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Is Bengaluru ‘More Philanthropic’ Than Other Indian Cities?

Some of the biggest Indian philanthropists are from Bengaluru: Nandan Nilekani, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Azim Premji.

Published
Opinion
4 min read
Image used for representation.
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At IIM-Ahmedabad, the legendary Professor VL Mote told incoming batches that they are likely to gain more business wisdom by drinking Sabarmati water than time spent in the hallowed portals of the institute.

One wonders whether a similar Cauvery effect is in operation in Bengaluru with its outsized role in donor philanthropy in India. While the towering contribution (10X of the next donor) of Azim Premji does help in raising the city average and visibility, there is enough anecdotal evidence that Bengaluru and its tech-rich ecosystem is distinctly different in its ‘giving’ characteristics.

Donations for education, healthcare, environment, rural issues, livelihood and of late disaster relief are relatively more common amongst individual, corporate and foundation donors across India.

Bengaluru donors have shown generosity for a diversity of causes off the beaten track like city improvement, arts and culture, science, governance, open source platforms, civil society initiatives, law, citizenship, etc.

Innovation is known to thrive under constraints, and Bengaluru entrepreneurs and firms have profited from spotting this. In a similar vein, being witness to the myriad woes across the city landscape has made them more sensitive to supporting lesser-known causes.

Giving One’s Precious Time Is More Charitable Than ‘Cheque Book Charity’

Bengaluru, despite its infrastructural travails, does seem to have more urban reformers per capita. In improving the quality of life in the city for all, there have been many pioneering individuals who also are significant Bengaluru-based donors:

  • Nandan Nilekani who headed the Bangalore Agenda Task Force in 2000-04
  • Kiran Mazumdar Shaw and Kris Gopalakrishnan with the City Connect initiative that gave Bengaluru its first world class roads built around pedestrians
  • Rajeev Chandrasekhar with Agenda for Bengaluru Infrastructure
  • Mohandas Pai and Kiran with the Bangalore Political Action Committee to train city political leaders

The striking thing about their involvement has been giving significant time for these (and other) causes over plain cheque book charity.

Giving time, a scarcer resource than money for these individuals, signals a higher level of commitment to the cause, which also benefits from their key inputs.

It could be further speculated that the public-spirited nature of these donors has been further informed by their deep engagement with government on community causes with its associated challenges.

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Bengaluru’s First Generation, Self-Made Donors With Middle Class Moorings

The high-profile, well-known self-made older entrepreneurs like Premji, Nilekani, Murthy, Shaw – with their spouses – occupy a significant mindshare as the principal donors from Bengaluru.

There are a host of other entrepreneurs with financial exits like Shibulal, K Dinesh, Kris, Krishnakumar, Aroon Raman, Hema Hattangady, K Ganesh who are active donors. Then we have professionals like Mohandas Pai, Mekin Maheshwari, Prasanth Prakash who have chosen to get deeply involved in causes that appeal.

While Azim Premji has frugal needs and a desire to give away his personal financial Everest ‘because it is there’, there is a common thread of being first generation, self-made individuals across Bengaluru’s large donor group.

Their moorings are typically middle class, with a sense of gratitude about being fortunate, and none of the attendant baggage that comes with inherited wealth. There is little hesitation in giving back – what varies is the areas being supported and their direct involvement which is often considerable.

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Bengaluru Lit Fest Is India’s Only Fully Community-Supported Large Scale Event: What This Implies

In the next tier too, there is considerable giving activity. Over the last eight years, the Bangalore Literature Festival has witnessed the unique distinction of being the country’s only fully community-supported large scale event with around 100 High Net-worth Individuals consistently supporting it every year.

Anecdotally there are multiple instances of significant donor giving in Bengaluru if measured against the metric of their personal wealth base – on this metric some of the lesser-known names are likely to better than their more popular fellow donors.

And then there are donors who are willing to support causes to the extent of even 20 percent of spends provided the cause promoters can credibly raise the remaining 80 percent.

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Which Group In Bengaluru Is Yet To Do Much Charitable Work?

Normally donors do not support infrastructure spending, preferring to offer programmatic funding. However, in the case of Ranga Shankara, a space for local theatre and the Bangalore International Centre, Individual and Corporate donors supported building construction that are needed to act as an inclusive public space for a lifetime of activities involving dialogue, arts and culture.

But there is one group that could step up to the donor plate – the younger lot of entrepreneurs who have gained from the tech ecosystem of Bengaluru. Maybe they feel there is time to do it later, but some demonstration of local love would be welcome.

Sabarmati to Cauvery – the interlinking of rivers is not desirable given its likely environmental costs, but there is much to be said for interlinked donor DNAs and cross-pollinating practices that have worked well across our cities. From making pledges to being generous for public good to supporting causes below the radar, Bengaluru has much to offer.

(V Ravichandar is a self-described Patron Saint of Lost Causes whose offbeat causes have benefitted from the largesse of Bengaluru-based donors. He tweets @ravichandar. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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