Call to action

The good news: Philanthropic funding from private individuals has surged in India over the past five years, growing at 21 per cent per year, according to a recent Bain report. The growth of the economy and the quantity of ultra-high net worth players offer tremendous promise. The less-good news: A 4 per cent decline in large gifts over the same period from the super-wealthy. We’ve seen a similar blossoming of private philanthropy in the US, and it’s changing both the complexion and the tenor of philanthropic giving.

What’s holding Indian titans back? Perhaps it’s the daunting challenge of where to begin? Some of the most exciting developments in the new philanthropy are powered by applying the private sector toolkit to tackle public sector/community challenges. Gearing up to give back at a significant scale? Here are some ideas to consider:

Drive for leverage to generate a “social” return of investment from the start

New philanthropy is far more open to collaboration in the quest to amplify impact. This collaboration takes the form of:  

  • Partnering with other funders and other stakeholders to amplify and concentrate the flow of resources directed to a given challenge.
  • Deploying capital more broadly to propel change: Beyond just providing grants to organisations for programmatic interventions, new philanthropists are commissioning technical consultants to garner insights and data, fund social (advocacy) initiatives to inform and reform public policy.

Take the long and strategic view

Move beyond the impulse to burnish your legacy by simply endowing a building. Treat your philanthropy as you do other investments, by:

  • Developing a thesis that is enduring, gets sharper through sustained analysis, and evolves/adapts over time, in response to market/industry signals
  • Crafting a philanthropic portfolio that includes clusters of grants/investments that can be monitored consistently for valuable insights about “social” return on investment.

Capitalise on data and use it to drive decision-making

New philanthropy designs data-capture and impact evaluation into grants, and values evidence that reveals how programmes perform, for at least two reasons:

  • To better assess what’s working, what’s not, and why.
  • To shift the focus from “inputs” and activities (such as number of meals served or children treated) to outcomes and impact (number of children achieving academic competency and advancing or number of deaths avoided).

Dare to be humble

Capital and derring-do alone do not qualify or arm you to blithely solve entrenched, complex social problems: Even Gates admitted that his initial $2 billion plus bet on education reform was off-track, and course-corrected his strategy, as did Mark Zuckerberg following a hasty $100 million bet on education reform in the city of Newark that failed to take root.

Dare to be creatively disruptive

You’ve earned your fortune by challenging norms, taking risks, experimenting, and seizing opportunities. Bring that to your philanthropy, by:

  • Convening and catalysing unlikely bedfellows, from a range of sectors, spurring them to collaborate differently, across boundaries
  • Deploying new forms of capital, beyond programmatic grants

Allio is a practical strategist and a former Deputy Director at the Gates Foundation in Seattle

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