Venky Raghavendra, APR 30 2019, 11:25AM IST
It was a glitzy evening on Wall Street. Influential members of the diaspora congregated in their tuxedos and colourful wear. Important members of corporate America were also in attendance because of their deep ties with India as well as the business and personal friendships they share with leading Indian-American execs. The occasion was the Annual New York Gala of the American India Foundation on April 24, 2019. Special guests included Michael Dell, Founder-Chairman and CEO, Dell; Aditya Puri of HDFC; and prominent Indian-Americans including Ajay Banga, Victor Menezes, Chandrika Tandon, Lata Krishnan, Dinesh Paliwal, Harit Talwar and Ali Velshi among others.
One constant narrative that is circulated is that Indian Americans are highly engaged in the Indian elections.
That may be true of a small percentage of them living here in the United States of America. But it is a stretch to think that NRIs are obsessing over who will be the next prime minister of India. Don’t get me wrong! Folks here have their favourites. They have strong affiliations, which at times they proudly wear on their sleeves. However, the American India Foundation Gala is an indicator of the diaspora’s focus on larger development issues within India, the United States and the rest of the world.
The ainity for philanthropy is still work in progress. It is a well-known fact that the Indian diaspora in the US is among the wealthiest, most-educated and influential. Despite the clout of the diaspora in business, academia, politics and practically every other sphere of life here in America, it lags behind in formal, structured philanthropic giving. This was also established in ‘The Indiaspora-Dalberg Community Engagement Survey’ , the first of its kind survey, conducted in 2018. It found that Indian Americans volunteer at nearly double the national average but give substantially less financially.
Indiaspora is an organisation established to transform the success of Indian Americans into meaningful impact worldwide and its members are influential Indian American and Indian leaders from diverse backgrounds and professions. There is a significant giving gap the survey found, estimated to the tune of 2-3 billion US dollars benchmarked against the wider American population. What this means is that the diaspora’s contribution could be consequential in addressing the development challenges of India and the rest of the world. In short, the philanthropy quotient needs to go up further.
India’s development challenges matter to the world given their scale and complexity. It could be neonatal mortality, climate change or young people seeking jobs – how India deals with these issues impacts the world. Twenty five percent of global newborn deaths happens in India. Twelve million youth enter the workforce every year. There is a need for global engagement to augment and enhance the many indigenous solutions in India that are addressing these issues. The diaspora community, therefore, has a strong role to play. Again it is no surprise that the diaspora in America and elsewhere not just bring money to address the issues, but a depth of knowledge, ideas and innovations besides institutional affiliations and resources.
The American India Foundation played a pioneering role in “collectivising” the fragmented giving of the diaspora. It also created a platform to celebrate philanthropic giving. Today it has become a “multi-theme and collective” philanthropic platform to provide effective and efficient giving for health, education and livelihoods related issues – bringing them all together to disrupt poverty. There are other flourishing organisations including Pratham, Akshay Patra, Ekal Vidyalay, Room to Read, Magic Bus that have all harnessed the diaspora’s generosity and ainity for the motherland.
That same evening, just a few kilometres due north, adjoining the Central Park, the iconic lung space of New York City, was another gala in an equally colourful setting. Breakthrough, the organisation that works in India to prevent the cycle of gender violence and empower adolescent girls was holding its own fete with many successful Indian diaspora headlining the event.
Back on Wall Street, during the course of the American India Foundation gala, the uber-successful entrepreneurs of Syntel fame, Bharat Desai and Neerja Sethi, pledged a million dollars to support the setting up of digital labs in under-served schools in the far-flung corners of India. It is then safe to say that enabling a level-playing field and opportunity-creation is what gets the NRI vote – at least that was the unequivocal verdict from this gathering of over 600 influential diaspora members.
(Venkatesh “Venky” Raghavendra is a social entrepreneur and a diaspora-philanthropy expert. He is currently the Vice-President of Safe Water Network).