Charitable giving comes of age with the launch of India Philanthropy Alliance

Bala Venkatachalam, executive director, Pratham USA, moderates a panel on the path of collaboration at Indiaspora’s 2nd annual philanthropy summit at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., Oct. 2.

WASHINGTON, D.C.— In a historic development in the annals of Indian- American charitable giving, 11 Indian-American philanthropic organizations — including some of the leading and well-established organizations like the Pratham USA, the American India Foundation (AIF), Ekal USA, and the Foundation for Excellence (FFE) — have come together under the banner of the India Philanthropy Alliance (IPA) to advance India’s humanitarian and sustainable development goals through increased collaboration and innovation.

The IPA was officially launched during the second annual Indiaspora Philanthropy Summit at the Copley Hall of Georgetown University on the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi on Oct. 2 and also the first day of the Indiaspora conceived ChaloGive — an online giving campaign extending through Oct. 8, to encourage higher levels of giving by the Indian diaspora. 

The grassroots initiative was focused on individual giving by the Indian diaspora to 21 nonprofits that are making an impact in India and the U.S. through its online platform

The campaign was inspired in part by the success of Giving Tuesday in the U.S. as well as the week-long Daan Utsav campaign in India, which also has gained considerable traction, and coincides with the 150th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary Oct. 2.

The IPA, besides Pratham, AIF, Ekal and FFE, comprise the Akanksha Fund, Arogya World, CRY America, Dasra, Magic Bus USA, VisionSpring, and Indiaspora, whose founder and chairman M. R. Rangaswami, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and angel investor conceived of this coalition more than two years ago and then pushed it through to become a reality with the organizational skills and expertise of AIF’s former CEO Alex Counts, now IPA’s senior adviser, and Indiaspora’s own Philanthropy Initiatives manager Gabrielle Trippe, along with Sanjeev Joshipura, executive director of Indiaspora.

IPA said the 11 organizations collectively raise $125 million annually in philanthropic donations, including more than $50 million in the United States, and their “most generous donors are Indian-American entrepreneurs and professionals as well as companies doing business in both the United States and India.”

It said, “Together, these 11 organizations have cumulatively impacted more than 67 million people with their evidence-based programs spanning education, health care, livelihood support, and other essential services.” 

Part of its mission, according to IPA would be “to help India meet its United Nations Sustainable Development Goal commitments,” and in this regard, “the organizations that are part of the Alliance will work more closely together in their constituency-building efforts in the United States and in their work in India.

Deepak Raj, a New Jersey-based entrepreneur and investor, who is the chairman of Pratham, one of the leading education-focused nonprofits, unanimously chosen to lead IPA as its first chairman, said, “We’re excited about this effort to join forces today as a new alliance committed to the ideal of making a collective impact. Working together, using our combined philanthropic reach and innovative ideas, we can help India in far greater ways than each of us could accomplish working on our own.”

“The time is right for building a more robust culture of philanthropy among Indian-Americans and I am positive that our efforts will help accelerate social progress in India,” he predicted.

Minoo Gupta, vice chair of IPA and president of FFE, which has supported over 20,000 low-income and underprivileged Indian scholars to pursue higher education, including in some cases in the U.S. and boast of a few of their scholarship recipients now working for corporate heavyweights like Google, said, “Organizations working towards the goal of educating all Indians regardless of their family’s wealth cannot work in isolation from others with similar goals, or from efforts of the government.”

She said, “The opportunities for transformation are vast and a collective impact approach is now needed.”

Echoing similar sentiments, Nishant Pandey, CEO of AIF — a nearly two-decade old collective platform for philanthropy benefitting India that has raised $129 million benefitting more than 5.6 million underprivileged people in India through its work in education, health, and livelihoods — and the other vice-chair of IPA said, “Our generous donors have been telling us for years that greater collaboration among professionally run nonprofits focused on India made sense, and that a narrative of complementarity has been missing from our sector.”

Thus, he said, “AIF is pleased to respond in a pragmatic and visionary way to our friends and supporters by being a founding member of the Alliance.”

The Indiaspora summit brought together over 100 participants including philanthropists, leading business executives, academics, policy experts, and Indian-American community leaders for an all-day brainstorming via several panel discussions and thought-provoking conversations on various aspects of philanthropy.

Raj recalled that “the idea germinated from MR and Alex and Sanjeev,” and said that Rangaswami “really kicked it into gear a couple of years ago. He got a few of us for a few days of discussion about the merits of forming an alliance and he also very generously agreed to fund it, which was terrific.”

“Under the direction of Alex, we embarked on the journey and it’s absolutely wonderful that we have reached to this stage,” he said. He pointed out that the 11 organizations “represented in the coalition have impacted almost 70 million lives over the years, and last year, have raised about $125 million—significant sums of money and about half of that came from the U.S.”

But Raj, while acknowledging that it was an “impressive” figure, said it pales when compared to the “total philanthropic dollars raised in this great country.”

In 2018, an Indiaspora survey of Indian American donor patterns found that the community — which has the highest income among all ethnic groups and are the wealthiest group in the U.S., far exceeding the annual income of mainstream white Americans — donates far less than the U.S. population at large — just one percent of their income annually, as compared to the mainstream American population which donates an average of four percent of annual income.

According to Indiaspora, Indian-American philanthropy accounted for over $1 billion per year, but at the same time also represented a $2-3 billion “giving gap,” in terms of the wealth and income at the community’s disposal.

Raj said, now with IPA, “It seems we have the opportunity to position India as the destination of choice for the philanthropic dollars here, not only from our community but also from the Americans at large.”

Raj also said another priority of IPA would be to devise policies on “how do we make life a little bit easier for the NGOs in India. It’s not easy (for them). In fact, it’s very tough and so, how do we and how can we help to remove some of the barriers in terms of operating in India.”

But he was hopeful that “the alliance can grow from the current 11 members and make us even more impactful over time,” and recalled the “ups and downs” of building the IPA coalition itself over the past couple of years.

“But what really kept us together, were the shared values and deep compassion and passion for helping India and helping the population there.”

Gupta said that even as FFE can look back with pride at the work done so far since its creation in 1994 and the thousands of students it has “touched” by awarding them scholarships “to become engineers and doctors…every year when we look at our pool of scholarships and the money that we have to fund all of that, we have to leave many behind because the need is really, really great.”

Consequently, she believed the alliance where “all of us joined hands and amplified our message in a collective fashion,” would necessarily “bring more to our causes individually at the higher level but also provide a platform where we can see the impact of scale and be able to influence the policy to drive what will make our work easier.”

She said it would also imbue a sense of altruism among all of the members of the organizations in the collation because “every individual that we touch goes through a journey and their success depends on the success of all of us and many others who are not in this room today, supporting this work.”

Pandey, declared, “AIF is very proud of being a founding member of IPA,” and agreed that it was a no-brainer, particularly since AIF “was set up as a collective philanthropic platform and the whole idea was how to get the community here in the U.S. engaged with the long-term development needs of India.”

He acknowledged that while in the past 18 years since AIF’s creation, “the philanthropic scene in the U.S. has grown and has become more vibrant and there are lots and lots of organizations, but at the same time a lot of our donors basically say that it is very fractured, it is not coordinated and we need to do more to come together and coordinate.”

Consequently, he said when Rangaswami and the Indiaspora team along with Counts came up with the IPA concept, considering the feedback AIF itself had received made “us take this very seriously and we all came together to see how do we invest some time, how do we prioritize this, and make sure that we learn about each other and prioritize opportunities to collaborate and coordinate to maximize impact and efficacy of our work.”

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