Philanthropy is getting a wider reach with donors focussing on funding scalable solutions rather than old-school interventions.
Infosys chairman Nandan Nilekani and his wife, Rohini, have just committed half of their personal wealth for philanthropic causes under the Giving Pledge campaign—started by American billionaires Warren Buffet and Bill Gates. The Nilekanis are partial to tech-enabled collaborative initiatives to tackle social problems. While non-profits would benefit a great deal from their money, their commitment itself may spur others to give. Though India is already one of the top nations in terms of donation-to-GDP, as per an analysis by Charities Aid Foundation, a Nilekani donating is far likelier to create domino-donation-effect than anonymous donations by laypersons. Also, given Nandan’s experience in making Infosys a multi-billion dollar company and marshalling the UIDAI, that housed India’s largest tech-enabled initiative for social good, Aadhaar, the world of charity will benefit not just from his money but also from his leadership as also that of Rohini’s, who has already made her mark in the voluntary action universe.
Old-school philanthropy has a significant positive impact—think of the various charity schools, the health camps, etc—but it makes a limited dent. The efforts which the Nilekanis seem to have an eye out for, on the other hand, could reboot the reach of philanthropy. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), for instance, is putting money into efforts to develop low-cost waterless toilets that can serve in water-scarcity areas and also odourless toilets. Turned off by the smell in public loos, especially pit-latrines, users go back to open defecation, thereby negating the impact of a massive sanitation campaign like Swachh Bharat and millions of rupees sunk into creating awareness. The $700,000 that the BMGF gave in first-phase funding towards the development of the waterless toilets or the $6 million it gave towards development of the odourless toilets could have been used to put up a few lakh toilets, but these would have fallen into disuse gradually. These tech-enabled solutions that the money funded could help reimagine Swachh Bharat. Similarly, with the Nilekanis’ guiding vision—their EkStep is already looking at tech-enabled learning solutions for school-children—scalable solutions could be developed, and their donation could go well beyond the scope of traditional philanthropy-funded activity.