The importance of giving back

Culture
11 May, 2015

The changing nature of philanthropy has made it easier than ever to get involved

Recently, we have all been saddened by the horrific impact wrought by the disastrous earthquake in Nepal. Many nations, including India, have lent their support towards relief efforts and are helping the country get back on its feet. Fortunately, all our team members are safe there – though they tell us that the scale of devastation is difficult to grasp and that on the ground estimates suggest that the number of casualties may exceed 25,000.

In our own small way, the Godrej Group has been trying to pitch in the relief efforts. Apart from supporting our local partners on the ground, the Godrej Trust will be making a financial contribution. Our team members are also contributing a day of their salaries and our companies are matching this, to an organisation called SEEDS that is providing shelter kits to affected families in Nepal.

For the Godrej Group, philanthropy is core to who we are. Twenty-five percent of the shares of our Group’s holding company are held in trusts. Through these trusts, we support different efforts across healthcare, education and environmental sustainability. This is something that we strongly believe in and are deeply committed to championing.

While it is good that we support philanthropy at the organisational level, I wonder whether we should, as individuals, also consider ways to give more back to our communities? While ad hoc support is always welcome, should we give back in a much more planned and regular manner? Should we make giving a habit? And along with financial resources, should we be more active in giving back with our time and specific skills?  Can giving make us better and more effective leaders?  

Many of us, while occasionally supporting a cause, talk about philanthropy as being something that is to be done later in life. We say that when we reach a certain age or attain a certain level of wealth, we will start giving back more and making a bigger difference. But unfortunately, for most of us, it does not end up working that way. I ask you – Do you really need to wait? Why not just start now? And this does not have to be about large sums of money. No amount is too small here. Nor does this have to be about only money. There are so many ways in which you can give and make a difference.

For instance, my wife, Roopika, comes up with interesting ways for our family together to give back several times a year. A couple of months back, she organised a Bollywood dance party at an orphanage for disabled children that we frequently visit. She called a dance teacher, arranged music and organised food for the children. We spent the morning dancing to the latest Bollywood songs with 50 children (some in wheelchairs) and the 20 staff members. Our children (ages 13, 11 and 3) came along and had several kids on their laps as they were dancing. The dance teacher refused to take payment for the class when she saw the impact she was having on the kids. She now teaches a Sunday morning class regularly at the centre for free.

This was quite a simple thing to do. It did not take much money (less than 2,000 rupees) or effort. Our smiles were as wide as the smiles on the kids’ faces. Our own children felt more grateful for what they had. And as a family, it brought us a bit closer.

Can money buy happiness?

I recently watched a great TED talk by Michael Norton, a social science researcher, where he tackles the popular ‘Can money buy happiness?’ debate. Do watch it when you get the chance (https://www.ted.com/talks/michael_norton_how_to_buy_happiness?language=en).

Norton opines that money can buy happiness and if you aren’t happy, then you probably aren’t spending it right. His research shows how people who spend their money on causes or other people, are in fact happier than those who focus on just themselves.

Norton also looks at research data from the Gallup organisation on two questions, “Did you donate money to charity recently?” and “How happy are you with your life in general?”, which shows how the two are positively correlated, in almost every country. And there is ample research to support this. In short, people who give more to charity are happier.

Philanthropy itself is changing

There is a very interesting and marked change underway in the landscape of global philanthropy. In her TED talk on ‘You are the future of philanthropy’, Katherine Fulton, President of Monitor Institute, talks about the ‘democratisation of philanthropy’. How we are at a moment in history when the average person has more power than at any time and how this is changing philanthropy itself.

Fulton says that in philanthropy as an industry, the aspiration is to flip old assumptions, so philanthropy becomes open and big and fast and connected. As she sees it, there is an almost entrepreneurial energy emerging from many quarters, that is propelling this change. And that the new leaders, new ideas, new tools, new pressures of today will lead this change. (You can watch her talk at https://www.ted.com/talks/katherine_fulton_you_are_the_future_of_philanthropy?language=en)

One of the biggest emergent trends here is ‘mass collaboration’. With the internet becoming more pervasive and social media blurring boundaries, people can come together and impact change thorough their combined efforts, whether money or ideas or service. Many of us have very likely been part of something similar, in one way or another.

The other, is just making philanthropy more personal, involved and even, fun. As an extension, it also becomes more public. It no longer needs to be a sober privilege of sorts. It can be open to just about anyone and they can enjoy doing it.

Take Movemeber (http://www.movember.com) as an example. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, this campaign encourages men to grow their facial hair in the month of November, in support of funding and awareness for men’s health programmes. What started out as a conversation on fashion trends over a couple of beers in a bar, is now the largest non-government investor in men’s health programmes in the world. So, what made this curiously innovative movement such a runaway success? If you think about it, there is no real connection between a bunch of men growing moustaches and raising money for prostate cancer. But that’s probably why it works. The campaign is fun and engaging. And it lets everyone see what you are doing.

Not just that, it is now really easy to find a well vetted cause to support. The philanthropy ecosystem has moved it just a click away. ‘Give India’ (http://www.giveindia.org) is one such donation portal, where you can choose from some 200 non profits and make direct donations towards identified causes. Because these causes have been shortlisted and researched, it takes away the concern around legitimacy. They have also made it easy to track where your donation goes and even close the cycle sometimes, with a thank you from beneficiaries, while also providing assistance on processes like tax exemptions. I am sure in our other international geographies, we have similar portals. Please feel free to share those with our team.

For those of you who want to volunteer your time, closer home we have ‘Brighter Giving’, our skill-based volunteering programme for Godrejites. As part of this initiative, we ask our team members to come forward and volunteer their time and skills and match what they have to offer with a non profit that needs similar support. (You can read more about it on http://www.godrejgoodandgreen.com/volunteering.aspx).

So, what are you waiting for? Why not commit to giving a certain percentage of your bonus this year to a worthwhile cause? And why not pledge to volunteer a few hours every month at an organisation you believe in? Better yet – why not convince your friends or family members to join you?

To borrow from Pastor Rick Warren, author of The Purpose-Driven Life, “The good life is not about looking good, feeling good or having the goods; it’s about being good and doing good”. I am sure that many of you will have great stories to share around this and as always, I look forward to your thoughts.

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