Being Humane | Forbes India

An emerging generation of donors, driven by strategy and impact, is altering the nature of philanthropy.

Until recently it was depressingly common to see children in Palghar with potbellies and legs like twigs. Just 115 km from Mumbai, the forested, predominantly tribal, district suffered from a child malnutrition rate of 54 percent in 2014. That’s when the JSW Foundation, headed by Sangita Jindal, stepped in to help.

Her son Parth Jindal, who runs the conglomerate’s cement business, however, had a different plan. He was quick to note that data had to be central to their intervention efforts. Despite spending heavily on health and food-relief programmes in the area, the government authorities were only making a dent in the problem. Partly because the information they were gathering—in physical registers—was inaccurate. “There were huge gaps in the data they were collecting and what we were seeing on ground,” says Jindal.

Under his direction, the foundation developed an Android-based app to monitor the development indicators of children under the age of six. Local women, nicknamed ‘Yashodas’, were trained to take photographs of mother and child on their mobile phones, iris-scan them and enter the required information in the app. Today, this allows for real-time, GPS-enabled tracking of the nutrition and growth markers of children, letting doctors and officials take follow-up action where needed. Malnutrition, as a result, has fallen by 92 percent in the three talukas of Palghar that the JSW Foundation works in, claims Jindal. So measurable is the change that Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has mandated that the technology be rolled out across Maharashtra.

All of 28, Jindal is one of the next-generation philanthropists who stand to inherit millions—if not billions—in private wealth, as also a legacy of giving. Eager to take forward their family’s tradition of philanthropy, and happily acknowledging the influence of their parents or grandparents in shaping their idea of giving, this younger lot is driven by strategy and impact rather than recognition or obligation, as was often the case earlier. But while the terms ‘impact-driven’ philanthropy, ‘strategic’ philanthropy or ‘venture-based’ philanthropy are bandied about, how different are these emerging donors compared to their older counterparts and, importantly, how effective is their approach?

India is in the midst of one of the largest wealth transfers in history,” says Deval Sanghavi, partner and co-founder at Dasra, an organisation that helps donors better strategise their philanthropy. Some ₹12,800 crore, or $128 billion, will be transferred from one generation to the next in the coming decade, he says, citing research by Karvy Private Wealth.

Much of this wealth has already been directed towards philanthropy. Private donations accounted for 32 percent of the total contributions to the development sector in 2016, up from 17 percent in 2011, according to consultancy Bain.

It’s a trend that will only grow stronger, as the younger generation to whom wealth is being transferred—along with responsibility and decision-making powers—is “socially conscious”, says Sanghavi. They’re informed, aware and want to make a difference to the world’s knottiest problems. “It’s built in their DNA.”

And so they’re taking to philanthropy at an early age. “I don’t need to wait till I’m 60 to start giving. I’ve been given a good life, so why not start now?” shrugs Adar Poonawalla. Son of billionaire Cyrus Poonawalla, who founded India’s foremost vaccine-maker Serum Institute of India, the 37-year-old set up an eponymous clean-city initiative in 2015 to improve waste-management in his hometown Pune. “I would be embarrassed when foreign business partners visited us,” he says. “Besides, the garbage and filth is damaging our health and environment. So, instead of criticising the government, I decided to take matters in my hands.” He pledged ₹100 crore to the cause and set up a separate entity that undertakes waste-management along 400 km of roads in Pune, or roughly half the city.

Not just is the next-gen taking to philanthropy at a younger age, it is often engaging in it full time. Take the case of Trishya Screwvala, daughter of media mogul Ronnie Screwvala, who, while dabbling in film production, found that “structured opportunities” to volunteer didn’t quite exist in India. “It was all ad hoc,” says the 32-year-old. While those running NGOs would rue volunteers’ lack of commitment, those eager to volunteer would tell her that seeking out the right opportunities was a challenge. “There was a clear demand-supply gap,” says Screwvala.

To plug that gap she set up The Lighthouse Project, a not-for-profit that pairs volunteers with children from under-resourced communities aged 13 and above, to mentor, guide and shape their futures. “Going from education to employment is often a challenge if you don’t have the right guidance,” says Screwvala. “We’re hoping to change that.” Since starting out in 2013, the Mumbai-based organisation boasts 700 mentors and 700 mentees who meet twice every month over one academic year.

Ditto with Infosys Co-founder Nandan Nilekani’s daughter Janhavi Nilekani, 30. After graduating in economics and development from Yale University and following it up with a PhD in public policy from Harvard University, she is now in the midst of setting up a “philanthropy research lab” that will pull together her academic learnings, as well as the lessons she’s imbibed from her philanthropist parents, to improve maternal health care in India. “Since my senior year at Yale, I knew I wanted to work in the development sector,” she says.

“It’s not just about cheque-writing for them [next-gen philanthropists],” notes Hari Menon, director at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, where he oversees global philanthropy strategy, particularly focusing on India and the Middle East. “They’re eager to roll up their sleeves and devote their time, talent and expertise to the causes they care about.”

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