India is a nation of givers. Personal experience is the number one driver for giving, cited by 70 per cent of people. Family values, upbringing and religion all play a part, with Hinduism and Islam both mandating giving. 


Against this background, the rise of middle-class giving is seen as a significant trend in Indian philanthropy – professionals, working-class people, people from the start-up economy, men and women equally giving small amounts of money more regularly.


The average age of individual givers is also going down, with people in their late 20s to early 40s giving more than previously. ‘There is an understated story about Indian giving by ordinary people. This makes me feel very hopeful,’ says Indian philanthropist Rohini Nilekani.


DaanUtsav (formerly Joy of Giving Week) was started in 2009 and is reaching beyond the middle classes to include lower income people as givers. For example, ‘we approached 10,000 women in urban self-help groups and offered to help them,’ says Venkat Krishnan, founder of GiveIndia and one of those who initiated Joy of Giving Week, ‘and they said, “why don’t you ask us to help others?”’ Krishnan thinks it likely that more than 6 million or 7 million are now taking part. ‘It is beginning to have a life of its own.’


LivingMyPromise (LMP), another movement started by a group of professionals and philanthropy enthusiasts, takes its cue from Giving Pledge, launched by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett. While the Giving Pledge invited the world’s wealthiest individuals and families to dedicate the majority of their wealth to giving back, the Indian adaptation is more broad-based — it aims to get upper middle-class Indians with a net worth of more than Rs 1 crore to promise to donate a minimum 50% of their wealth to charity. They hope to create a culture of giving and a community of “givers” that is not restricted to a few billionaires. 

The group is driven to bring to the mainstream the practice of sharing wealth, not just giving leftovers. “This is a diverse group, the only common thread we see is that all these people live with a deep sense of gratitude. They don’t see their successes as their own, they are grateful for all that they have received and want to give back,” Venkat said. 


Uma Kathyayini and Javali Ramanath, a retired couple from Karnataka, were among the 51 promisors that LMP had when it begun. Both were engineers with the state government and pooled in Rs 5 lakh from their savings to start a trust. More than 50% of their pension goes towards supporting students from six government schools in villages. “I have nine siblings who have children. I felt my family had procreated enough. My wife is like-minded, so despite it being a taboo, we decided not to have our own children and use our resources to uplift other children. We have been working for years, but joining LMP is helping us connect with others who are doing great work at a larger scale,” Ramanath said. 


Entrepreneur and founder of India Welfare Trust Venkat Krishnan was among the first to commit. He has given away more than half of his earnings and aims to give almost 90% of his cumulative wealth. “I knew some people who would make such a big commitment but my worry was how to create something much bigger. Then some unlikely people joined — like parents with young children or individuals who are not super-rich. That was a wow moment for me. I am convinced a few thousand people can easily join this movement.”


“The mindset that you need to leave your wealth to only your progeny to secure their future needs to change. If you invest in society and the environment, you will leave a better world for them. With LMP, we are trying to create an infectious culture of giving,” said Amit Chandra, chairman of Bain Capital Private Equity-India, who has taken the pledge along with his wife Archana. 


To close, I want to leave you with an inspirational story of social impact – Suhasini Mistry, a poor domestic help who set up a charitable hospital called Humanity Hospital in Hanspukur, Joka, West Bengal. At 23, Mistry lost her husband and had to fend for herself and her four children. Her husband died because they could not afford proper medical treatment. The memory stayed with Mistry, and she decided to try and help people who may face similar difficulties.


She did a host of odd jobs from cleaning dishes to selling vegetables, and managed to save ₹ 20,000, while educating her son Ajoy Mistry to become a doctor with the help of some philanthropists. In 1996, with the help of some locals and her savings, she set up a small hospital, working out of a hut. Today, the hospital is run under the umbrella of Humanity Trust.

We have far to go and wide to reach, but slowly and steadily, together, we will get there.