledge half of wealth for philanthropy

BENGALURU: Infosys co-founder and tech billionaire Nandan Nilekani and his wife Rohini Nilekani have joined ‘The Giving Pledge’, an elite network of the world’s wealthiest individuals committing half their wealth to philanthropy. The Giving Pledge website uploaded Nilekanis’ letter signing up for the cause. View PDF
Nov 21, 2017 | Personality

Strategic Philanthropy  |  Everyday Giving

Report | Why Philanthropy Must Support Crowdfunding in India

Since the beginning of this decade, crowdfunding has enabled an ever-growing number of projects, from films to products to charitable work, to be successfully funded through online platforms. The proliferation of crowdfunding platforms in India that enable individuals and groups to seek funds for non-profit and charitable causes, is an indication that the public is […]
Nov 1, 2017 | Reports

Strategic Philanthropy

Bill Gates Welcomes Rohini and Nandan Nilekani to The Giving Pledge

I’m amazed by how Nandan Nilekani has lent his entrepreneurial passion to philanthropy. I’m delighted to welcome him and his wife Rohini to the Giving Pledge. View PDF
Nov 20, 2017 | Personality