The Rise of Indian Philanthropy

By Priya Iyer

Imagine that you're an engineer tasked with improving the efficiency of a 'roti' (flat bread) maker from 100 rotis an hour to 40,000 rotis an hour. Thousands of under-nourished children are depending on you. Akshaya Patra Foundation, an organization that addresses malnutrition in school children, faced this very issue. As Emily Rosenbaum, CEO of the foundation, explained at a recent TiE Boston event, this is one of several challenges Akshaya Patra had to overcome to scale. The organization began as a religious mission to feed 1500 hungry children in Bangalore, India. They’ve now scaled to reach 1.4 million children in schools across 10 states.

Experts believe that changes in the Indian philanthropic landscape will soon help more and more promising organizations such as Akshaya Patra reach scale in the future. There is so much enthusiasm around these changes that the Bridgespan Group, Stanford Social Innovation Review and Dasra launched “Impact India,” a magazine for philanthropists and social innovators interested in India. After working in India for about 15 years, Jeff Bradach, Bridgespan Co-Founder, pointed out three specific trends he's witnessed:


1) Giving while living: Wealthy people are starting to give while they’re alive, so they can be involved in their wealth distribution.  Azim Premji, Wipro chairman, is one of several examples of this new form of philanthropy. He started the Azim Premji Foundation to help children receive quality universal education. 

2) Evidence-based giving: A widespread distrust of NGOs due to corruption has existed amongst Indians and Indian diaspora for years. As a reaction to this distrust, donors such as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) arms and foundations such as the Deshpande Foundation are engaging with enterprises based on impact metrics, a concept that was previously unheard of.  There’s also been a rise in sites such as Dasra, Global Giving and Give India that provide credibility to impactful NGOs.  

3) Experimental philanthropy: Some philanthropists in India are moving away from traditional philanthropy models. The Omidyar Network is a good example of experimental philanthropy. Their structure in and of itself proves unique. As an investment firm rather than a foundation, they can invest in both for-profit and nonprofit organizations that are for-impact.

After hearing all of this, I’m left with two questions. The Indian philanthropy landscape has now become more open to investing to scale social enterprises. First, what are projected trends in the growth of the seed funding market for social enterprises in India? If individuals and organizations are not willing to take on the risk of funding social impact organizations at the seed stage, a pipeline of innovative organizations that are ready to scale won’t exist. Second, some larger organizations such as Pratham are creating U.S. arms so they can tap into the immense funding opportunities abroad. We know from a recent "Impact India" article that if Indian diaspora gave at the same rate as people in the U.S., and gave 40% of their contributions to India, $1.2 billion would flow from Indian diaspora to Indian causes. How will more organizations better tap into this latent opportunity?

Thanks to Kathleen Pointer for editing this piece.