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Women in Philanthropy: A conversation with IMC Ladies Wing

Strategic Philanthropy | Jan 20, 2021

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 Nath. Mrs. Nilekani, it’s an honour to have you as our esteemed guest speaker today. Increasingly, women are rising as leaders in philanthropy. They’re creating their own wealth, establishing private foundations, and collaborating with their philanthropic peers. They’re doing some amazing work; changing lives, breaking the glass ceiling and inspiring millions of others. Today, let’s meet one of the inspiring philanthropists, Mrs. Rohini Nilekani, who will share her erudite thoughts on the responsibility that comes with wealth and her philosophy of samaaj, bazaar, and sarkar that needs to stay in a fine balance, and what each of us as citizens can do to help. We’re glad to have Shloka Nath to curate this event. We are humbled to host this inspiring event. Before we begin, we would like to present Mrs. Rohini Nilekani and Shloka an e-certificate from Grow-Trees, consisting of a thicket of 10 trees each planted in your honour as a gratitude on behalf of the IMC Ladies Wing.

0:01:29.9 Speaker 2: Thank you.

0:01:31.8 Speaker 3: Thank you.

0:01:32.2 Speaker 1: Here’s presenting the Business Environment Committee for the year 2020-2021. May I now request Neela Parikh, Chairperson of the committee to take the event forward. Neela, please.

0:01:46.7 Speaker 4: Welcome, Rohini Nilekani, Shloka and all the members and committee members. Shloka, I’m really impressed with your profile, and really hats off to you to do so much. Shloka Nath is currently leads Sustainability and Policy and Advocacy portfolio at Tata Trusts, one of India’s leading philanthropic foundation. As head of sustainability, she is focused on organization work on climate, energy and environment, implementing and funding sustainable and scalable solutions that helps both people and nature thrive through India. As head of policy and advocacy, she has critical responsibility in advancing the trust’s key strategic and policy priorities for greater impact through strong relationship and external liaison with government, relevant industry organization as well as close work with development sector leaders. She is also Executive Director of India Climate Collaborative, an India-led platform founded in 2018 by a group of philanthropists interested in continuing to accelerate India’s development.

0:03:04.9 Speaker 4: Shloka is also Vice President of Bombay Natural History Society, one of the largest non-governmental organization in India engaged in conservation and biodiversity research. Prior to that she co-founded and was Managing Partner of Sankhya Women Impact Funds, a gender lens fund with focus on sustainability. She also an active angel investor in social enterprise, and has mentored organizations across sectors. She has spent over a decade in journalism with BBC in London, a news anchor with NDTV and principal correspondence with Forbes in Mumbai, with special emphasis on financial inclusion, sustainability, and public policy. In 2010, she was also nominated for India’s highest award in journalism for her reportage on microfinance in India. Congratulations Shloka. She has master’s in public policy from Harvard Kennedy School of Government and BSc in government from London School of Economics and Political Science. She is also author of book Hidden India: Journey to Where the Wild Things Are, a compendium of photographs and writing about Indian wildlife and landscape. Shloka, over to you.

0:04:37.5 Speaker 2: Thank you so much. I really appreciate that you read out the whole bio. [chuckle] I’m feeling very embarrassed [chuckle], but thank you. I really appreciate it. And thank you, everyone, for joining us today. Thank you to the IMC Ladies’ Wing for setting up this conversation. Today is a very personal privilege for me to be able to introduce you to our speaker for today. She’s someone I’ve had the good fortune to work with and who I admire a great deal, Rohini Nilekani. Rohini is very much like the black panther that she had spent so many years searching for, she’s very much like the precious species she has worked her whole life to protect. You know, black cats have long intrigued us, from comic book heroes to symbols of superstition, they are exceptional and rare, and they play a critical role in their ecosystem in bettering human life, much like Rohini. Not only is she, without doubt, the most powerful woman in philanthropy in India today, she is arguably one of the most important philanthropists globally. But she is also smart, she’s an incredibly nice person, she’s down to earth, and she has the ability to stay optimistic in the face of tremendous human need.

0:05:54.6 S2: I’ve seen her repeatedly seek out ingenuity while acknowledging the pain of what we are all suffering. And she’s found her life’s purpose in giving away her money to help others. Rohini is the Founder-Chairperson of Arghyam, a foundation that she set up for sustainable water and sanitation, which funds initiatives all across India. She was the Founder-Chairperson and chief funder of Pratham Books, a non-profit children’s publisher that reached millions of children during her tenure. She is the Co-founder and Director of EkStep, a non-profit educational platform. She sits on the Board of Trustees of ATREE, an environmental think tank, and serves on the Eminent Persons Advisory Group of the Competition Commission of India. Rohini Nilekani is a committed philanthropist and in 2017, she, together with her husband Nandan Nilekani, they signed the Giving Pledge, which commits half their wealth to philanthropic causes. She is the epitome of the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote, “To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”

0:07:00.5 S2: Before I hand it over to Rohini, a couple of housekeeping rules. Today’s event will be in three parts. Rohini will deliver her opening address, after which she and I will have a brief conversation about her career in philanthropy. And finally, the last 15 to 20 minutes, we will allow for audience questions. So please do post your questions in the chatbox. I’ll do my best to get to them. So with that, over to you, Rohini. Please do tell us about your personal journey of giving.

0:07:29.9 Speaker 3: Thank you for those kind words, Shloka. Thank you so much, Anuja Ji, for inviting me here. Thank you to the IMC Ladies’ Wing. It’s a great honour to be here in front of all of you today, and I will take about 10 minutes just to kick off the story of a little bit of a personal journey, and then Shloka has all these many many questions to ask me and then hopefully you will have some too, which I look forward to the most. So where shall I begin? Well, like I think many of the women in this room, in this virtual room, I grew up in Mumbai in a middle class family and the main thing, the main values that I think we carried were, of course, educate yourself, believe in yourself, and that we are all together responsible for designing the kind of society we want to live in. So everyone has responsibility as a citizen, and when you can, you have to use your talents to share forward, to give forward, to achieve that vision of a good society. I think by words and by actions even more, in my family, this was sort of conveyed to me, and hopefully, I have tried to internalize this in my life, and I was a writer. I always… If you wake me up in the middle of the night and ask me, “Who are you?” I’ll say, “I am a writer” because since I was very young, I used to write for children.

0:08:57.5 S3: I became a journalist. I wrote for many publications. I continue to write op-eds routinely. So a lot of my professional life has been as a writer, but then when like perhaps many of you, I made an accidentally smart decision to invest in my husband’s startup. There was a small company called Infosys in 1981, and I put the princely sum of Rs. 10,000 into that organization, and it became unbelievably successful. And so we became very wealthy, much more than I expected to become in my lifetime, and I think Infosys was in the right time at the right place in this country when economic liberalisation was happening, when the IT sector was coming into its own, and so we were able to come into wealth, which is of course something I had to… It didn’t come easily to me. First generation wealth of this kind, when it comes into people’s hand, people react very very differently, and I, who used to be a bit of an activist as a journalist before, and in those days in India, we didn’t have a culture where we looked upon wealth with great… In a very benign way in society, okay? That if you were very super wealthy, it’s not necessarily the right thing. There was that kind of culture in India. And I… When I came into that wealth, I suddenly had to rethink a lot about my priorities.

0:10:33.8 S3: I went through a pretty confused phase about my wealth and then somehow slowly watching other people, being inspired by the history of what wealthy people have done to create good in society, I came to terms with the fact that if you want to work through your journalism and through the other things that you have been doing to create a better society a better samaaj, then you can use this wealth in a way that actually moves that mission forward. So I began to see it from a kind of a burden or weight to seeing it as a liberating opportunity to do some work and then life become easier. So I wanted to be quite honest to you about that, that coming into sudden wealth may not necessarily be the easiest thing to deal with. Otherwise people will say like if you get a lottery, arey zindagi ban jayegi, but sometimes it’s not as simple as that, so I did want to bring that to the notice of the audience today. But once I got in, so I set up the foundation Arghyam and we started working on water, before that, when the children were very young, I had set up a trust called Nagrik to work on safer roads and we really didn’t succeed at all because India is a capital of bad roads and we have the world’s worst statistics on road accidents and deaths, but I learnt that whatever your passion is, you begin working in that. You may not succeed and certainly in Nagrik, we didn’t succeed at all from 1992 onwards.

0:12:10.8 S3: And because… We learned many lessons from why we didn’t succeed. We didn’t have the right strategy, we didn’t put in the enough capital, we were a sort of gangly group who was doing it part-time, and we failed, but we learnt a lot from that failure and the next thing that I started getting involved with, which was Akshara Foundation, which was part of the Pratham Network. I think many of you may have heard of the Pratham Network. So, through that, I got involved very much in early education and worked for a long time as Chairman of Akshara Foundation. When in Karnataka, we managed to work with thousands of schools and hundreds of slum areas of Bangalore and other places in Karnataka, and even after I left Akshara Foundation, it did extremely well with the next leadership. Similarly, with Pratham Books, setting up Pratham Books with an absolute passion to see a book in every child’s hand in 2004. For 10 years, worked very hard at it, and we managed to create an open platform to allow many many authors, many many writers, illustrators, editors, translators to come on a common platform to allow the creation of more books in just five years than India had been able to create in 50.

0:13:29.7 S3: So that allowed us reach millions of children with good Indian local indigenous content. And if there’s anything, when people ask me, “What gives you the most joy in all the work you have done in the last 30 years? ” I always say it’s Pratham Books and seeing one child clutching a book and saying, “This book is for me? And we say, “It’s for you.” And she reads it and her face is what has always given me the best joy in the world.

0:13:55.6 S3: After Pratham Books, very quickly, I’ll come to Arghyam, which was the Water Foundation, and as you all know, water is such a key resource, and we were able to work with dozens and dozens of the most amazing civil society organizations in the country, to help them to solve their own problems of water. See, one of the things we learn in this journey, my husband and I is, you can take one solution and push it down a pipeline, or you can distribute the ability to solve. So depending on how you structure your work, you can allow people to become part of solving their own problems, rather than remaining just a part of the problem itself, and that became very exciting to allow communities around the country to work in very diverse areas because as you know, Bihar’s water problems are very different from Gujarat’s water problems or Rajasthan’s water problems and allowing people to solve problems in their own context and enabling them, rather than saying, “Look, I have all the answers and you please do it my way.”

0:14:58.3 S3: We quickly learnt that how people are innovative, they understand grassroot situations very well, and there is tremendous diversity in the country, so everyone needs to solve problems, whether it’s a water, education, health, whatever it may be, in their context. And so we learnt to design for that, to help people to solve their own problems. So that’s what I learnt through all these organizations. And in my philanthropy, I then started supporting a lot of work in environment Shloka was referring to some of that work. I’m very passionate about wildlife and keeping our ecology, because sometimes we forget, I think women understand this sometimes better than men, that the economy is a subsidiary of the ecology, that the ecology comes first, it’s the foundation and the economy rests on it. And if we keep destroying that ecology, if we destroy the environment, our natural resources, our bio-diversity, we cannot even do well economically.

0:16:03.4 S3: Luckily Indians who hold a lot of nature sacred, are one of the few countries in the world, we have one of the few countries in the world where we have been able to conserve our bio-diversity despite having such a density of population. That’s because our culture allows us to respect what is in nature, and that’s been a very important, a really important point at which we are in 2021 because I’m sure Shloka believes this too, and I’m sure many of you know this too, really my friends, this is the most important decade of all. We must all feel a great sense of urgency to solve any problem that you are interested, luckily there are enough problems in the world that all of us can keep getting engaged, no matter in how smaller way, but this is the decade when we have to use our maximum innovation, use our minds, our hearts, and our pockets to help stabilize humanity and the planet.

0:17:05.2 S3: We got a rude shock last year, all the sustainable development goals, everything, maybe a 190 countries had come together to commit to, we lost 10 years in one year in 2020 because of the pandemic. So, all the more… All of us were so privileged, we’re so much the elite of India, and in fact the world. We should feel that sense of urgency coming from the fact that the earth and humanity slipped back so much in one year, and how can we all catch up? And I feel that women, especially, have a lot of role to play in this decade, in these 20s, it should become the decade of being led by feminine energy more than masculine energy, because what the earth needs right now, and what people need right now is to be nurtured and healed. So in my philanthropy, whether I’m working on anything, on environment, on education, in arts and culture, somewhere we try to restore a bit of that, what Osho calls the lunar energy, the feminine energy, into the work that we do, which brings more healing, more dialogue, more nurturing, and so I’m sure Shloka is going to ask questions about what all of us can do?

0:18:29.0 S3: But let me just close my personal journey with two things, one is that I continue to be inspired by my long dead grandfather, Babasaheb Soman, who joined Gandhiji in 1917, when Gandhiji first made a clarion call for volunteers in Champaran. And he was among the first people, in-fact the very first batch to go to Champaran to help Gandhiji, because he understood that in times of crisis, our own little personal lives are less important than what we can contribute to make society stronger. And he went there, he stayed with Kasturbaji in Bhitiharwa Ashram, which was the first ashram Gandhiji built. And his life is a great exemplar for me. And I’m sure all of you have similar incidents in your lives where you look up to people who have been able to put society first, before themselves.

0:19:25.1 S3: And the other thing I want to tell you is that although I work in so many different areas, there is one core philosophy that lightens my work, that brightens my work, it’s a core philosophy which tells me, and I’ve done this by reading history, by trying to understand various aspects of the economy and politics and development, that in the continuum of Samaaj, Bazaar and Sarkar, that is society, state and markets, I believe that Samaaj comes first. After all, people, we, humans, citizens came first, and market scheme to help us to deal better with each other, right? The bazaar came to help, samaaj to deal better economically with each other and sarkar came so that of course, because samaaj is not homogenous, sarkar came later to help us organize our institutions better. So samaaj is the first sector, okay? And bazaar and sarkar are there to help samaaj thrive, so that we can have a good society. So any work we all can do to build our samaaj, it’s moral institutions, it’s leader… Society, its ethical grounding then… And if we become strong in those institutions, whether it is our schools, our hospitals, chambers like the IMC and your Ladies’ Wing, these are all institutions of society that help each of us participate to make all of society better.

0:21:09.2 S3: And if we have a strong samaaj, then we can hold sarkar and bazaar accountable to help samaaj become better and better. And so all my philanthropic work in all the sectors that I’m involved with, justice, young men and boys is a portfolio that I have, all of that is inspired by this idea that if there are good… If we can fund good ideas, good individuals and good institutions of the samaaj, then we can all strive for that better society that we will all be very proud to belong in, and which will be the right place to nurture our children and grandchildren. So I’m gonna leave it at that so that we can go a little deeper with Shloka’s questions, but once again, I thank you all for letting me come here and speak. Namaste.

0:22:03.1 S2: Thanks, Rohini. That was inspiring to say the least. And I’m sure our audience has a number of questions for you as well, but I’m so glad that I get first dibs to ask you a bunch of questions today. I think maybe a good place to start is actually that reference to feminine energy, if we can dive a little deeper into that. Because in India, what’s been interesting is that women philanthropists tend to fund the most interesting and exciting work and they have a very strong leadership role. So for example, there’s you, there’s Vidya Shah of EdelGive Foundation, there is Anu Aga of Thermax. Why is that? Why… Do women have a different appetite for risk and failure from men? And does it have something to do with the weight of wealth and how women perceive that, you know, what you were describing earlier?

0:22:54.3 S13: Yeah. No, it’s a good question. I don’t think there’s a very definite answer, but if we look at the lives of all of us on this panel here, all of us who are listening in today, we all know that we are capable of occupying many spaces and many identities all at once. And by doing that, by not being locked into one dominant identity, okay, we are able to, I think, see more shades of gray, we can see that things are not black and white, and we can see how we can sort of… That all aspects of those identities need nurturing. And I think that may bring a perspective that is different from that of men, because women automatically, they may not call it risk-taking, and it’s very different from how we take risk in business setups, but every day women learn to take risks, they learn about risk and reward and trade-offs. They’re constantly having to do trade-offs as homemakers, as career women, as mothers, as wives, as spouses, and so I feel understanding nuances, understanding multiple spaces and understanding how to juggle between them, allows women to not be locked into one identity of, say, for example, economic power alone. And perhaps that’s why the kind of philanthropy that women do can be different, whether it’s Anu Aga or Melinda Gates, or anyone else. And God, we need much, much more of that.

0:24:40.5 S1: Shloka, can you unmute? Shloka, please unmute yourself.

0:24:42.6 S2: I’m sorry. I was just gonna say, one of the cornerstones of your philanthropy has also been encouraging that diversity of approaches and resolving the problems that you care about, and can you elaborate a little bit on that, Rohini, because it’s very tied to what you just mentioned? And also where did this philosophy come from?

0:25:02.4 S3: So yeah, thank you. You mean, the… So I told you about samaaj, bazaar, sarkar, I think that’s a fairly simple one. But as Nandan and I, as you know, my husband Nandan has been also involved in tiny, tiny projects like Aadhaar [chuckle] and other stuff so he’s learnt from those… No, that was a joke. It’s one of the, of course, one of the largest ever programs in the world, and of course Infosys’s experience… And my work at Pratham Books and all the other work that I try to do, it made us understand that the problems in the world are getting more and more complex, and our responses are not matching at all. Not just us, all over globally, problems seem to be running ahead faster than we are able to solve them. And new problems are emerging all the time, such as pandemics and climate change. So, we started to think, what have we learned in 30 years that a core philosophy that will allow us to achieve more impact at scale?

0:26:08.1 S3: And our teams who are, God bless them, extremely innovative and committed and bright, between us all we came to call it societal platform thinking. And the four core values that animate that are, that to solve complex problems of any kind, you name the problem and it cannot be solved, it will be a complex problem, right? To solve complex societal problems, you need to involve samaaj, sarkar, and bazaar, but you need to find a way to reduce the friction between them to collaborate. Otherwise, all the efforts get very scattered. So to do that, we said, we need to create a technology backbone. We need to be technology-enabled. And we need to help people solve problems in their own context. Because in India there’s, as I said, so much diversity. How do you help people?

0:26:58.1 S3: Every 100 meters, the context changes. So, how do you create an infrastructure, a common public digital infrastructure, that helps people solve problems in their own way, and we have done that through, for example, EkStep and Arghyam, where people can use a digital infrastructure to talk to each other, to discover each other, and to solve their own problems in their own context and then share back on that platform what they learned, so that somebody else somewhere can learn from that too. So that has become now the push that we are trying to do to enable more and more people to join us in solving larger and larger problems with what Nandan calls speed, scale, and sustainability. I’m sorry that sounded like a lot of words.

[laughter]

0:27:46.9 S2: No, but it’s all making complete sense, and I think, one thing that you’ve pointed out, which again, it would be great to have you elaborate on is how you actually work very hard in your philanthropy to empower the organizations that you give to. I think this is something you’ve repeatedly spoken about that giving has to come with agency and any organizations that you give to they are likely to produce a lot more impact if they have agency and you actually call this trust-based philanthropy. I know that’s something that you really propagate very deeply. Can you tell us a little bit more about the role trust plays in philanthropy and where do you think, Rohini, you’ve been able to have the most impact till date?

0:28:30.6 S3: Yeah. No, I think in the social sector, see none of us know how to really solve complex problems and you have to come in with that humility. We really don’t know. We have to keep learning by doing and failing and learning again, but in India, really, I think I cannot underscore this enough. We have a vast civil society with hundreds and thousands of really good organizations. Some maybe very small, but they do really good work to keep a lot of our society in balance. So when we want to do philanthropy, I think we should begin by accepting the rich diversity of our civil society institutions, and what better way to start a partnership with any one of them than beginning with trust. So I believe in that very strongly. If we begin with trust, trust is always reciprocated, right? And since the civil society organizations, the NGOs, are the ones who understand the problems on the ground more than us sitting far away, my absolute core principle is to let them co-create the program that they want funded and have the flexibility and freedom to change based on the circumstances around them. So, I’ve followed that throughout my career, and I hope it has helped in some way, certainly it has helped me, because once you trust other people, your work becomes easier too.

0:30:06.2 S2: No, and I’d put… Sorry.

0:30:07.6 S3: Yeah.

0:30:08.5 S2: Please go ahead, Rohini.

0:30:09.9 S3: So, I just feel like many women come to ask me, so I want to do something, but I really don’t know what to do. Sometimes, Shloka, women tell me that I don’t feel comfortable spending money, I don’t feel like it’s my money, okay? And to them, I’ll say, “Well, if you have some freedom over some capital. First of all, we never count the amount women do in a family. We do a lot of unpaid work. So I think instead of worrying about my money, did I earn… Feeling that that is part of developing family values, all just like we want. We talk of samskruti, we talk about sanskaar. I think taking one step to do some philanthropic work at any scale, giving off yourself or your time or your money, is like building your family, so that’s what I tell women, begin, find one NGO, one cause that you like, anything. It could be anything at all. Find one organization, however, small, doing good work in it. Start with trust and see the magic that will come.

0:31:27.1 S2: Thanks, Rohini. I think that’s very good advice, actually, and I think it’s also true of the optimism in general that tends to animate your work, that you lead with really these guiding values of love, trust, faith, the things that we need the most in the world today. And I think also something that’s really unique to you is really the kind of quality that Vaclav Havel recognized very early on is the willingness to work for something because it’s good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed, and it’s very similar to what you wrote in your Giving Pledge letter, actually. You had a very beautiful quote there, and I think to paraphrase it very quickly, you said essentially that the idea that action itself should motivate us more than the ego-driven desire for results. Is that why you signed up to the Giving Pledge, and could you tell us a little bit more about that quote and the philosophy behind it?

0:32:23.9 S3: So the Giving Pledge is set up by Warren Buffett, Bill and Melinda Gates because they realized that there’s far too… I mean, honestly, I believe, there is far too much concentrated wealth and in far too few hands that you know today’s global economy is. There’s only one part of the spectrum that is sucking up too much of the value and people like myself and many others in this world and not that many actually, 10,000, somewhere around there, have really disproportionate wealth, which they cannot possibly use in 10 generations of their own families.

0:33:00.4 S3: What responsibility does such wealth have to society? It has a very strong responsibility because societies will not allow such runaway wealth creation unless some good was coming back to society itself. So those kind of questions animate the Giving Pledge that you will… How can we get more rich people to commit to giving away at least half of their wealth hopefully in their lifetimes? It took Nandan and me some time to join the Giving Pledge because culturally we were a little hesitant to be so public about it. It took a little time to get comfortable with it, but I’m very glad we did it because we need more people to come out and commit that the wealth in their hands has a societal responsibility. So, when we were asked to write a letter, I used what else… I used the Bhagavad Gita and Karmanye Vadhikaraste, which says, “Focus on the action, but the fruit of the action will come, but you must not be afraid to act because you’re worried about the result.” You should not be worried about failure. Doesn’t mean that you’ll get trapped into inaction, okay? Inaction is very… Will not help us, will not help you, and will not help society. Don’t be afraid to act. Don’t necessarily bother about the outcome. Hope for a good outcome, but don’t hesitate to act.

0:34:30.2 S3: And so we acted and we’re trying… Busily trying to see that if in our lifetimes we can give away half of our wealth which by the way is not easy at all, because there’s not enough absorptive capacity to take money, especially in India, because we don’t have very, very, very large institutions. India, even after 70 years… 73 years, we still have to build out our public institutions. There’s a lot of work to do ahead.

0:35:01.6 S2: I can imagine and actually Rohini, this comes back to your earlier point about COVID-19, climate change, of course, which you’re so passionate about. How is that actually going to impact our ability to achieve the SDGs by 2030? I know you wrote a book during the pandemic as well because of course you did. [chuckle] And I know that book is called Hungry Little Monster. Could you tell us a bit about that because I think it’s a children’s book, of course, but it really talks about taking on a new resolution and I wonder where that came from for you and how are you thinking about the world beyond COVID-19 and what we need to do?

0:35:38.7 S3: Oh the book was just fun. So, I’m a children’s author. So, I’ve written about 13 books for Pratham Books and one this new one for Juggernaut. The Juggernaut book is called the Hungry Little Sky Monster, entirely inspired by my three-year-old grandson. It’s a new fable about why the moon waxes and wanes. I thoroughly enjoy my children’s writing and my Sringeri Srinivas series, which I created for Pratham Books. By God’s grace, thousand… Lakhs of children seemed to love it. So I feel very good about that, but I also have been writing a lot of other stuff in the past year. And the post-pandemic world, I think, Shloka, all of us can participate in building back better as they begun to say, in every way, okay. We don’t have to go back to dysfunctionality, okay. And we have to find a better way. One is so that we are all much more prepared when the next pandemic comes because it will come. This is not the last pandemic. How can we learn to trust each other? How can we build better rapid response? How can we build more resilience in our society?

0:36:48.2 S3: Resilience is not something that only the government has to do or only some civil suit. All of us have to start thinking about responsibility and resilience. What do I have to do as a citizen to be ready to help neighbors in need? One thing in some way at a very deep philosophical level, if 2020 taught me anything is actually there are no strangers. We are all… While we may have… They say we are all in different kinds of boats, we are still all in the same big pool and how can we recognize the humanity of everybody on this planet? It’s not easy at all. It’s not easy at all, but how can we learn to understand much more about the deep interconnections that I have with that grandmother in China who first sneezed… Brazil where the forest fires are actually making carbon emissions worse. I mean all of us are related. How can we continue our discovery of that and then learn that, “Yes, I can act on those connections. I can make that web of interconnections stronger.” So responsibility and resilience, all of us can work on it together.

0:38:04.6 S2: Thanks Rohini. I think that’s a really beautiful way of putting it. I have one last question for you before we actually move to the chat because I know there are lots of people with lots of wonderful comments about how inspiring your words are, but also there are some very interesting questions there for you. I think the final question for you from me is about the social contract between wealthy in India and the rest of society. You’ve talked about this interconnected web. What should the interplay between wealth, taxes, and philanthropy be? It was a big topic of discussion last year, and I’m wondering what your thoughts are around that.

0:38:42.2 S3: You know right now, personal income tax has gone up steadily and steeply in India. So about… Till about last year, I used to feel that the wealthy in India need to be taxed more, but now our tax limits are quite high. I mean we are getting to the point where in Indira Gandhi’s time, I think it was some 90% or something. So we were just calculating that we pay more than 60% top rate of income taxes and personal taxes, which I’m not against by the way. I think the wealthy need to be taxed properly. Of course, we need to increase the number of wealthy people who actually pay those taxes because otherwise it’s a moral hazard, right? It’s not fair on some wealthy who pay their taxes, but the others don’t. So we need to make sure that all those who are wealthy pay their fair share of taxes. Because if we don’t have this kind of taxation system, how on earth are we going to create the public infrastructure that other people can use as a trampoline or as a springboard to create common prosperity. So yes, taxation is important.

0:39:47.7 S3: In India, however, we still need to tweak some things to make it easier to be philanthropic. We haven’t really finished that whole journey of making it easy for people to do philanthropy. This is not the time to go into details about that. But I think we need more advocacy around that, we need better laws, and we need to make it easier to give. And we need to make it easier to run civil society institutions. Right now there’s a lot of pressure on our NGO sector. We need to ease that pressure. We need more trust, we need more partnerships. We need the wealthy of this country to really get involved with helping to unlock the potential to solve some long-standing problems of exclusion and of holding people’s potential back that we have in this country. And what can be more exciting than that? I’ll tell you one thing, when you’re working on a societal cause, it gives you mental stimulation, it makes your heart healthier in many ways and it really keeps your mind continuously engaged and optimistic.

0:41:02.7 S2: Thanks Rohini. We can see that on your face ’cause you radiate. I’m gonna actually move to the chatbox because we have a bunch of questions for you here, and we have a great question from Anurati. She’s actually got two questions for you Rohini. The first is that there is a spectrum from intuitive to strategic philanthropy, and do you feel like the latter has more merit and where do you identify? And the second part of that question for you is, you’ve chosen your own areas of work around advocacy and justice, you have young men and boys, you have climate and biodiversity. How have you done that… How you made that choice between all of these areas or why have you chosen these areas?

0:41:41.5 S3: Okay, so on the first one, I would say intuitive to strategic, you know you don’t wake up knowing how to do… You are not born knowing how to do strategic philanthropy. It’s a journey. It’s an evolution, right? So my very first act of philanthropy was to give part of my very first salary to a girl for a scholarship. Now that’s not highly strategic, but it was a very important first step in my journey, right? So you begin from the heart, you have to begin from the heart. I feel in this, in this space, you have to begin from the heart, and you have to quickly make the journey. The heart in the end is only that far, but it takes a long time to cross this thing and so you have to move from the heart to the head, but you have to keep dipping back to the heart for inspiration. So you can go from intuitive to strategic, it takes time and effort.

0:42:34.4 S3: As to my various portfolios, independent media, justice, access to justice, climate and biodiversity and interestingly, young men and boys. They all come from my various passions and interest and also from meeting committed people or coming across committed organizations. Because as I said, that’s very important for me. People who want to help improve things, philanthropy must support them. That is the risk-capital they need, which allows them to experiment and create models, which then government can pick up for scale, so… Even though it’s diverse areas. I’ll quickly touch on young men and boys, because I don’t know if people will say, “What is she talking about?” So I have a portfolio called Young Men and Boys, and that doesn’t mean that I don’t care about women, I do. I think so much has to be done to make women really be able to hold up half the sky as they say. But as I began to think about the subject more deeply, I realized that if we don’t concentrate also on young males especially, who in their own right have all kinds of troubles, and we have not focused as a society on allowing to be their best human selves by not supporting them, by allowing them to be trapped in identities where they feel they can’t cry or they have to be only bread winners, or they have a particular way of looking at women because they haven’t explored themselves enough.

0:44:04.5 S3: How do we create spaces for them to talk and try to create a new idea of masculinity, which is less confused, less aggressive? How can we give young males the space to work with themselves, to work with women, to really create a much more just way of looking at gender? And it’s been great, we are working now… When we began there were only two organizations working in this space. Now we have 12, hopefully growing to 20, and it’s an interesting thing to… For the women on this program today to think about. How should mothers, sisters, you know, grandmothers work with the young males in their homes so that they also… They are not afraid to experiment with different parts of themselves. How can they be more sensitive? How can they understand women better? How can we help to create more confident and therefore more gentle males in the world? So that’s my portfolio, and I learn a lot from that every day.

0:45:16.3 S2: Thanks Rohini. We have another question for you from Maha who wants to know a little bit more about how do you sort of make that distinction between the rural-urban divide within your philanthropy?

0:45:28.6 S3: Yeah, so I don’t really look at it as a rural-urban divide. We go to where the problems are and when people… So Nandan especially does a lot of work on urban governance, and I do that through some of the institutions. But because when we started in water the problems were very severe in rural India. So we went there. But increasingly I think the new area where all of us were interested in such work should concentrate is peri-urban which is neither rural nor urban, and that place, those spaces allowed new imagination and new innovation to come in. And they have some of the problems of rural and some of the problems of urban. But they have a lot of thirst to be better, and so in fact some of the things we’re looking at are in these intermediate peri-urban spaces. But honestly you can begin work anywhere. There is enough work everywhere.

0:46:26.5 S2: Thanks, Rohini. Faiz actually wants to know what part do the rich play in implementation of an open policy where the money can be used in a fair manner.

0:46:38.7 S3: Yeah, I think sometimes… So yeah. So people, if they want to see transparency and good outcomes coming out of their philanthropy, they have to invest in that. They have to invest in more flexible funding so that organizations are able to be less afraid of failing and be able to be more transparent to their donor, and together you can brainstorm to learn to do something differently. I think that is a very important thing. Sometimes in India, philanthropists don’t give enough support. They hold back support, and they think that if I give one rupee to something, then at least 90 paisa has to go to that thing, and not to the organization running that thing. Now, even in our own homes we know, we can’t possibly run our homes if we didn’t have institutional money to run that home, right? We’ll never be able to bring a meal onto the table. Similarly for NGOs, if you give flexible funding and recognize they have to pay their staff well, they have to have infrastructure, they need technology. If we are able to understand that, I think we’ll be able to get better transparency, accountability, and impact.

0:47:55.3 S2: That’s a great answer, Rohini. I don’t think we’re escaping the black panther today because we have another question for you on the energy and emotion that you experienced upon finally seeing it and what that journey meant to you personally. Perhaps Rohini you can also tie that into your work on wildlife and conservation in terms of your philanthropic giving as well.

0:48:12.3 S3: Sure. Yeah. So for five years, I was looking for this one black panther in the forest of Kabini. Not all five years, obviously, because I had other things to do as well, but whenever I could. And some of you may have seen the video that I did. Shloka will be happy to send the link or I will be happy if you want to see it. It’s on YouTube actually, it’s called Romancing The Black Panther. And for me it was a meditative personal journey into understanding… I mean the Black Panther was an excuse. But really, as I was there, I understood more and more and more about how human well-being and natural ecosystems are so connected that we cannot escape without understanding that. We will never be able to create prosperity and peace without understanding the connect between us and nature. So that was some really marvelous, enjoyable experience. And then five days after I publicly declared my romance for the black panther, I saw him for the first time. And of course, tears came to my eyes and I felt great gratitude. He had absolutely no clue, he was busy sleeping on a tree, but it was a simply marvelous moment. And after that, I had a hat trick and saw him two more times, and I’m going to go back into the forest, searching for him again. But it gives me a great joy, but you were asking about… You know the whole question of what can we do to support on the environ…

0:49:49.9 S2: And wildlife and conservation, how you’re approaching that part of your work?

0:49:53.3 S3: Yeah. So there are many, many, luckily… Again, there are several institutions in India that work with blood, sweat and tears and passion and long-term commitment for the environment. In every nook and cranny, from the pastoralist institutions in Kutch, to the people who look out for snow leopards, to those in the northeast who are looking after a very fragile biodiversity, down to the Nilgiri’s Biosphere and everywhere in India and our amazing coastline, okay? We have one of the longest coastlines and the most fragile coastlines in the world, and with climate change, the kind of things that are happening to that coastline with erosion and other lack of biodiversity and people’s livelihoods depend so much on that coastline. There are many organizations working in this sphere, and I really hope that some people will be inspired to find out more. We can put out a whole list of them, but they really need our support because they are supporting us. So I have a wide portfolio in environment because there are good organizations working in that space. And if we are concerned about our grandchildren and their children, we have no choice but to turn a little bit of understanding to this, whether we live in Bombay or we live deep in the forest.

0:51:21.2 S2: Thank you, Rohini. Many of us who are working in this space are doing so because of the example that you’ve set. So we have two final questions for you, but they’re big ones, so do take your time because I think they’re quite reflective. So the first one is from Hisham. He says, “I suspect there are some on this chat and many outside the chat who have considered philanthropy, but have either not known where to start, because they are either overwhelmed about the scale of the problems, or cynicism that the system is so broken that it can’t work. How does one start on the philanthropic journey, and are there any practical tips that you can provide for them?” And Rohini, if you have any practical tips to women in particular as well, do let us know.

0:52:05.2 S3: Yeah, no, I always give a very simple answer to this question, because… Really, if you’re interested in anything at all, start with your passion and your interests. What are you interested in? When do you feel that this thing, whatever it is, is not right? That… It could be as simple as, “Why don’t the buses run on time? Why is our traffic so chaotic? Why did the sparrows disappear?” Okay? “Why can’t we get our act together on so many simple things in India? What is the farmers’ agitation all about? Why is there so much diversity of food, but yet our people are going… Some people are sleeping hungry.” Whatever makes you feel like, “This is not right. This must change.” Do a little bit of reading about that. Find one person like you who’s interested in that or doing something about that, and your journey has begun. It is really as simple as that. And that EkStep, that first step, will lead you to the next step and the next. But don’t… That’s what I said. The only fear is of inaction, don’t, don’t not act.

0:53:17.5 S3: Act and act today, right after this session, go find one NGO that you believe in and then give 100 rupees to that NGO, see what happens? Or to a child who is in need of education or anything, give… You start with 100 rupees, 1000 rupees, it doesn’t matter, or give one hour of your time and see what happens, that one step will lead to the next step, it really is as simple as that, because there are many opportunities out there. As to whether philanthropy is the way? I don’t think philanthropy can solve all problems. We need dynamic entrepreneurs, we need state institutions, we need each of us to keep our families together, but the reason we need philanthropy is because philanthropy is capital that can be used for innovation, capital that is heart capital, that can help fellow human being suffering to reduce. Governments can’t always do that, and markets can’t always do that, societies have to do that, we have to engage with the problems of other human beings and see what we can do, because when we help somebody, we are helping ourselves, there is no fracture in that, it is not a fractured thing.

0:54:26.9 S3: So that’s the role of philanthropy. So, you may not always succeed. It’s not like if I put in… Even if I put in 100 crores, I have put in 150 crores into Arghyam, somebody said, “So have you sorted the problem of water?” Of course not. That’s not the point, but every time we have enabled somebody to start thinking of their own solution, that’s how you move the needle on any complex problem like water resources. So don’t be afraid to experiment and never be cynical about philanthropy and sustainability. What can be more sustainable in this world than one human being reaching out to another human being’s suffering and trying to alleviate? Nothing is more sustainable than that.

0:55:13.5 S2: Beautifully put Rohini. That was beautiful. And the final question for you is from Sameera actually, and she says, your creative projects and every project that you’ve begun has been quite innovative, at the same time risk taking. So what would be your advice to a young NGO who’s genuine wanting to work for society and yet has challenges both on the micro and macro level, how does one prepare on more practical grounds? And I think just to add on to that, something that’s very evident from both your and Nandan’s philanthropy is that, one can and must and has to work with government. So how do you negotiate that relationship as well?

0:55:53.6 S3: Yeah. So to work with… You can either start by working with government, because even if you’re small as an organization, you can just go to… Government is very often open to partnerships. So even if you want to work with say one school or one hospital, or one slum or it could be any one village, okay? Many times the governmental organization near it will be open to your intervention. And if they are not, be patient, you will find a champion in government who will allow you access to work with improving government service delivery.

0:56:29.6 S3: So yes, keep trying and do work with government, it is our elected government, we have to enable it to become more and more efficient and deliver on the promise to the people. So working with government works. And it takes a lot of patience, some times are frustrating, but we have to do it, and it is appreciated also. On how do you actually, when you’re small, how do you begin is, choose the right cause and choose the right people. See, even if you’re a two-person organization, you must share core values, you must both believe in certain values that will drive you, and the third person you get, must share those values, think through those values, articulate them, speak about themselves to yourselves, and you will find the going easier, because when there’s a conflict of values, sometimes it can break down an organization. So talk about values, talk about your mission, feel inspired by each other, and then you’ll be able to… The failures that come, because we feel frustrated, you know, it’s easier to build a whole successful company than it is to do one single thing to make change in society. I’ve heard the richest people in the world say that, and the most successful entrepreneurs say that.

[foreign language]

0:57:51.9 S3: We’ll just start.

[foreign language]

[chuckle]

0:57:57.5 S2: Thanks Rohini. Beautifully put. And on that note actually, I’m going to say thank you. You’ve, I think, left us with a lot of key messages, number one, of course, not to lead with cynicism. Number two, that we can really start anywhere, and the fact that there’s nothing more sustainable than someone leading with their heart. You’ve spoken to us about the value of working with government, about how to choose and design our own personal philanthropy, and of course, your leadership journey and what drives you in your personal philosophy. I think there’s a lot for everyone here today to imbibe, to reflect on, and of course, hopefully to move forward with the same amount of determinism that you have Rohini and that you bring to your work every single day. So thank you for being with us.

0:58:42.9 S3: And last thing is, because it is the women’s wing and I do want to say as women, how can we re-commit as women, to bring out the nurturing, risk-taking, creative energy into solving societal problems. Not just the problems in our businesses, our careers and our families, but out there, how can we do that together?

0:59:13.4 S2: Thanks Rohini and I think actually that’s a beautiful note for Nushreen to lead us off into in her vote of thanks.

0:59:25.5 Speaker 5: It’s not easy to give and to give in a big way is most difficult. It’s only the chosen few by the almighty, who give. Mrs Rohini Nilekani is a chosen one, and we are honored to have you amidst us today. On behalf of the IMC Ladies Wing, I thank you and greatly appreciate your presence as our guest speaker. Rohini ji, you and your better half have not only pledged half of your wealth for philanthropic cause by taking on the onus, executing and to work to benefit and sustain the beneficiaries. Taking on that responsibility is not an easy task. So three cheers to the power of that intent. Thank you for sharing your philanthropic journey and motivating us. We shall remember your golden rule and strategy to give.

1:00:27.9 Speaker 5: For you, it would stand for giving is very easy. Miss Shloka Nath, thank you from moderating the session, so judiciously and you made it very interesting with your immense expertise and vast knowledge. Big thank you to the Chair Person, Neela Parikh and her team in organizing a philanthropic business environment today. Thank you guests, IMC and IMC Ladies Wing members for their presence today. Hope you enjoyed the concept of wealth and accepting the responsibility that comes with wealth, and the rules for strategic philanthropy. Thank you.

1:01:20.6 S1: Thank you so much, Rohini Ji. Thank you so much, it was really inspiring.

1:01:26.4 S3: Thank you very much.

1:01:28.8 S5: I hope we could follow one step of yours.

1:01:31.9 S1: Yes.

1:01:32.3 S5: In our lives.

[chuckle]

1:01:33.9 S3: I’m sure, you already do. Thank you.

1:01:37.5 S4: Thank you.

1:01:38.6 S2: Thank you. Thank you everyone.

1:01:41.4 S1: Thank you.

1:01:48.7 S?: Ma’am, should we end the meeting?

1:01:50.2 S1: Yes. Please end it. Mithila, please end the meeting.

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 Nath. Mrs. Nilekani, it’s an honour to have you as our esteemed guest speaker today. Increasingly, women are rising as leaders in philanthropy. They’re creating their own wealth, establishing private foundations, and collaborating with their philanthropic peers. They’re doing some amazing work; changing lives, breaking the glass ceiling and inspiring millions of others. Today, let’s meet one of the inspiring philanthropists, Mrs. Rohini Nilekani, who will share her erudite thoughts on the responsibility that comes with wealth and her philosophy of samaaj, bazaar, and sarkar that needs to stay in a fine balance, and what each of us as citizens can do to help. We’re glad to have Shloka Nath to curate this event. We are humbled to host this inspiring event. Before we begin, we would like to present Mrs. Rohini Nilekani and Shloka an e-certificate from Grow-Trees, consisting of a thicket of 10 trees each planted in your honour as a gratitude on behalf of the IMC Ladies Wing.

0:01:29.9 Speaker 2: Thank you.

0:01:31.8 Speaker 3: Thank you.

0:01:32.2 Speaker 1: Here’s presenting the Business Environment Committee for the year 2020-2021. May I now request Neela Parikh, Chairperson of the committee to take the event forward. Neela, please.

0:01:46.7 Speaker 4: Welcome, Rohini Nilekani, Shloka and all the members and committee members. Shloka, I’m really impressed with your profile, and really hats off to you to do so much. Shloka Nath is currently leads Sustainability and Policy and Advocacy portfolio at Tata Trusts, one of India’s leading philanthropic foundation. As head of sustainability, she is focused on organization work on climate, energy and environment, implementing and funding sustainable and scalable solutions that helps both people and nature thrive through India. As head of policy and advocacy, she has critical responsibility in advancing the trust’s key strategic and policy priorities for greater impact through strong relationship and external liaison with government, relevant industry organization as well as close work with development sector leaders. She is also Executive Director of India Climate Collaborative, an India-led platform founded in 2018 by a group of philanthropists interested in continuing to accelerate India’s development.

0:03:04.9 Speaker 4: Shloka is also Vice President of Bombay Natural History Society, one of the largest non-governmental organization in India engaged in conservation and biodiversity research. Prior to that she co-founded and was Managing Partner of Sankhya Women Impact Funds, a gender lens fund with focus on sustainability. She also an active angel investor in social enterprise, and has mentored organizations across sectors. She has spent over a decade in journalism with BBC in London, a news anchor with NDTV and principal correspondence with Forbes in Mumbai, with special emphasis on financial inclusion, sustainability, and public policy. In 2010, she was also nominated for India’s highest award in journalism for her reportage on microfinance in India. Congratulations Shloka. She has master’s in public policy from Harvard Kennedy School of Government and BSc in government from London School of Economics and Political Science. She is also author of book Hidden India: Journey to Where the Wild Things Are, a compendium of photographs and writing about Indian wildlife and landscape. Shloka, over to you.

0:04:37.5 Speaker 2: Thank you so much. I really appreciate that you read out the whole bio. [chuckle] I’m feeling very embarrassed [chuckle], but thank you. I really appreciate it. And thank you, everyone, for joining us today. Thank you to the IMC Ladies’ Wing for setting up this conversation. Today is a very personal privilege for me to be able to introduce you to our speaker for today. She’s someone I’ve had the good fortune to work with and who I admire a great deal, Rohini Nilekani. Rohini is very much like the black panther that she had spent so many years searching for, she’s very much like the precious species she has worked her whole life to protect. You know, black cats have long intrigued us, from comic book heroes to symbols of superstition, they are exceptional and rare, and they play a critical role in their ecosystem in bettering human life, much like Rohini. Not only is she, without doubt, the most powerful woman in philanthropy in India today, she is arguably one of the most important philanthropists globally. But she is also smart, she’s an incredibly nice person, she’s down to earth, and she has the ability to stay optimistic in the face of tremendous human need.

0:05:54.6 S2: I’ve seen her repeatedly seek out ingenuity while acknowledging the pain of what we are all suffering. And she’s found her life’s purpose in giving away her money to help others. Rohini is the Founder-Chairperson of Arghyam, a foundation that she set up for sustainable water and sanitation, which funds initiatives all across India. She was the Founder-Chairperson and chief funder of Pratham Books, a non-profit children’s publisher that reached millions of children during her tenure. She is the Co-founder and Director of EkStep, a non-profit educational platform. She sits on the Board of Trustees of ATREE, an environmental think tank, and serves on the Eminent Persons Advisory Group of the Competition Commission of India. Rohini Nilekani is a committed philanthropist and in 2017, she, together with her husband Nandan Nilekani, they signed the Giving Pledge, which commits half their wealth to philanthropic causes. She is the epitome of the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote, “To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”

0:07:00.5 S2: Before I hand it over to Rohini, a couple of housekeeping rules. Today’s event will be in three parts. Rohini will deliver her opening address, after which she and I will have a brief conversation about her career in philanthropy. And finally, the last 15 to 20 minutes, we will allow for audience questions. So please do post your questions in the chatbox. I’ll do my best to get to them. So with that, over to you, Rohini. Please do tell us about your personal journey of giving.

0:07:29.9 Speaker 3: Thank you for those kind words, Shloka. Thank you so much, Anuja Ji, for inviting me here. Thank you to the IMC Ladies’ Wing. It’s a great honour to be here in front of all of you today, and I will take about 10 minutes just to kick off the story of a little bit of a personal journey, and then Shloka has all these many many questions to ask me and then hopefully you will have some too, which I look forward to the most. So where shall I begin? Well, like I think many of the women in this room, in this virtual room, I grew up in Mumbai in a middle class family and the main thing, the main values that I think we carried were, of course, educate yourself, believe in yourself, and that we are all together responsible for designing the kind of society we want to live in. So everyone has responsibility as a citizen, and when you can, you have to use your talents to share forward, to give forward, to achieve that vision of a good society. I think by words and by actions even more, in my family, this was sort of conveyed to me, and hopefully, I have tried to internalize this in my life, and I was a writer. I always… If you wake me up in the middle of the night and ask me, “Who are you?” I’ll say, “I am a writer” because since I was very young, I used to write for children.

0:08:57.5 S3: I became a journalist. I wrote for many publications. I continue to write op-eds routinely. So a lot of my professional life has been as a writer, but then when like perhaps many of you, I made an accidentally smart decision to invest in my husband’s startup. There was a small company called Infosys in 1981, and I put the princely sum of Rs. 10,000 into that organization, and it became unbelievably successful. And so we became very wealthy, much more than I expected to become in my lifetime, and I think Infosys was in the right time at the right place in this country when economic liberalisation was happening, when the IT sector was coming into its own, and so we were able to come into wealth, which is of course something I had to… It didn’t come easily to me. First generation wealth of this kind, when it comes into people’s hand, people react very very differently, and I, who used to be a bit of an activist as a journalist before, and in those days in India, we didn’t have a culture where we looked upon wealth with great… In a very benign way in society, okay? That if you were very super wealthy, it’s not necessarily the right thing. There was that kind of culture in India. And I… When I came into that wealth, I suddenly had to rethink a lot about my priorities.

0:10:33.8 S3: I went through a pretty confused phase about my wealth and then somehow slowly watching other people, being inspired by the history of what wealthy people have done to create good in society, I came to terms with the fact that if you want to work through your journalism and through the other things that you have been doing to create a better society a better samaaj, then you can use this wealth in a way that actually moves that mission forward. So I began to see it from a kind of a burden or weight to seeing it as a liberating opportunity to do some work and then life become easier. So I wanted to be quite honest to you about that, that coming into sudden wealth may not necessarily be the easiest thing to deal with. Otherwise people will say like if you get a lottery, arey zindagi ban jayegi, but sometimes it’s not as simple as that, so I did want to bring that to the notice of the audience today. But once I got in, so I set up the foundation Arghyam and we started working on water, before that, when the children were very young, I had set up a trust called Nagrik to work on safer roads and we really didn’t succeed at all because India is a capital of bad roads and we have the world’s worst statistics on road accidents and deaths, but I learnt that whatever your passion is, you begin working in that. You may not succeed and certainly in Nagrik, we didn’t succeed at all from 1992 onwards.

0:12:10.8 S3: And because… We learned many lessons from why we didn’t succeed. We didn’t have the right strategy, we didn’t put in the enough capital, we were a sort of gangly group who was doing it part-time, and we failed, but we learnt a lot from that failure and the next thing that I started getting involved with, which was Akshara Foundation, which was part of the Pratham Network. I think many of you may have heard of the Pratham Network. So, through that, I got involved very much in early education and worked for a long time as Chairman of Akshara Foundation. When in Karnataka, we managed to work with thousands of schools and hundreds of slum areas of Bangalore and other places in Karnataka, and even after I left Akshara Foundation, it did extremely well with the next leadership. Similarly, with Pratham Books, setting up Pratham Books with an absolute passion to see a book in every child’s hand in 2004. For 10 years, worked very hard at it, and we managed to create an open platform to allow many many authors, many many writers, illustrators, editors, translators to come on a common platform to allow the creation of more books in just five years than India had been able to create in 50.

0:13:29.7 S3: So that allowed us reach millions of children with good Indian local indigenous content. And if there’s anything, when people ask me, “What gives you the most joy in all the work you have done in the last 30 years? ” I always say it’s Pratham Books and seeing one child clutching a book and saying, “This book is for me? And we say, “It’s for you.” And she reads it and her face is what has always given me the best joy in the world.

0:13:55.6 S3: After Pratham Books, very quickly, I’ll come to Arghyam, which was the Water Foundation, and as you all know, water is such a key resource, and we were able to work with dozens and dozens of the most amazing civil society organizations in the country, to help them to solve their own problems of water. See, one of the things we learn in this journey, my husband and I is, you can take one solution and push it down a pipeline, or you can distribute the ability to solve. So depending on how you structure your work, you can allow people to become part of solving their own problems, rather than remaining just a part of the problem itself, and that became very exciting to allow communities around the country to work in very diverse areas because as you know, Bihar’s water problems are very different from Gujarat’s water problems or Rajasthan’s water problems and allowing people to solve problems in their own context and enabling them, rather than saying, “Look, I have all the answers and you please do it my way.”

0:14:58.3 S3: We quickly learnt that how people are innovative, they understand grassroot situations very well, and there is tremendous diversity in the country, so everyone needs to solve problems, whether it’s a water, education, health, whatever it may be, in their context. And so we learnt to design for that, to help people to solve their own problems. So that’s what I learnt through all these organizations. And in my philanthropy, I then started supporting a lot of work in environment Shloka was referring to some of that work. I’m very passionate about wildlife and keeping our ecology, because sometimes we forget, I think women understand this sometimes better than men, that the economy is a subsidiary of the ecology, that the ecology comes first, it’s the foundation and the economy rests on it. And if we keep destroying that ecology, if we destroy the environment, our natural resources, our bio-diversity, we cannot even do well economically.

0:16:03.4 S3: Luckily Indians who hold a lot of nature sacred, are one of the few countries in the world, we have one of the few countries in the world where we have been able to conserve our bio-diversity despite having such a density of population. That’s because our culture allows us to respect what is in nature, and that’s been a very important, a really important point at which we are in 2021 because I’m sure Shloka believes this too, and I’m sure many of you know this too, really my friends, this is the most important decade of all. We must all feel a great sense of urgency to solve any problem that you are interested, luckily there are enough problems in the world that all of us can keep getting engaged, no matter in how smaller way, but this is the decade when we have to use our maximum innovation, use our minds, our hearts, and our pockets to help stabilize humanity and the planet.

0:17:05.2 S3: We got a rude shock last year, all the sustainable development goals, everything, maybe a 190 countries had come together to commit to, we lost 10 years in one year in 2020 because of the pandemic. So, all the more… All of us were so privileged, we’re so much the elite of India, and in fact the world. We should feel that sense of urgency coming from the fact that the earth and humanity slipped back so much in one year, and how can we all catch up? And I feel that women, especially, have a lot of role to play in this decade, in these 20s, it should become the decade of being led by feminine energy more than masculine energy, because what the earth needs right now, and what people need right now is to be nurtured and healed. So in my philanthropy, whether I’m working on anything, on environment, on education, in arts and culture, somewhere we try to restore a bit of that, what Osho calls the lunar energy, the feminine energy, into the work that we do, which brings more healing, more dialogue, more nurturing, and so I’m sure Shloka is going to ask questions about what all of us can do?

0:18:29.0 S3: But let me just close my personal journey with two things, one is that I continue to be inspired by my long dead grandfather, Babasaheb Soman, who joined Gandhiji in 1917, when Gandhiji first made a clarion call for volunteers in Champaran. And he was among the first people, in-fact the very first batch to go to Champaran to help Gandhiji, because he understood that in times of crisis, our own little personal lives are less important than what we can contribute to make society stronger. And he went there, he stayed with Kasturbaji in Bhitiharwa Ashram, which was the first ashram Gandhiji built. And his life is a great exemplar for me. And I’m sure all of you have similar incidents in your lives where you look up to people who have been able to put society first, before themselves.

0:19:25.1 S3: And the other thing I want to tell you is that although I work in so many different areas, there is one core philosophy that lightens my work, that brightens my work, it’s a core philosophy which tells me, and I’ve done this by reading history, by trying to understand various aspects of the economy and politics and development, that in the continuum of Samaaj, Bazaar and Sarkar, that is society, state and markets, I believe that Samaaj comes first. After all, people, we, humans, citizens came first, and market scheme to help us to deal better with each other, right? The bazaar came to help, samaaj to deal better economically with each other and sarkar came so that of course, because samaaj is not homogenous, sarkar came later to help us organize our institutions better. So samaaj is the first sector, okay? And bazaar and sarkar are there to help samaaj thrive, so that we can have a good society. So any work we all can do to build our samaaj, it’s moral institutions, it’s leader… Society, its ethical grounding then… And if we become strong in those institutions, whether it is our schools, our hospitals, chambers like the IMC and your Ladies’ Wing, these are all institutions of society that help each of us participate to make all of society better.

0:21:09.2 S3: And if we have a strong samaaj, then we can hold sarkar and bazaar accountable to help samaaj become better and better. And so all my philanthropic work in all the sectors that I’m involved with, justice, young men and boys is a portfolio that I have, all of that is inspired by this idea that if there are good… If we can fund good ideas, good individuals and good institutions of the samaaj, then we can all strive for that better society that we will all be very proud to belong in, and which will be the right place to nurture our children and grandchildren. So I’m gonna leave it at that so that we can go a little deeper with Shloka’s questions, but once again, I thank you all for letting me come here and speak. Namaste.

0:22:03.1 S2: Thanks, Rohini. That was inspiring to say the least. And I’m sure our audience has a number of questions for you as well, but I’m so glad that I get first dibs to ask you a bunch of questions today. I think maybe a good place to start is actually that reference to feminine energy, if we can dive a little deeper into that. Because in India, what’s been interesting is that women philanthropists tend to fund the most interesting and exciting work and they have a very strong leadership role. So for example, there’s you, there’s Vidya Shah of EdelGive Foundation, there is Anu Aga of Thermax. Why is that? Why… Do women have a different appetite for risk and failure from men? And does it have something to do with the weight of wealth and how women perceive that, you know, what you were describing earlier?

0:22:54.3 S13: Yeah. No, it’s a good question. I don’t think there’s a very definite answer, but if we look at the lives of all of us on this panel here, all of us who are listening in today, we all know that we are capable of occupying many spaces and many identities all at once. And by doing that, by not being locked into one dominant identity, okay, we are able to, I think, see more shades of gray, we can see that things are not black and white, and we can see how we can sort of… That all aspects of those identities need nurturing. And I think that may bring a perspective that is different from that of men, because women automatically, they may not call it risk-taking, and it’s very different from how we take risk in business setups, but every day women learn to take risks, they learn about risk and reward and trade-offs. They’re constantly having to do trade-offs as homemakers, as career women, as mothers, as wives, as spouses, and so I feel understanding nuances, understanding multiple spaces and understanding how to juggle between them, allows women to not be locked into one identity of, say, for example, economic power alone. And perhaps that’s why the kind of philanthropy that women do can be different, whether it’s Anu Aga or Melinda Gates, or anyone else. And God, we need much, much more of that.

0:24:40.5 S1: Shloka, can you unmute? Shloka, please unmute yourself.

0:24:42.6 S2: I’m sorry. I was just gonna say, one of the cornerstones of your philanthropy has also been encouraging that diversity of approaches and resolving the problems that you care about, and can you elaborate a little bit on that, Rohini, because it’s very tied to what you just mentioned? And also where did this philosophy come from?

0:25:02.4 S3: So yeah, thank you. You mean, the… So I told you about samaaj, bazaar, sarkar, I think that’s a fairly simple one. But as Nandan and I, as you know, my husband Nandan has been also involved in tiny, tiny projects like Aadhaar [chuckle] and other stuff so he’s learnt from those… No, that was a joke. It’s one of the, of course, one of the largest ever programs in the world, and of course Infosys’s experience… And my work at Pratham Books and all the other work that I try to do, it made us understand that the problems in the world are getting more and more complex, and our responses are not matching at all. Not just us, all over globally, problems seem to be running ahead faster than we are able to solve them. And new problems are emerging all the time, such as pandemics and climate change. So, we started to think, what have we learned in 30 years that a core philosophy that will allow us to achieve more impact at scale?

0:26:08.1 S3: And our teams who are, God bless them, extremely innovative and committed and bright, between us all we came to call it societal platform thinking. And the four core values that animate that are, that to solve complex problems of any kind, you name the problem and it cannot be solved, it will be a complex problem, right? To solve complex societal problems, you need to involve samaaj, sarkar, and bazaar, but you need to find a way to reduce the friction between them to collaborate. Otherwise, all the efforts get very scattered. So to do that, we said, we need to create a technology backbone. We need to be technology-enabled. And we need to help people solve problems in their own context. Because in India there’s, as I said, so much diversity. How do you help people?

0:26:58.1 S3: Every 100 meters, the context changes. So, how do you create an infrastructure, a common public digital infrastructure, that helps people solve problems in their own way, and we have done that through, for example, EkStep and Arghyam, where people can use a digital infrastructure to talk to each other, to discover each other, and to solve their own problems in their own context and then share back on that platform what they learned, so that somebody else somewhere can learn from that too. So that has become now the push that we are trying to do to enable more and more people to join us in solving larger and larger problems with what Nandan calls speed, scale, and sustainability. I’m sorry that sounded like a lot of words.

[laughter]

0:27:46.9 S2: No, but it’s all making complete sense, and I think, one thing that you’ve pointed out, which again, it would be great to have you elaborate on is how you actually work very hard in your philanthropy to empower the organizations that you give to. I think this is something you’ve repeatedly spoken about that giving has to come with agency and any organizations that you give to they are likely to produce a lot more impact if they have agency and you actually call this trust-based philanthropy. I know that’s something that you really propagate very deeply. Can you tell us a little bit more about the role trust plays in philanthropy and where do you think, Rohini, you’ve been able to have the most impact till date?

0:28:30.6 S3: Yeah. No, I think in the social sector, see none of us know how to really solve complex problems and you have to come in with that humility. We really don’t know. We have to keep learning by doing and failing and learning again, but in India, really, I think I cannot underscore this enough. We have a vast civil society with hundreds and thousands of really good organizations. Some maybe very small, but they do really good work to keep a lot of our society in balance. So when we want to do philanthropy, I think we should begin by accepting the rich diversity of our civil society institutions, and what better way to start a partnership with any one of them than beginning with trust. So I believe in that very strongly. If we begin with trust, trust is always reciprocated, right? And since the civil society organizations, the NGOs, are the ones who understand the problems on the ground more than us sitting far away, my absolute core principle is to let them co-create the program that they want funded and have the flexibility and freedom to change based on the circumstances around them. So, I’ve followed that throughout my career, and I hope it has helped in some way, certainly it has helped me, because once you trust other people, your work becomes easier too.

0:30:06.2 S2: No, and I’d put… Sorry.

0:30:07.6 S3: Yeah.

0:30:08.5 S2: Please go ahead, Rohini.

0:30:09.9 S3: So, I just feel like many women come to ask me, so I want to do something, but I really don’t know what to do. Sometimes, Shloka, women tell me that I don’t feel comfortable spending money, I don’t feel like it’s my money, okay? And to them, I’ll say, “Well, if you have some freedom over some capital. First of all, we never count the amount women do in a family. We do a lot of unpaid work. So I think instead of worrying about my money, did I earn… Feeling that that is part of developing family values, all just like we want. We talk of samskruti, we talk about sanskaar. I think taking one step to do some philanthropic work at any scale, giving off yourself or your time or your money, is like building your family, so that’s what I tell women, begin, find one NGO, one cause that you like, anything. It could be anything at all. Find one organization, however, small, doing good work in it. Start with trust and see the magic that will come.

0:31:27.1 S2: Thanks, Rohini. I think that’s very good advice, actually, and I think it’s also true of the optimism in general that tends to animate your work, that you lead with really these guiding values of love, trust, faith, the things that we need the most in the world today. And I think also something that’s really unique to you is really the kind of quality that Vaclav Havel recognized very early on is the willingness to work for something because it’s good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed, and it’s very similar to what you wrote in your Giving Pledge letter, actually. You had a very beautiful quote there, and I think to paraphrase it very quickly, you said essentially that the idea that action itself should motivate us more than the ego-driven desire for results. Is that why you signed up to the Giving Pledge, and could you tell us a little bit more about that quote and the philosophy behind it?

0:32:23.9 S3: So the Giving Pledge is set up by Warren Buffett, Bill and Melinda Gates because they realized that there’s far too… I mean, honestly, I believe, there is far too much concentrated wealth and in far too few hands that you know today’s global economy is. There’s only one part of the spectrum that is sucking up too much of the value and people like myself and many others in this world and not that many actually, 10,000, somewhere around there, have really disproportionate wealth, which they cannot possibly use in 10 generations of their own families.

0:33:00.4 S3: What responsibility does such wealth have to society? It has a very strong responsibility because societies will not allow such runaway wealth creation unless some good was coming back to society itself. So those kind of questions animate the Giving Pledge that you will… How can we get more rich people to commit to giving away at least half of their wealth hopefully in their lifetimes? It took Nandan and me some time to join the Giving Pledge because culturally we were a little hesitant to be so public about it. It took a little time to get comfortable with it, but I’m very glad we did it because we need more people to come out and commit that the wealth in their hands has a societal responsibility. So, when we were asked to write a letter, I used what else… I used the Bhagavad Gita and Karmanye Vadhikaraste, which says, “Focus on the action, but the fruit of the action will come, but you must not be afraid to act because you’re worried about the result.” You should not be worried about failure. Doesn’t mean that you’ll get trapped into inaction, okay? Inaction is very… Will not help us, will not help you, and will not help society. Don’t be afraid to act. Don’t necessarily bother about the outcome. Hope for a good outcome, but don’t hesitate to act.

0:34:30.2 S3: And so we acted and we’re trying… Busily trying to see that if in our lifetimes we can give away half of our wealth which by the way is not easy at all, because there’s not enough absorptive capacity to take money, especially in India, because we don’t have very, very, very large institutions. India, even after 70 years… 73 years, we still have to build out our public institutions. There’s a lot of work to do ahead.

0:35:01.6 S2: I can imagine and actually Rohini, this comes back to your earlier point about COVID-19, climate change, of course, which you’re so passionate about. How is that actually going to impact our ability to achieve the SDGs by 2030? I know you wrote a book during the pandemic as well because of course you did. [chuckle] And I know that book is called Hungry Little Monster. Could you tell us a bit about that because I think it’s a children’s book, of course, but it really talks about taking on a new resolution and I wonder where that came from for you and how are you thinking about the world beyond COVID-19 and what we need to do?

0:35:38.7 S3: Oh the book was just fun. So, I’m a children’s author. So, I’ve written about 13 books for Pratham Books and one this new one for Juggernaut. The Juggernaut book is called the Hungry Little Sky Monster, entirely inspired by my three-year-old grandson. It’s a new fable about why the moon waxes and wanes. I thoroughly enjoy my children’s writing and my Sringeri Srinivas series, which I created for Pratham Books. By God’s grace, thousand… Lakhs of children seemed to love it. So I feel very good about that, but I also have been writing a lot of other stuff in the past year. And the post-pandemic world, I think, Shloka, all of us can participate in building back better as they begun to say, in every way, okay. We don’t have to go back to dysfunctionality, okay. And we have to find a better way. One is so that we are all much more prepared when the next pandemic comes because it will come. This is not the last pandemic. How can we learn to trust each other? How can we build better rapid response? How can we build more resilience in our society?

0:36:48.2 S3: Resilience is not something that only the government has to do or only some civil suit. All of us have to start thinking about responsibility and resilience. What do I have to do as a citizen to be ready to help neighbors in need? One thing in some way at a very deep philosophical level, if 2020 taught me anything is actually there are no strangers. We are all… While we may have… They say we are all in different kinds of boats, we are still all in the same big pool and how can we recognize the humanity of everybody on this planet? It’s not easy at all. It’s not easy at all, but how can we learn to understand much more about the deep interconnections that I have with that grandmother in China who first sneezed… Brazil where the forest fires are actually making carbon emissions worse. I mean all of us are related. How can we continue our discovery of that and then learn that, “Yes, I can act on those connections. I can make that web of interconnections stronger.” So responsibility and resilience, all of us can work on it together.

0:38:04.6 S2: Thanks Rohini. I think that’s a really beautiful way of putting it. I have one last question for you before we actually move to the chat because I know there are lots of people with lots of wonderful comments about how inspiring your words are, but also there are some very interesting questions there for you. I think the final question for you from me is about the social contract between wealthy in India and the rest of society. You’ve talked about this interconnected web. What should the interplay between wealth, taxes, and philanthropy be? It was a big topic of discussion last year, and I’m wondering what your thoughts are around that.

0:38:42.2 S3: You know right now, personal income tax has gone up steadily and steeply in India. So about… Till about last year, I used to feel that the wealthy in India need to be taxed more, but now our tax limits are quite high. I mean we are getting to the point where in Indira Gandhi’s time, I think it was some 90% or something. So we were just calculating that we pay more than 60% top rate of income taxes and personal taxes, which I’m not against by the way. I think the wealthy need to be taxed properly. Of course, we need to increase the number of wealthy people who actually pay those taxes because otherwise it’s a moral hazard, right? It’s not fair on some wealthy who pay their taxes, but the others don’t. So we need to make sure that all those who are wealthy pay their fair share of taxes. Because if we don’t have this kind of taxation system, how on earth are we going to create the public infrastructure that other people can use as a trampoline or as a springboard to create common prosperity. So yes, taxation is important.

0:39:47.7 S3: In India, however, we still need to tweak some things to make it easier to be philanthropic. We haven’t really finished that whole journey of making it easy for people to do philanthropy. This is not the time to go into details about that. But I think we need more advocacy around that, we need better laws, and we need to make it easier to give. And we need to make it easier to run civil society institutions. Right now there’s a lot of pressure on our NGO sector. We need to ease that pressure. We need more trust, we need more partnerships. We need the wealthy of this country to really get involved with helping to unlock the potential to solve some long-standing problems of exclusion and of holding people’s potential back that we have in this country. And what can be more exciting than that? I’ll tell you one thing, when you’re working on a societal cause, it gives you mental stimulation, it makes your heart healthier in many ways and it really keeps your mind continuously engaged and optimistic.

0:41:02.7 S2: Thanks Rohini. We can see that on your face ’cause you radiate. I’m gonna actually move to the chatbox because we have a bunch of questions for you here, and we have a great question from Anurati. She’s actually got two questions for you Rohini. The first is that there is a spectrum from intuitive to strategic philanthropy, and do you feel like the latter has more merit and where do you identify? And the second part of that question for you is, you’ve chosen your own areas of work around advocacy and justice, you have young men and boys, you have climate and biodiversity. How have you done that… How you made that choice between all of these areas or why have you chosen these areas?

0:41:41.5 S3: Okay, so on the first one, I would say intuitive to strategic, you know you don’t wake up knowing how to do… You are not born knowing how to do strategic philanthropy. It’s a journey. It’s an evolution, right? So my very first act of philanthropy was to give part of my very first salary to a girl for a scholarship. Now that’s not highly strategic, but it was a very important first step in my journey, right? So you begin from the heart, you have to begin from the heart. I feel in this, in this space, you have to begin from the heart, and you have to quickly make the journey. The heart in the end is only that far, but it takes a long time to cross this thing and so you have to move from the heart to the head, but you have to keep dipping back to the heart for inspiration. So you can go from intuitive to strategic, it takes time and effort.

0:42:34.4 S3: As to my various portfolios, independent media, justice, access to justice, climate and biodiversity and interestingly, young men and boys. They all come from my various passions and interest and also from meeting committed people or coming across committed organizations. Because as I said, that’s very important for me. People who want to help improve things, philanthropy must support them. That is the risk-capital they need, which allows them to experiment and create models, which then government can pick up for scale, so… Even though it’s diverse areas. I’ll quickly touch on young men and boys, because I don’t know if people will say, “What is she talking about?” So I have a portfolio called Young Men and Boys, and that doesn’t mean that I don’t care about women, I do. I think so much has to be done to make women really be able to hold up half the sky as they say. But as I began to think about the subject more deeply, I realized that if we don’t concentrate also on young males especially, who in their own right have all kinds of troubles, and we have not focused as a society on allowing to be their best human selves by not supporting them, by allowing them to be trapped in identities where they feel they can’t cry or they have to be only bread winners, or they have a particular way of looking at women because they haven’t explored themselves enough.

0:44:04.5 S3: How do we create spaces for them to talk and try to create a new idea of masculinity, which is less confused, less aggressive? How can we give young males the space to work with themselves, to work with women, to really create a much more just way of looking at gender? And it’s been great, we are working now… When we began there were only two organizations working in this space. Now we have 12, hopefully growing to 20, and it’s an interesting thing to… For the women on this program today to think about. How should mothers, sisters, you know, grandmothers work with the young males in their homes so that they also… They are not afraid to experiment with different parts of themselves. How can they be more sensitive? How can they understand women better? How can we help to create more confident and therefore more gentle males in the world? So that’s my portfolio, and I learn a lot from that every day.

0:45:16.3 S2: Thanks Rohini. We have another question for you from Maha who wants to know a little bit more about how do you sort of make that distinction between the rural-urban divide within your philanthropy?

0:45:28.6 S3: Yeah, so I don’t really look at it as a rural-urban divide. We go to where the problems are and when people… So Nandan especially does a lot of work on urban governance, and I do that through some of the institutions. But because when we started in water the problems were very severe in rural India. So we went there. But increasingly I think the new area where all of us were interested in such work should concentrate is peri-urban which is neither rural nor urban, and that place, those spaces allowed new imagination and new innovation to come in. And they have some of the problems of rural and some of the problems of urban. But they have a lot of thirst to be better, and so in fact some of the things we’re looking at are in these intermediate peri-urban spaces. But honestly you can begin work anywhere. There is enough work everywhere.

0:46:26.5 S2: Thanks, Rohini. Faiz actually wants to know what part do the rich play in implementation of an open policy where the money can be used in a fair manner.

0:46:38.7 S3: Yeah, I think sometimes… So yeah. So people, if they want to see transparency and good outcomes coming out of their philanthropy, they have to invest in that. They have to invest in more flexible funding so that organizations are able to be less afraid of failing and be able to be more transparent to their donor, and together you can brainstorm to learn to do something differently. I think that is a very important thing. Sometimes in India, philanthropists don’t give enough support. They hold back support, and they think that if I give one rupee to something, then at least 90 paisa has to go to that thing, and not to the organization running that thing. Now, even in our own homes we know, we can’t possibly run our homes if we didn’t have institutional money to run that home, right? We’ll never be able to bring a meal onto the table. Similarly for NGOs, if you give flexible funding and recognize they have to pay their staff well, they have to have infrastructure, they need technology. If we are able to understand that, I think we’ll be able to get better transparency, accountability, and impact.

0:47:55.3 S2: That’s a great answer, Rohini. I don’t think we’re escaping the black panther today because we have another question for you on the energy and emotion that you experienced upon finally seeing it and what that journey meant to you personally. Perhaps Rohini you can also tie that into your work on wildlife and conservation in terms of your philanthropic giving as well.

0:48:12.3 S3: Sure. Yeah. So for five years, I was looking for this one black panther in the forest of Kabini. Not all five years, obviously, because I had other things to do as well, but whenever I could. And some of you may have seen the video that I did. Shloka will be happy to send the link or I will be happy if you want to see it. It’s on YouTube actually, it’s called Romancing The Black Panther. And for me it was a meditative personal journey into understanding… I mean the Black Panther was an excuse. But really, as I was there, I understood more and more and more about how human well-being and natural ecosystems are so connected that we cannot escape without understanding that. We will never be able to create prosperity and peace without understanding the connect between us and nature. So that was some really marvelous, enjoyable experience. And then five days after I publicly declared my romance for the black panther, I saw him for the first time. And of course, tears came to my eyes and I felt great gratitude. He had absolutely no clue, he was busy sleeping on a tree, but it was a simply marvelous moment. And after that, I had a hat trick and saw him two more times, and I’m going to go back into the forest, searching for him again. But it gives me a great joy, but you were asking about… You know the whole question of what can we do to support on the environ…

0:49:49.9 S2: And wildlife and conservation, how you’re approaching that part of your work?

0:49:53.3 S3: Yeah. So there are many, many, luckily… Again, there are several institutions in India that work with blood, sweat and tears and passion and long-term commitment for the environment. In every nook and cranny, from the pastoralist institutions in Kutch, to the people who look out for snow leopards, to those in the northeast who are looking after a very fragile biodiversity, down to the Nilgiri’s Biosphere and everywhere in India and our amazing coastline, okay? We have one of the longest coastlines and the most fragile coastlines in the world, and with climate change, the kind of things that are happening to that coastline with erosion and other lack of biodiversity and people’s livelihoods depend so much on that coastline. There are many organizations working in this sphere, and I really hope that some people will be inspired to find out more. We can put out a whole list of them, but they really need our support because they are supporting us. So I have a wide portfolio in environment because there are good organizations working in that space. And if we are concerned about our grandchildren and their children, we have no choice but to turn a little bit of understanding to this, whether we live in Bombay or we live deep in the forest.

0:51:21.2 S2: Thank you, Rohini. Many of us who are working in this space are doing so because of the example that you’ve set. So we have two final questions for you, but they’re big ones, so do take your time because I think they’re quite reflective. So the first one is from Hisham. He says, “I suspect there are some on this chat and many outside the chat who have considered philanthropy, but have either not known where to start, because they are either overwhelmed about the scale of the problems, or cynicism that the system is so broken that it can’t work. How does one start on the philanthropic journey, and are there any practical tips that you can provide for them?” And Rohini, if you have any practical tips to women in particular as well, do let us know.

0:52:05.2 S3: Yeah, no, I always give a very simple answer to this question, because… Really, if you’re interested in anything at all, start with your passion and your interests. What are you interested in? When do you feel that this thing, whatever it is, is not right? That… It could be as simple as, “Why don’t the buses run on time? Why is our traffic so chaotic? Why did the sparrows disappear?” Okay? “Why can’t we get our act together on so many simple things in India? What is the farmers’ agitation all about? Why is there so much diversity of food, but yet our people are going… Some people are sleeping hungry.” Whatever makes you feel like, “This is not right. This must change.” Do a little bit of reading about that. Find one person like you who’s interested in that or doing something about that, and your journey has begun. It is really as simple as that. And that EkStep, that first step, will lead you to the next step and the next. But don’t… That’s what I said. The only fear is of inaction, don’t, don’t not act.

0:53:17.5 S3: Act and act today, right after this session, go find one NGO that you believe in and then give 100 rupees to that NGO, see what happens? Or to a child who is in need of education or anything, give… You start with 100 rupees, 1000 rupees, it doesn’t matter, or give one hour of your time and see what happens, that one step will lead to the next step, it really is as simple as that, because there are many opportunities out there. As to whether philanthropy is the way? I don’t think philanthropy can solve all problems. We need dynamic entrepreneurs, we need state institutions, we need each of us to keep our families together, but the reason we need philanthropy is because philanthropy is capital that can be used for innovation, capital that is heart capital, that can help fellow human being suffering to reduce. Governments can’t always do that, and markets can’t always do that, societies have to do that, we have to engage with the problems of other human beings and see what we can do, because when we help somebody, we are helping ourselves, there is no fracture in that, it is not a fractured thing.

0:54:26.9 S3: So that’s the role of philanthropy. So, you may not always succeed. It’s not like if I put in… Even if I put in 100 crores, I have put in 150 crores into Arghyam, somebody said, “So have you sorted the problem of water?” Of course not. That’s not the point, but every time we have enabled somebody to start thinking of their own solution, that’s how you move the needle on any complex problem like water resources. So don’t be afraid to experiment and never be cynical about philanthropy and sustainability. What can be more sustainable in this world than one human being reaching out to another human being’s suffering and trying to alleviate? Nothing is more sustainable than that.

0:55:13.5 S2: Beautifully put Rohini. That was beautiful. And the final question for you is from Sameera actually, and she says, your creative projects and every project that you’ve begun has been quite innovative, at the same time risk taking. So what would be your advice to a young NGO who’s genuine wanting to work for society and yet has challenges both on the micro and macro level, how does one prepare on more practical grounds? And I think just to add on to that, something that’s very evident from both your and Nandan’s philanthropy is that, one can and must and has to work with government. So how do you negotiate that relationship as well?

0:55:53.6 S3: Yeah. So to work with… You can either start by working with government, because even if you’re small as an organization, you can just go to… Government is very often open to partnerships. So even if you want to work with say one school or one hospital, or one slum or it could be any one village, okay? Many times the governmental organization near it will be open to your intervention. And if they are not, be patient, you will find a champion in government who will allow you access to work with improving government service delivery.

0:56:29.6 S3: So yes, keep trying and do work with government, it is our elected government, we have to enable it to become more and more efficient and deliver on the promise to the people. So working with government works. And it takes a lot of patience, some times are frustrating, but we have to do it, and it is appreciated also. On how do you actually, when you’re small, how do you begin is, choose the right cause and choose the right people. See, even if you’re a two-person organization, you must share core values, you must both believe in certain values that will drive you, and the third person you get, must share those values, think through those values, articulate them, speak about themselves to yourselves, and you will find the going easier, because when there’s a conflict of values, sometimes it can break down an organization. So talk about values, talk about your mission, feel inspired by each other, and then you’ll be able to… The failures that come, because we feel frustrated, you know, it’s easier to build a whole successful company than it is to do one single thing to make change in society. I’ve heard the richest people in the world say that, and the most successful entrepreneurs say that.

[foreign language]

0:57:51.9 S3: We’ll just start.

[foreign language]

[chuckle]

0:57:57.5 S2: Thanks Rohini. Beautifully put. And on that note actually, I’m going to say thank you. You’ve, I think, left us with a lot of key messages, number one, of course, not to lead with cynicism. Number two, that we can really start anywhere, and the fact that there’s nothing more sustainable than someone leading with their heart. You’ve spoken to us about the value of working with government, about how to choose and design our own personal philanthropy, and of course, your leadership journey and what drives you in your personal philosophy. I think there’s a lot for everyone here today to imbibe, to reflect on, and of course, hopefully to move forward with the same amount of determinism that you have Rohini and that you bring to your work every single day. So thank you for being with us.

0:58:42.9 S3: And last thing is, because it is the women’s wing and I do want to say as women, how can we re-commit as women, to bring out the nurturing, risk-taking, creative energy into solving societal problems. Not just the problems in our businesses, our careers and our families, but out there, how can we do that together?

0:59:13.4 S2: Thanks Rohini and I think actually that’s a beautiful note for Nushreen to lead us off into in her vote of thanks.

0:59:25.5 Speaker 5: It’s not easy to give and to give in a big way is most difficult. It’s only the chosen few by the almighty, who give. Mrs Rohini Nilekani is a chosen one, and we are honored to have you amidst us today. On behalf of the IMC Ladies Wing, I thank you and greatly appreciate your presence as our guest speaker. Rohini ji, you and your better half have not only pledged half of your wealth for philanthropic cause by taking on the onus, executing and to work to benefit and sustain the beneficiaries. Taking on that responsibility is not an easy task. So three cheers to the power of that intent. Thank you for sharing your philanthropic journey and motivating us. We shall remember your golden rule and strategy to give.

1:00:27.9 Speaker 5: For you, it would stand for giving is very easy. Miss Shloka Nath, thank you from moderating the session, so judiciously and you made it very interesting with your immense expertise and vast knowledge. Big thank you to the Chair Person, Neela Parikh and her team in organizing a philanthropic business environment today. Thank you guests, IMC and IMC Ladies Wing members for their presence today. Hope you enjoyed the concept of wealth and accepting the responsibility that comes with wealth, and the rules for strategic philanthropy. Thank you.

1:01:20.6 S1: Thank you so much, Rohini Ji. Thank you so much, it was really inspiring.

1:01:26.4 S3: Thank you very much.

1:01:28.8 S5: I hope we could follow one step of yours.

1:01:31.9 S1: Yes.

1:01:32.3 S5: In our lives.

[chuckle]

1:01:33.9 S3: I’m sure, you already do. Thank you.

1:01:37.5 S4: Thank you.

1:01:38.6 S2: Thank you. Thank you everyone.

1:01:41.4 S1: Thank you.

1:01:48.7 S?: Ma’am, should we end the meeting?

1:01:50.2 S1: Yes. Please end it. Mithila, please end the meeting.

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