The recent list of the most philanthropic Indians had the usual suspects—Azim Premji, Anil Aggarwal, Shiv Nadar, Ratan Tata, Mukesh Ambani, Nandan and Rohini Nilekani and NR Narayana Murthy. The truth is that India is a parsimonious country. It has a World Giving Index rank of 133, the worst in the region—even below that of Bangladesh (109) and Nepal (115). In fact, two of the world’s wealthiest men, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett recently visited India to encourage us to give more through the Giving Pledge.
According to a Bain report on Indian philanthropy, private charity contributions as a percentage of GDP are only 0.4% in India, compared with 1.3% in the UK and 2.2% in the U.S. The report noted, however, that “India is recognized as a nation of givers”. That is where the contradictions lie. India may have a tradition of charity, but mostly to temples and tax-saving trusts. The richest temple in India, Tirupati, is second only to the Vatican in terms of wealth. There is an ongoing debate on finding the right philanthropy model for India, highlighted by the Dasra Philanthropy Week (DPW), intended to raise awareness around philanthropy in India. The DPW is also an attempt to bring together corporate India and NGOs, to try and develop a successful model of philanthropy, one which can be adapted to Indian culture, needs and tax structures on a national scale, rather than depend on the generosity of individuals.