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The Hatke Festival #DaanUtsav

Daan, the Sanskrit word for giving, and Utsav, meaning a festival, were familiar to most. So DaanUtsav is a festival of giving- and that’s what we settled on finally in 2013

Photo Credit : Dreamstime

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Around 2005, a few of us got together, and we talked about what we could do to deepen the culture of giving in India. We came up with the idea of a “National Giving Day” where everyone could do any act of giving (kind of taking off from Father’s Day and Mother’s day, etc.).

Later, in December 2008, a group of 30-40 people from different walks of life got together again to brainstorm the idea. People from corporates and schools favoured a weekday so they could engage employees and students. Others said it had to be a weekend, when people have some time to themselves. So we expanded from a Giving Day to a Giving Week. 

It was to be a week-long celebration of giving, not owned or controlled by any organization but something the whole country celebrates. At first we called it India Giving Week. Then EuroRSCG, an ad agency, did some amazing pro bono work and helped come up with the name, “Joy of Giving Week”.

Right from word go, there was huge support for the idea. Everyone we met came up not just with feedback, but with ideas of how they could celebrate it or participate in it. For example, Madhabi Buch from ICICI got 40 CEOs to walk the ramp for a cause. Mahadevan from Chennai created the “Battle of Buffets” that now raises over Rs. 5 crore every year. Goonj ran a collection of clothes in 40 cities across India, called “Vastrasamman”. 1400+ schools participated in the Design for Change contest, Riverside School’s idea for children designing solutions to social problems that bothered them. DfC is now a global event, taking place in over 50 countries. The Joyfest organized by Jam Magazine involved 250+ colleges.

Support came from all quarters. Several celebrities like Sachin Tendulkar, Nandita Das, Imtiaz Ali and other regionally known celebrities like Venkatesh in Hyderabad, Suriya in Chennai endorsed the festival and gave us at least 2 whole days of their time. Almost all leading TV networks in India gave us free ads. Most newspapers and magazines were happy to carry articles about various events. The ads were made pro bono by Jayendra, posters were printed free by Pragati Printers in Hyderabad.

In the first year itself, across the length and breadth of India, more than 10 lakh people participated. In the beginning, we tracked almost everything- I say almost because years later, we found many people across India who had celebrated the festival but we never knew about it. People across the country in small towns watched the ads on TV, went out of their homes and did something- for example, some bought snacks for a few children at a traffic light- and never told anyone anything about it, because they got what they wanted- the JOY in giving! 

We realised soon that what we had helped put together had already grown far beyond ourselves. By 2010 itself, it was impossible to track what was happening- most people who celebrated did not inform anyone, because for them, it was a festival they were celebrating, just like Diwali, Eid or Christmas. And when you celebrate a festival, you do not send reports to anyone or register to celebrate!

So we started “estimating” the number of givers by counting from some of the leading events. By 2014 according to our estimates around 30-40 lakh people were taking part,– though we realized lots of people were probably getting involved and not telling anyone. Our sense is that by now, it is somewhere between 60 lakh to a crore people giving. In many schools, colleges and corporates, #DaanUtsav is now part of their annual calendar- which is exactly what we’d like to see happen.

What really changed the game, though, was how the POOR of India adopted the festival as their own. In 2009 a group of 30 autorickshaw drivers in Chennai donated Rs. 1000 each to feed passers by on the street. In 2010 drivers from Bhubaneswar took 80 elderly people on a 3 day “Jagannath Darshan” at Puri. About 10,000 women in urban self-help groups (flower sellers, washer women) got together and donated 14,000+ kgs of dal, sugar, rice and oil. 

More recently, vegetable vendors have donated truckloads of vegetables and fruits, and several villages organise “Seva Melas” that witness thousands of people getting together to celebrate giving. Take the giving fair organized in a small rural panchayat called Badamba in Odisha, 12 villages with a population of 25,000 in all. 

People from different castes came together and everyone gave what they could. Some people were both givers and receivers. You gave to a pool and took from the pool. So it was not a caste thing or a family thing, but a community thing, a bunch of people getting together and saying, ‘these people need something, let’s give it to them’.

These lower-income givers are extremely generous but they do not relate to the name “Joy of Giving Week”. By 2011 we thought we should change the name but it took us another two years to find a new name. There is no language that unites India- most do not speak English; in the south most do not speak Hindi; Sanskrit is too “elite”. But Daan, the Sanskrit word for giving, and Utsav, meaning a festival, were familiar to most. So DaanUtsav is a festival of giving- and that’s what we settled on finally in 2013.

The festival continues to grow, and with it, people try a whole range of different things. “Sponge the CEO” sees young techies throwing Sponge balls at their CEO by donating for the CEO’s cause. “The Blind Date” sees people attempting a dinner in pitch dark, not only raising awareness about blindness but also money for cataract surgeries. India’s innovations continue to amaze us.

As we get set for the 10th year, 10 of India’s leading citizens from different walks of life have come together to invite the entire nation to celebrate the festival of giving. I’m definitely excited. I hope it inspires you too !!!

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


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DaanUtsav the art of giving philantrophy

Venkat Krishnan N

The author is an entrepreneur and philanthropist. He cofounded Eklavya School in Ahmedabad, Educational Initiatives Pvt Ltd and GiveIndia.org

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