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Building Bridges: Diaspora Philanthropy

by Raj Loomba

A Keynote Address by Raj Loomba CBE at Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, 7-9 JANUARY 2008, Chennai.

What is Philanthropy?

As we all know - Philanthropy is Giving back to the society for some worthwhile causes.

Indians care for their brothers and sisters, they care for their families, they care for their communities, and they care for their country. Indeed, we have an outstanding record of giving back to the society; to reduce hunger and poverty; for education and health; and to look after the weak, young and old.

Though so many say they “give back,” rarely anyone tried to explain precisely what the phrase “give back” means. Note the two words. Those advocating, “Giving back” is not merely saying that a successful individual should give to society, out of generosity. They are saying that he should give back according to the noble code of earning one’s money and paying one’s debts.

When you follow this line of reasoning, the consequences for the donor are not simple. If your philanthropic action is “giving back,” how much are you withholding that you have not yet given back. When should we expect to see you give back the rest of the money that you have earned through your efforts and hard work? Of course in the real world successful people are frequently benevolent and generous. The most common scenario is that their achievements result in the creation of wealth that did not exist previously. A common reason for using the phrase “giving back” is the desire to appear modest and unpretentious. Undoubtedly, many wealthy donors are advised that giving back is a polite way to avoid looking arrogant.

In my opinion, I would like to see generous people explain their philanthropy in honest forthright terms, refrain from using “giving back” and to describe philanthropy replace it with something like “I am glad that I am able to contribute to this important cause”. Giving should be a way of life rather than an obligation or responsibility.

Let me talk about philanthropy from the Indian perspective now. As I said earlier, Indians do give and they give from their heart. I would like to speak in two contexts: Indians in India and Indians living outside India i.e. Indian Diaspora and, if I may, I would like to start with the later first.

There are more than 25 million people of Indian origin living outside India all over the world. You might have predicted nationalism is not important any more due to globalization. However, that is not true. Nationalism has been mutually articulated both by the Diaspora and the country of origin.

In an era of accelerated globalization, the relationship between Diaspora and the economic and social development of India is quite relevant. One of the most important ways that Indian Diaspora contributed to their land of origin is through philanthropic engagement in many areas. In recent years, Indian Diaspora’s philanthropic engagement with India has been growing fast. Thanks to the success of Indians abroad especially in Europe & USA. Achievements of Indians in Silicon Valley, their listing in fortune magazines and presence in public space of the countries of adoption have brought them to the limelight. One needs to understand that the Diaspora efforts can compliment activities of others, who are engaged to eliminate poverty and promote development. Indian Diaspora, like India, is a diversified group in terms of caste, class, gender, and religion.

I would like to quote late Dr. L M Singhvi, former Indian High Commissioner to the UK, and also the architect of the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, who once said, “Diaspora Philanthropy has the potential of building meaningful bridges and making an enduring contribution to development projects in India.” This was the vision of a man who always believed that the Indian Diaspora can and will help India, as the Chinese Diaspora, Jewish Diaspora, and Irish Diaspora did for their respective countries.

As we all now know for the first time in history, a substantial number of first generation migrants in Europe and the USA have achieved an extraordinary material success. Earlier generation of migrants had usually lost touch with their homelands by the time they had the means to help. The current generation, in part due to globalization and improved communications, is more likely to be in contact with their families and friends in their native countries. They thus have a good understanding of their current needs and conditions of their homelands and are increasingly looking to have a more far-reaching impact than only helping immediate family members.

Indian experts believe that only a fraction of the modern Indian Diaspora’s philanthropic potential is being realized. I am pleased to note that the Indian Government has decided to establish a Global Indian Trust Foundation to promote non-resident Indian philanthropy in India and to work as partners in progress, which was announced by the Prime Minister of India. Dr. Manmohan Singh announced at the last year’s PBD, it will provide the overseas Indian community a window to lead Diaspora philanthropy into deserving causes, such as education, health, and rural development in India. Through this, Indian Government will work to raise the level of engagement between India and Diaspora. I am truly pleased and proud of MOIA for taking this noble initiative forward as it was only a couple of days earlier that I heard about the appointment of some eminent PIO’s as Trustees of this wonderful Foundation. Indeed, I will be more than happy to work with this organisation and promote its aims in the UK.

Coming to the philanthropy of Indians in India. Philanthropic activity in India has a very long history and so the third sector is well developed. Faith-based giving has been deep rooted in the Indian culture. In India, the concept of ‘Daan’ goes back to the Vedic period. Rig Veda, an ancient Indian text makes ample references to charity as a duty and responsibility of the citizen and the benefits that one earns through act of charity.

Ideas of giving have changed with the changing customs of people, with their changing minds and needs. India has come a long way in this regard. Corporate philanthropy in India has a very long history as well. In the Indian corporate scenario, different business communities like the Parsis, the Marwaris and the Khatris were in the forefront in philanthropic activities. Institutionalized philanthropy also received an impetus with the industrial revolution in India, as corporate wealth began to be channelled towards welfare and development work.

The beginning of Indian corporate philanthropy is largely the story of Indian business families, and especially of some business dynasties that are family-owned and controlled. It is extremely crucial to acknowledge the stellar role of Jamshedji Tata, who was also to become the father of modern Indian philanthropy. The J N Tata Endowment Scheme was launched in 1892, much before the first major foundation was formed in the US. His biggest contribution was the establishment of the Indian Institute of Science.

The Indian Diaspora has been building bridges between their motherland and their country of adoption over number of years; what we need for the 21st Century is to strengthen, widen, improve and modernise these two-way multi-lane bridges. India has always inspired, sustained and motivated PIOs with its culture, heritage and religions. PIOs have remained close to their motherland by frequently visiting and sending funds.

Ever since Indians ventured abroad over 2500 years ago to distant shores in South East Asia, the Far East, and East Africa; over 150 years ago to South Africa and the Caribbean; and 60 years ago to Britain, Canada and the United States; firm bridges have always existed between them and their motherland. Today, these bridges need to be upgraded, re-designed and reinforced for the 21st Century. These bridges not only require funds but also new systems, knowledge, technology and expertise with which the PIOs have succeeded abroad.

Take Mahatma Gandhi for example. He returned to India on 9 January 1915, with just a few hundred Rupees. What he brought with him was a strategy. It was a strategy for peaceful struggle for the needy and the disadvantaged, leading to India’s independence. What he gave to India was freedom. The freedom to choose, the freedom to work, the freedom to be free. In my opinion, Mahatma Gandhi was the most inspirational philanthropist born in India even though his philanthropy did not involve providing material support to the disadvantaged in society.

Today, we have over 25 million PIOs living in about 130 countries outside India. PIOs have worked hard in their adopted countries and achieved success in many fields, mostly in business and the professions. But they have also distinguished themselves in politics, science, economics, literature, cinema, the arts and almost all fields of human endeavour.

In some cases their success has been outstanding. For example that of the Nobel Prize winners such as Professor Amartya Sen and V.S. Naipul. Outstanding scientists such as Dr Har Gobind Khorana and Dr Abraham Verghese. Businessmen such as Ispat’s Laxmi Mittal, Lord Swaraj Paul and Lord Karan Bilimoria; and in entertainment Pandit Ravi Shankar and Gurinder Chadha. Politicians like Lord Dholakia have succeeded in becoming President of a major political party in the United Kingdom – The Liberal Democratic Party. Likewise, we have Ruby Dhall, a Punjabi girl, who has become the youngest Member of Parliament in Canada.

There too are many other PIOs who have not forgotten their roots in India. They may be working abroad and making their homes in a new country but their hearts are with India. Why? It is not only that they like or love India but that they feel a special attachment to their mother country and the destiny of her people and harbour a desire to help the needy of India. Every time India and her people suffer a calamity such as the cyclone in 1999 in Orissa, the earthquake in Gujarat in 2001 there is no shortage of financial support from numerous people of Indian origin. There are hundreds of thousands of individuals and organisations working in the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Canada and in many other countries that support various causes close to their hearts. This support translates into aid for members of their communities, in their towns and villages, where they are opening schools, hospitals, where they are feeding the poor and in one way or another they are giving hope to those most marginalised by society, including vulnerable children and disadvantaged women. An estimated 5.7 million PIOs sent home $27 billion in 2007 to make India the top receiver of migrant remittances, according to the latest World Bank data released in March 2008.

The PIOs have always responded generously whenever any calamity has hit India; be it the cyclone in 1999 in Orissa, the earthquake in Gujarat in 2001 or the Tsunami in 2004. This is the emergency lane of the bridges between PIOs and India. With the rapid economic progress since mid-1990s, the bridge between the PIOs and India has expanded. Proud of India’s economic progress, PIOs are also very much aware of the millions of poverty stricken in India. With the largest number of poor people in the world, estimated at 300-350 million below the poverty line, PIOs have a special role in providing the basic services especially education and health.

Thus, thousands of PIOs and their organisations in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada and many other countries assist to alleviate poverty in different projects in their villages, hometowns and cities. They have sponsored and funded projects in health, education, rural development notably in Punjab, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. Punjab and Gujarat have the highest number of PIO funded development projects, according to some preliminary surveys. PIOs also sponsor regular social welfare events to assist the needy with healthcare with Medical Checkups, Eye Camps, Dental Camps; and similar areas. They are contributing to establishing and maintaining schools, clinics, hospitals, aid centres for the poor, physically disadvantaged, vulnerable children and disadvantaged women.

My own mother was marginalised when she became a widow at the early age of 37. I was deeply affected by her efforts to educate her seven young children. She was fortunate because my father was a wealthy businessman who left her with sufficient resources to fulfil her ambitions for all her children. My brothers and sisters all attended university in the 1950s: a rare occurrence for girls in those days. As for myself, I received my education in the United States entirely due to the support of my mother.

Observing my mother educate all her children, I wondered about other less fortunate widows with no such financial resources to educate their children. When my mother passed away in London in 1992 I wanted to honour her by setting up a charity in her name to educate the children of poor widows in India.

Of the estimated 100 million widows in the world today, no less than 44 million are in India with each having between 3 to 4 children on the average. This means that over 100 million children may not even get basic education. The Shrimati Pushpa Wati Memorial Loomba Trust addresses this huge problem. After a decade of work, the Trust educates at least a hundred children of poor widows in every state of India. These are a few steps on the long road.

Overall, the philanthropy bridge between the PIOs and India needs restructuring - database of all PIO charity organisations working in India; all Indian NGOs being assisted by PIOs; details of financial as well as technical and professional contributions; list of Indian NGOs requiring assistance in specific areas; and finally, list of duly registered Indian charities requiring PIO funding. Areas such the North Eastern states of India, the special focus for Honourable Minister, can be highlighted with specific projects for PIO funding.

All this is possible by harnessing IT and human resources to build a mega database of PIO and Indian NGOs. This will direct new PIO funds and expertise to deserving charity of choice; bring transparency and accountability to this entire sector by declaring the percentage of donations for administration and actual charity projects.

Many an Indian charity has sold the London Bridge or the Brooklyn Bridge to PIOs in the name of philanthropy. Instances of PIO donations going to non-existent or ‘paper’ charities have come to light. Registering a charity to collect funds is one of the wickedest scams and no PIO wants to be duped with this. The Indian Government should implement its extensive regulations to stop this fraud. The NGO database will also address this scandal. This is a bridge that needs to be crossed now.

To encourage greater traffic over this bridge of philanthropy, the Government of India needs to become more ‘pro-active’ on the ground and not in statements and speeches at conventions such as this, or, during visits by Indian leaders abroad. Among the issues they require to be addressed are: reducing red tape to a minimum by eliminating ‘the license raj’ that still reigns supreme at state and district level; allowing PIO professionals like doctors and dentists to work in India; greater on-line interaction with PIOs and speedy responses to their requests and, finally, an understanding of the mindset and intentions of PIOs in their endeavours to assist India.

For example, PIOs can assist India’s star athlete present here, P. T. Usha, to expand athletics training so that Indians can garner more medals in the Commonwealth Games next year; Mr Kashi Rao to provide inputs for upgrading some rural educational institutions to Canadian standards and certification; inter-act with Prof. Chetty for greater academic inter-action between South Africa and India.

PIOs are willing to bridge ‘the Income Gap’ between India’s rich and the poor and alleviate poverty, ignorance and disease in India by donating funds, technology and training, professional expertise and, most of all, their time. PIOs need a more enabling atmosphere with a modern, wider and stronger bridge for this effort and they are ready to cross this bridge.

As I said earlier, philanthropy is very close to my heart. Ten years ago, I, alongwith my family, set up a Trust, named after my late mother Shrimati Pushpa Wati Loomba. Although the Loomba Trust started its core work in India we are now working in 11 countries around the world. The United Nations accredited the Loomba Trust as an UN NGO on 30th June 2008.

The task of covering every state in India – from Kashmir to Kerala and from Gujarat to the North East is a very onerous one. Many global NGOs and multi-national aid organisations are not working in every state of India. The Trust has taken on this challenge and has succeeded.

The Loomba Trust is focussing on a certain area of children and that is the children of widows. Basically, the children of widows are very close to my heart because I lost my father when I was only 11 years old and grew up as a widow’s son. My mother’s life changed overnight when my father died, she spent the rest of her life in mourning and that is what that has inspired me to set up a charity in her memory which focuses on the plight of widows and education of their children.

The issue relating to the plight of widows and their children is important. In India, when a woman loses her husband, she also loses her place in society. She is considered inauspicious and is often ostracized by her family. She is uneducated, cannot find work and is not normally allowed to re-marry. Her children become the bread-winners in the family, who actually end up on streets or working in factories where child labour abuse is a common place.

I was inspired by my mother, who became widow at an early age of 37 in India. She brought up her 7 young children on her own and ensured that they were all educated. My two sisters graduated from the Punjab University in the 50’s when girls were not even going to school in India. For myself, my mother funded my education in America. She was able to do so because my father was a successful businessman and left her with financial resources. Sadly, many of the 44 million widows in India are not as fortunate as my mother was.

When my mother passed away in 1992 I wanted to honour her by setting up a charity in her name. However, I also felt that my mother was probably no different from any other mother in this world. All mothers want their children to be educated and progress in their lives. Had my mother no such financial resources that enabled her to educate her children I often wonder how things would be different. So I decided to educate children of poor widows in India, who have no hope for receiving education otherwise. This is my way of “contributing to the cause of widowhood.” in my birth country.

The issue relating to the plight of widows and their children is important. In India, when a woman loses her husband, she also loses her place in society. She is considered inauspicious and is often ostracized by her family. She is uneducated, cannot find work and is not normally allowed to re-marry. Her children become the bread-winners in the family, who actually end up on streets or working in factories where child labour abuse is a common place.

The Loomba Trust is a relatively young but increasingly effective charity. It was established only 11 years ago to give practical help to widows and their children, in particular through education, and to focus attention worldwide on the plight of this disadvantaged yet often neglected group. There are over 100 million widows worldwide who suffer dreadful prejudice and discrimination – who can be denied their right to inheritance, can be abused, isolated and pushed to the very fringes of society. And, of course, it is their children who are also punished, often forced to opt out of school because of lack of money.

The Loomba Trust is currently educating over 3600 children of poor widows in India and supporting their mothers to live a life of dignity. As part of its global work, it is supporting a community building project for 1500 HIV orphans in South Africa, in partnership with Virgin Unite, Sir Richard Branson’s charity. The Trust has become a global Partner with HRH The Prince of Wales’ charity, Youth Business International, and has launched the Loomba Entrepreneur Programmes to empower young widows by setting up businesses for them in Uganda, Kenya, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Syria and Columbia. We will be launching a new project to support 600 Genocide widows in Rwanda later this year.

As I said before, there are over 100 million widows in the world today out of which no less than an estimated 44 million are in India. That of course means that two out of every five widows in the world are in India. More importantly, they are suffering from social stigma and rejection, extreme poverty, diseases and discrimination.

The Trust provides scholarships irrespective of gender, religion or caste and once a child is selected he or she is assured to receive a monthly scholarship of Rs 500/= for a minimum period of five years to enable them to complete their secondary education. This has been possible with the support of our corporate and individual donors who have generously sponsored these children. We ensure that 100% of the donation amount goes straight to the beneficiary, without any deduction for administration cost, which is borne by the Loomba family; hence it is a Zero cost to the donor.

The Loomba Trust has organised several seminars, conferences and fundraising events in India and outside of India. We were honoured that Shri Vayalar Ravi, the Minister responsible attended our conference, as Chief Guest, in New Delhi in January 2008, which was also attended by our President Cherie Blair, wife of the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Through these events we have raised awareness of the plight of widows and children around the world and have launched International Widows Day which takes place each year on 23rd June. Last year, the Loomba Trust organised events to mark the 4th International Widows Day in 11 countries in South Asia and across Africa.

As we all know, education is important for all children regardless of their gender, religion, colour or creed. It is their Birth Right. Yet, in India, not hundreds, not thousands, but millions of children do not have the opportunity to receive education in their lifetime. According to the statistics, there are millions of children, who are out of school in India. And, it is a national problem. I am certain that many overseas Indian organisations and PIO’s will be keen to work with the India Development Foundation to help such worthy causes.

The objective of The Loomba Trust is to spread its work in educating the children of poor widows throughout the country, and in the process become one of India’s few truly national charitable organisations and in the course of its work to inspire others to think and develop along national rather than local and provincial levels.

The Loomba Trust certainly cannot address the whole problem alone. We hope to establish modules for other people to join us with to expand our work. We are eager to encourage organisations throughout the world, the governments of India and all India-friendly countries to join with us in raising the profile and importance of not only education for all, but an education that augments an individual’s life chances and developmental progress. I am confident we will be able to achieve our objectives and aims through an association with the India Development Trust, It is a great way of building bridges between the Loomba Trust and the disadvantaged, deprived and ignored sector of widows and their children in India.

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