At a dinner-do last week hosted by a prominent Swiss bank, I was subjected to a most nauseating one-hour chat on philanthropy. The moderator was from a prominent NGO. His guest for the evening is currently the country head of a well known global consultancy firm, and has been associated with a lot of philanthropic projects, including co-founding a liberal arts university. The guest had all the right credentials but what put me off was the pomposity of the entire affair. The whole condescension, the superciliousness, the pretension, the arrogance, the vanity, the haughtiness, the conceit, the affectedness and the entire grandiosity with which the self-importance was played out.
The entire chat was, “I - I - I”, “Me - Me - Me” and how I have changed the world. To be honest, the gentleman has, and continues to do a good job of giving away his personal wealth in support of noble causes. But this seeking of the limelight to sing paeans to one-self and to glorify all the good that you are doing is to my mind just sententious. Actually self-demeaning. And absolutely not in good taste.
Contrast this to a story I heard a few months back from a Sikh friend. Swinderpal Singh, an NRI, who lives in Switzerland wanted to gift clocks to the holy Golden Temple at Amritsar as thanksgiving on a happy family occasion. He approached a few clock manufacturers in India but they declined to do the job.
Swinderpal happens to be a distributor for Omega watches. He eventually approached his principals with his request. He told the Omega Watch Company that the clocks should be large and prominent, and cost was no issue. Some weeks later the clocks, specially made in a golden finish to match the grandeur of the Golden Temple, were delivered to Swinderpal. When Swinderpal Singh asked for the invoice to settle the amount, he was politely told by the Omega Watch Company that since the clocks were headed to the Golden Temple, they would not charge for them. In fact, they insisted on funding Swinderpal’s trip to India, to Amritsar, to personally deliver the precious cargo!
Waheguru ji ka khalsa!
Waheguru ji ki fateh!!
Each of the Omega clocks actually cost Rs. 7 lakhs each. The 10 clocks made for the Golden Temple cost Rs. 70 lakhs. A not so very large amount for a global company like the Omega Watch Company, for sure. But it is not the amount, but the dignified manner in which the Swiss company made the gift that warms the cockles of my heart.
Did Omega make the donation for any reasons of brand visibility? I doubt it. Sure the clocks will carry the Omega name at all times, visible to millions of devout pilgrims who visit the Golden Temple every year. But I am sure, whoever decided on this divine gesture at the Swiss company’s HQ to give away these USD 100,000 worth of clocks, did not have enduring branding in mind. The branding is just a celestial bonus!
Closer home, the Tata Trusts this year complete 125 years of self-less service to the nation. Tata Trusts is amongst India's oldest, non-sectarian philanthropic organisations. The Trusts own two-third of the stock holding of Tata Sons, the apex company of the Tata group of companies. The wealth that accrues from this asset supports an assortment of causes, institutions and individuals in a wide variety of areas. In this manner, the profits that the Tata companies earn go back many times over to the communities they operate in. These funds have been deployed towards a whole range of community development programmes across the country, for over a 100 years now.
Since its inception, Tata Trusts has played a pioneering role in transforming traditional ideas of charity and introducing the concept of philanthropy to make a real difference to communities. Through grant-making, direct implementation and co-partnership strategies, the Trusts support and drive innovation in the areas of natural resources management; education; healthcare and nutrition; rural livelihoods; enhancing civil society and governance; media, arts, crafts and culture; and diversified employment. The Trusts engage with competent individuals and government bodies, international agencies and like-minded private sector organisations to nurture a self-sustaining eco-system that collectively works across all these areas.
The JN Tata Endowment, JRD Tata Trust, Jamsetji Tata Trust, JRD and Thelma J Tata Trust, Tata Education Trust, Tata Social Welfare Trust, RD Tata Trust and The Lady Tata Memorial Trust have been doing yeoman service to the nation for well over 100 years. But they do not tom-tom their philanthropy in any which way. Just go about doing good to society, good to mankind. Amazing.
It is the crass proclamation of ‘I-am-so-good-because-I-am doing-so-good’ that annoys me. Philanthropy as a tool for self-promotion is degrading to the individual and dilutes the very purpose of charity. Philanthropy has to be done with grace. With humility. Without pomp and show.
I recently came across a Philanthropy RoadMap published by the Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, a non-profit organisation that currently advises on and manages more than $200 million in annual giving. Headquartered in New York City, with offices in London, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco, it traces its antecedents to John D. Rockefeller Sr., who in 1891 began to professionally manage his philanthropy “as if it were a business.” With thoughtful and effective philanthropy as its one and only mission, RPA has grown into one of the world’s largest philanthropic service organizations, having overseen more than $3 billion to date in grantmaking across the globe. RPA provides research and counsel on charitable giving, develops philanthropic programs and offers complete program, and offers complete program, administrative and management services for foundations and trusts.
With the governmental mandate on CSR becoming compulsory, Indian corporates could do well to meet the likes of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors for a well-thought through strategy on ‘giving’. The Omega Watch Company gift to the Golden Temple through Swinderpal Singh, to my mind is the strong-silent-sublime way to philanthropy. And it is the preferred manner of doing good. And being good.
(Sandeep Goyal covers different facets of brand-building in his Blog for Campaign India.He believes philanthropy and CSR as brand-building tools are yet to receive due attention in India.)