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Book Review: Knowing How To Make A Difference

The beauty of this book is that it discusses a variety of angles — positive and otherwise — and gives appropriate examples at every point

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The concept of philanthropy is as old as Indian culture and tradition itself. Giving has always been a part of our culture. Speak to septuagenarians today and they will tell you that you should not let your left hand know when your right hand ‘gives’, meaning philanthropy is not about bragging or letting the world know about your acts of charity.

Pushpa Sundar’s book, Giving With A Thousand Hands, however, narrates the concept of philanthropy with examples and provides data about Indians and their philanthropic bent of mind. Such a book deserves a detailed mention for we are living in times where understanding philanthropy has become the need of the hour, both within the country and globally. Sundar, in her book engages readers, right from its cover page to the end. The cover showing a tree on a sky-coloured background is attractive and meaningful.

The book is divided into four parts: The Ethic of Giving, The Ecosystem, The Changing Face of Philanthropy and Future Vision. To understand the book, it is essential to know the difference between ‘charity’ and ‘philanthropy’. In the book, the definition is clearly explained. Charity is defined as, “Voluntary giving of money to those in need,” and philanthropy as, “The planned use of wealth for transforming society for the good of all”. Examples of both are cited. Charity, for instance, is giving alms to a beggar or fish or food to a hungry man whereas, “providing vocational training to those unemployed so that they need not resort to begging . . . .” is philanthropy.

Sundar is a development specialist and was the founder-director of Sampradaan Indian Centre for Philanthropy in New Delhi. To engage and enlighten the reader, Sundar divides ‘The Ethic of Giving’ section into three chapters and discusses why philanthropy is needed for any society in general and for India in particular. The topic of corporate social responsibility (CSR) is also introduced here as philanthropy’s new avatar. The second section ‘Ecosystem’ is also further divided into two chapters which discuss how political ideology, government policies, particularly related to taxation and opportunities in wealth creation, influence the giving for social good.

The third part, which is the core of the book, ‘The Changing Face of Philanthropy’ has five chapters. This part gives a snapshot of leading Indian foundations and discusses The Tata Trusts and The Azim Premji Foundation — India’s two leading philanthropists — one, from old school and one from new, also representing two different approaches: arm’s-length and direct hands-on approach to philanthropy.

In this part, the book also talks about differences in the type, nature, motives, attitudes and expectations in giving, along with empirical examples. The examples include the Tatas, Premjis, Murthys and others like them, and also mentions Satyam Technologies and Salman Khan.

The beauty of this book is that it discusses a variety of angles — positive and otherwise — and gives appropriate examples at every point. For instance, while showing how new realisation is being discovered while “doing good in the world and doing good for yourself”, the example of Godrej’s Chotacool fridge is cited.

The fourth part is ‘Unfinished Agenda’, which highlights gaps in philanthropy and the areas that are left unattended but which require attention if social transformation is to be achieved. It also suggests that there is a need for philanthropy professionals and hence university courses.

Should philanthropy in India take a cue from its western counterparts? Well, Sundar thinks so. Throughout the book, there is a comparison with Western philanthropists particularly from the US and, at times, from the UK and their influence on Indian philanthropy.

Sundar also makes a passing mention of imparting skills and time as philanthropic acts. Overall, the book talks about giving money, giving more and giving wisely.

Sundar, who has also authored books such as Business and Community: The Story of Corporate Social Responsibility in India and Foreign Aid for Indian NGOs: Problem or Solution? , writes beautifully on a subject she knows well. The language has a natural flow and is easy to follow. It is a well-researched book supported by ample examples both from long years of experience in the field and from extensive reading on the subject. It is to the credit of the author that these references become assimilated in the discourse and don’t seem to be out of place, as if they are added just for the sake of it.

The book is useful for all those who want to give and who need to take financial support from others to materialise their dreams of social transformation and, of course, to those who plan to study philanthropy as a possible career option.

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.

Rajani Paranjpe

Paranjpe is Founder, President, Door Step School

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